First Fondler Will Love Our Own Little Slice of Hell

T.S. Eliot might have called his poem The Waste Hamptons :

August is the cruelest month,

Springing cretins out of the cool boutiques,

Mixing memory and Mammon …

How fitting that the worst time of summer, in the worst summer in memory, be inaugurated by a Presidential visit! And that Bill Clinton is to stay with the Steven Spielbergs, no less! Surely, Clio can never have contrived another juxtaposition so sublimely ironic. (Note to recent Brown University graduates: Clio is the muse of history; the place your prom outfit came from is called Chloe!) Just think! Steven Spielberg playing host to Bill Clinton. The director of Saving Private Ryan , a film that celebrates–with what one hears is an intense and sanguinary mastery–soldierly values like courage under fire, patriotism and supreme sacrifice, opening his house just a week after the picture opens, to a person who is the walking, talking repudiation of those very same qualities! An indulgence-peddling political charlatan, a draft dodger in the bargain, a man to whom (in ascending order of importance) the vows of marriage, the oath of office and the rules of golf appear to be issues of equal indifference.

“Indifference” seems to be the word for the reaction hereabouts to the President’s impending visit. Gridlock is the big fear; let the S.O.B. do what he wants, the feeling seems to be, just as long as he doesn’t tie up traffic. Which, come to think of it, is exactly the feedback one would expect from a place in which locals now talk about “Goldman Sachs money” with the same close, grudging attention once paid to the weather. In other words, let the S.O.B. do what he wants, just so long as he stays out of the way of the Dow Jones.

I intend to do my bit by not adding to the traffic hysteria: remaining on my porch and reading a tandem of books about the fateful 1968-1975 hinge of American history, William Bundy’s Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (Hill & Wang) and its necessary pendant, Allen Matusow’s Nixon’s Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars & Votes (University Press of Kansas). It’s my guess that historians a hundred years from now will look to this time for the key to whatever will prove to be our destiny. In that short run of years, this nation’s “divine right” to claim supremacy (world hegemony) in matters military, moral and economic was called into question by the successive body blows of Vietnam, the Kennedy-King assassinations, Watergate, and–finally–OPEC and all that flowed therefrom. No political culture can sustain such massive shocks within such a brief space without trauma. I don’t think ours did.

But that’s a subject for another time. Right now, it is every man’s duty out this way to do his part to make the First Liar’s sojourn amusing and educational. Everyone should be on his or her best behavior. For some, this won’t be easy. Take “the Serial Groper,” a fellow who–to hear him talk–will surely be included in the First Feeler’s inner circle. In the past two or three years, this chap’s busy hands under the table and his line of dirty talk have made him every local woman’s most feared dinner partner; instead of borrowing a gown from Oscar or Bill for a big evening, a matron who learns that she’s to be placed next to the S.G. is likely to call the Armor Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and beg the loan of a bodice and skirt of chain mail. Well, for the upcoming big weekend, I fear the S.G.’s just going to have to subordinate his own libidinous urges to the droit du seigneur of his Fondler in Chief. Forget Private Ryan : In 1998, this is what is meant by the responsibilities of rank.

All people like me have to offer are the hard-won fruits of experience and observation. So, in that spirit, let’s see what advice this longtime Hamptons-dweller, who first poked his pudgy, pink toes into the Southampton sand in 1938, can offer.

1. Make Sure He Hangs With the Right People. A few years back, this space identified Four People as the South Fork’s equivalent to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse described in Revelations: Martha Stewart, Mort Zuckerman, Jerry Della Femina and Peggy Siegal. All are still going strong, I’m pleased to be able to report (see below), with their doings ceaselessly recorded by the social eschatologists of Dan’s Papers and Hamptons in “party pictures” as gruesome as anything imagined by Dürer or Bosch. But with the 90’s boom, eight hands is proving too few to spread the dreadfulness around an exponentially growing territory, and I think that it’s now necessary to add a fifth. Not another horseperson, however: This would be both anachronistic and redundant. I’ve had, instead, the happy inspiration of complementing the Celestial Cavalry with a Sherman tank, if you will, which also seems singularly appropriate in this summer of Private Ryan . So rumble forward, please, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, to take your place in the line waiting to greet the President as he reviews the local luminaries: not only the Five Horsepersons, but others (I am making none of these people up) whose frenetic comings and goings I follow avidly, such as Summer Zimberg, Tiffany Svobobova, “Celebrity Furrier” Dennis Basso, Ahmed Attkad, Princess Zarina of Malaysia and my absolute favorite, a gentleman always captioned with his full billing: “His Excellency Detlev Baurs-Krey, Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Republic of San Marino,” who owns a shirt shop in Southampton.

