Monday, July 21, 2014

The Dan's Papers Story: "Love and Loss in 'The Hamptons'"

©2014twmcdermott

Rogers Beach, Westhampton
When I first heard someone talk about a "Hampton," I was still too young to know how adults could use the secret language of summer places to register people socially. Each “Hampton” signified something or other about a friend or their family. For those headed to Southhampton, it was definitely a money and gin & tonics on the porch kind of thing. Westhampton evoked something simpler, people who like the beach and disliked longer drives. Quoge? What’s a Quogue?

Back in the back 50s and early 60s, when I was growing up in Forest Hills, the locals who spent their summers on eastern Long Island never referred to a place called “The Hamptons.” Instead, they told friends they were going to particular places, East Hampton, Westhampton Beach. And, those friends didn’t go weak at the knees believing the lucky few might be hobnobbing with Hollywood or Wall Street.

My earliest encounter with the area still connects me to feelings of loneliness and loss. My best friend, Kurt, spent the summer in a house close-by Rogers Beach Club in Westhampton. At home, he lived in an apartment at one end of a long first floor hallway, and I at the other. He was my older almost brother by a mere 17 June days. Within a week after school closed, he was gone for the summer.

                    _________________________________________

When I was six or seven, my own family still visited the farm where my maternal grandfather had lived as a boy, in Matawan, New Jersey. You want to get a universe away from Hamptons life? Try an old farmhouse with two small barns on Texas Road; up the hill from the railroad and the proverbial roosters who woke me early, circa 1955. And the saltwater pool where my mother drove us to go swimming bore little relation to Kurt’s Dune Road.

There were no other kids around our “farm,” except my sisters, and they did not play ball or understand comic books; they had not mastered the art of hopping about while making galloping noises with your tongue and holding the reins of a broomstick horse between your legs. They had no clue about Hopalong, Wild Bill, or the Lone Ranger.

While Kurt was lazily walking 100 yards or so for an after-cereal ocean dip, I spent my Texas Road days with a gallop, lying in my pup tent upon pine needles, reading comics. Or, sometimes I played with my land turtles captured in the blackberry field where my sister and I squatted to you know what when the old house’s plumbing quit, a not infrequent occurrence.

At summer’s end, when Kurt returned, I listened to his summer tales told in his raspy voice. Mostly we talked about Little League games he played. He convinced me that one boy had been born with three eyes and you could still see the scar in the middle of his forehead where it was removed. I still  remember the boy’s name – Jay Beaton – Jay, if you’re reading this, true story or not, apologies for bringing it up.

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Matawan NJ Station
At long last, we discontinued our farm trips after much lobbying by me and my older sister, we began spending the summer at the beach clubs of Atlantic Beach, at the extreme opposite end of Long Island from Westhampton. One year, Kurt and his family returned home mid-summer – his mother, Meg, had TB or maybe cancer.

The year we turned 13, Kurt’s mother died, and I think he stopped going to Westhampton shortly after that. Maybe his heartbroken dad, a big man who wore small bow ties with his suit, simply couldn’t bare it. Nobody explained that kind of thing to kids then.

But, a couple of years later when we were in high school, his aunt invited a few of his friends, including me, to stay at her rented house on Cox’s Curve Road in Westhampton.

Driving on Montauk Highway with my own family these days, I cannot resist calling out some of the stations the way that conductor did on our teenage  journey out east. I did it again with only my wife in the car recently. “Speeeooonk!” “Ronnnnkooonnkkaamaaaa!” Walt Whitman, eat your heart out.

                    ____________________________________

There was a little croquet club in by Cox’s Curve Road when we were teens. But, we weren’t much interested in croquet after discovering that club members living there had teenage daughters; we became very interested in them.

One day, we rented a small boat in Hampton Bays, a rowboat really with a small engine, and took it through the Shinnecock Canal. Quite an adventure, for city boys who knew nothing about boats or the difference between bay and ocean currents.

I knew even less about the currents flowing through me whenever I saw a certain one of those girls, an Upper East Side private school heartthrob if there ever was one.

I immediately fell overboard in love, and upon my return home would call her nearly every night from a pay phone, since I was too embarrassed to use our family phone. Her father conveyed a long sigh over the phone line to my corrugated booth, from where I could hear him call her in from the croquet lawn to speak with me.

