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The calendar says summer begins late next month. It lies.

In the Hamptons it began Friday May 10 at the Elaine Benson Gallery where they staged the annual writers' fair to benefit the John Steinbeck Library at the local college (Southampton).

This year they honored Bill Sheed. Mr. Sheed, whose genuine first name is Wilfrid is a wonderful writer whose family was long in book publishing and who all by himself gives writers a good name. Bill has a game leg from a youthful polio and has recently been afflicted with cancer of the tongue (Bill has had almost as many plagues as Egypt and remains of good cheer), but when he drove up the gravel to the gallery's door and I attempted to help him out from behind the wheel, he waved me off with a couple of canes.

I have brushed against great men in my time and Bill Sheed has got to be among the top 10. Maybe the top three? Pretty fair softball hitter, too, if you give him a decent pinch runner.

On the greenery of the open air gallery, little kids ran about, a man twisted long balloons into animal shapes, everyone drank white wine or beer in plastic glasses, and some 70 writers signed their latest works, the dough going to the college library. And people did what writers do, they gossiped.

Ed Diamond was there and Bruce Jay Friedman and Marty Gottfried, who used to write about theater and movies for Women's Wear Daily, and Shana Alexander and Bill Flanagan of Forbes and Warren Phillips, former CEO of Dow Jones who with his wife Barbara now runs a small but flourishing publishing house. I think I saw Joe Heller as well but am not sure. As for Elaine Benson she said her long-awaited book on underwear would not be out until October since it is being printed in Italy.

My reaction to that was, what do the Italians know about fancy underwear? But I maintained a discreet silence.

There was much discussion of how Ralph Lauren waited until the end of April to close down for painting his Polo Shop on Main Street in East Hampton. Why didn't he have the place painted in February, say, when there was no business? Well, I was told, his own line of new paint may not yet have been ready. Oh. Martha Stewart also has a line of paint on the market and we concluded if you don't have your own line of paint these days it's hardly worth going to the Hamptons. Then everyone talked about Martha Stewart's lawn on Lily Pond Lane. All agreed it was perfection (much like her paint and indeed Ralph's paint) but no one believed the local story that instead of having it mowed, they just put down new sod every week. It was said of Martha's lawn that although like all lawns it has worms to help aerate the grass, Martha's worms are biodegradable.

At The Blue Parrot house painters in pristine white coveralls refreshed themselves at the bar after a day of painting Ralph Lauren's walls. A fine paint, one assured me, and the others nodded. Top quality paint.

On that, I had a Pacifico beer with Richard Ryan who just bought a new fishing boat, a 20-foot Shamrock. Richard has a global positioning device with which he can navigate to within five feet of any place on the planet. Though he does not intend to leave Three Mile Harbor on a regular basis. I am now considering getting a global positioning device for my Old Town canoe. Roland the Bartender reported no date had yet been set for the annual running of the au pair girls on Further Lane.

While at the deli counter of the IGA grocery the American Legion was selling Memorial Day poppies. It did not appear to me most folks knew what these curiosities were for.

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