Though he says he would never in a million years actually do it, let’s say, for argument’s sake, that over the July Fourth weekend, Miles Jaffe bungees a nuclear bomb to the ski rack of his Toyota 4-Runner and then, going at a pretty good clip, drives his truck smack into, say, Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton. Let’s say the thing detonated, turning the Hamptons into an a two-mile-deep ashtray.
What would Tom Brokaw say about him on that night’s evening news?
In a grave Midwestern drawl, Mr. Brokaw would say that Miles Jaffe was 42 years old and had a wife and a daughter. He might describe him as an artist, or a carpenter or home designer. He would note that his late father, Norman Jaffe, was an architect who had built some of the strangest and most palatial houses on Long Island’s East End. Mr. Brokaw might call the Jaffe family home a “compound,” given that there are three squat buildings sitting on Mr. Jaffe’s property, north of the Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton.
The NBC anchor would note that, in April, Mr. Jaffe had gone live with a Web site called Nuke the hamptons.com, on which anyone with a modem and some free time could simulate dropping a one-megaton bomb on the Hamptons and get an accurate read-out of the damage it would cause.
And most certainly, Mr. Brokaw would say that there was something about the Hamptons that made Miles Jaffe very, very angry.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Jaffe sat cross-legged on a plastic patio chair outside his metal shop. The grass under his feet was spotty in places. A short-haired collie named Lucy, with one blue eye and one brown one, trotted around the yard and barked occasionally at imagined enemies, prompting Mr. Jaffe to lose track of his thoughts. “Quiet, you dog,” he said.
The result of his efforts, he said, has people in town whispering about him. The parents at his daughter’s school wonder if he’s a crank. The Bridgehampton Historical Society, which Mr. Jaffe said was ready to display a sculpture of his on their lawn–three headstones reading “Modesty,” “Patience” and “Charity”–recently pulled the plug. They were worried, he explained, about the ramifications of hiring Mr. Nuke-the-Hamptons.
But Mr. Jaffe persists, unbowed. “I’ve got to pay my bills,” he said. “But the reality is, this is a big problem. We’re talking about the fall of Rome here!”
Mr. Jaffe acknowledged that there is a strange self-cannibalism to his quest. In fact, his own home lies about a quarter mile from the Candy Kitchen, the Bridgehampton greasy spoon that he lists on his site as a possible detonation target. “Nuke the Hamptons,” Mr. Jaffe intoned, “is really the equivalent of calling in an artillery strike on your own position when you’ve been overrun by the enemy.
So who, or what, is the enemy? “The enemy is not wealth. It’s not the wealth that’s bad,” he said. “It’s the values associated with the kind of wealth that comes here.”
On his Web site, Mr. Jaffe assails targets large and small. He’s affecting Holden Caufield-style indignance, but there’s something classist about his wiseass patter. Starbucks is “the latest uninvited intrusion of corporate America into suburban life”; Ron Perelman “mastered the art of legal theft”; Martha Stewart “built an empire creating a behavioral guide for insecure social climbers who desperately seek to achieve the look of the class they aspire to belong to.”
Mr. Jaffe said that he once considered packing it all up and vacating the Hamptons. Now he receives e-mails from people requesting that he blow up Crested Butte, Palm Beach and Washington, D.C. One site visitor asked that Mr. Jaffe train a missile on his daughter’s school, Columbine High. Mr. Jaffe read the e-mail aloud: “Please wait another year until she’s graduated. Every day that goes by makes me realize more and more that maybe Eric and Dylan were on to something.” It was unclear from his knowing nod whether Mr. Jaffe’s skin was crawling. It didn’t really look like it.
“Every spring,” Mr. Jaffe began, “we start to think, ‘O.K., where are we going to move to, because here comes the invasion again.’ But now I’m starting to realize that there is nowhere to move to. The values here are the same as everywhere–it’s just that this is sort of concentrated.”
So was there ever a time when the Hamptons weren’t poisonous? Mr. Jaffe ran his hand over his graying, ponytailed head and pondered the question. “It’s interesting,” he said. “With my father’s coming, it really started to deteriorate.”
In 1965, Miles Jaffe, then 7, didn’t really know his father, Norman Jaffe. His father and his mother, the former Barbara Cochran, had separated three years before, and young Miles was living in a house with his mother and her parents in Glen Ellen, Ill., while his father was attempting to make his way as an architect in Manhattan. He saw his father only occasionally and called him “Norman” when he did.
Then, one night, his mother had an accident. “Night, icy road, head on, killed instantly, or so I was told,” Mr. Jaffe recalled via e-mail. Norman Jaffe showed up at his grammar school at lunch time toting a dog on a leash, which Mr. Jaffe said he’d borrowed that day to avoid appearing in the schoolyard like a child molester. “So we go to the pound, drop off the dog and get on a plane to New York,” he said.
At that point, things hadn’t quite taken off for Norman Jaffe. He was living in a tiny room with a fold-out couch in his office at 962 Park Avenue. For a while, Miles and his father shared that fold-out bed. Mr. Jaffe describes the relationship as one of “comrades” rather than father and son.
In the late 60′s, Norman Jaffe started building houses in the Hamptons. They were mostly small affairs, not much more than 1,200 square feet, commissioned by successful artists and creative executives. In 1972, when Miles was 14, Norman moved his whole operation, and his son, there. By the time his father died in 1993, Miles estimated that some 60 Norman Jaffe designs could be found on the East End.
For Mr. Jaffe, the late 60′s and early 70′s were the last idyllic moments in the Hamptons. Then “all the social climbers who wanted to improve their status and pretend that they were avant-garde came here,” he said.
