Monday, August 19, 2013

The Magic of East Hampton Library Authors Night

There was never any doubt.  It was the best night of my writing career. 
If I never write another thing (god forbid) I will always have this Authors Night memory and be content.

While I regret a few things and would have changed a few others things there is so much pure, inescapable joy, pride and satisfaction that I’ll fold up those thoughts like a familiar lace handkerchief and put them in my pocket for now.

The morning of August 10th sparkled.  By the time I arrived in East Hampton, the day was shimmering -- as if in anticipation of the star-studded competition the evening would bring to the glory of the day.

I had taken the jitney to the East End, and alighting in East Hampton, a taxi driver suddenly appeared just as I retrieved my bag from the belly of the bus, and we made our way posthaste to the East Hampton Hotel.  This low-slung motel looked like something straight out of a Rat Pack Las Vegas-styled 1960’s film.

 Don’t get me wrong – the hotel/motel was clean as a whistle, scrubbed white and green but its Jetson-styled slooping roof and open cinderblock design reminded me of the early Caesar’s look right out the award-winning Martin Scorcese film, “Casino.”

It was sweet. And simple. What’s not to like?

I readily unpacked my few things, hung up my lace dress and jacket for the evening.  I was glad I hadn’t rolled the outfit into the travel bag – transporting it in a garment bag instead.  So all was still crisp.

I had plenty of time before the East Hampton Authors Night book signings under the tent was to begin so I figured I’d indulge in something to eat.
I learned from the front desk that Bostwick’s was within walking distance and headed over but not before spotting the stack of the Hamptons Magazine that included a full-length feature story about the East Hampton Authors Night – and the Hamptons Magazine-hosted dinner at the home of editor Michael Braverman that was to follow the Library event.

And I was included in that feature story!  Page 54 in the magazine:

I still had my head in the clouds from reading the digital version the night before, having discovered the link on the East Hampton Library’s Facebook page while doing some social networking. 

So with the glossy and glamorous copy of the magazine in hand, I sashayed over to the restaurant. 
Well, in fact it was more that I picked my way along the mini highway that is Pantigo Road, as the cars race by, not unlike La Mans. Which is kind of a crazy contrast to the bumper-to-bumper snails pace getting to the Hamptons.

Ensconced in a seat at the bar, I indulged in a lobster roll and Brooklyn beer and the magazine. Perfect.  I was so elated by the story and the sensual delight of holding it in my hands.
This was no digital deceit!  The feature was real. 
I had to share it with somebody – anybody.  The bartender was my likely candidate so – like a kid who brings home refrigerator art, I asked, “Do you want to see a story about tonight’s Authors Night?  I’m in it.”  Hopeless, I know…

Now being properly satiated, it was time to get ready for the evening.
Like a warrior getting ready for battle – or perhaps a better analogy is a thespian preparing to take the stage, I got changed and applied some make up and got my hair looking good.  In fact, I thought overall, I did look good.  The poison ivy on my face had cleared up pretty good.  There was little to no humidity and so there was no make up melt and, overall, a good hair day.

How quickly things can change.

I waited for my Homegrown friend and enthusiastic supporter, Toni Sabatino to arrive.  Toni is a very talented kitchen designer.  She (not a he) was to be my roommate and one of my guests for the evening’s festivities.  She’d come across the Forks and had run into someone’s medical emergency on the Shelter Island ferry – but no worries, I reassured her.
She composed herself and looked great and we were ready.
She drove us to the Authors Night under the tent.

I got my gold bracelet stamped “Authors Night.”
Normally I do not allow these branding bracelets – aka wristbands anywhere near me – I find them offensive and degrading.
Not this one. I felt the bracelet was a badge of honor.  And Tiffany or Cartier could not have designed a more dazzling piece of jewelry even if I was the Duchess of Cambridge.

A volunteer escorted me to my book-signing table; I was overjoyed and relieved to see it was right near the entrance: up front.

Squeezing between my table and the author’s to my right, I saw that my table-mate was Padma Lakshmi.
If you’ve been under a rock – Padma was the host of Food Network’s Top Chef, was married to Salmon Rushdie, graces the cover of countless magazines, including this issue of the heretofore mentioned Hamptons Magazine and was part of the same feature I was included in.  She was to be a fellow, author co-host for the evening’s dinner party, too.  Our paths had truly crossed. We were fellow scribes…

I silently gulped.

While it would no doubt be fun and exciting to spend the event signing books with Padma, the honest truth is she is so very famous and beautiful and tall and has a new book out plus will be starring in a new TV show - that attending guests would look right past me.  They’d have eyes only for the very tall (did I say that again?!), very talented Padma. 

The good news/bad news is Padma was a “no show” for the Author Night event under the tent…
Only a few people took her book to purchase, which is a shame for the Library. Some others asked me where she was and I had to say I am not Padma’s keeper…”
But I am here,” I smiled.  

It was controlled chaos under the tent.  In fact, from the time we arrived, there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t signing books and posing for pictures or taking photos of the Homegrown fans. 
Me and Dan - from East End's beloved & popular Dan's Papers (newspaper)
It was work.
And still more guests were arriving. 

