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September 29th, 2003

Curmudgeon’s Corner

by Sean Jaeger

Class war seems to be breaking out all over, even in the Hamptons. Of course class war in the Hamptons is sort of like shingles; even when it isn’t breaking out it’s lurking there under the skin, waiting to erupt. It may get worse now that the neocons have abandoned the trickle-down economy for the squeeze-up economy. That’s where the whole country is like a tube of toothpaste. Squeeze the bottom and the fat cats get fatter. July brought a clear sign to the Hamptons that they have killed off the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. On Georgica Pond a falling tide sank all the working boats, like the Kayak tours. All rainy summer long the rich and powerful who live on the shores of Georgica Pond were complaining as water levels rose in the pond, on their lawns, and in their basements. Their pond ranneth over because the cut that drains the pond into the ocean was closed, as it usually is in the summer. As a result, all that water running into the pond stayed in the pond, which rose higher and higher on the lawns and in the basements of the Georgica Pond elite. Pond-side residents include Martha Stewart, her arch rival Harry Macklowe, Steven Speilberg, Ron Perlman of Revlon, Robert Nederlander and Faith Popcorn. Taking a page from the fiction of James Brady, Further Lane writer and resident, a party or parties unknown “flushed the gut” in Georgica. One or more people dug a narrow trench across the sand separating the pond from the sea. Like flushing a toilet, nature soon took its course. Rushing water turned the narrow trench into a shallow hundred-foot-wide stream. Georgica Pond became Georgica mud. It certainly flushed out the kayak business. It may have flushed out a couple of nesting piping plovers as well, washing them out towards Ireland, the next landfall to the East. Some of the Georgica high-water floaters had been lobbying to have the town flush the gut, which would have the dual advantage of getting the water out of their basements and cutting down the kayak traffic. There are those none too happy that for a few bucks Tony Tourist or Freddy Fisher can paddle a kayak right up to their backyard. Strangers paddling around on the pond may have also given the Secret Service nightmares. After all, President Bill Clinton came to visit the shores of Georgica Pond. The crew cuts listening to buttons in their ears and talking to buttons in their shirt cuffs could probably do without visions of a Tom Clancy-style attack from the water. Time and rain filled the pond again, in time for the Labor Day exodus of tourists and summer residents. Too late for kayak guides to make a buck on the pond.

A different kind of class war broke out a little further east, just off Further Lane. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow came to life at Two Mile Hollow. The headless horsemen turned out to be private security and village cops running around on ball patrol with video cameras and dune buggies playing surprise, surprise and gotchya with boys who play with boys will be boys. Two Mile Hollow beach has been a trysting for boys in that band since about the time Oscar was Wilde. But all of a sudden a homeowners association decided enough was too much. The main member of the homeowners association seemed to be a Wall Street MOTU (master of the universe) named Ron Baron. He purchased a Further Lane pied-a-plage for twenty million plus. Maybe somebody forgot to tell him that the area was well known for hijinks in the high dunes. Part of the trouble seems to be that some people who buy homes on the beach end up thinking they own the beach and view it as their backyard, instead of the public beach it remains.

And that probably has a lot to do with the recent outbreak of verbal firefights around a wannabe village called Dunehampton. This threatens to be a war of secession. Beachfront residents from Easthampton to Southampton want to incorporate into a new village to be called Dunehampton, not to be confused with Brigadoon, and out of Southampton Town. The Dunehamptonites say the town is making life difficult with too many rules, keeping them from saving their houses against the encroaching erosion of the ocean. Of course some of them could also be worried about the encroaching tide of people with Southampton Beach parking permits cluttering up their beach, and their places to park. If there is a new village, can new beach parking permits and new beach permits be far behind? Would Sagaponack and Bridgehampton have quite the same cachet if they were suddenly landlocked, with no beach to call their own? How long would Dunehampton want to pay school taxes to educate the kids on the wrong side of the highway and the tracks and the new village border? Stay tuned.

Another outbreak of class war erupted behind the 7-11 in Southampton. It wasn’t quite the gunfight at OK Corral, but for months now the back of 7-11 looked like a colorful cross between a shape-up right out of On The Waterfront, the book and movie classic by Quiogue resident Budd Schulberg, and a corral fence on a dusty road in the great southwest, like, for instance, Crawford, Texas. Perched on a split rail fence off the main road sat men looking for work, many wearing jeans, cowboy boots and straw hats. The place became an informal outdoor hiring hall, with contractors, landscapers, and homeowners driving up and offering day labor work for cash and no questions. During the morning rush hour, from Bentleys to bicycles to beach sandals, the place probably boasted more tribes than the United Nations. The volatile mixture practically guaranteed tempers would flare-and they did. The solution: Tear down that pretty fence on village land, evict the whole mess and dump it out on to North Sea Road, the gateway to Southampton. Who wins here? Nobody. Put the fence back up, maybe with a second row of bleachers for the overflow. Tell everybody to cool it and get back to business as usual.

