The movie Gladiator was playing on a big screen above the dance floor at Conscience Point as a blond go-go dancer, one of a dozen working the Southampton nightclub for the summer, gyrated up on the edge of a banquette.
Clad in a skimpy, shredded One Million Years B.C. bikini, she didn’t have much room and had to snap at and even slap a few over-eager patrons to get them to give her some space.
“Back, back!” the dancer said, kicking with her black patent leather, high heel boots. “You have to get down!” Then she turned her smile back on.
Just a few feet away stood her boss, the club’s new owner Christian Curry. He wore a U.S. Open cap backwards on his head and a look of approval on his smooth face as he stared for the longest time at the dancer’s nearly bare ass.
It was around 1 a.m. on Friday, May 24, the official beginning of the post-Lizzie Grubman, post-Barbara Kopple, post-Jeff Salaway, post-Sept. 11 Hamptons summer season, and the mood at the nightclub didn’t feel that much different than it had the summer before. Though the only blood being spilled was on the movie screen, the music was throbbing, the liquor was flowing and the crowd seemed to be looking for something intangible-love, acceptance, validity-in the humid tangle of human bodies.
Delphina Suarez, a 25-year-old flight attendant, stood near the club’s back bar. It was her first time in the Hamptons and she was drinking a Sex on The Beach. “I hope it’s all that it’s cracked up to be,” she said. “They’re supposed to be where everybody is, right? The happening place in the summertime.”
But when The Transom asked Ms. Suarez what would make her night unforgettable, she gave an interesting answer. After taking a sip of her Sex on the Beach drink, she replied: “Not to get hurt.”
Of course, it’s impossible to judge a whole season from a 72-hour sojourn, but one prominent and socially active denizen of Long Island’s South Fork likened the Hamptons over Memorial Day weekend to “a carnival where there’s been an accident on one of the rides.” The lights and music were on, the carnies were doing their usual shtick, and there was no shortage of people looking for a good time, but like Ms. Suarez, a lot of people seemed wary of blindly giving themselves over to the Tilt-A-Whirl of a Hamptons summer.
And yet others were hoping that fields, seascapes and nightlife of the Hamptons would do what they had done ever since they had become Manhattan’s playground: provide a place to escape the terrorist warnings and economic disappointments that plague the city.
Ms. Suarez had come to Conscience Point with a 28-year-old friend in fashion merchandising named Carmen Alphonso. Ms. Alphonso said that she had come to the Hamptons for one reason: “To have fun after 9/11, that’s the bottom line,” she said.
I Got the Tisches!
Inside the club’s V.I.P. Room Mr. Curry’s partner Noah Tepperberg was holding court with four young beauties not far from where Ms. Grubman’s Mercedes had come to a rest.
“Last summer to me was very stressful,” Mr. Tepperberg said. “I think the reason this summer is going to be more fun than previous summers is because people aren’t expecting a big summer, because of the recession, because of all the horrible things that happened last summer. People are writing the Hamptons off already because there’s all this negative press, the rental market sucks, you haven’t heard about these big celebrity parties, and blah blah blah. So that lowers everyone’s expectations, so they come out with a little bit more carefree attitude.”
Did that mean that this year could end up being the Summer of Love in the Hamptons?
“No such thing anymore,” Mr. Tepperberg said.
Around that time, the expectant face of hotelier Jonathan Tisch appeared in the crowd. Mr. Curry materialized within seconds.
“I got the Tisches here!” Conscience Point’s new owner brayed.
Mr. Tepperberg watched his partner greet his V.I.P. guest, who had come with some friends. “He is so excited about what he is doing here,” Mr. Tepperberg said. “He’s having so much fun doing this, and I respect that because I worked hard and when I was doing it [at first] I didn’t get to enjoy myself as much. And at the same time I think he’s nuts. This was not the summer to go out there and open a new place.”
Did Mr. Tepperberg think people could forget about the Lizzie incident?
“Does it look like people right now, who are sitting against the exact wall that Lizzie drove the car into, are really thinking about what happened 10 months ago there? No one’s thinking about what happened last summer or how bad the year was. I think people who are in the Hamptons are here to have fun.”
But even those who came to forget could not help but remember.
Just outside the V.I.P. room, Brad Sharenow, a 24-year-old who works at Sony Music, was drinking a vodka and tonic by the bar.
Had he thought of Ms. Grubman’s incident before he walked in?
“It crossed my mind,” Mr. Sharenow said. “You talk about it, but you don’t really like to think about it because it’s something that happened a long time ago, and you’re looking to just to get away from that. It has nothing to do with me.” Then he added: “I was just worried about getting in.”
