Where is the ‘there there’ and who are ‘they’ anyhow?
Ooooh la la The Hamptons. Aren’t you in with the chi-chi crowd, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous — the movers and the shakers. Whenever I mention that I spend time in the Hamptons to friends, family and acquaintances from anywhere but New York City, instantly an image pops into their heads and invariably a snarky comment follows from anyone who hasn’t visited, hasn’t spent time-in, and hasn’t actually lived-in the Hamptons. The press, gossip columns, television, movies and social media have painted an image of ‘The Hamptons’ that from where I sit, isn’t really there there.
Yes the rich, the famous and the infamous are here, or so I have heard — though personally I’ve only had a half dozen or so notable sightings over the years. Summer weekends ooze with charitable events, dinners, benefits and blow-outs attended by celebrities, the in-crowd and the well-to-do which are duly noted in glossy magazines and rags with photos and blurbs, giving everyone their 15 seconds of posing-in-the-sunlight fame. The large estates abound as well, with perfectly manicured and pruned, lawns and trees with tall, dense hedges obscuring spectacular gardens, sparkling pools, bubbling hot tubs and lush-over-the top lifestyles. As do the multi-million dollar yachts, glistening in the marinas, anchored in the harbors and cruising the waterways — gawked-at by those on shore hoping for a peek of glamour or a well known face. Not to mention the slew of luxury, designer retail and dining outposts from the city and beyond, including the newest and hottest exercise meccas that pop-up, stick around for a season or two with new menus, noted chefs, and much tweeted trainers, which then close up and go dark as the summer fades into autumn.
That’s all here…all of that, but the Hamptons as I know them are none of that, none of that at all. That Hamptons is an illusion, an idealized creation. There is no there there here. The Hamptons are something else and something different to each and every person out here. The Hamptons are in fact made up of a cross section of people from everywhere and from right here, involved in all manner of pursuits and activities. It is an exaggerated microcosm of America, squooshed into a thirty mile or so stretch of land and sea at the end of Long Island. We are the haves, the have-nots, the wanna-bes, the has-beens, the somebodies, and the nobodies. We are locals, bubs, bonackers, African Americans, Native Americans, a growing population legal and illegal immigrants, and of course all those city people who flock eastwards come Memorial Day. There’s old money, new money, loads of money, some money and far more than most take notice of, of people and families with no money at all; with each of these social circles dividing into subgroups, in which each of us is keenly aware, of where everyone else sits on the economic social ladder; evident to all in where and how we shop, dine and spend our free time. And in spite of how obvious it may seem as to ‘who is who’, everyone, as crazy as it sounds see themselves as the ‘us’ and everyone else as the ‘them’ out here. The ‘us’, the ‘them’, the ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’…who are they anyway?
Lets face it, city people as far as locals are concerned are all the same, they’re city people, outsiders — they’re definitely a them. In fact, they don’t even have to be from the city to be a them, they just have to be from anywhere west of the Shinnecock Canal to be a them. And to be clear, as far as true locals are concerned, if your family doesn’t go back five or ten generations to the original settlers, there’s no getting around it, you are also by default a them. The refrain oft repeated by the locals come May as the traffic heats-up, parking spaces dwindle and prices skyrocket is “Theeeeyyy’re back….They’re here.”
On the other side of the coin, in this ‘who’s an insider and who’s and outsider’ realm, the city people also consider themselves to be the us’es when in the Hamptons, and regard the local residents out here as them! How wild is that? A few years back I heard one of them utter in the line at the grocery store, “Why do they have to do their shopping on weekends, they live here… can’t they shop during the week!”. Wait a sec, if we are all us’es then who are they?
Well the truth is everyone has their own unspoken, but clearly understood, system of measuring and comparing where everyone else falls in the Hamptons food chain, regardless of whether they think of themselves as an us or a them. How they drive, their shopping etiquette, their dress, their car, and where they shop and hang-out are dead giveaways. Are they sporting a fedora, faux-shredded jeans, flip flops, workboots or wearng black? Is that a dog or a lawn-mower in the back of their pick-up? Is that pick-up a beater or a shiny, refurbished vintage truck, casually parked in the middle of town, posing as a local — a one of us if you will, or would that be one of them?
Where do they live? Are they owners or renters, south of the highway or north of the highway. In the village or out — Georgica, Northwest Woods, Lazy Point or Springs to name a few. In any particular location the lines are drawn once again with each address indicating an unwritten but whispered social strata. Are they on Lily Pond Lane or Fort Pond Boulevard. Do they stay out all summer or ho hum, just weekends. In fact us’es and thems are sprinkled all around, and they can as easily be found holed up in Springs, as they can be found living on the ocean. There’s no telling where an us or a them will pop-up. Each grocery, liquor and hardware store, farm stand and deli, also has its own loyal following of them and us’es — sometimes of both; and we can all instinctively tell who is who in the blink of an eye. Which beaches do they have access to with a pass, town or village? Are they a member of a beach, a tennis, a golf or a yacht club? Do they surf, paddleboard, kayak, fish, kickbox, and spin in a formal setting with a pro or just out on their own winging-it like the rest of us. It’s darn right dizzying to think of the multitude of layers of us’es and thems that permeate the Hamptons.
Oddly enough, I seem to have found myself in the unique position of having landed smack dab in the in the middle of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ arena. You see, I’m a city person, that’s where I reside in the winter months and ordinarily that would most definitely make me a them by any local measure. But during the summer for three decades and counting, I have lived on the water on my sailboat in Three Mile Harbor. And by virtue of having lived in both worlds I have come to be friends and acquaintances with a cross-section of people from all walks of life and circumstances — from the tippy top of the one-percenters down to the lowest rungs of the no-percenters. The waterfront as it turns out, is a no-man’s land where the us’es and thems, the locals, and the city folk are just ‘us’— the boating community. It doesn’t matter if your boat is a rowboat or a mega-yacht, we are kin and there isn’t an us or a them among us. We share the oceans, bays, and marinas with no regard to anyone’s wealth, social standing or fame. It’s about nature, the sea and fresh air. There is always a friendly wave as we pass each other on the waterways and casual dockside exchanges are the rule. “Any wind out there?”, “When is low tide?”, “White-caps out there, careful!”, “Catch anything?”….we just are.
The reality in the there there here, is that the ‘Hamptons’ are living communities of everyday people. We are teachers, builders, lawyers, plumbers, landscapers, fisherman, artists, accountants, small business owners, big business owners, realtors, retirees, and workers of all kinds from all over. Some of us born and raised here for generations, others transplants from the city or elsewhere trying out a new life. Some of us making a living by catering to the summer residents and some of us just here for weekends. But in the end, all of us are simply living our lives and enjoying our time in this beautiful, peaceful and exceptionally special spot in the world. We are all us’es and thems.