Kafka in East Hampton, by Francis Levy
As another social season in the Hamptons comes to an end, one is reminded of the importance of friends. If you don’t have ’em you’re dead in the waters of Shinnecock Bay. You can’t get arrested socially in a place like East Hampton unless you have friends. Isn’t this what “The Great Gatsby” is ultimately about? A larger-than-life personality like a Gatsby is a way of attracting bigger fish, say, like flies to excrement.
Neither Franz Kafka nor any of his retiring characters, from Gregor Samsa to Joseph K., would be likely to thrive in a competitive social situation in the Hamptons. Could you imagine Kafka making a cameo appearance in one of those photo spreads that follow the Hampton Classic or the Artists and Writers Softball Game? Could you imagine Kafka with his arm around some local luminary like Jerry Della Femina or Mort Zuckerman? Could you imagine Kafka autographing copies of “The Trial” after reading at the Hampton Library’s Fridays at Five? Would Kafka fight for his bike at Flywheel? Would you see his pallid countenance reading under an umbrella on Main Beach or trying to get a reservation at Nick and Toni’s?
But you don’t have to be Kafka to get shipwrecked on the shoals of the Hamptons social scene. Some people seem to have been given the handbook that enables them to walk on water or part the seas, as it were. But Jesus himself is another one who might have a tough time figuring out his place in the Great Food Chain of Hamptons Being — for which even bottom feeders play a significant part in the local ethology.
Here are some helpful tips for those who might feel a bit befuddled and dejected in their attempts to become social in the Hamptons:
First, pretend that social life is like an episode of “Wild Kingdom” or some other nature documentary in which a hyena chases down a giraffe and finally ends up dining on its entrails. Imagine yourself as the fallen creature, its legs still thrashing helplessly as its stalker, mouth covered in blood, dines on living flesh. That’s going to be your experience of going to your first Hamptons party, and you’ve got to get used to it if you’re going to survive. No pain no gain.
You don’t have anything to sell. You don’t have a reason for being, beyond providing another car that lines the road by the house where the party is being held. You’re only another car that may need to be valet-parked, but you exist in a state of pre-snubual bliss. If you accept your condition, you’re going to do a lot better than if you try to resist and take on airs. You can’t fight back against hyenas or piranhas, for that matter. So if you want to be invited back, be prepared to give in and have your insides devoured.
Second, acquire books like Dale Carnegie’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” This kind of how-to guide will not solve the major existential problem you face when you rent or buy a house in the Hamptons and realize you are a fish out of water. For that, you need to read philosophical tomes like Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” and “The Sickness Unto Death.” Still, it’s important to read the literature.
Third, acquire a trophy dog or pet. This is little talked about by chroniclers of Hamptons life, but dogs can help a person rise socially. At the very least an unusual breed of dog is a subject of discussion. A car full of arguing family members is neither going to register socially nor make the Social Register, but an oversized Saint Bernard occupying the passenger seat of your car will make a huge difference.
Which brings us to the discussion of cars. If you have to be told, then you probably should not be coming to the Hamptons in the first place. But okay, if you’re going to appear in a modestly priced car, let it be a Deux Chevaux. If not, a Range Rover, or preferably a gas-guzzling Hummer, is de rigueur. A Prius, or other practical and uninspired model, is social suicide and tantamount to not possessing the two primary ingredients for social success in the Hamptons, or anywhere else, for that matter — money and looks. Freud talked about “love and work” being the two most important elements of adult life. But he was wrong — at least as far as a hot spot like East Hampton is concerned.
Last but not least, do not be true to thy self. The ability to spew forth with Polonius’s advice to Laertes may have helped you pass Shakespeare, but when it comes to the Hamptons social scene it’s roughly equivalent to standing at the event horizon of a black hole and not wanting to have your being sucked out of you.
Now that the season has passed, you will have time to prepare for the forthcoming year in which hopefully you’ll fare a little better than you did this past summer. Take it one friend at a time. It doesn’t even matter who it is, as long as he has a decent car. There’s strength in numbers. Think of yourself as a hive. If you have the honey, then the other bees will swarm around you.
Francis Levy, a Wainscott native, is the author of the comic novels “Erotomania: A Romance” and “Seven Days in Rio.” He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com and for The Huffington Post.