By Christine Bellini
It may have been the Matt Lauer cover story in Hampton’s Magazine’s season opener, uncovering his penchant for cleaning up debris from neighborhood back roads, a garbage bag in his rubber glove clad hand and pre-teen daughter in tow, that tipped the scales for me.
Kudos to Lauer for his civic duty and sense of place. He’s spent his summers in Amagansett for the better part of his life and has lived in Sag Harbor full time long enough now to garner headlines for normalcy – suffering a separated shoulder from a bicycling accident (2009) to recently winding his way through planning board approval — albeit for a 40-acre horse farm off Deerfield Road in Water Mill.
Is the celebrity news cycle so under nourished that a Huffington Post headline, flashing a ‘scruffy’ Matt attends a recent Hamptons bash, is actually newsworthy? News flash: On the ‘weekend’ Matt Lauer actually likes to unbutton his collar and, drum roll please, chillax a bit. Hurry, ink up the presses.
It’s the Johnny-come-lately celebrity reporter that does us all a huge disservice by making news out of ordinary life witnessed in arm’s reach of ordinary folk. Why, I saw Edie Falco choosing lamps and placemats at Sylvester and Co. but you don’t see me running home to post. We can’t expect her to eat by candlelight forever.
Coming of age in The Hamptons, you get to witness a great many ordinary moments of extraordinary personalities. Truman Capote and Jim Jones in rousing debate at the old Bobby Van’s; DeNiro sitting quietly on a bench outside of Book Hampton Southampton on a late fall afternoon (circa 1975), Bill Bradlee (post Pentagon Papers) parking his car in the Reutershan lot in East Hampton Village on his way to the liquor store; Fran Lebowitz exiting a Woody Allen movie (circa 1980); Craig Claiborne picking up his order from the butcher counter at Dreesen’s — ordinary moments nobody wrote about at a time when you were recognized for your talents and achievements, not your ability to be like the rest of us.
These days it’ll wind up on more than one celebrity page if Billy Joel parks his BSA motorcycle outside The American Hotel while stopping in for lunch. Alec Baldwin makes headlines going to yoga class with Lorne Michaels and Paul McCartney in Amagansett. If Kelly Ripa takes her kids to Bay Burger the blogosphere lights up in awe.
However, it gives me great pleasure to find John C. White, of the resolute Bridgehampton farm family, on Hamptons Magazine’s “Power List: The Hamptons 100” — the only native to make the grade, commended for doing what his family has done for generations, farm an oceanfront plot of land in Bridgehampton. Though, the heart saddens when it is for having to defend his rights to ownership in court — a genuine newsworthy battle was provocatively reported in the July 2011 issue Vanity Fair, in an installment of “Letters From The Hamptons” by Michael Shnayerson, titled “Betting the Farm.”
I think it was Russell Baker’s coining of ‘the white wine and Volvo set’ in his New York Times “Observer” column (circa 1978) which first fueled my appetite for a keen essay treatment which shines a light on our very human vulnerabilities. His was a wry and satirical grace, having the effect of walking you into a room and introducing you to the dinner guests, winking from the corner of his eye as he sits you down beside the social climber who inadvertently offers up delightfully quotable faux pas right on through cocktail hour.
It is not that The Hamptons, this year’s Fab 100, and the rest of us simple folk are not up to something newsworthy — it’s the competitive laziness of glossy page editors and reporters who serve up thinly drawn snippets of the mundane. With such a rich and fertile landscape of personality, intrigue and creativity afoot from The Crow’s Nest to Red Bar, the Montauk Bluffs to Conscience Point, this is our daily read?
Oh — did I fail to mention that I saw Jon Stewart at the dump, Angelica Houston ordering tacos at La Fondita, Jerry Seinfeld watching a Whaler’s baseball game, Donald Sultan drinking coffee and Jason Epstein out walking his dog?
A former news editor, essay writer Christine Bellini is an editorial consultant who spends a good deal of her time pondering the cultural curiosities of The Hamptons from her Sag Harbor tree house.