If Caleb Hadrian Carr, whaler, entrepreneur, importer, salvager, sometime pirate, and, in his retirement, New York State legislator, could see today the town he’d founded and named after himself on the south shore of Long Island back in 1806, he’d spit. He’d spit brimstone, in fact.
Long Island, a long and narrow island east of New York City, has taken as its standard Bishop Reginald Heber’s famous maxim, “Every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.” Once a pleasantly wooded landmass of low hills and white beaches, well-watered by many small streams, populated by industrious Indians and myriad forest creatures, Long Island today is a Daliscape of concrete and ticky-tack, all its watches limp.
Far out the island’s south shore, beyond the blue-collar gaud of Nassau County but not all the way to the trendy glitz of the Hamptons, lies Carrport, an enclave of newish wealth in a setting that looks, as the entranced residents keep pointing out to one another, exactly like an old-fashioned New England whaling village which, of course, except for its not technically being in New England, is exactly what it is.
These current residents of Old Carrport are mostly drop-ins for whom the shingled Cape Cod is a third or fourth or possibly fifth home. They are people who don’t quite qualify for the “old” money fastnesses of the Island’s north shore (“old” money means your great-grandfather was, or became, rich), but who have more self-esteem (and money) than to rub elbows with the sweaty achievers to their east. To sum them up, they would never deign to have anything to do with a person from show business who was not at least a member of Congress.
The residents of Carrport had not always been such. When Caleb Carr built his first house and pier at Carr’s Cove (he’d named that, too), it was mostly as a place to keep his wife and family while at sea, and to sort and store his fish, salvage, and loot when ashore. Other crew members eventually built little homes around the cove for their own families. An enterprising second-generation youngster who suffered from seasickness stayed on land and began the first general store.
By the time Caleb Carr died, in 1856 (his last act was an anti-Abolitionist letter to the New York Times, which ran in the same issue as his obituary), he was rich in honors, rich in family, rich in the esteem of his fellow Americans, and rich. His seven children and four of his grandchildren all had homes in Carrport, and he could look forward from his deathbed to a solid community, ever carrying his name and prestige and philosophy onward into the illimitable reaches of time.
And yet, no. For half a century Carrport dozed, growing slowly, changing not at all, and then . . .
Every generation, New York City produces another wave of nouveaux riches, and every generation a giddy percentage of these head east, out to Long Island, to establish yet another special, trendy, in, latest, au courant, swingin weekend hot spot. Carr’s Cove got its invasion in the twenties, young Wall Streeters with Gatsby self-images and faux flapper wives, who loved the frisson that came from the sight of those ships’ lights offshore; smugglers! The booze the weekenders would drink next Friday was gliding shoreward right now, through the deep ocean black. (In truth, those passing lights were mostly fishermen, homeward bound, and the booze the Carrporters would consume next weekend was being manufactured at that moment in vats in warehouses in the Bronx.)
Whatever is in will be out. The Gatsbys and their flappers are long gone, dustbinned by their children as “square.” The faint air of Carrport raffishness so beloved by the weekenders of yore is now replaced by an air of moneyed fastidiousness. Housing for those in the service trades and some commuters has ringed the original town with a wimple of the standard Long Island sprawl. (All suburbs look like paintings from before the discovery of perspective.) The alleged Fredric Albert Mullins and his neighbor, the dubious Emmaline Anadarko, all of Red Tide Street, lived or had lived out there. But the big old sea-captain houses, shingled, ample, dormered, well-porched, white-trimmed, still ring the cove as they always did, facing out to the unchanging sea, today owned mostly by corporate types and, in a few instances, by corporations themselves.
Today’s recurrent Carrporters are for the most part business lions for whom the beach house is merely an adjunct to the pied-`a-terre penthouse in Manhattan. These people actually live in London and Chicago and Sydney and Rio and Gstaad and Cap d’Antibes and Aspen and—Well. Don’t ask them where “home” is. They’ll merely shrug and say, “Sorry, only my accountant knows the answer to that.”
At the moment, six of the big old houses around the cove are owned by corporations rather than persons, and are used—according to those same accountants—for “meetings, seminars, client consultations, and focus groups.” They are also oases of rest and recuperation for the senior executives of those corporations, should one of them find himself forced to be in Boston or New York or DC with a sunny weekend coming up.
One of these latter houses, number Twenty-Seven Vista Drive, is carried on the books of Trans-Global Universal Industries, or TUI as it’s known on the Big Board, or Max Fairbanks, as it’s known in the world of palpable rather than corporate reality. Max Fairbanks, a billionaire media and real-estate baron, owns much of the planet and its produce and people, through various interlocking corporations, but the threads, for those who can follow them—and no one but the previously mentioned accountants can begin to follow them—all lead eventually back to the parent corporation, TUI, which is corporeally incorporated in the person of Max Fairbanks.
Who had been having a bad year. A few business deals had come unstuck, a few politicians in various precincts around the world had come unbought, and a few trends promised by the specialists had not come through at all. Cash flow was brisk, but in the wrong direction. Downsizing had been done when times were good, so now, when there was need to cut the fat, there was no fat left to remove. Max Fairbanks was far from poor—several light-years from poor, in fact—but his financial problems had forced him into an uncomfortable corner and he—or his accountants, those guys again—had at last taken action.