By Jeffrey Lord on 6.3.08 @ 12:08AM
Yes, those Hamptons. The bucolic, upscale precincts of Eastern Long Island that provide so much fodder for the tabloids, particularly in the golden days of summer. The place where at any given moment the media’s A-list of rich and powerful celebs can be found shopping, sipping, and supping. The home of Steven Spielberg’s manse with the dinosaur weather vane, a sly reference to his hit film Jurassic Park. The space shared at any given moment by such as Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld or Mr. and Mrs. Billy Joel or Ms. Martha Stewart or that well-known Amagansett resident Sir Paul McCartney. If you have a hankering for celebrities, charity, and softball, this is the place to be for the every-August Writers and Artists softball game that features Alec Baldwin in the outfield with Carl Bernstein at the plate and Rudy Giuliani calling the balls and strikes.
Yet there’s something disturbing going on in the Hamptons lately, cautionary tales not of celebrity but freedoms lost and privacy invaded.
As it happens, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Hamptons and elsewhere on Eastern Long Island purely out of the accident of birth to two parents who are natives of the area. This has bequeathed to me a large and beloved extended family spread over Long Island’s two “forks” that is decidedly not among the super-rich or super-famous. Long before the Hamptons morphed from a collection of sleepy villages into some sort of cross between Beverly Hills and an international resort, this meant a lifetime of summers, holidays, spring and fall vacations in a geographic location that is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the nation, getting to know every beach and back road with the intimacy that is only possible over decades.
WHICH BRINGS ME to cautionary tale number one, an incident involving the namesake of a much treasured Long Island institution called Dan’s Papers. Founded in 1960 by a young Dan Rattiner, the paper is free, found weekly in just about every commercial institution imaginable from grocery stores to gas stations. Chock full of news stories about the South Fork (which stretches to Montauk Point, harbors the Hamptons and borders the Atlantic Ocean) and the North Fork (the area that reaches to Orient Point and borders the Long Island Sound — my personal favorite where I hang my hat in decidedly un-Hamptons surroundings since I’ve seen lots of celebrities and have more fun with family), it blends local news, commentaries and restaurant reviews with schedules for art events, movies, fishing updates, used book sales, and the happenings at local vineyards. This is added to lots of real estate ads, info on where to pick up a good second-hand boat and, but of course, celebrity news of the local variety. (One of the more recent read “…Jerry Seinfeld was involved in a car accident on Skimhampton Road in East Hampton last week.” Note here to worried Seinfeld fans…the brakes failed, the car flipped, but he was OK.) Dan’s became such a successful institution, now stuffed with expensive ads, that Dan himself (the spitting image of Sir Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park) was eventually bought out. He still writes for the paper, though. Surely one of the most prolific writers on the planet, his byline is liberally salted throughout each issue. A few years back I had the pleasure of spending an evening in his company at a barbeque, and I understand he is now happily engaged, has a dog named Moo, and a new book that will surely be a great beach read. In the Hamptons it has even been favorably blurbed by Spectator favorite Tom Wolfe.
To our tales.
It seems that back at the end of March, Dan, his fiancee, and Moo set out of a late Saturday afternoon to perform the usual chores. Pick up the eye glasses, stop at the dry cleaners etc. A quick drive from house to the center of East Hampton village, carefully parking the car on the street (relatively easy in the off-season) and Dan was on his way for the eye glasses. Retrieved, he emerges for the short walk to the dry cleaners when he notices a policeman carefully studying Dan’s new Chevy Tahoe. Approaching, he is addressed by name (the cop seemed not to recognize Dan yet knew his name). He notices two police cars are now stopped, blocking one lane of traffic. Within a minute or so Dan is told: “You are lucky I caught you before you drove off. We’re only going to impound your car. You won’t be arrested.”
He won’t be arrested?!!! Hello! For what?
Says the cop: “There was a lapse in your insurance. We now have radar sensors on the roofs of police cars. And we can check the license plates of every car on the road just by driving by. Your registration was suspended. The insurance had lapsed. The plates have to be taken off and sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles. And the car goes to the impound.”
Suffice to say, knowing all his paperwork was in the Tahoe and was completely current — and then producing same for the cop — Dan was astonished. Yes, the paperwork certainly did seem in order, but, well, too bad. No go. Literally. If Dan got behind the wheel of the Tahoe now and tried to drive away he would be arrested. “So we’re just dumped out here on the street?” asks an incredulous Dan.
Yep. Moo too.
Within minutes, Dan and fiancee and Moo are standing curbside in the cold as Jigger the tow-truck guy plays hasta la vista with the Tahoe. Eventually, a friend spots the threesome and gives them a lift home. (You thought the police would do that, didn’t you? Naaaah.)
NOW BEFORE WE COME back to Dan’s Tahoe, let’s move on to Vered.
Unlike Dan, I’ve never met Vered, who runs a well-known art gallery in East Hampton. The gallery (the Hamptons is filled with a number of art galleries) is called, not surprisingly, Vered’s Gallery. If you insist on a more approachable name Vered is actually Ruth Kalb, a 67-year-old art dealer who has been in the business according to (where else) Dan’s Papers for 32 years. But her friends and clients call her Vered, so I will too.
