The Eastern Bloc

I was standing in Red Square last winter, chatting with a young woman who was patiently answering my questions about life in Moscow. When I finally asked her if there was anything she wanted to know about the States, she blurted out, “Can you tell me, please, what are the Hamptons like?”

OK, Natasha, this one’s for you.

Two weekends ago, I paid my $29 fare and climbed aboard the notorious Hamptons Jitney, which was as you might imagine, choked with whippet-thin, pouty-mouthed Paris-Lindsay derivatives who looked like they weighed 50 percent less than the Vuitton duffels they toted; taut matrons in linen shifts who viewed the free jitney muffin as if they’d been offered a dead frog; and bronzed-to-a-deep-orange hedge fund managers hidden behind Tom Ford sunglasses.

It takes three hours to plow through the traffic and arrive in East Hampton. Three hours of listening to the house-sharers behind me compare the size of their hangovers, three hours of no cell phone calls since the camp-counselor-ish Jitney attendant has announced sternly that calls are limited to three minutes and are for emergencies only.

One can only imagine the cacophony of bragging and whining that led to the imposition of this rule. And in theory I’m all for it. But hey, I’m alone and I’m bored—this is an emergency! So I surreptitiously call a friend and spend a half hour bragging and whining in whispered tones into the phone.

And then suddenly, after an eternity, the bus pulls up across from the Manrico cashmere shop—we’re here! I tumble out, ready to begin my Hamptons adventure. The town doesn’t disappoint: In the space of five minutes, I overhear “How was Prague?” asked by a guy in shorts to a girl with flippy hair. “Amazing,” she replies in the flat, dull tone teenagers employ when they mutter “whatever.” Two minutes later, I listen in on the following: “You know, Mykanos is kind of fun. Oh, you like the south of France? Then you are so not going to like Greece.”

Hello, people! Aren’t you on vacation already? Didn’t you work your whole lives to have a place around here? Why are you so worried about going somewhere else?

It turns out there’s an antique show today, set up on the grounds of a colonial restoration, so I decide to stroll over, past oak trees bearing brass plaques dedicated to deceased East Hampton luminaries. At the admissions table, I hand over $8 to a woman whose fine bone structure and wild red hair remind me a bit of Little Edie Beale, former denizen of Grey Gardens and perhaps the most famous dead Hamptonite of all, though as far as I can tell there is no plaque for her—or her mother.

“Don’t buy it before we see it!” jokes a shopper with a clear plastic Prada tote who recognizes me from Manhattan antique shows. (Her companion is sporting a classic $900 Goyard carryall, one of what seems like several thousand Goyard carryalls I will see in my brief sojourn here.) But there’s not much danger, since I’m taking the Jitney home in a few hours and can’t carry anything larger than an art deco bread box. Outside while admiring a booth featuring case after case of ornate sterling silver knives, forks, and spoons, I become fascinated by another anecdote being loudly recounted: the sad tale of an air conditioner owner whose noise is driving his air-conditioning-less neighbors nuts. Every winter the neighbors stuff objects in the air conditioner’s pipes, monkey with the switch, disable the compressor, and otherwise express their displeasure.

I am smiling at the ingenuity of these overheated Hamptonites when another cry distracts me: “Marv! Marv! I found something really cool!” I’m not Marv, but I look anyway—it’s a footrest with tusk legs and a leopard cushion. Perhaps Marv’s companion wishes to emulate the barstools covered with elephant foreskin that reportedly graced Aristotle Onassis’s yacht?

After the swift purchase of a Pinocchio wall hanging for $15 (who says there are no bargains in the Hamptons?), I walk back to Main Street, a boutique-clotted avenue with miniature editions of Tiffany and Gucci and a requisite Starbucks whose contribution to American life—good, no-questions-asked bathrooms—cannot be overstated. But hey, I can visit Gucci and Tiffany and get a Frappuccino anytime. Instead, I seek out a place around the corner called the Monogram Shop, which offers infant-sized personalized cowl-neck sweaters for future captains of industry. The samples on display are inscribed Hugo, Caiden (huh?), Maxwell, and Blake. (Could Blake Carrington be responsible for the currency of this moniker?)

I pass by many more spots that I am overly familiar with from Manhattan—a behemoth Scoop, the ubiquitous Calypso, Catherine Malendrino, Cynthia Rowley. Though this is a summer resort, there’s a mysterious number of cashmere shops—at least four, and this isn’t even counting Ralph Lauren, who displays his soft sweaters in the company of Victorian lace skirts.

Oh, Ralph. Could there be a more perfect Hamptons figurehead than the Bronx-born Lauren? (OK, sure, he changed his name from Lifshitz, but if your name had the word “shit” in it, wouldn’t you change it, too?) His distinctive message—and one that I’ve always embraced—is that you can dress like a WASP, present yourself to the world as a rich twit, and call your kids Hugo and Caiden no matter what your ethnicity or what depressing hole you originally crawled out of.

So I venture in to see biers filled with sand and a mannequin being held aloft by two tiny saleswomen who are trying to yank a pair of shorts off the thing. “They’re vintage,” one says reverently of the patched and frayed Marcia Brady–esque denim. I’m unmoved by this precious garment—I’ve always felt you should patch your own dungarees—but I do like a small gold-colored skirt trimmed with crystals. Just to be sure, I ask the clerk if 7500 is the model number, but no, it’s the price. The good news is that it’s been marked down—to $1,900.

It turns out this garment almost fulfills that old joke, “For that much money, it must be made of real gold.” The clerk explains that in fact its fabric comes from “some mill in France” and has genuine metal woven into it, “which is why it’s so heavy.” (This is a good thing in a skirt?) Then I notice that this item is also in the window (they made more than one $7,500 skirt?) and is being shown with nothing but a man’s undershirt—guess all the money went for the skirt—and posed next to a bottle of Veuve Clicquot soaking in an ice bucket.

Collette Consignment seems promising—it’s stocked with nearly unused Chanel flats and Goyard wallets purchased and then rapidly discarded by Hamptons ladies with shifting tastes, but the prices are nearly as high as it would be to buy this stuff new (turns out the ladies are not just fickle, but greedy, too). So I head over to the Windmill Deli to buy a bag of chips for the trip home, only to discover that this humble shop (they were never very nice, but still) has been replaced by a bloated, glaring Citarella.

Well, at least I have reading material. My arms are heavy with the free magazines peculiar to rich towns: Hamptons; Hampton Life; Hampton Style; East End Living; Social Life. (All those years growing up on Long Island, I never saw a copy of Massapequa Social Life). By the time we pass Watermill, I have contemplated a $26,995 diamond cuff bracelet featured in a column entitled “Beach Buys” and read not one but two separate interviews with Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, the ex-girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld who designs a line of fashions for young women with big knockers and tiny hips.

Now if only that jitney guy would come though with an extra muffin.

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