The highlight of that first Hamptons’ trip, besides the girl, was seeing “Dr. No” at the cinema in town. After that, life pretty much became Before and After Ursula.

I managed exactly two “dates” with my summer love, one during that same summer when she had “things to do in town,” and I give thanks to her for introducing me to the Met and for a memorable, for me, modest kiss. The other took place in the fall, a birthday celebration for her friend whose parents took me and another boy for dinner at the tony Embers restaurant in the East 50s. Before, during, and after dinner she spoke not a word to me, sitting there in my best DePinna madras jacket and knit tie. I could tell that her friend was kicking her under the table. Some summers do end. With a thud.

____________________________________________________

My other summer love had been tennis, discovered when I was eight with my first taste of the “Nationals,” the Open’s forerunner, which took place at West Side Tennis Club, whose entrance was 50 yards from my bedroom.

After Wimbledon, a number of men’s and women’s satellite grass tournaments took place, including ones at Maidsone in East Hampton or Meadow Club in Southhampton.

I especially remember reading about and imagining events at Meadow Club, a place that seemed geographically and socially beyond reach to me. I could imagine the girls of August, and the Triumphs and Morgans parked beside the tall privet hedges. The girls, of course, wore cotton summer dresses, perhaps with a bright cardigan or a Shetland tied around their tan shoulders. I imagined them having club sandwiches or consommé Madrilène for lunch on the porch, drinking Gin & Tonics by the bar in the evening with their parents or boyfriends after play had ended for the day.

In September, after returning home to the city or Greenwich or Far Hills, they would come to the Nationals, and I would see them sitting on the West Side’s slate terrace, wandering the field courts, and sitting in the boxes.

______________________________________________________


In 1990, a year after beginning a new job, my boss invited my family to her house in Bridgehampton, on Pointe Mecox.

Sadly, the year before, Kurt was tragically killed in an accident outside Candlestick Park near San Francisco. He and I had renewed our friendship shortly before the accident and, returning to the Hamptons still reminded me of him and his stories.
Meadow Club

Ro, my boss, and her husband, Charles, had just bought their second home in the area. The new one was truly spectacular, with open views across the inlet and out to the ocean. The kitchen had a long marbled counter and was huge by my family’s standards; Ro had every inch of the refrigerator packed, and then some. My kids were immediately smitten with Ro and Charles, their house, and pool. This, at last, was the real Hamptons.

Charles had a shop in town called Country Gear, which we loved to visit, and I also loved riding a bicycle over to the Sag Store. I am incapable now of visiting the East End without thinking about Kurt and those wonderful days with Ro, who died a few years ago, and Charles.
      ________________________________________________


In late June this year, my wife and I attended a wedding in Quogue. Once again, it was summer love at first sight: the seaside church, the little Q44 shop run by a friend, the Field Club on a clear, warm, dry summer day, an iced tea at the Country Market.

I immediately decided to live there, although it wasn’t exactly clear how I would do that.

Quogue seems like a kind of un-Hampton. Hard to imagine Hillary, Spielberg, or The Donald venturing west of the canal. Quogue seems like the perfect summer solution.

I’ve never heard anyone from Quogue say they were going to “The Hamptons.”





Sunday, July 20, 2014

Missing Those Camp Visits in Maine

Ginny, Camp Wawenock, Lake Sebago, ME
©2014twmcdermott

I never went to camp, and had my parents tried to send me, I would have had Marxian – Groucho, not Karl – sentiments about going to some camp dumb enough to accept me. I was content to wander the streets near home, peddling my beloved Rudge with my new summer Keds, and watching or playing stickball, stoopball, or Whiffle Ball. Not to mention quaffing a thousand or so Mission brand sodas in a matter of weeks. That last one was funded by an occasional pass at mowing my grandfather’s lawn and clipping his hedges: a boy’s own hedge fund.

I never knew what I was missing until we contemplated sending our own children away to camps in Maine, beginning with my son Teddy, as he was then known. I was impressed that the camp’s director, known as “Chief,” came to our house to make a presentation to boys in the area about Camp Agawam on Crescent Lake near Raymond, where my brother-in-law had been a “Wam.” Teddy’s best friend Freddy went along with him for the seven-week stay.

