“Damn, I barely made any money tonight,” Brian was saying. It was three in the morning on a recent Friday, and he was cooking dinner (rigatoni alla vodka with pancetta) for his roommates. Tonight had been prix fixe night at Pacific East, which is always a semi-apocalyptic professional experience, rivaled only by Hamptons Industry Super Sushi Monday (when the fish is half-price).
“Every other day of the week, people go in there and drop $100 a person without flinching,” Brian continued, placing the saucepan on the burner. “Celebrities, wannabe celebrities, you name it. George Steinbrenner’s [business] partner was in here the other day—you could tell because he had on a Yankees World Series ring. Night before that, I overheard some dude at the bar saying to another dude that he’d write him a check for a million dollars on the spot for the guy’s watch collection.” He sprinkled in some pepper. “Then tonight comes around, and you have people literally asking for a glass of water, sugar, and a lemon so they can make their own lemonade instead of paying for it. And it’s the same people!”
“I love Howard Stern. He’s the best tipper in the Hamptons, hands down.”
Dinner was served. As Ed and Rick watched TV, Brian and Lu, who also works at Pacific East, discussed the often beguiling environment of the restaurant world, where ego has a way of trumping efficiency. Both of them are fond of the trendy vibe of Pacific East—largely because it translates into solid tips—but sometimes it can be perplexing. Like, what’s up (Lu wondered) with the team of security guards—complete with Secret Service–style earpieces—brought in every Saturday night? To maintain the peace in a place that never gets remotely out of hand? And why (Brian wondered) are the bartenders called “mixologists” when all they do is make drinks like anywhere else?
Sure, the purpose of this is to give the employees a sense of class and authority, yet this often backfires. The other night, a waiter was fired for packing a few bottles of water ($8 on the menu) in his car, having forgotten that, push comes to shove, he was just a waiter. Then, a couple of days later, another server was canned for confronting a VIP customer who tipped him $40 on a $500 check that was picked up by the house. “Now that was clearly a dumb move, and he had to go,” Brian said. “But I have sympathy for the guy. How do you not tip someone well on that kind of bill? It’s amazing how cheap rich people can be.”
Helping others unwind has an odd way of winding you up, which, when you don’t get home from work until 2 a.m., can make sleep a difficult feat to pull off. The gang sat up late into the night, as always, channel surfing: VH1, soft-core porn on Cinemax, that channel that tells you what’s on other channels. At one point, they flipped past a clip of Howard Stern.
“I love Howard,” Ed yelped between sips of a Corona. “He’s the best tipper in the Hamptons, hands down. One hundred dollars, no matter the bill.” And with that, Ed yawned, blew Howard a good-night kiss, and ambled off to bed.
Ed thinks of their life in the Hamptons as The Real World meets Survivor.
Rick was not happy. “It’s a vicious scam,” he was saying, as he watched Ed lug four precariously stuffed trash bags out to his car before heading off to Bamboo—to be deposited at “an undisclosed location.” Tensions between the year-round locals and the conspicuous consumers are always palpable out here, and often bubble to the surface in strange ways—like, say, not picking up trash, an East Hampton policy, meaning you have to pay $80 for private service. Those living a life like Rick’s often find themselves caught in the crossfire of what (from his vantage point) seems like very petty social warfare. “Basically, these people charge the money because they can,” said Rick. “I guess I can understand. But still—$80! That’s decent money to us. I refuse to do it. I’m out here to pay for this car”—a Nissan Altima, the first new automobile he’s ever purchased—“and by the end of the summer, I don’t want it to smell like a junkyard.” (Ed, for the record, has got a new car, too, a Mazda, but somebody’s got to deal with the trash.)
This is another way in which these housemates exist in a sort of no man’s land, not quite locals, definitely not tourists—a similar (if dramatically less intense) state of social invisibility shared by the crews of mainly Latin American landscapers and kitchen workers. As a result, the housemates tend to stick to themselves. “I really only hang out with servers,” says Lu. “I tried making friends with this girl my age who’s out here living at her parents’ house, but it was sort of impossible. We’d go out to a bar, and I’d be looking for work, while she’d be obsessed with finding a rich husband. After about three minutes, we didn’t really have anything to say to each other.”
There are exceptions. Brian, for one, found himself briefly dating a woman who often eats at the restaurants where his housemates serve food. Boyishly charming and flirtatious, he was out one night in June after work and found himself chatting blissfully with a stunning older blonde. A few dinners later, they seemed to have much in common: Both were dealing with divorces, both were looking to start new phases in their lives. Then he went to her house. “I swear to you, her pool is literally the size of our entire place,” he says. That was somewhat alienating, the first time Brian had truly understood the expression “trophy boy,” which left a bitter taste in his mouth.