By the late 70′s, Mr. Jaffe was busy enough to turn down nine out of 10 clients, and the 1,200-square-foot jewel boxes had become a thing of the past. He was building palaces for movie executives, spaceship-shaped homes for arrivistes. “Jaffe was … interested and deeply moved by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Paul Goldberger, the architectural critic, wrote in his book Houses of The Hamptons , “and in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s Jaffe’s work seemed to lose its connection to the farmhouse vernacular and struggle to reflect Wright’s architecture …. Jaffe’s work became grander, splashier, and in a number of cases almost bombastic and not a little vulgar.”
“He was quite right,” Mr. Jaffe said of Mr. Goldberger. “I mean, how personal can a 7,500-square-foot house be?”
Norman Jaffe began referring to his larger 8,000- and 9,000-square-foot commissions as “pig-outs.” “It really became a game for Norman to really take them down a notch,” Mr. Jaffe said, referring to his father’s clients, who “assumed their wealth translated into knowledge and taste. But all they had was money. So they would … tell him what to do and he would … end up doubling their budget and doing exactly what he wanted to do.”
The son worked on and off for his father up until he died. “He would throw me this scribbly drawing and tell me to make something out of it,” Mr. Jaffe explained. “He’d come back … look at what I’d done, crumple it up, and I’d have to start over. He was never satisfied with his own work, which always led him to push me to do better.”
Mr. Jaffe said that near the end of his father’s life, he felt that his dad had in some ways renounced the “pig-outs,” especially in his design of the Gates of Grove, a sweeping glass-and-wood structure that he’d designed for the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton.
Meanwhile, after barely graduating from East Hampton High School, Miles Jaffe kicked around a bit doing some carpentry work and finally ended up enrolling at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied industrial design and jewelry design. Then he went back to Bridgehampton. But in the early 90′s, Miles Jaffe enrolled in a graduate computer-science program at the University of Delaware.
Two months later, he got the call. On August 19, his 61-year-old father went out for an early-morning swim at the beach on the end of Ocean Avenue in Bridgehampton, and never came back. His clothes were found. His Mercedes was found. And a month later, a pelvic bone washed up onshore that was identified as his.
Mr. Jaffe, who was named the executor of his father’s estate, returned to the house on Corwith Avenue in Bridgehampton where Norman Jaffe had kept his office. He went home to put his father’s affairs in order. He has not left since. These days, apart from the work of monitoring Nuke the Hamptons e-mails and filling T-shirt and hot-sauce orders from the online gift shop (neither of which he says he makes a profit on), Mr. Jaffe has been fashioning on his lathe a series of metal art objects he plans to sell, called “The Ritual Objects of Cosmology.”
Mr. Jaffe seems unresolved about what happened to his father, especially the official explanation of his death. “I know perfectly well what happened to Norman,” he said bitterly. “I know exactly what happened, but I’m not going to go there.” He declined to elaborate further. He did, however, acknowledge that from 1993 to 1997, he was engaged in a bitter dispute over his father’s estate with Sarah Stahl Jaffe, the woman his father married in 1986.
“Nuke the Hamptons is negative, but the story about my father is truly horrible,” he said, his voice pinched in distress. “As bad as the values of wealth that we see here [are], the values that I saw as executor of my father’s estate were infinitely worse. I found myself getting caught up in materialism, when that’s not who I am or what I’m about …. I’m not entitled to anything!”
Then Mr. Jaffe said something that suggested he’d been thinking a lot about the mysteries of life and death. “I’m lucky to be walking and breathing on this earth,” he said. “How many hundreds of millions of sperm were released that day back in 1958? How many? And I’m the one who made it.”
Mr. Jaffe was behind the wheel of his 4-Runner, conducting what he promised to be a look into the Hampton’s Heart of Darkness. Every so often, the S.U.V. would screech to a halt and Mr. Jaffe would point to something that offended him, such as the foundation of a new public toilet being constructed behind the Golden Pear in Bridgehampton. He railed against the traffic; the local farmer whom he once saw parking in a handicapped spot; the guy who hip-checked him in the Bridgehampton post office; the producer of action movies who never paid him for an addition he’d worked on; and the “S.O.B.” who parked too close to his car at a yard sale seven years ago.
Houses that were set too far apart from one another in the potato fields, he said, looked like “turds that fell out of the tall cow’s ass.” He pointed out each of the estates in the distance. “Plop, plop, plop plop, plop,” he said.
In Sagaponack, he took a sharp right down a dirt road with a foreboding sign posted at the road. “Private drive? No trespassing? Fuck you!” he said, and stepped on the pedal. He stopped the truck and gazed to the right. Looming before him was Ira Rennert’s unfinished pink colossus. After theorizing that Mr. Rennert was going to use the 60,000-square-foot house not as a residence, but as an Orthodox Jewish retreat, Mr. Jaffe fell into silence, as if even he could not explain the size of this dwelling.
Eventually, Mr. Jaffe threw his S.U.V. into drive and doubled back to the main road. Then, by a series of turns, he ended up parked in the driveway of a house that he said his father had designed for The Onion Field director Harold Becker. It was made of stone, had no windows visible on the side and, like many of his father’s homes, sticks up against the landscape like a space-age cowlick, albeit a very attractive one. Mr. Jaffe’s tone lightened. “Norman did this when we came back from a trip to the British Isles,” he said. “I was 11. It was 1969. We were visiting castles in Ireland. It’s a modest house as well. The beauty of this is, when you drive up, you just see this wall. It’s wacky! It’s a wonderful, small, tight, inventive thing with some inspiration from another time.”
Mr. Jaffe put his 4-Runner in reverse and headed home.