An August afternoon in Southampton, 2006
hy am I here?
press my hands to my cheeks, feeling very much like the psycho man in that Edvard Munch painting
. Really, what the hell am I doing here in the middle of all these acutely fashion-conscious people in designer heels and Botox-enhanced faces and skinny camisole tops with skinnier straps over their airbrushed tans? Handsome young waiters, their bronze skin a stark contrast to their crisp white shirts, circulate through the crowd dispensing trays of lemon drops and smiles. This is the Hamptons I'd spent my childhood competing with: the other side of the dunes, where the rich kids crash their parents' Jags and down fifths of Dewar's on the beach as they lament over piddly problems.
Certainly not what my grandparents envisioned when they settled here, my grandfather serving as town doc to the local shopkeepers and hunters, farmers, clammers, and fishermen. They came to love the isolation of the east end of Long Island, its substantial distance from New York City, beyond the reach of expressways. Feeling more simpatico with New England to the north, Grammy and Grandad lobbied for this area to secede from Suffolk County and form their own Peconic County.
What would Grammy think of this McMansion of a building set on a bluff overlooking the beach, its neat green-and-white striped awnings and etched glass windows shrieking “look at me!”? How Grandad would crow over the expanse of green lawn, the “unnatural” appearance of grass in an ocean setting, the conspicuous consumption of it all. And Ma . . . she'd really sink her teeth into all this juicy “hoopla” over her daughter. My mother would have been quite at ease here, but I am freaking quietly inside.
What am I doing here?
I am sitting at a table stacked with dozens of copies of my book, ready for purchase and personalized autograph, as if any of these people care. The lemon yellow cover tugs at my heartstrings, as I've poured so much of myself into this piece and hate to see it so on display, so vulnerable and neglected. It's titled
Greetings from Bikini Beach
, and the cover features a simple black string bikini, an image I have always loved until this moment when I look down and see it taking the shape of a face, the bikini bottom smiling back at me.
God help me, it's alive. If one strap slipped, the damned cover would be winking at me.
“Could you sign this for Carole with an
?” A woman hands me a book. Her blond hair is pulled back in a twist, emphasizing her cheekbones. Huge cheekbones. She could be hiding golf balls in there.
“Sure,” I say effusively, worried about my cover. “Are you Carole?”
“No, it's for my friend. She likes this kind of book.”
I wonder what kind of book that might be . . . perhaps novels with winking bikinis on the cover?
“Where's the guest of honor?” a cranky female voice demands. “I'm looking for the guest of honor!”
Oh, God, that's me, but she sounds so imperious I don't dare look up from the book I am signing for Carole, with an
Not that I'd be able to get away from Carole, the crystal-eyed woman murmuring under her breath as she waits for an autograph. Her eyes are so blue, I wonder if it's those colored contacts or worse . . . transplants. Are they doing eye transplants yet? Pick your eye color; choose classic baby blues or rare, exotic purple. “Do I have stories to tell you,” she prattles. “My boyfriend is the bouncer in a private club, and the things that go on there . . . You could write another book, maybe two.”
“Really, I'll have to take you there sometime. It's a sex club.”
“Really?” I try to keep that squeaky squirrel quality out of my voice. About to hit my thirties and having published a book, I shouldn't sound like a five-year-old anymore, but I do. And I'm sure the big, round belly of baby bumping into the table isn't helping me look like a worldly, sexy sophisticate. As I try to sign the book, the pen seems to be running out of ink, and this is a woman who'd probably be a complainer if the signature is too light or not loopy enough. “We'll have to catch up on stories someday.” I say this hoping it will never happen, of course. Although the woman looks familiarâone of Elle's neighbors? A clerk in a Hamptons store?âI don't think we'll ever get together and chat, but I don't know how to tell her that I've got a bazillion stories swirling in my inadequate brain and a significant lack of organization and time to write them all down.
“Where's the guest of honor?” the woman with the cranky voice demands, and I see her pausing beside a giant bin of pansies, a remarkably petite little thing for such a big voice. A waiter points her over to me as the next person in line slides her book over.
“You're not at all what I expected,” Carole tells me, her eyes mysterious marbles behind a thicket of moussed bangs. “I mean, you're so much older than I thought. And, well, look at you . . .”
We both look down at me, at the bulk I had thought the table hid fairly well. “I'm not thirty yet,” I tell her. “Not quite.” My upcoming birthday would slam me into that new decade.
Mrs. Cranky pushes ahead, shouldering the woman out of her way with a linen suit so crisp it could cut the brie on the cheese platter. “Are you Lindsay McCorkle, the guest of honor?” She tips her head down so that she can spy me over the wide lenses of her sunglasses. “I just had to introduce myselfâEsther Lefkowitz, lifetime Hamptons resident. When I heard about your book I knew you'd want to meet me, since I know everyone and everything in the Hamptons.”
“How wonderful for you,” I say, confused. The book is written, and since it's fiction I didn't exactly interview people for research.
“Yes, I'm fourth-generation Southamptonite. My grandfather was a trapper, back in the days when folks knew the only good beaver was a dead one.” She folds her arms across her black and red print smock. “So go on, ask me anything about the Hamptons . . . I know it all.”
“Um . . . actually, I'm working on my next book, which is set in Seattle, and I've already switched gears.”
“Did you know Tony Curtis used to vacation here? Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller honeymooned in Amagansett. And let me tell you, I've met all the big ones. Donna Karan, the famous fashion designer. JFK Jr.âsuch a pity about that boy, and thank God Jackie didn't live to see it! I've rubbed elbows with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol. And Lorne Michaels and that Chevy Chase fella. I know which house belongs to Jerry Seinfeld and which one used to belong to Billy and Christie. Oh, and Sarah Jessica . . . such a doll, and the manners on that girl!”