An Instant Coma
The following morning started promising enough. The sun was out. A cool breeze rustled the verdant scenery. Around 8 a.m., actor Roy Scheider, dressed in heather gray shorts and a matching sweatshirt was nursing an English muffin and reading the morning papers at the front booth of the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton. And a guy who looked suspiciously like sports columnist Mike Lupica was trying to crack wise at the cash register. Further West, television producer Robert Morton and his wife and baby daughter were browsing Kay-Bee Toys at Bridgehampton commons. Mr. Morton had sold his Hamptons home last year, but he said: “How could I miss Memorial Day weekend in the Hamptons.”
By evening there was a full moon low in the chilly sky, but little of the raffish, lupine behavior that tends to come with it. The several hundred guests who were invited to Hamptons magazine publisher Jason Binn’s modest home in an extremely suburban section of Southampton weren’t exactly going berserk. Then again it was only 7:30 p.m., but word had already spread that Sean (P. Diddy) Combs was not going to be performing as had been printed in one of the local gossip columns-he never even showed-and the three-piece lounge act wasn’t exactly raising the roof with its CD-101 vibe. Conversation was entirely possible and no one was standing perilously close to the pool.
At the entrance to Mr. Binn’s house, Chuck Zito, who has worked as a bodyguard for Mickey Rourke and Mike Tyson and has a role in HBO prison series Oz , was working as the gatekeeper. He wore a Hells Angels leather jacket adorned with an image from a local firehouse that depicted firemen on the burning Twin Towers.
Mr. Zito wasn’t too worried about the summer. “I think everybody’s trying to come together,” he said. Certainly, everyone would be on their best behavior for Mr. Zito. “Basically everybody is very respectful to me because they know I don’t really give two shits,” he said. “Because if they’re not respectful we’re going to get it on. They could be put in an instant coma.”
The food being served at Mr. Binn’s party was the kind that might be served at one’s first apartment party after college. A wheel of brie, store-bought crackers, a bowl of miniature candy bars.
The crowd, meanwhile, was a mix of the young and beautiful and the old and vain, most of whom ended up in Mr. Binn’s living room to get out of the cold. Socialite Elisabeth Kieselstein-Cord, both Hilton sisters (with boyfriends), New York magazine sex columnist Amy Sohn and Dutch model May Anderson (on the prowl) were present as was Page Six editor Richard Johnson and Philistines at the Hedgerow author Steven Gaines.
“A bunch of people watching each other and maybe a little disappointed there’s no one more fabulous than they,” Ms. Sohn said.
Cable sex show host Robin Byrd was in line for the bathroom. A preppie young man, about 21 years old, walked up to her and said, “Hey, did I pick you up hitchhiking last summer?” Ms. Byrd was taken aback. “No, you didn’t,” she said. “He must not watch the show,” her male friend told her.
Elsewhere, a number of the conversations seemed to revolve around who had managed to see Ms. Kopple’s Hamptons documentary before its broadcast. Another topic was whether the Hamptons had recovered from last summer. The recently single Ms. Kieselstein-Cord, who had come to the party with her date, Bruno, said that she thought this year would be the “summer of redemption” in the Hamptons.
Somehow, Radioman, né Craig Schwartz, the homeless man who hangs out on movie sets in Manhattan, had made it to Mr. Binn’s party where he sat on a bench in a corner of the back yard. “These are what you call, I guess, the beautiful rich people. Some of them I admire. Some of them give me weird stares, like what the hell am I doing here?” he said. “Some seem to be friendly and nice. Others probably want to stick a knife in your back or my back.”
Radioman said the vibe at the party was “confusing” to him. “Looking at all these people, a lot of them don’t even know why they’re here,” he continued. “A lot of good women here, a lot of beautiful breasts and all running around. They’re trying to show it off.”
Mr. Gaines, who is one of the stars of Ms. Kopple’s documentary, was about to leave for dinner. “I’m hoping that maybe the documentary will have some effect, kind of like holding up the shield to Don Quixote-the shiny reflective shield of cinema vérité -and these people will see how vainglorious and impatient and nasty and entitled they are. And they’ll stop that.”
Writer Anthony Haden-Guest, who was also trolling the Hamptons party, first came to the Hamptons more than 20 years ago. But he wasn’t exactly thinking about the bucolic wonders of the East End as he approached the unshaven Mr. Johnson of Page Six fame.
The column had recently run an item about Mr. Haden-Guest’s recent weekend in Miami to promote his latest book, Chronicles of Now . According to Page Six, at a nightclub there, he had let a “literary groupie” examine his penis, and faster than you could say “Monster.com,” a photograph of said appendage had surfaced on the Internet.
