The old clubhouse. Photo Courtesy of the Southampton Yacht Club
Last week, I related how Dad and I had our Friday schedule – pack up the Horsemobile and drive to Southampton. A lot of people have such similar routines. Saturdays no different.
Even the grand dame of our Southampton rooming house, Mrs. Fordham, had a weekend habit. Every Saturday she would get together with her buddies and – I have no idea what they were drinking, rolling, or tooting – but were they up, I mean UP!, for the Lawrence Welk show at 6PM! They were huddled together in the chairs, arranged in a semi-circle around the boob tube, simply breathless for the start of the show… Roll the bubbles… Ah, one, two, three…
Dad and I thought that Welk was a little too square for our tastes and we would bust on Welk relentlessly during the course of our day. Wunnerful, wunnerful… Tank you very much…
For us, our Saturdays would typically start at Marguerite’s “The Buttery” on Wall Street, just off of Main Street in the heart of the village (where Sant Ambroeus is today). This was a classic breakfast diner, with a linoleum countertop and a back room with red checker cloth tables. A very clean one. The pancakes were good, of course; I would rip right through them. But my morning Orange Juice addiction caused a bit of a problem.
Back home in New York, there was no issue. We kept a carton of the precious juice in the mini-fridge and that was that. But at a restaurant, the problem was the cost. The breakfast special in 1966 cost maybe $1.90. However, a glass of fresh OJ cost as much as the whole meal! Well, in a store you could buy a whole quart for that much. This deeply violated Dad’s sense of economics. He was indignant that the juice should cost as much as the main course. I just happened to be the deer in the Horsemobile’s headlights.
Dad tried to reason with me, an 8 year old. “Don’t you want to have a whole quart for the same price as that little glass?” I looked at the glass at another table. True, it was smallish. The logic kinda made sense. I scratched my head, though, unsure if I should go along with this Faustian bargain. I guess it sounded ok, but I knew I was thirsty for the juice then and there, and didn’t want to wait until after breakfast. Just as a cigarette junkie reaches for a smoke right after hitting the alarm clock each morning, my first preferred move of the day was to grab the OJ. “Try it,” he said and I figured, well, ok, why not?
So I finished breakfast and bums-rushed Dad out of The Buttery so we could go to the next stop, which was Herbert’s Market, also on Main Street. This old line market, like The Buttery extant no more, was famous for their fried chicken and sugar powdered donut holes called “Crutchley’s Crullers.” However, I was there for one thing and one thing only – the juice. And that as quickly as possible.
With the OJ in a brown paper bag, I hurriedly tore open the carton and guzzled it down outside like a back-alley wino. It was however strangely unsatisfying. It was the timing of the juice that mattered to me and not so much the quantity. This was my first encounter with Dad’s strange notion of time. He seemed to believe, and certainly acted as if, he had an endless supply of it. Time was free, but money had a hard (and identifiable) cost in dollars and cents. So from his point of view, it was a completely rational switch – exchange the timing of the juice for a cost saving.
In successive breakfasts, he always tried to persuade me to forego the OJ at The Buttery in favor of the more economic quantity afterwards. My response was to throw ever progressively severe stink-eye at him.
After scoring breakfast, OJ, and something for lunch from Herbert’s, we were off to the Southampton Yacht Club on Little Neck Road. The clubhouse was a very rustic brownwood structure, with a spare common room, toilets and a 10 cent coke machine that served up refreshingly cold sodas in heavy glass 10 oz. bottles. The manager of the club was an interesting man named Captain Stummy who scooted about the club on short legs and a Swiss Army tool belt. He was able to fix or repair just about anything nautical on the spot. Because of this, he was a very busy man, running from one yacht to another, resolving everything anyone could throw at him. Small talk was not his specialty. The man should be President today.
Reading in the common room at the Southampton Yacht Club. Photo by Bernard Olcott.
Out back from the clubhouse was the Old Fort Pond, a small cove of Shinnecock Bay. The verdant wildland on the other side belonged to the Shinnecock Indian Nation. The club offered a boat hoist, a small dock, a ramp launch, and about 20 racing boats called Lightnings moored out in the inky black water. Undulating through that water were many jellyfish, purple, pink, and blue, long ghostly tendrils trailing behind. They were mesmerizing to watch; I could gaze at them for hours.
Dad was not a Lightning skipper. He had his own very distinctive boat, a 24 foot Snapdragon yacht, with a living room, galley kitchen, bedroom, and head (toilet) below decks. It was comfortable and he could make it fly and splash through the waters of Shinnecock Bay. Made by Thames Marine of England, Dad in fact was a dealer and would invite prospective buyers along for a guest sail. On the yacht, it was very much Dad the captain, me the first mate, and Dad’s date as the special passenger. Most special passengers, if they weren’t buying a yacht, wore bikinis.
Playing the skipper. Photo by Bernard Olcott
Late one afternoon on a Saturday, instead of going to The Irving Hotel for cocktails (and nuts for me) on the great porch, we came back to the Yacht Club dressed in blazers. It was a cocktail party and the large sandy parking lot was wall-to-wall people. I was being paraded around by my Dad as usual while the adults yacked it up bigtime. Deadly boring for a kid. I would not have remembered it except while I was standing there, listening to the idle chit chat, I felt a slug on my left arm. I looked over and saw this kid with jet black hair make a face at me with his cheeks blown out and eyeballs so cross-eyed, they looked like they would pop out! Then he slugged me again and took off like a shot.
This a-hole had slugged me twice! What the hell was that all about? I tore through the crowd like Steve McQueen, managing to grab him once and throw a counter-punch. He was quick and could get out of my grasp easily. Several times I ran him down and finally got a good hold of him, and pummeled him as hard as I could (which wasn’t that hard). (I could inflict as much pain as a light sunburn.) In an instant we were both down and throwing fists. “Bitch!” I yelled as I gave as good as I got. Instantly, our fathers located the two of us and pulled us apart.
That was my first friend in Southampton, Eben Gay! We actually met each other again a few years later and then put the story together.