Artie Gimlet Checks In to Survey His Hamptons

“Well,” said Artie Gimlet, “it just goes to show-not even

the fanciest S.U.V. can always handle snow.”

And with that he hung up, leaving me puzzling over exactly

what he was trying to say.

Artie had called to complain that I wasn’t writing about him

and his life at “da beach” anymore. He’s finally seen the light and bought into

the Age of Clinton theory that any publicity is better than none. Of course, it

worked better under Bill Clinton, who believed that if everyone’s lying, no one

is, and therefore whatever is said by anyone at any time under any

circumstances-but especially for money-must be true.

What precipitated Artie’s call was that a local Hamptons

parasite who conducts a gossip column in the Post had apparently printed that I was spending four days a week on

the East End, and Artie was porked off that I hadn’t given him a bell or rested

my head overnight on one of the Pourthault pillows for which the Denise Rich

look-alike who was three girlfriends ago had made him shell out $300 a copy. I

explained that this particular gossipist had it wrong, as is not uncommon in

his work. I go out there one night a week to keep Francis company while his

mother comes up to the city, and now and then I drive out to play golf with

friends at a club we’ve all belonged to for 40 years. When I mentioned the

last, I swear I detected an audible curse at the other end. It seems that Artie

has managed finally to join a new golf club, and bought “all the right s-,” as

he puts it, but the town fathers of the district in which it’s located won’t

allow the course to be played on for environmental reasons. Artie’s not a big

conservationist. He subscribes to a theory of Nature set forth by F. Scott

Fitzgerald in his 1931 short story “Babylon Revisited”: “… the snow of

twenty-nine wasn’t real snow. If you didn’t want it to be snow, you just paid

some money.”

You should take up polo, I advised Artie. It’s palpably less

exclusive and probably, by now, less expensive: For $250K, one is likely to

meet a class of people no worse than at a new Hamptons golf club. Of course, I

reminded him, there are always risks, aesthetic as well as physical, associated

with getting on a horse, and I urged him to pin a picture that recently

appeared in Dan’s Papers -of Wilbur

Ross mounted-above his mallet rack and study it every day as an example of what

one must never look like. Never!

I went on to explain to Artie that the reason I had stopped

writing about him was that there had been complaints to my editor that “The

Gimlet Chronicles” showed the crowd to which Artie belongs-and, even worse, the

crowd to which he aspires-in a less-than-flattering light. The complaints had

been accompanied by the sort of pressure which a Hodding Carter or William

Allen White would have been hard-pressed to resist, and as I love my editor,

and respect him, and value his well-being both physical and mental, I felt that

my discretion would be a better alternative than his valor.

“That’s B.S.!” declared Artie. “You’re just sour grapes

about here. You couldn’t cut it. You didn’t have the money. You couldn’t handle

the change. Loser!”

It was like trying to have an intelligent conversation with

that aviator-goggled maggot in East Hampton who also keeps calling me names. In

the interest of civility, I pleaded guilty on all counts. Actually, I had a

nice stroll round Sag Harbor the other day. Much seemed agreeably unchanged. On

the porch of the American Hotel-a venue I shall never again darken with my

presence-Ted Conklin was engaged in lively conversation with a person I took to

be an Irish washerwoman from the fact that she was brandishing the flag of

Eire. Upstreet, Ned Parkhouse still purveys the absolute best in classical,

jazz and decent pop music. Canio’s remains an incomparable bookstore. Gary has

the Ideal humming along. BikeHampton is nonpareil in its field. I took the kids

to Superica for a light Mexican collation. Tip-top! Other old standbys are

still going strong: Connoisseurs of the grotesque cannot do better than the

party pictures in Dan’s Papers ,

especially when they feature someone called Dennis Basso. Hamptons magazine is still a piece of s-.

Some changes are for the better. I love what the new owners have done to my old house on Madison

Street. Workmen are swarming like ants over the big house my briefly former

squeeze Nancy Richardson bought a few years ago; when the restoration is

finished, the place will be a marvel.

We switched the subject to what might be called “the State

of the Hamptons.” Artie tried to sound upbeat, but there was an edge to his

voice that I read as a subconscious admission that the fun isn’t there any

more. The parties stink, hardly worth the money it takes to buy one’s way in;

real estate is in the toilet; all one thinks about from dawn to dusk is “Where

can I park?” These were the messages that flowed along the bottom edge of our

conversational screen like TV weather alerts.

I suggested he sell the Wainscott house that the Peggy

Siegal look-alike who was five girlfriends ago made him buy. It’s on a dreadful

new road, still unpaved, called “[Something] Close,” and I’m told that when the

wind blows, you think you’re in the Moroccan Sahara. Move to Saint Tropez, I

counseled. There are really good real-estate deals there, I told him, now that

the interesting people who made Saint Tropez a glamour spot have thrown in the

towel in the face of the barbarian hordes and are selling up and moving out. I

could tell from Artie’s sulky tone that he thought I was equating him and his

Hamptons ilk with the Visigoths who have ruined the South of France, and I hastened

to correct the impression. We talked a bit more-about cabbages and kings, about

recent sensational Hamptons doings-then he made his enigmatic S.U.V. remark and

rang off.

I don’t miss Artie much. One call a summer from him is

plenty. There are bigger things to think about, heart-tearing stuff like the

death last week, from long illnesses bravely borne by all concerned, of two

ornaments of my generation: Billy Breed, dead at 66 of Alzheimer’s, and Nick

Potter, dead at 62 of cancer.

These were the kind of guys that gave WASP’s a good name,

that made you understand why people envy the tribe, why they copy it, try to

pass, buy up our stuff at auctions. William Constable Breed III was in my class

at Buckley, then went off to St. Paul’s, on to Middlebury and the Army, and

then a good marriage and a good life and a good career. He was a great

athlete-could run like the wind, play any sport you’d name, and was handsome

enough in a classical way to belong in the Greek galleries at the Met.

Edgewood, the firm he founded (and which a second generation now runs), handles

my family’s modest affairs. They’ve done wonderfully, and they treat us as if

we were Phippses. You can’t ask for more. C. Nicholas Potter got it all done,

too, 1-2-3: Yale, the U.S. Navy and then a super marriage, life and career. Son

of a schoolmaster, he built up the investment end of J.P. Morgan over three

decades. He was a scholar, he was a gentleman, he was an athlete, he was fun,

he was foursquare. He was a great father, a great friend. Like Bill, he hadn’t

a phony bone in his body. I can’t tell you how much their families and people

like me are going to miss these two.

The older I get, the more I look around and see who’s taken

and who’s left standing, the more I tend to think the so-called cosmic joke is

sick. And then I think again. For some time, I’ve turned to the death notices

in The Times and read every single one first thing: not out of morbid

interest, but because reading them brings home the truth of Donne’s observation

that we are not islands unto ourselves, but pieces that Lethe’s current will

some day tear away and carry off. That all these people I never knew, and the

survivors that I don’t know, are caught up, as am I-as are you, Dear Reader-in

a common fellowship of mortality and grief.

In the way of our tribe, the remains of Bill Breed and Nick

Potter will be put to rest in privacy, with discretion. In future times, their

graves will be visited by their loved ones, and now and then by friends. They

never got their pictures in Quest ,

were never habitués of Page Six. But there is a truth to their lives that we do

well to meditate upon. It’s best expressed in the last sentence of Middlemarch : “… for the growing good of

the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so

ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number that

lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Artie Gimlet

would do well to consider that statement.