2. Make Sure He Appreciates the Place for Its Best Qualities. We have sun, sea, fabulous beaches, delicious produce, but what we do better than anywhere is hypocrisy. This summer, Guild Hall in East Hampton has had the happy inspiration of inaugurating a series of gabfests in which some dreadful local tendency or phenomenon (hideous architecture, overdevelopment) is trashed by a panel of the very people who are proximately or indirectly responsible for the horrors they have kindly given of their time to come to Guild Hall to deplore. Thus it was that a recent panel on the architectural degradation visible wherever one turns consisted of architects Charles Gwathmey and Robert Stern, Ralph Lauren publicist and sometime culture critic Paul Goldberger, Martha Stewart (of whom no more need be said, the very name suffices). It was moderated, with all the delicacy, I am told, of a Panzerschutz crashing through the forests of the Ardennes (no relation, my Brown beauties, to Elizabeth Ardennes) by the aforesaid Barbaralee. Then there was one on the “Once and Future Hamptons” featuring Jerry Della F., notwithstanding that many think that a place in which Jerry has sunk deep roots has a somewhat less promising future than the Sudan. In a couple of weeks: “Is Responsible Journalism an Oxymoron?” with Mort Zuckerman playing both the ox and the moron. What can possibly be next: Peggy Siegal on Hamptons graciousness?

3. Make Sure He Sees Local Landmarks. We don’t have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier out here (a Tomb of the Well-Known Arbitrageur isn’t quite the same thing), but we aren’t entirely bereft of notable sights. I recommend a visit to the Two Ugliest Houses in the World. I have no idea who lives in the first, or who the “architect” may have been, but the address is 325 Mecox Road, and it should not be missed. The second is in the Georgica Association, and belongs to the daughter of Sotheby’s impresario Lord Tubman. These make the clubhouse at Royal Birkdale look like Fallingwater. Both should be approached either on foot, or at wheeled speeds not exceeding 5 m.p.h., as the visual shock may cause drivers to lose control of car or bicycle.

4. Teach Him About Our Local Mores. After all, the man’s going to be a private citizen soon enough, and surely this will be the venue of first choice for someone of his character, values and proven ability to make money for his friends. Perhaps he could open a Chinese restaurant, with Loral satellites in place of waiters. The first thing he needs to be made to understand is that the Hamptons are structured on the principle of exclusion. So, just for fun, why not have the White House reserve two tables at Nick & Toni’s and see who gets the boot to make room. This will be good practice for a really vile plutocratic habit that has taken hold in these parts. Namely, if you want a favor done by one of the local “little people,” have your secretary make the call. Don’t even give a thought to how such behavior may impact your chances of getting into the Maidstone Club or the South Hampton Bathing Corporation, of which the aforesaid little person on the other end may be a member. Clubs are still important out here, but manners and what used to be called “clubbability” no longer count for that much. But be warned, Mr. President, the quid pro quos have escalated. It used to be that a mere two or three invitations to a Canadian salmon camp, a private trout preserve in Montana or a leased grouse shoot in Scotland or at Biddick would buy access, but now, what with Goldman, Sachs & Company’s I.P.O. looming large, the standard has climbed to closer to 10, and nothing less than a G-5 to get you there. No prob for a fellow with his own Air Force, of course. But one needn’t be obvious. One good story making the rounds has an importantly placed oldveau Snotmeister bartering a membership in a much-coveted club in order to win a climber’s needed approval of a lucrative co-op sale. When money ceases to count for everything–as it does when too many have too much–then manners begin to count for something. As you will soon be a private citizen, best to learn these things now.

6. See He Gets a Good Sleep . This is easy. Make sure he has a copy of Philistines at the Hedgerow on the night table. Nothing like some really hot 1957 gossip to induce the embrace of Morpheus.

All good fun, yes? I suppose so.

Unfortunately, for many of us who knew this place when … a tidal ripple of sorrow engulfs any ability to laugh. For many months now, Mark Hampton had been wrestling with the black angel of cancer. On Thursday, July 23, it finally got the better of him and bore him off. There is so much I could say, would want to say about Mark on behalf of myself and my children and Valerie to his wife, Duane, whose gallantry has forever redefined the word “trouper,” to his daughters Kate and Alexa, at their parents’ shoulder every heart-tearing inch of the way, to all his other friends. With Mark, friendship was always about you, never him. Glenn Bernbaum got it right when he said to me, “Mark is a truly superior person.” A life-enhancer such as Bernard Berenson could only dream of.

His professional attainments were notable, and depended upon the custom of the rich and celebrated, but he never fell into the trap. Money can buy most anything, but three things it cannot: a repeating golf swing, a sense of humor, the esteem of worthwhile people. Mark wasn’t a golfer (it was his only deficiency of character) but he understood the last two better than anyone I’ve ever known.

At his passing, after so much struggle and expenditure of courage and energy not only for life but to keep up his friends’ spirits, I cannot help but quote the lines from the Iliad , in Alexander Pope’s great translation, having to do with the death of Sarpedon: Apollo is dispatched to earth by Zeus and

“Thence from the war the breathless hero bore

Veiled in a cloud, to silver Simois’ shore:

There bath’d his honorable wounds, and drest

His manly members in th’immortal vest;

And with perfumes of sweet ambrosial dews,

Restores his freshness, and his form renews.

Then Sleep and Death, two twins of winged race,

Of matchless swiftness, but of silent pace,

Received Sarpedon, at the God’s command,

And in a moment reach’d the Lycian land;

The corpse amid his weeping friends they laid,

Where endless honors await the sacred shade.”

I never traveled with Mark–it is my great regret–but someday I will, in that Lycian land beyond the border of night, and his wit and patience and effervescence will light it up the way he lit up so many lives in this too-short stop along the way. In the meantime, we have our thoughts of him. As a designer he was an undoubted genius, but as a friend, he was a miracle!

First Fondler Will Love Our Own Little Slice of Hell