“What was that about, why’d you write that?” Mr. Haden-Guest asked, provoking laughter from Mr. Johnson.
At that moment, the source of the item, self-styled press agent Doug Dechert walked up behind Mr. Haden-Guest. More laughing ensued.
“Doug said you’d be cool with it!” Mr. Johnson said.
“No, I wasn’t!” Mr. Haden-Guest replied.
Things got tense as Mr. Haden-Guest started yelling at Mr. Dechert, who pleaded innocence. Although the two men almost came to blows, they eventually reconciled. Later that evening, one guest who was perhaps inspired by Mr. Haden-Guest’s reported experience, saw fit to unzip his fly and expose his testicles, a practice known in frat houses everywhere as “hanging brains”.
A little later in the evening, The Transom asked Mr. Haden-Guest if he thought people would behave in a more mature manner in the Hamptons this summer. “Of course not,” he said. “Why would they suddenly change? This is no longer a seaside resort, it’s Manhattan continued by other means. Look at this party here, this is a velvet rope party in the middle of a seaside town, right? And no one’s surprised. Chuck Zito wasn’t at the door when I first started coming to the Hamptons.”
How did Mr. Haden-Guest think the summer would go?
“Inevitably it will be worse,” he said. “Human behavior is not improving.
Restaurateur and author Taylor Stein was a bit more hopeful for the future of the Hamptons. “I think last year brought the insanity to an ugly head,” Ms. Stein said. “And it had to stop, the same way the 70′s had to stop.
“Lizzie was the scapegoat for all of us, Ms. Stein said of Ms. Grubman. “We were all misbehaving … and I think we all looked at ourselves and said, `My God”, you know, it could have been us. I think a lot of people have been touched and emotionally they’re in different places. I think people are happier, they’re less bitter. I feel that it’s the summer of love.”
Midway through the party, Mr. Curry showed up and headed to the bar. He was wearing a big diamond stud in his ear.
A few years ago Mr. Curry got fired from Morgan Stanley after pictures of him nude in a gay magazine surfaced in the office. Morgan Stanley claimed he was let go for expense account abuse but Mr. Curry, who is black, sued the company for discrimination. Eventually the case was settled and Mr. Curry received what is believed to be many millions of dollars, with which he reportedly bought Conscience Point.
Mr. Curry said two years ago he couldn’t even get into Conscience Point. “I would stay in line 45 minutes, an hour. When I couldn’t get in that summer, I thought “fuck it, one day I’m going to buy the place!”
Sagman After Dark
In the twilight, another star of Ms. Kopple’s Hamptons documentary, 29-year-old Josh Sagman, took a seat on the bench. Mr. Sagman is a venture capitalist who runs share house rentals for young singles and dabbles in “oxygen bars” and live music lounges. He’s also the guy that ad man and Hamptons newspaper owner Jerry Della Femina singled out as “the slick young party animal who will have you rushing from your television set to your shower with his oily, forced laughter and Animal House morality” in his local column.
Mr. Sagman said he hadn’t seen the documentary but he seemed aware of the press that he had generated. Either way, he wasn’t too worried. Last year he told The Observer his friends thought he was “crazy” to appear in Ms. Kopple’s documentary but that he trusted her.
“Barbara’s great,” he said a year later. “I’m excited. I don’t know! You know, truthfully, man, I don’t know what to expect. I feel people are going to love me or hate me.
“I’m reading all this stuff like people don’t believe that anyone could be like that,” Mr. Sagman said. But, he added: “That’s me.”
Did he have anything to say to Mr. Della Femina? “I have issues with people that don’t know me, Josh Sagman, personally,” he said.
Think what you will about Mr. Sagman’s party-boy demeanor, he’s one of the few people in Ms. Kopple’s documentary who seems determined to squeeze every ounce of nectar out of the Hamptons during his summer there. By the second episode of ABC’s “reality miniseries,” he is seen literally skydiving into its lush beauty.
In this post-Sept. 11 world, with its barrage of terrorist threats and doomsday scenarios, it’s hard not to harbor admiration, albeit grudgingly, for a guy who’s still capable of letting his heart soar, fear and self-consciousness be damned.
A year later, Mr. Sagman seemed a little more introspective, but not that much. “This summer’s going to be mellow, but I have a saying that I’ve heard and I really feel this way,” he said. “[Your] 20′s are for having fun, [your] 30′s are for making money.” Mr. Sagman said he’s turning 30 on Labor Day weekend.
“There’s going to be a huge party,” he said, and then he let loose a hearty, oily laugh.
Follow George Gurley via RSS.