The Maidstone regrets. And in so doing, restores one's faith in America. For the past twenty years, I've lived on Further Lane in East Hampton, that most venerable of beach resorts with its improbably exotic cast of aristos and arrivistes, just a few hundred yards east of the Maidstone Club, an Establishment bastion so confident of its pedigree that it will politely inform the first sitting president to visit the Hamptons since McKinley that if he is looking for a game of golf next weekend, he'll have to look elsewhere.
The reason? Saturday, August 1, and Sunday, August 2, the Maidstone plays its annual member-guest tournament, and, as a member informed me, "it would be inappropriate to insert the president into that. But if he'd like to play Monday, they'd be delighted." Of course, the president will be gone by Monday, but there, by God, is what this country is all about. People are courteous, but rules are rules. The Maidstone certainly has its priorities in order. No sucking up, no temporizing, no spin doctors. It's all so admirably East Hampton.
Since my current novel, a comedy of manners set in the Hamptons and called Gin Lane, has as its principal subplot a visit by the president, the scheduled arrival later this week of the actual commander-in-chief has me in considerable demand with the press, with the talk shows, and at covered-dish suppers.
How did I know they were coming? Had I been tipped off by Sid Blumenthal? Or was life simply imitating art? In my book, the president is coming to the Hamptons to repay a political debt to Tom and Daisy Buchanan, major campaign contributors who are buying yet another foreign title for one of their many nubile daughters -- marrying her off to the Viscount Albemarle, a chinless wonder holding a minor post in Tony Blair's cabinet.
But the reality that awaits Bill and Hillary is likely to be even stranger. News of their impending visit first broke here in the June 4 issue of the East Hampton Star, and drove the already status-obsessed residents of our fair hamlet to new heights of angst. Confirming the rumors, Democratic Party state chairman Judy Hope mentioned that the First Couple would attend a "sizable" fund-raiser in the pasture of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin's place in Amagansett, setting off a desperate run for invitations, at up to $1,000 a pop.
Where the Clintons would actually be sleeping was unclear. Alan and Susan Patricof's place on Huntting Lane in East Hampton was said to be a likely port of call. Mr. Patricof, a venture capitalist, and his wife, Susan, have been frequent guests in the Lincoln Bedroom. But when I noted all this in my Advertising Age column, Mr. Patricof was not amused.
On July 4, he pulled up next to me as I strolled Egypt Lane, halting his '39 Buick convertible in mid-lane, to remonstrate. Tourists, he complained, were gawking at his house. "Just trying to give you ink," I replied.
Leaning on his Buick, we chatted amiably about the prez and exchanged gossip about the last East Hampton sighting of Bill Clinton: the 1988 artists-and-writers softball game behind the A&P, where the then-governor did not actually play but umpired with a judicious eye.
Having calmed down, Patricof set off to leave, only to find that the convertible would not start. I got down and looked underneath. "You're leaking something, Alan." A swiftly growing pool of gas spread around us.
"Get outta the road!" a passing motorist shouted. I got behind the car while the president's pal dismounted and, steering with one hand, pushed as I shoved. "Schmucks!" another motorist cried out with that gentility one associates with the Hamptons in high season. We were trying to push the car off the road when along came former Sony chief Mickey Schulhof, who first, and properly, shook hands, then joined me at the Buick's stern. Giving up the fight, Mr. Schulhof offered Alan his cell phone to summon a mechanic. I resumed my constitutional.
I flew that week to California and returned to learn that the Clintons wouldn't be staying chez Patricofs but elsewhere, perhaps at George Soros's palatial digs in Southampton. Or maybe at Chris Whittle's spread on Georgica Pond, where the Gores stayed on their last visit. Flummoxed, I went over to Main Street to question East Hampton mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. (After a career of covering Capitol Hill, the White House, Downing Street, and the Élysée palace, I've learned to go straight to the top.)
The mayor was clad in sandals, shorts, and a faded tennis shirt. "Blend in with the populace," he explained. Asked about the Clinton visit, he replied, mysteriously: "All is very fluid right now." The Secret Service had been to see the police chief, Glen F. Stonemetz, he admitted, but didn't bother with the mayor. Rickenbach picked up the phone to call the chief and ask him what was going on. "May as well kill two birds," he said. Stonemetz said he wasn't certain the First Family were coming at all. If they did, the dates he had were Friday, July 31, to Sunday, August 2.
Stonemetz said two federal officers from the Long Island bureau had visited him. Suffolk County police also had come by to offer a hand. Stonemetz said a few secondary streets may be closed down. And if Clinton comes into downtown -- which is exactly one block long -- they'll probably close down Route 27, the East End's main east-west road. He guesses that the president will have 40 or 50 cars in his motorcade.
After phoning town supervisor Cathy Lester and East Hampton Star editor Helen Rattray, I took a break over a chilled Pacifico beer at the Blue Parrot, where manager Roland Eisenberg reported that "men in black" had been seen around town. "Sudsy," the gossip columnist?cum?restaurant critic of Montauk's weekly Pioneer, diligently took notes. But a Baldwin neighbor fretted that he'd be denied access to his own house during Saturday's fund-raiser. "They sent me an invitation," he grumbled. "Two hundred fifty bucks. You'd think they might invite the neighbors free."
Helen Rattray called back. "I'm not convinced he's coming," she announced. "I think it might be just Hillary and Chelsea, and they might just stay quietly with Liz Robbins down by the ocean. I also hear they'll be staying with Steven Spielberg on West End Road. What annoys us is, we've been told there'll be one pool reporter. I told them, 'Hey, we're the local newspaper.' We can pay the $1,000 to get into the Baldwins' tent, but how close to the president does that get you?"
Not that the Clintons were the Hamptons' sole obsession. Acres of bottle-nosed dolphins leaping with their young were sighted at Napeague, an unusual occurrence. A new restaurant -- Zizzi Balooba -- is opening on Montauk Highway. Billy Joel is back in residence after his tour. But all around town, the president's visit is still Topic A. Everyone you talk to has his own notion of who the president must see and do. But to really get into the Bub spirit (Bubs are what locals call themselves), my fictional narrator, Beecher Stowe, would advise Bubba to sample the Bub Burger (peanut butter and butter slathered on a roll) at Brent's. Just the thing to send down the hatch after the Baldwin bash's deviled quail eggs and smoked eel.
James Brady, a former editor of New York magazine, writes weekly for Parade magazine, Advertising Age, and Crain's New York Business. His novel Gin Lane is published by St. Martin's Press.