Anybody who has spent more than a minute in the Hamptons knows that art galleries are always hosting exhibits. It is, of course, part of what they do. They have them with the regularity Yankee Stadium hosts baseball games. And just as you can depend on a hot dog and a cold beer at the ball park (preferably, in my case, when the Red Sox are beating the Yankees) so too can you count on a free glass of wine at an art gallery exhibit.
This is just what Vered was busy doing one fine recent Saturday night in East Hampton as she played gracious hostess to some 300 (or 200 depending on the account) well-to-do Hamptonites at the opening of a photo exhibit. Suddenly, bursting into the genteel atmosphere of Vered’s gallery, muscling through the crowd studying photographer Steven Klein’s exhibit “Polaroid” and ignoring Klein’s images of Brad and Angelina and Madonna, were the East Hampton police. Brusquely informing Vered that they were on a mission to shut down art galleries serving wine without a permit (something no town officials had broached with gallery owners), they told her to shut down the open bar. NOW.
Vered was startled. Then, God bless America, furious. She looked the representative of the government in the eye and refused, pointedly saying that “I’ve been serving alcohol here since before you were born.” And in true Orwellian fashion, the cop was not amused. Neither were the cops who poured into the gallery from the several police cars now surrounding the gallery as if they were so many Eddie Murphy’s busting a drug kingpin in Beverly Hills Cop. They got tough, not only shutting down the bar and removing the wine, but ransacking the entire gallery, in the words of Janet Lehr, Vered’s partner. They systematically began removing alcohol not only from the bar, but a nearby table, the closets and, in the words of Dan’s reporter Debbie Tuma, Vered’s “private storage area.” That done, they spun around and arrested Vered as her daughter and 13-year-old granddaughter — and a gallery full of clients and friends — watched.
This being a Hamptons party, there was a photographer present. Sure enough by Monday morning Vered was seen on the front page of the New York Post, resplendent in black cocktail dress, earrings and very interesting matching eyeglasses, perfectly coiffed. Her dental work looked pretty impressive too, as she was, quite apparently, screaming at the top of her lungs. The photo has the especially nice touch of giving her eyes that eerie glowing red familiar from Amityville Horror movies as she is shoved, cuffed, into the back seat of a patrol car. Her stunned guests, now angry themselves, were yelling “leave her alone.” To no avail. Vered was dragged off to police headquarters, charged with a couple counts of serving alcohol without a permit and lacking a permit for a “mass assemblage.”
NOW. BACK TO DAN, his fiancee, and the shivering Moo. It turns out this interesting little point and click gizmo that captured the rogue Dan is now parked on top of police cruisers in East Hampton. Only in East Hampton. Nowhere else on all of Long Island (thankfully), which for you outliers includes Brooklyn and Queens, aka part of New York City. Thank goodness for small favors. Did I mention that in trying to unravel the mystery, Dan finds out for certain what he knew from the very first — that there had been a mistake made? In the words of his insurance broker: “This happens all the time with Albany.” Isn’t that a relief? The state of New York keeps making mistakes with the insurance status of its drivers. If you happen to be unlucky enough to be driving through the town of East Hampton when you get pointed at by the gizmo, well, tough nuggies.
One does not have to be a conservative as I am, or super-rich, which I am not, or a member of the A-list social set in the Hamptons (not on that one either) to understand what these two quite separate yet quite disturbingly similar incidents illustrate.
Government — any government — can be a very, very powerful institution. It can be abused, since it is run by human beings for whom the word “fallible” was invented, very, very easily. When there is bureaucracy involved — and police power not far down the chain of command from that — life can become disturbingly difficult. In the cases of Dan, fiancee, Moo, and Vered, the word was frightening.
Let’s think here. What if Dan had been ill? What if Vered had a heart condition? In Vered’s case, what if she had someone in the gallery that night who was thinking of buying some art but changed their mind when they saw the police?
Does it really make sense to give human beings with police power the kind of point and click ability that comes pretty close to an invasion of privacy? What else is out there in gizmo land that could peer into your car, your house, or your business and — heedless of a mistake — just upend your life? Not to mention your Moo’s? Wouldn’t a simple old-fashion sit down between the East Hampton police and the local business community to tell them that after decades of not enforcing some obscure law gallery owners had not been dealing with for decades — decades! — they should now do A,B or C or they will have a problem?
THE REAL PROBLEM here isn’t really even Dan or Vered. The problem, as it always is, is you. Yes, you. Because if this kind of involuntary trip to the land of Orwell can happen to a successful local institution like Dan or to someone as upscale as Vered, most assuredly it could happen to you. And when it does, when you don’t have your own newspaper to write the story or a photographer with access to the front page of one of New York’s biggest newspapers, well, as the saying goes in astronaut land: Houston, we have a problem. You, my fellow American have just lost your freedom.
Vered’s lawyer, Mark Heller, has said he is not only going to demand that Suffolk County drop the charges against Vered, he is going to demand an apology — in writing. In my book, she should get that apology. Somewhere somebody should say something to Dan, too. Not to mention reimburse him for impoundment and other fees. And if I were Vered? I’d invite the same crowd back for a glass of wine and a look at two new well-framed items that should be on permanent display at Vered’s. First, of course, would be the apology, maybe with the front page of the Post included. And hanging next to the apology? Maybe in a nice gold frame?
Something called the Constitution of the United States.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV„ an online conservative video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania where a copy of Dan’s Papers arrives weekly.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com.
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