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The Shipwreck Rose: The H-Word

Wed, 11/15/2023 - 17:53

The only successful use of the word “Hampton” in the name of a business on the South Fork of Long Island, New York, in the opinion of this overly pontifical columnist, is the Apple Mac tech store in Sag Harbor, GeekHampton, and that is because embedded in that particular “Hamptons”-appended business name, GeekHampton is, at least, a slice of goofball humor. All the other Hamptons-this and Hamptons-that businesses — without me naming them, you know what I mean, WoofHampton for a pampered-pup accessories store, GlossHampton for a nail salon, et cetera and so on — have attempted to attach the cachet of our billionaire ZIP codes to their business model, like a whiff of perfume acquired from the close air of a department-store beauty department, but, I.M.H.O, it’s a mistake. Don’t name your business Hampton-whatever. It just sounds generic.

Case in point: Hamptons Coffee Company. I actually love Hamptons Coffee Company. I “stan” them, as the kids say. I do. I’m not just saying that to soften the blow of criticizing their legal business name in print. I am a Hamptons Coffee Company booster, and sincerely wish we had an outpost east of Wainscott so I could tote around gallon flasks of iced latte on workday mornings without the guilt of drinking Starbucks. Let me attest; Hamptons Coffee Company has the best java available within a 10-mile radius, their stores are immaculate, the staff brisk and friendly, and they deliver the holiday-seasonal treats and trimmings you get from a major international coffee chain without being a major international coffee chain. I smile when the Hamptons Coffee barista hands me a peppermint oat-milk mocha accessorized with a decorative holiday-theme cardboard insulator. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I like a holiday zarf. (That’s what the cardboard insulator is called, I’ve just been told: a “zarf”! How am I just learning this word?)

But the business name? Hamptons Coffee Company. It is so generic that it causes me, as an editor, a pang of melancholy — pathos? pity? — every time I pull my Honda off Montauk Highway and step inside to peruse the scones and breakfast burritos with a choice of bacon, turkey bacon, or vegan sausage. I want to rebrand Hamptons Coffee Company. Almost anything would be better. Black Duck Coffee or Coot Coffee, in homage to the famous Bonac bird, with a black-and-beak-yellow logo instead of the current Dockers-pants tan and L.L. Bean green. Kettle Hole Coffee. Cast Iron Coffee. Nutmeg Roasters, in reference to our long-ago sea-trade spice routes. Sheep Pound Coffee. Pound Trap Coffee. Porgy Coffee. Finest Kind. Tideline Roasters. Rosehip Roasters. Beach Plum Coffee Co. Anything.

It’s fashionable to complain about the use of the term “the Hamptons.” I certainly complain about the use of “the Hamptons,” and so do all my friends. It gives us all the ick. It’s possible that it was my own family, at The East Hampton Star, who were partly responsible for this anti-”Hamptons” bias: My father banned the use of the term in print back in the 1950s or so, insisting reporters write “South Fork” or “East End” instead, or just go ahead and name a specific location. This was good editing advice. In writing, a colorful specific like “Napeague” or “Hardscrabble” is always better than a generic like “the Hamptons.”

Here’s a fun fact, though: Residents have been using the phrase “the Hamptons” since the mid-19th century at least, my mini-investigation proves. I’ve been looking — as I like to do when my column deadline looms and I want to kid myself that I’m constructively using the dwindling hours of a Tuesday morning — in the digital archives of historical New York newspapers, and have found a newspaper called The Long Island Farmer using the phrase “the Hamptons” in an 1841 report on plans to extend the Long Island Rail Road eastward from Queens. In 1858, an advertiser in The Sag Harbor Express differentiated between Sag Harbor and the rest of the South Fork when he advertised horses and carriages to convey passengers to any point in that village or to any of “the Hamptons.” The Star began publishing in 1885 and almost immediately was flinging “the Hamptons” around on its pages. And in 1887, a drugstore in Sag Harbor was selling scenic photographic views of “the windmills of the Hamptons” and other postcard attractions. Case closed.

Be that as it may, there is no removing the stain from the H-word.

Indeed, my main existential problem is that I’m an anti-Hamptons person whose very specific geographical home place on the map has been erased with a giant cosmic rubber eraser and replaced with the generic “the Hamptons.” Like many Bonackers, my identity is intertwined with my feelings for my old ancestral hometown, but I don’t quite understand why I still live here. I certainly don’t understand what would possess any newcomer to move here, to “the Hamptons” today, as it is sold to the American public on gossip websites. The Lamborghini owners, and the people who sell reality-television shows about real estate, are definitely winning. Everything sucks. (Can I say “sucks” in a family newspaper?) Uncle! Uncle!

Not to beat a dead horse, but — okay, let’s beat a dead horse. It’s not just an existential problem, obviously, it’s a financial problem. Yes, yes, we understand about the cost of property rentals and the staffing crunch, but, even so, a turkey meatloaf sandwich shouldn’t cost $18. A butterscotch blondie shouldn’t be $12. This is another one of those things we here in the Hamptons like to say: First we say we hate the term “the Hamptons,” and then we complain about the price of a deli lunch. We bore ourselves with these commonplaces, but we still need to complain aloud, because the pain is real.

In today’s episode of “Hamptons-ing While Broke,” your faithful correspondent took a slipcover from a favorite old living room armchair to a neighborhood Hamptons-y dry cleaner, which trucked the slipcover to New York City and returned a price quote via text message: $375 to dry-clean one armchair slipcover. I propose to you this situation, “unable to afford dry cleaning a vintage Schumacher slipcover,” as the very definition of the phrase “faded gentry.”

I’ve decided to cling to that, my new self-definition as “faded gentry.”

This weekend I put on an oversize turtleneck sweater and went outside into the beautiful November weather, the orange and red leaves gently cascading all around, snow-globe-style, to clean up the yard a bit, since I also cannot afford the yardmen. The privet hedge out front is shaggy, like Boris Johnson’s hair. Rolling puffs of white snakeroot have overtaken the daylily bed like a cloud of gas. The area adjoining the brick patio has gone a bit Grey Gardens, wisteria climbing the shingles and English ivy creeping over the glass panels of the sun porch, slowly consuming the kitchen wing at the back of the house. Le sigh.

No one here in the Hamptons has any manners anymore (we like to complain, because it’s at least semi-true, barring the polite people at Hamptons Coffee Company and the Sag Harbor Cinema). I’ve taken to calling one of the extremely impertinent and antisocial Hamptons-y deer who live in my yard “the Reverend Buell,” because between the hours of 6 and midnight, before the deer family beds down in the shrubbery line that divides my property from that of the East Hampton Library, he can be found standing magisterially on the sidewalk of Buell Lane, the next street over, refusing to let humans and dogs pass. The Reverend Buell eyeballs anyone who approaches with a frosty, steady, imperious glare that tells you he is silently judging. I vaguely wonder if someone has been feeding the Reverend Buell corn from the hand because he doesn’t just stand there on the dark sidewalk goggling at you, unblinking and refusing to move, but actually begins to hoof his way slowly in your direction, maintaining eye contact. Talk about attitude.

The Reverend Buell has a companion, who I’m calling Martha Stewart — for reasons people who keep tabs on celebrity star-map residential addresses will understand without explanation. While Martha Stewart, unlike the Reverend Buell, doesn’t come so close you could feed her with your open hand, she too has no intention of budging to let a pedestrian and small, angry dog pass. First, the human Hamptons strangers stopped smiling and saying “nice evening,” or even nodding, when you passed them on the pavement; now the plague of incivility extends to woodland animals.

Next week, I’m going to find something nice to say.


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