VIEWPOINT: WHO NEEDS A SPACESHIP WHEN SMALL-TOWN LIFE OFFERS SO MUCH?

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The season" in East Hampton doesn't start officially until Memorial Day weekend. Please do not think this means there is nothing going on already in this place founded in 1640 out here on the East End of Long Island.

For one thing, the Blue Parrot opened. Lee the owner is back from Hawaii and Roland the manager back from Puerto Rico (the surf was better in Hawaii, I take it), the floor of the bar was repainted, new menus have been printed up, and cowboy boot-motif upholstery installed. Such aesthetic concerns are important when you consider the Blue Parrot is just up the alleyway from Ralph Lauren's Polo shop and you never know when Mr. Lauren is going to come by. You want to have things looking nice.

So we were all sitting around the bar there the other evening drinking Pacifico beers and discussing color schemes. Such as Richard Ryan's boat, repainted an attractive yellow. And also whether Ted Turner was right when he called those Rancho Santa Fe cult people "nuts." In East Hampton, we have our share of oddballs, but we view the great comet as a boon and a marvel, and no one is yet spiking the vodka or booking seats on the spaceship. A quick poll at the bar suggested half of us thought Ted was right and half thought Ted was "nuts."

We had a big loss ourselves here.

Mr. de Kooning died. He was 92 and pretty much out of it in recent years but he had been one of the "giants" of Abstract Expressionism, and in East Hampton at the bars where local people drink, no one called him "Willem" or "Bill," but they spoke of him in some awe and with very genuine regret that he had gone. He was a man who took a drink and liked having beautiful women about and he worked hard, and that seemed sufficient unto the day. A letter in The East Hampton Star following the funeral at St. Luke's, tut-tutted about media priorities, noting that Kim Basinger's marriage to Alec Baldwin and the covergirls' volleyball game last summer both drew more press choppers, more paparazzi.

Dick Cavett's house burned down. This was "Tick Hall" and it was one of seven houses on the Montauk bluffs built by Stanford White 114 years ago. It was a wooden frame house up a dirt road far from the nearest hydrant, an old house full of treasures and everything went but the chimneys. Mr. Cavett and his wife, the actress Carrie Nye, were said to be devastated. The local paper, the Star, quoted a friend, "Mr. Cavett said he could not imagine looking up at that hill and not seeing Tick Hall sitting up there."

But the Cavetts have the original drawings and they will rebuild.

New York State responded to local complaints about the vast potholes in our main road, State Route 27, by promising to start repairs in December 2000. That's the 21st Century, for God's sake! The reason? The state DOT said Route 27 was given such a low priority because "this location has a low accident rate." It didn't when Truman Capote still had a license and was driving around out here, you can be sure of that, but never mind. Have you ever heard of a state promising to fill a pothole three years from now? That's what we get for electing a Republican as governor.

Mary Gosman died. She was 87 (they live to great ages out here) and the matriarch of the family-owned and famous seafood restaurant in Montauk. She came to the States at 17 looking for work, got to East Hampton in 1931 and went to work as a domestic. Her husband, Robert Gosman, was a carpenter, and during the Depression they raised six kids, buying a house, and in 1943 a gas dock on Lake Montauk where they added a lunch counter. Mary cooked and served and her Gosman's chowder became a hit. For three bucks you could get half a lobster, fries and crackers.

Another local legend passed as well. The Chicken House on Race Lane. The Chicken House at one time actually sold chickens, I guess, but in my East Hampton years it's been the place to buy the Sunday papers and to buy block ice and bags of ice cubes. They also sell cold cuts and coffee and cigarettes and stuff and a small coterie of local gaffers met there almost every morning to take over a table in the back room and have their first coffee and discuss affairs of the day. Next to the cash register there always was a well-thumbed sheet of paper with names scrawled on there along with the notification, "Please settle your bill."

Some of those bills, people said, ran to a couple of bucks.

All that's finished now with the Chicken House sold and the new owners planning to put in what we really need out here, yet another fruit and vegetable stand.

In East Hampton wonderful folks die and houses burn and are rebuilt, Chicken Houses shut down and bureaucrats dither, boats get painted and guys have a beer. While on the other Coast foolish people who long ago gave up on life and its simple wonders don shrouds and wait for spaceships. But for the rest of us who look up to see Hale-Bopp and thrill to its wonders, spring arrives, life goes on, small towns endure.

Next week, East Hampton's "last angry man," Jerry Della Femina.

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