Of course, not everyone loves the Hispanic, Latino day laborers who add a little jalapeno flavor to the Hamptons. But that’s not new either. Probably the most famous television documentary ever made, Edward R. Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame”, focused on the plight of migrant workers. Rather than travel to California for The Grapes of Wrath and Tortilla Flats a la John Steinbeck, late of Sag Harbor, the producers headed east, where they could find plenty of migrant workers on either side of Montauk highway out here in the Hamptons Besides, no one checked passports at Plymouth Rock on the banks of the Mississippi as Lewis and Clark crossed. Most of our ancestors crossed water to get here, running away from something as much as running to a land of opportunity. If the homeland security visa cops had been around then, we’d all still be in the East End of London, by the docks, or the east end of Galway, or the east end of Naples, Athens, Gdansk, Bombay or Shanghai. Anywhere but here on the east end of Long Island.

But speaking of flavor, check out the newest Costa Rican Restaurant in the Hamptons, Witches Rock, next to the motel on Montauk Highway. Great marinated steak.

More class warfare in Westhampton, with the added spice of pitting generation against generation. For decades a real drag strip has been hidden away next to the Sheriff’s office in the pine barrens between Westhampton and Eastport/Manorville. Serious battles have erupted over plans to replace the drag strip with 189 senior housing units in 95 duplexes. Now this is supposed to be clustered housing on 55 acres. That makes it a little easier to disguise the fact that, if these housing units turned into houses on individual lots, it would amount to quarter-acre zoning. Now how long and how well would that fly? The drag strip is very definitely a sometime thing, lying fallow most of the time, with occasional bursts of activity, maybe even noise. But a cluster of 189 houses for senior citizens, over 55 active acres with no public transportation, that’s going to be 380 cars clogging the roads seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

If this is supposed to be affordable housing, as opposed to vacation condos, it will also add up to 380 new voters with no children. Adult community means no kids. How are they going to vote on school budgets? Skate parks? Not good. The town already has signs all over that say “No skateboarding, rollerblading, or scooters, May 15 to September 15.” But dueling skateboards will be the least of the problems for active adults who move into drag strip manor. Welcome to Dodge City, guys. New residents will be greeted with a lot more than a 21 gun salute. The next door neighbor is a 30 acre firearms training facility run by Suffolk County Police. The only thing the birds sing is “Nearer My God to Thee.” It might even give new meaning to the words “lead poisoning”- they’ve been blazing away on that 30 acres for years. Before digging 189 new cesspools, someone should dig a test well. Check the lead content of the ground water. Remember, this is the land of well water, not city water. How about a modest proposal? An environmentally, socially, economically correct use for the drag strip? How about make it a drag strip? Put up big billboards. Advertise it. Tart up the stands and sell concessions, just like at the beach. It’s a great untapped tourist attraction. Let’s use it before we lose it. Maybe even expand it. Get the cops next door to put on some extreme driving courses or import some instructors from the Barber Racing School in Connecticut. Let the motorhead teenagers, and adults, satisfy the need for speed on a track, with supervision. Maybe even learn something about driving in a place with few pedestrians, traffic lights, oncoming traffic or innocent bystanders. Let people try out donuts, skids, slides and power slides, emergency braking and accident avoidance with the experts. Few people who learn what it is like to completely lose control of a car on a track or skid pan have any desire to risk the same thing on dead man’s curve on Montauk Highway. No way.

Speaking of the Montauk Highway, there is a real killer from the merge to the 7-11, home of good coffee in Southampton. Over the last several years, tens of millions of dollars have been spent to widen a clogged two-lane highway into a clogged two-lane highway with the world’s longest and most dangerous left turn lane. It sometimes goes for miles without even a driveway to turn left into. During rush hour every morning, it beckons like a mirage in the desert, an empty left turn lane wandering for miles to a left turn at the end of the rainbow, with a “No Left Turn” sign. Drivers going east from the merge to the 7-11 limp along a road as wide as a four-lane highway in most places, no legal place to pass a slower moving vehicle, with the exception of a wide spot at the intersection with North Sea Road. It’s so poorly laid out and marked that the slow trucks take the left hand lane, the fast cars take the right hand lane, and the unwary weave back and forth looking for a sane lane.

Finally, another burning issue: freshman Congressman Tim Bishop had to vote for a measure banning flag burning. With flags sprouting like weeds around every gas station and roadside rose peddler out here, what are we going to do with all the flags come winter? Bury them in the garbage headed for the landfill? If they had cremated my grandfather, may he rest in peace, they would have had to burn the flag tattooed on his forearm. He loved the flag and hated the tattoo. We all salute the flag our troops carry to war. Do we need to salute the tattered shred waving from the back window of a commuter’s SUV, or the flag stuck into the dirt on the side of the road next to a sign saying “under new management” in front of a garage? When does a flag become a rag? “When we use it to shine shoes,” suggested Prince Philip. We do have more burning issues to worry about.

And for the silly season, the newest signs outside the Westhampton Beach Post Office announce “Five Minute Parking.” Now this is a great post office, but it is often a one-window operation. Two people with money orders to go and registered letters can burn up five minutes real easy. And the word is cops are out there writing tickets. The only competition is the “15 Minute Parking” signs the liquor store near the movie theater managed to wrangle, but those only go up in the evening to keep a couple of spaces open for thirsty people when everybody else is parking for a two hour movie. Could the Five Minute Law have come from some village elder who had to drive around the block twice to find a parking space in front of the post office? Those signs are right around the corner from the “No skateboarding, rollerblading or scooters, May 15-September 15” no-nos. If the law is an ass, who made it that way?

-Sean Jaegr

Filed Under: Articles | Politics | the Hamptons

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