Monday, July 21, 2008

Ruminations on a warm summer Sunday night in New York

Greeley Square, between 33rd and 32nd Streets, where Broadway and Sixth Avenue cross. 10:15 PM. Photo: JH.
It was a very hot weekend. Even too hot for a lot of people to hit the parks or the streets. In Carl Schurz Park in my neighborhood, by the river, just about every man woman and child was out in shorts.

Walking the dogs for their last go-round in the late evening, the avenue was almost empty of traffic (this is a neighborhood where many leave on weekends), silent except for the vast enveloping din of the air conditioners, humming like a heaving, steady wind from the apartment towers. The heat becomes the story.

I got an email from a friend in Prouts Neck, Maine.
She told me there were NYSD readers in Prouts Neck. Hello Prouts Neck. Thank you for reading NYSD. Good morning Tulsa! And Nashville and Seattle and Kansas City! Thank you for reading NYSD. I found myself trying to imagine what the weather felt like up there and everywhere there was someone reading NYSD. Much cooler up in Maine, I was thinking. Heavenly.

No doubt, although I was not there, they had similar weather to the city’s, out East in the Hamptons where, unless you’re at the beach, and in the water, or in the pool, you’re inside (golfers notwithstanding).

Saturday the Times ran a front-page piece by Eric Konigsberg on the charity circuit in the Hamptons, investigating (the main thrust of the piece) how the current financial dilemma had affected the ticket sales to many events. Answer: sales are down, fewer people are going out (to the charity parties).

There are always a lot of weekend social events in the Hamptons nowadays. An onslaught, you could say. The towns are packed with events often competing. Just like the city during the social season. Frenzy near and far.
Portrait busts of Roman Caesars at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton.
It’s assumed now that people are tightening their purse strings. I would guess sales are also down because people are bored with what they get where they have to pay. The events are often cookie cutter formulaic: a budget, a location, a caterer and the invites. And a silent auction. What was once ingenious is now old hat. That’s fashion for you.

The charity circuit has become an enormous franchise also for retailers and other businesses. More and more “social events” are avenues for raising money or moving product. This is what it’s become and as things have progressed, it is massive. That is one of the reasons why when times are getting squeaky financially, it’s easy to say no.

It may be that the price of gasoline has finally had an impact on a lot of people who do not own summer houses in the Hamptons. More people are not traveling. Besides, there are really “two” Hamptons: The long time summer residents who only socialize among themselves and visiting dignitaries or new faces – well-fixed ones, that is – in town. And the visitors who now come in droves looking for a piece of the magic (and maybe a beach parking sticker).

Weekends for the summer residents are for taking it easy. And staying off the road, now more than ever. A lot of these people have their set group of friends or circles they move in. Pay parties are off the list except for their favorite charities.
But the Hamptons are cyclical anyway. The real summer people, weekend people, don’t go there for the social life. They never did. They go to get away, from it all, from the rest of us, to enjoy the beauty, to be near the ocean, to relax, see friends for dinner, maybe meet new people occasionally, and that’s it except for the major old chestnuts like the Parrish in Southampton, like Guild Hall in Easthampton.

To me the Times piece was another indication that the Hamptons are over. For awhile. For those who do not have their own houses, it’s a long ride to go sit in traffic before you make the long ride (in traffic) back to town. Guzzle guzzle. And with the financials not exactly romping, maybe another a/c would be a better idea.

The financial markets have already affected a lot of people directly in New York, especially those associated with Wall Street. Bear Stearns employed thousands of people. It’s anybody’s guess how it’s going to affect fund-raising – and the social life – of the city in the near future, but a calculated one would be that it will have a negative impact.

There are a lot of ways to look at what is now happening in the financial markets and how it will affect all of us. Glass half empty: It will definitely affect the charities. Money will be more difficult to raise. This is already happening when more is needed almost everywhere.

The philanthropic organizations that focus on New York for their lifeline and support will have to work harder. That means all of us who are involved, even indirectly, will have to work harder at finding ways (and people) to raise money for programs and projects.

In some cases it means that certain charities will be under greater strain because of their charters. Domestic abuse rises in hard times. Familes and children suffer. Safe Horizon will need more support. Animal rescue organizations are already swamped. (Adopt a pet today, brighten your spirits.) Medical research, children’s organizations, all the things that are needed, now more than ever, will be taxed too.

Glass half-full. However, people’s tastes change. Economics can be a prime motivator. Challenges can energize, produce innovation. The challenge will be creating new, engaging, more productive ways of finding solutions, of keeping our neighbors and their missions going. We may be in for some bright surprises. Tough times are an opportunity for assessment and self-assessment. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as they say.

All this from a hot summer night in New York.

P.S. At the time of this posting, there was a gentle, almost imperceptible rain falling with a cool breeze, so soft that trees were our perfect umbrellas. All of this cutting the heat in a kind, unviolent way.

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