‘Shopping local means lots of local color’
It’s been really hot here in Amagansett, though not as hot as it was the last time my Middle Younger Brother Roger was here.
That time it was so hot that you couldn’t walk on the sand without burning your feet. My poor wilted sister in law, the amazing Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, was loath to leave the library, the one air-conditioned room in the house. (The AC is for the books, you see. To keep them from molding. People, at least most of them, don’t mold. So the rest of the house doesn’t need it.)
Before Roger and Jenn melted down into viscous puddles like the Wicked Witch of the West, they did manage an outing. Roger: “Where can I get an Amagansett hat?” Me: “Herb has Amagansett hats. Go see Herb. At the hardware store. Herb’ll fix you up.” (Now, I don’t have a photo of Herb’s hardware store — inside or out — but the shot at the top of this story shows The Child and me standing out front a few years ago.)
Now, my Brother Roger is the kind of guy you could drop into the middle of the Sahara Desert and he’d make ten new friends in the first ten minutes. And Herb? Well, suffice it to say that Herb is a Local Character who defies easy description.
Let’s just say that Herb, during the recent not-lamented pandemic, had a sign on his door that said, “Masks Prohibited.” This story about the Amagansett hats, of course, takes place long before, but the sign should give you some idea of how Herb rolls. To say that Herb is “idiosyncratic” would be the understatement of the week, if not the summer.
Here’s a taste: When you put down a credit card to pay for your screen-door latch, say, he frowns. Then, when you exchange the offending card for cash, he sighs because he has to make change. Once I wasn’t thinking clearly and asked him where the teen who’d been working the aisles was that day. “He was stealing from me; I had to get rid of him,” was his muttered reply. I only hope Teen Clerk was fired — and that Herb didn’t eat him.
Well, pretty soon Roger came back with a couple of Amagansett hats — and this remark: “Gosh, that Herb guy isn’t really very friendly.” “Did I say Herb was friendly? I just said he had Amagansett hats.”
And Herb isn’t the only example of Local Color when Shopping Local. There’s the Fish Store Guy, who is from Ireland and is practically technicolor. He sings and hugs and sometimes closes the store to offer beers all around. (This hasn’t happened to me yet, but maybe that’s because I’m afraid to cook fish. Which necessarily limits my patronage. See “Where I Grew Up, Fish Came in A Stick” for the sorry story.) But, jolly as he can be on one visit, he can be equally cranky on another. Curmudgeonly, even.
And the guy in the store next door — the liquor store, that is — is equally vibrant. He wears a handlebar mustache and rides a Harley to work. (Granted, it’s a Harley trike, but still.) Liquor Store Guy too hated masks. (He grudgingly tied a Western-style bandana around his neck that he sometimes pulled up over his face; he looked more like a bandit than a concerned Covid-averse shopkeeper — which I think was his intention.)
Incidentally, Liquor Store guy said to me recently that he thought Fish Guy was nuts. Hoookay.
Oh, there is one Local institution that, sadly, I can no longer patronize. It’s the farm stand. This was a great farm stand. You put your money in a cigar box and put your change in a tip jar. It had a dog named Blue and prices chalked on a surf board.
(Speaking of prices, it is — and was, even back in the good old days — hideously expensive. See “The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand” for details.) But, because of the pandemic-fleeing New Yorkers who’ve inundated the town, this farm stand has gotten so crowded no one goes there anymore. (Thanks, Yogi Berra!)
Now it has lines of ex-New Yorkers snaking through its dust-filled parking lot full of Range Rovers. Rude, horrible people who scowl and cut the queue and strip the husks from the corn cobs, looking for what they have no idea. “Yes, there’s corn in there,” I sweetly remarked as one miscreant stripped ear after ear before tossing it back. I bet these people don’t even put money in the tip jars.
But enough ranting. I’m starting to sound like someone who’d ask if the bananas were local. (Which really happened once. Honest.)
I’ll keep on shopping local, in spite of — indeed, in honor of — the Local Characters. One does need color in one’s life, even if the tones can sometimes run a bit dark.
Amagansett, New York. July 2021