Early this year, on a job interview in Seattle where he now resides, Ted met with the CEO of a small software company. She acknowledged his degree from what she recognized as a very fine college in Maine, Colby: an unusual thing to occur in the Northwest. But, she saved her biggest praise for Agawam, where, as “Corp” – all counselors received special monikers – he managed out-of-camp expeditions and in-camp games. In an amazing bit of serendipity, the CEO’s sister had gone to Camp Wawenock, Agawam’s nearby sister camp.

Of course, this kind of connection doesn’t necessarily lead to a job. But it does lead to a conclusion that picking the right camp could mean more than just a fun summer of swimming, hiking, canoeing, and possibly canoodling with Ms. or Mr. Summer Love.

My son would say, if fact, has said on several occasions that he owes the most important things he’s learned in life to his Agawam years. His mother and I believe him, even as we tote up the not inconsequential sum invested in other educational attempts to enlighten him.

Agawam’s foundations were Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft Laws – see link below – and the weekly Saturday night Council with its fire, magically lit by Chief’s use of his special tribal powers. Council included fun competitions between campers and each week boys would have a goal, called a katiaki to achieve.

As it happens, Chief’s daughter had attended Wawenock. His recommendation, as well as the fact that Freddy’s sister and his mom had also gone there, was enough to entice us to send our older daughter Betsy there.

Despite its close relationship with the Ags and Wams five miles away – only as the proverbial crow flies, and not by twisty, foggy lakeside roads – Wawenock was a decidedly different place, with its almost new-age approach to fun and friendships, overseen by two women, June and Pat, who had been there forever.  The girls had tribes too–Wawenocks and Owaissians – as well as a Sunday evening Council atop “Images” overlooking Sebago Lake and the sunset, where they sang songs and celebrated another week together.

"Corp" Ted McDernott's bunk, Crescent Lake ME
Betsy thrived at Wawenock, made lifelong friends there, and starred in the camp production of “Hello Dolly.” When her younger sister Ginny joined her at an early age – perhaps far too early – we had all three kids together in Maine for the summer.

Looking back at those years, it now occurs to me that Ginny’s greatest camp achievement was to perfect the fine art of a literary genre known as the Letter Home from Camp. “You’re really wasting your money here,” one missive began before listing the many ways the camp was wanting, the number of transgressions that she and her friend had been falsely accused of, and worse ones to which she pled guilty. “You really ought to just take me home when you visit,” she advised in another.


As if.

Eventually, and to our minor astonishment, the ladies who ran the camp pretty much agreed with her, but this only served to steel our determination to have her stick it out.

In hindsight, it’s clear that they meant well and we have only good feelings for the camp today. Ginny did stay for a while and I’m confident in stating that one way or another her camp years played a role in her becoming the fun, caring, bright young woman she is today.

Visiting camp, always on the hottest weekend of summer, and staying in a number of barely one-star hotels became our summer vacation for a number of years. By Sunday evening, heading home after driving back and forth around lakes for many hours, my wife and I were worn out, not to mention nearly broke from visiting outlets in Freeport.

One time, late in our careers as camp parents, we were headed south, passing Deb’s Diner and the miniature golf course, when I said to Becky, “You know, as funny as it sounds, we’re actually going to look back on these years and really miss them.”


We do, and trust me on this, so will you.

Ed Note: You can read more about Agawam's Woodcraft Laws and Camp Wawenock here:

http://www.campagawam.org/AboutUs_PhilWoodcraft.htm

http://campwawenock.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You Know You're a RareBurgher When You...

coburn 
©2014twmcdermott

Have never taken a selfie. And never will.

Drive a vehicle that is older than Lorde. But you get offers for it regularly.

Are fine with a red to accompany the fish.

Realize that James Coburn wore seersucker too. And it makes you smile.

Are able  eat a baloney sandwich on white bread and not die.

Know that wearing a summer cotton or linen dress during the day says that you just get certain things that some will never get.

Realize that wearing a coat and tie when you don't "have to" commands immediate admiration.

Know that if the oysters require sauce, not to bother.