“That's quite a gallery of celebrities.” I nod, realizing there's no one else in line and I'm stuck with Esther, at least for the moment. Unless of course one of my friends arrives and saves me. What are the chances of that? My husband is here, but I doubt that he'll make any rescue attemptsâmy best friend is known for choosing the path of least resistance. “Esther, would you like me to sign a book?”
“No, thank you, dear. I'll pick up a copy at the library.” She knocks on the cover with her tiny fist. “I've already got you on order.”
“Thanks. I'm flattered.”
“And such a fancy-pants party. You must be very important to your publisher.”
I am tempted to tell her that my publisher isn't even here and the party is being paid for by one of my old friends who's been hung up in Paris and can't even be here, but I'm feeling deflated enough as it is.
“Thank you, young man,” Esther says, stealing a V-shaped lemon drop from a passing waiter's tray. She slugs back the drink, blinking. “I'd offer you one, toots, but I see you're in no condition. So . . . did you ever think you'd become a big, hotshot writer, getting paid for your autograph?”
“The autographs are free; it's the book that'll cost you.”
“Very good.” She finishes her drink and nods like a bobblehead. “So go on, don't be shy. Ask me about anyone. If they've come to the Hamptons, I've met them.”
I mention a television star, and Esther rolls her eyes. “Couldn't come up with anyone more challenging? Let me tell you about Penny . . .”
As she begins to recollect the many times she'd met Penny, my eyes wander to the near horizon, the beach below our grassy bluff, where a handful of kids kneel in the sand. The skinny girls bent over, digging in the sand, probably for sand crabs or seashells, remind me so much of my friends and myself, some twenty years ago. Most of us were eight when we metâgoofy third graders who enjoyed riding bikes, having bubblegum bubble-blowing contests, and staying up late to watch
Saturday Night Live
. Even at age eight, our personalities were well formed. There was Darcy the Queen Bee; Tara, the noble voice of jurisprudence; Elle, the brilliant eccentric. And me? I guess I was always the sucking-up peacemaker, the great facilitator.
As I watch, one of the scrawny girls slings a bucket of water on her friend, who shrieks and leaps to her feet to chase her friend and wrestle her to the ground.
I smile, recalling the first year the four of us were together . . .
We have been digging in the sand all afternoon, answering to Darcy's orders to build an elegant sand castle with perfect, conical towers, a moat, and a precise trim of uniform shells. The castle is nearly finished when Elle argues with the design, deciding that the seashell trim is overdone. She begins to remove clamshells, which sends Darcy into a rage.
“No, no, no!” Darcy stomps around the castle and gets right into Elle's face. “Don't touch those shells. Are you crazy?”
Elle's green eyes flame, her nostrils flare. In one quick move she hoists a bucket of water and slaps it onto Darcy.
Darcy whirls around, her blue eyes snapping with fury. “Fuck!”
Tara freezes as Darcy mouths the forbidden word. I shoot a nervous look at the sunbathers around us, wondering if any of the adults have noticed, especially nosey Ms. Janice Olsen, who loves to catch us doing something wrong.
Fortunately, Ms. Olsen is walking Nipsy down the beach by the jetty.
Only Elle is unscathed, laughter bubbling out of her as she rolls back in the sand, unable to contain her joy at having dissed Darcy, who is now on her feet and crossing to Elle's towel, which she uses to blot off most of the water and sand. When Darcy pulls the towel away from her shoulders, she is model perfect once again. You'd never know she was wet, except that the material covering her boobs (perfect ones, that grew last winter) is a slightly darker shade of hot pink. Only eleven and already she's on her way to having all the stuff the boys want.
“Don't you ever, ever do that again!” Darcy shrieks in a voice so stern I sense the sand crabs burrowing deeper in the sand . . .
Now, watching as one of the skinny girls stomps off the beach, I sigh. It's a wonder that Tara, Darcy, Elle, and I are still friends. Then again . . . here I am at my big pompous book signing in the Hamptonsâthe party Darcy insisted onâand where are they?
“Who else?” Esther prods, tinkling her fingers at a waiter with a tray of drinks. “Who else would you like to know about?”
I tap my chin, wondering if the number 15 sunblock will be enough to keep my skin from burning. It's supposed to be particularly bad to get a sunburn when you're pregnant, though I cannot remember the details on why that is so in my Esther-induced glaze. “How about Darcy Love. Have you ever met her?”
She accepts another lemon drop and holds it high with flair, as if to say: Ole! “Do you mean Darcy Love the actress?”
Is there more than one?
“That's the one,” I say, opening my eyes wide. “What do you hear about her?”
“She's a hot one now, isn't she?” Esther puts her drink down on one of my books and makes a show of adjusting the rings on her fingersâsapphires and amethysts, like jewels from the sea. Cocktail rings, my ma used to call them. “I happen to have attended a party here, when this place was the Love Mansion.” She nods toward the house looming behind me. “Of course, back then Darcy Love's parents were players in the Hamptons. The money they threw around! It was appalling, but not so bad if it was getting thrown on you.”
“Esther,” I say, intrigued. “Were you a player, too?”
She presses her palm to her cleavage, her rings sparkling in the sun. “Esther Lefkowitz. I write the Beach Buzz column for the
I blink. “A reporter?”
“A gossip columnist,” she says. “And over the years, I must admit, my columns have gotten a few boosts from the activities of the Love family. But now Darcy . . .” She sighs. “She's become quite the phoenix, hasn't she? From the ashes rising? We all love a good redemption story.”
“Esther,” I pretend to be dumbfounded, “it sounds like you've read my book already!”
Esther snorts. “No, dear, but I can tell you a thing or two about Darcy Love. The girl spent every summer here. Let me tell you . . .”