Summer of Love

 

Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe trysted here with Arthur Miller. Maybe a bit of that charge remained, for it was in the windmill’s second-floor bedroom that, at 18, I had my first fling, and it felt pretty great.

This was back in the summer of l973, when my parents rented the windmill from Deborah Ann Light, a pharmaceutical heiress who owned all of Quail Hill, then 30 acres. The windmill stood in the midst of that estate, with a tennis court beside it. Light, known at the time as Deborah Perry, was eccentric — she later became a dedicated wiccan with a posse of cheerful pagans — and only rented the windmill to literary types she deemed worthy. My father was the editor-in-chief of Harper’s magazine at that time, so we passed muster. A short distance from the windmill was a summer bungalow, overlooking Quail Hill’s apple orchard, which Perry had rented that summer as well . . . to the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and his longtime companion, the photographer Jill Krementz.

Summer in a windmill seemed cool to me, but I would have to do more than loaf around, my father made clear. I certainly wasn’t going back to the Amagansett I.G.A., where I’d spent a grim high school summer stamping cans and bottles in the beverage department for $1.65 an hour. But, what, then? The tennis court beckoned. Neither Light nor Vonnegut and Krementz ever set foot on it. Why not advertise as a tennis teacher with private court in The East Hampton Star and see what happened? 

It hadn’t even occurred to me to try out for tennis at Dartmouth — I was mediocre at best. But, teaching tennis, I realized, was easier than playing it, especially on such a beautiful court. Soon I had eight or ten students a day, and a fat roll of bills at the end of the week. Deborah Light learned only months later of my entrepreneurship, and was apparently horrified, so much so that she bulldozed the court. Now, it’s just meadow, with an imaginary line of ownership down its middle: If you’ve got the scratch, you can pay an additional $8.9 million for the roughly five acres adjacent to the ones on which the windmill stands, making it $18 million in all for eleven acres, including Quail Hill’s main residence. But no tennis court.

Vonnegut was, as I recall,

writing an extraterrestrial

story . . . I thought it would

be amusing to add a couple

more paragraphs to the

page, so I did.

 One day Rivera challenged me to a match, and, with a gulp, I agreed. In his late 20s, I’d guess, Rivera was a far superior player to me, very fit and athletic all around. But I was on that court eight hours a day: It was the one season in my life I could have beaten him. In fact, I did. To this day, I can see his angry scowl as he stalked off the court.

 

 

 

 

 

The Quail Hill windmill was originally built in 1830 as a water mill for the surrounding farm fields, and was converted into a residence in the 1950s. Although fully renovated, the original works remain.
llustrations by Durell Godfrey

Vonnegut was a quiet neighbor with one charming peculiarity: As a writer, he liked to move around. He would take his heavy manual typewriter and set up shop for a few days in the garage, or a shack nearby. One day I found his typewriter set up in the garden shed, with half a typed page in the roller.

Vonnegut was, as I recall, writing an extraterrestrial story — science fiction of the Vonnegut variety. I thought it would be amusing to add a couple more paragraphs to the page, so I did. And weren’t they, perhaps, a bit better than the ones above?

That was the only time Vonnegut got angry at us. He complained to my father, and I was made to realize that this wasn’t amusing to the grown-ups. Thankfully, I was forgiven. For years afterward, Vonnegut greeted me warmly at cocktail parties, his non-filter cigarette between his fingers, with the inevitable “How’s that second serve?” For Vonnegut had observed the epic match between me and Geraldo, and was not, I sensed, unhappy with the outcome.

As for that summer fling, it did take place, just below those windmill workings of ancient and beautiful wood. A guitar was involved, and a girl named Susie, and a world that had seemed closed to me opened up at last, with the Eagles’ “Desperado” in the background.

In 1990, Deborah Light donated half of her estate to the Peconic Land Trust, which formed the Quail Hill organic community farm, a wondrous enterprise, since grown to 35 acres. Anyone can join by paying a modest summer stipend and harvesting a member’s share of crops as they come up. At some point, the house Vonnegut and Krementz rented was razed to make room for more crops.

Quail Hill is a gem, and so are the grassy acres above it, where the windmill keeps its quiet vigil, and soon someone will buy those acres for sale, and be the windmill’s next proud owner. All this is in the natural order of things — and really, for the best. But I, for one, will be sorry to see that haven closed off, and with it the sights of a golden summer in Amagansett a long, long time ago.

Michael Shnayerson

MICHAEL SHNAYERSON is a long-time contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and the author or co-author of seven books on subjects that range from mountaintop coal mining (Coal River) to an unauthorized biography, in 2015, of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (The Contender). He has lived in the Sag Harbor area for over 25 years.