Don't need to hide the freckles.

Never sit inside the corporate box. You prefer your own seats, outside.
new Vans!

May wear a hat into the city, but never a cap, unless you're at the game.

May recall when Time was Time, Warner was Warner, AOL was AOL and the world was a much finer place.

Can leave home without your phone and survive all day. And even into the evening.

Prefer not to swim in a body of water containing anything more more than salt and fish.

Have monthly communications bills which cost more than your first car.
$100 raincoat / DG in Aix



Still get excited about a new pair of sneakers.

Believe that Amazon means a river.

Think that the only bad thing about the hotels you love are the airports between you and them.

Laugh when your $100 Lands End raincoat is mistaken for an Armani.

Continue to teach your children well, love the one your with, and carry on once in a while, despite the odds.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fenwick I: July 5, 2014


KH House





New First/Old Fourth Green

Fenwick II: July 5, 2014






Old Fifth/New Second Par 3

Friday, July 4, 2014

Oh Canada, Indeed

©twmcdermott2014

Wimbledon 2006/ all photos by author
Two North Americans, one in the Ladies' Singles and one in the Gentlemen's, made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and still have a chance to win their respective Championship. Neither one of them is an American.

We speak, of course, of Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. The latter will now play in the final Saturday after her straight set semi-final win over Simona Halep of Romania.

How is it that two Swiss men can make Wimbledon's quarter-finals, but no American. A Bulgarian player is in the semis. For all the vaunted press about the resurgence of American women players not named Williams, not one made it into the quarters. Four Czech women made the quarters. Four.

Okay, we know that Wimbledon is not the Olympics or World Cup; these are professional tennis players representing themselves, their coaches, agents, sponsors, families, etcetera. Still, it's difficult to have fortnightly patriotic amnesia, which is becoming a regular affliction for fans even of our own US Open.

This would all be beside the point, except that the United States Tennis Association – born United States Lawn Tennis Association until the roots of the game became an embarrassment – has been spending enormous sums of money on both women's and men's junior programs, especially inner city programs, in order to produce more champions. Much of the revenue from the Open not used to support the USTA operating staff and bureaucracy, is used for programs to develop future champions, including the popular Under Ten graduated teaching method.

Results to date: love all around*.

In May, the USTA announced that it will build the "new home of American tennis" in Lake Nona, FL, near Orlando, with more than 100 courts. At a cost of  $60 million.

Why?

Well, one reason is that they have the money, which they get from the TV contracts, corporate suites, and $12 US Open beers. But the open is a kind of chimera. Walking the grounds in the early rounds, seeing the fan enthusiasm, one might easily believe that tennis is thriving around the country. Not necessarily so.

I play doubles nearly every weekend with a small revolving group of men. Playing next to us each weekend is a group of women. When all of us finish, before noon, we are almost always the only ones who have been playing for fun at a club with 12 superlative Har-Tru courts and a 100 year-old proud tennis tradition. And courts will remain empty throughout the weekend.
Forest Hills Stadium/ WSTC /2013

The club's A and B men's teams are likely to be playing a match or practicing when we leave. The women's teams played during the week. But, those are scheduled events, as are the children's lessons and clinics. There are precious few who are still playing tennis just for the pure joy of it, with their friends. Just because they feel like it. While the USTA plunks its money down in training center roulette, "social" tennis is dying all over the country, the same way that golf is.

Back to the Open.

Arthur Ashe Stadium was built to accommodate more corporate sponsors and their guests in the lower and middle sections of the stadium. The top or "300" sections are good if you want to be present but terrible if you want to be a real spectator; the more affordable seats are useless if you're a real fan.

Many of the attendees at the night sessions, at which only a few matches are scheduled, are there to say they were there the next day at work. Who wants to say they didn't get invited by a client or had their own "corporate"seats at the Open?

And, honestly folks, many of these matches, especially the four-hour men's variety are dreadfully boring. Every player has exactly the same ground strokes. Few players, if any will venture forth to the net, as if it was electrified. I watched a good deal of yesterday's ladies' semi-final at Wimbledon. Neither player hit a single volley near the net in the entire time I was watching. Not one!

Boring. A cuppa Sleepy Time would do as much for you.

