LIFE & DEATH IN EAST HAMPTON

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The official "season" doesn't even begin out here in East Hampton until next weekend, Memorial Day, but there is so much going on already I hardly know where to start.

Of course you know some of what happened over the winter. I mean besides the 17 snowstorms that dumped 57 inches on us and left the East Hampton Town Highway Dept. $141,000 in the hole.

For one thing, they painted and redid the interiors of the Catholic church and Father Desmond is proud about that, and rightly so. And the movie house reopened April 29 after being shut down all winter for spiffying-up. I saw Ike, the old Marine who pretty much runs the place, hustling over there the other day with his pipe and cap and that was a good sign. When the movie house is closed the social life out here slows to a crawl in winter and we are all glad to see Ike back.

The Blue Parrot is open, too. Lee, who owns it, spent the winter in Kauai, which is not bad and he does every year; Roland, the manager and first-string barkeep, was in Puerto Rico all winter surfing and scuba-diving with humpbacked whales, which is also not bad (though his dog, Two-Bit, was rendered pregnant by an island stray and Roland is sort of tight-lipped about that); and Michael, the backup barman, wintered in Tortola. The babes are all back, too, at the Parrot, and they are expanding the kitchen, which has always been about the size of a walk-in closet.

You cannot get a classier group of professional restaurateurs than you encounter at The Blue Parrot this side of Le Cirque. Or maybe Spago. And one day I intend to get off the barstool and actually eat there. Oh, another bulletin: Richard Ryan bought himself a brand new red pickup over the winter. This was revealed in conversation at the Parrot and I hope is not privileged information.

The upsetting news is that Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley split. They live right down Further Lane, a nice spread, with their kid, Alexa, who attends school here, and of all the local celebs I guess they are most liked by everyone and people are not happy about all this. Billy is a special favorite of the East Hampton and Montauk baymen and he gets himself arrested along with them in various protests on an admirably regular basis and the baymen respect Billy for that. He also does fund-raising concerts. Which are OK but not up there with getting busted, you can be sure. And what's not to like about Christie?

The even worse news, Joey Buttafuoco has been seen out here looking at real estate. Just what we need. Maybe Tom and Roseanne would like a little place on the East End? Or Arafat? Steve Urkel?

The tragic story, the death of Berton Roueche, who moved out here in 1950 and wrote those elegant "Annals of Medicine" in The New Yorker for so long. The writer was 83 and had been suffering badly from emphysema for years. He was a smoker and had gone into Southampton Hospital. They discharged him on a Wednesday and the next day his wife, Katherine Eisenhower Roueche, found him outside on the patio dead of a shotgun wound to the head.

The new post office opened. It is next to the old, much smaller one, where they had nice, archaic mailboxes with a combination lock code but on which you inevitably tore skin off your knuckles getting the junk mail out. The new boxes have keys, don't skin your knuckles, but are less aesthetically pleasing. At least to my eye and perhaps to one other, since The East Hampton Star reports vandals smashed a light bulb and marred the paint of a mail truck. Get the rattan canes out!

Frank Duffy, who used to work on Madison Avenue and now runs the Grill (another favorite restaurant where I drink) is feuding with Cablevision. But at least Jerry Della Femina hasn't been arrested again. And Morgan Rank's gallery is open with a new show of American primitives. I even like some of them.

The deer are a problem. A young woman was killed in late winter when, in daylight, she collided with a deer on Montauk Highway. This past week two more deer tangled with cars. On Friday morning a week ago I encountered a full-grown doe bounding across Egypt Lane about 7 a.m. Deer on Egypt Lane? They apparently don't realize this is "south of the highway," where the Protestants live!

They held the annual book fair at Elaine Benson's gallery in Bridgehampton to raise bucks for Southampton College, honoring Betty Friedan with the John Steinbeck Award, "for contributions to literature and humanity by an East End writer." I don't know what Betty and Steinbeck might have had in common beyond that, but it's a good cause and a chance to browse with lit'ry types and drink white wine in plastic glasses, and then go on to Bobby Van's, which is now reopened after alterations and under new management. And maybe Bill Sheed will come by or Kurt Vonnegut and Budd Schulberg and we'll lift one and toast the new owners.

Tony Bullock's engaged. He's the East Hampton Town supervisor, which is what we have instead of mayor, and he's a good fellow and went to Yale and is an excellent carpenter. Her name is Renee Schilhab and is a reporter in Southampton and is from Toronto and we wish them both well. And Gurney's Inn, which is pretty famous, filed for bankruptcy protection. But in Amagansett they finally landmarked Miss Amelia's Cottage, built in 1725 and named for Miss Amelia Schellinger, who lived there most of her 90 years.

It isn't quite beach weather and too windy so far to get the canoe in but the trees are exploding in bloom, especially those big ones with the white petals, covering the lawn like snow. Last night there was a big surf, really heavy, and since it was calm here, there must have been a storm at sea.

It's nice to lie there late at night and listen to a big surf pounding and wondering whether my new book is going to turn out pretty good and remembering how beautiful and yet dangerous that doe was bounding across Egypt Lane.

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