Here's another thing. Kids are so programmed to play all kinds of sports these days that it seems as though many lose or never develop a true enjoyment of the sport. The idea of a "pick-up" game seems foreign to them, and why not; their moms and dads have been hounding them to succeed at sports for years, partly as a gateway to college. Once past college or high school, too many throw off that yoke. Free at last!

Listening to Eugenie Bouchard speak after her win was revealing. Sure she's had help from Canada's tennis federation. But, the key was her inner-confidence, her own desire and passion as a player to not just compete at the highest level, but to win, and love every minute of it. As Dr. J said, "Being a professional means doing the things we love to do on the days we don't want to do them." Bouchard left no
Ashe Stadium/BJK Tennis Center
doubt that she hadn't simply been "programmed."

It occurs to one fan who would love to see more Americans winning majors that maybe we're trying to program our elite juniors too much. Where is the inner passion and true love? Passion is hard to plan. Will the real champions succeed at Lake Nona, with their confidence bordering on arrogance, their insistence on doing it a little different, their impatience, their knowing something important internally that not even their coaches and parents can see?

Winners get trained, champions get born.

* Postscript: Yes, two Americans played in the Boys' Singles Final, with Noah Rubin of Long Island, besting his friend and teammate Stefan Koslov. Shades of Roger Federer who won in '98? Maybe. But, I'm from MO on this one; I say "show me" that the Americans have the staying power, maturity, discipline, passion, creativity, etcetera. They can win, but I still say that being a champion takes a lot more. On the other hand: good for you Noah!








Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can We Talk? Hello!

©twmcdermott2014

Greenwich P.O./ RH under construction
Many of us have fond memories of villages and towns with maple and oak-lined central shopping streets. Among those shops would have been at least one and probably two hardware stores.

It is no secret that nearly all of those shops were replaced by warehouse-sized stores which often form the base of shopping malls located on busy devoid-of-character thoroughfares. 

In the place where I work, the last surviving hardware store is now an Oyster Bar. The bartender reaches for a slice of thick California Cab, for those who must, from a shelf near where I used to reach for a new screwdriver or hammer in Feinsod's Hardware.

Where I live, the Prada-Hermes set can still shop at the last remaining hardware store, where prices reflect the fact that locals are used to having their cake and spending it too. Into that environment the upscale purveyor for the home, Restoration Hardware – AKA RH – has built itself a new home in a building that was once Ye Old Post Office.

That would be the same Postal Service that loses about $8 Billion a year and has to sell buildings all over the country just to try to pay its healthcare and pension costs. That is one fat check that will never be in the mail.

As RH was preparing for the grand opening of its new emporium, they gave the same Postal Service – was this in the contract? – a huge piece of business in the form of promotional mailings to residents of the coveted Greenwich zip codes. Residents, such as your author, received a hulking set of RH catalogues at their doorsteps the likes of which had not been seen since the heyday of the printed Yellow Pages, which have gone the way of those hardware stores. Caputski.

My wife the DG and I were aghast that anyone would be so oblivious to the environment, not to mention good taste, that they would waste all that paper, forcing residents who never asked for it to recycle it with barely a glance inside. Who, after all, would want to do business with people like that?

Apparently, quite a few, since this week another one of those behemoths arrived at residences around town, including our own, double-wrapped in plastic with its eight sections bound in an acrylic ribbon.

Hole Couch Potato! Take that you lefty-pinko environmental crums of Greenwich CT 06830!

Do we need RH stuff enough to participate in this particular kind of stupidity and arrogance?  Do we need: $3495 Parisian leather sofas, $15-each cabinet knobs, or $12,295 wool rugs?

Well, okay, I like nice stuff around the house as much as anyone (I must admit that the leather sofa is pretty cool and the catalogues are well-produced). And, both the DG and my daughter are interior designers with clients who want and/or need some of these things. I am mindful as well that others who cannot afford to buy them do make them, wherever they may be around the world, and that they need those precious jobs.

That said, there must be another way to market RH products to those willing and able to buy them without sending out these 11.4 lb. (true!) books, even if they are made from recycled/recyclable paper. After all, I looked up those items listed above on their website. Why not simply send out a nice
invitation to use the site?


Hello!