Swedish Culinary Students, me & Chef Bryan Futerman, Foody's

In about an hour, I was sold out of two cases of books! 
Nothing left to sign for the last hour.

It was then I realized how hot it had gotten under the tent.  I whipped out my hand-held fan and began to stylishly but earnestly wave the hot air.
Too late. 
I could feel the make up melting off my eyes fearful I was looking more Emmett Kelly than even author Kitty Kelly – who, by the way, was the next author over from me since Padma wasn’t there. (I rarely to never wear face make up so at least I could be thankful there weren’t rivers of foundation puddling on my cheeks.)
And then the hair tragedy.  It was now flat. Limp.
I was looking more old-school librarian than Hamptons Library supporter.
Dawn Watson, The Press, caught my "glow"

But there was nothing that could be done…
It wasn’t for me that I cared. Well, maybe a little. It was I wanted to uphold the glamorous, East Hamptons Authors Night provenance…

I was proud we had done so well and in such a short time. 

Post event, the East Hampton Library wrote of the event's overall, soaring success: 104 authors under the tent along with more than 2,000 guests.  In addition, 700 guests attended the 26 dinners.  Donations were still coming in but estimates are that the tally exceed $300,000 in revenue for the Library! 

Bryan Futerman, Foody’s restaurant owner and chef and a featured Homegrown chef in the Cookbook was my other Plus +1 for the event and dinner guest. 
Chef Bryan was so kind – he stayed at the table and autographed books right along with me. 
That was a lucky-strike extra for the Homegrown fans! 

For those who are not familiar with the evening’s format, I’ll describe it for you. 
Plus, I saw a News 12 TV piece where Authors Night co-founder Alec Baldwin pointed out that the format has now become a model, inspiring other libraries’ fundraising outreach.
But I doubt that others can match the East Hampton Library’s star power and setting. There is nothing like the literi gliteri there.

Guests pay for tickets to the benefit.  They are able to taste fabulous treats – from hors d’ouevres to sweets, along with wine and other drinks – while walking around, chatting up famous, favorite or new authors, and getting them to sign the guest’s books of choice.
When they have gathered enough for a small library – they check out – with all the monies benefitting the East Hampton Library.

So, I had planned for Chef Bryan to simply enjoy the food and drink there at the event and walk around and meet the famous authors who were present. 
But he elected to stay with me. 
Bryan is adorable and I welcomed his company and support.

When we depleted our book inventory, except for one, I turned my gaze and attention to what was happening around me.

Gwyneth, Goop and Good Food
It was then that I saw all this sustained commotion to my left. And there in our table pit – meaning the center of our Author table area – was Gwyneth Paltrow.

I could see right away she was not having a bad hair day.
Smart cookie – she had it tied back in a sleek ponytail.
And that was complemented by a stunning and equally sleek white dress. Tom Ford?

As I was remarking about how lucky I was to be at this table pit intersection – Chef Bryan and Toni urged me to give my last book to Gwyneth.

Yes, why not?

So as quickly as each of us could tap her name into our smart phones to insure proper spelling - my Plus +1’s were spelling her name and I was penning, “G-W-Y-N-E-T-H, Enjoy the beauty, romance and taste of Homegrown Long Island.”
And I signed my Leeann with a particularly dramatic swirl of the L, if I do say so myself. 

Holding my book in arm: school style – I took the few steps over to where Gwyneth was signing up a storm.
I really didn’t want to interrupt her. 

I started by sidling up to her penning side – her children Moses and Apple were on her left – beaming for all the guests, clearly so happy and proud.
Husband Chris Martin, Coldplay musician, was on the guest side of the table – in the book-loving melee chatting it up and looking like he’d made the rounds of the other Authors by the look of the books he was holding.

Chris Martin with his Authors Night books

How cute are the apple cheeks on Apple?!

After mugging it up for my camera that Toni was snapping – it was getting silly with me smiling next to Gwyneth and she intent on book signing so that the images would look like I was standing next to a cut-out or Madame Tussaud figure of the Academy-Award winning actress. 

I took the plunge and sat down next her saying simply, “Sorry, I hate to interrupt but I so wanted you to have my book – my last book.”
And she turns, inches from my face – so I can’t help notice she doesn’t have any pores… She is glowing. In a good way. Not in a melt-down glistening way.
No, she is the cover girl of healthy, authentic luminosity.

Then Gwyneth chirps – in an altogether too adorable way:
Your book?!  

“I have the book!”

“I Love the book!”

“What?!”  I reply, stunned, 

I am gobsmacked Gwyneth loves the book.  Hey, I’m just thrilled she knows of it. The fact that she already has it and loves it starts to settle on me like a warm spring day.
Life is good.

But wait. Now I’m in a pickle.

I blurt how great this is and say: “I’m thrilled you have and love the book!
But, but, ohhhh I just signed this one – my last one – to you!”

We both start laughing like startled school friends who just discovered another’s secret boyfriend.

She returns to signing books while keeping an ear.
I put on my thinking cap and pull what I think is a rabbit out of my hat.
“Why don’t I add your mother’s name?” I ask hopefully.

“That’s a Great idea!” she offers. 
But seriously, what is she gonna say when I’m just inches away – “That’s a Homegrown re-gifting if I ever ...”?

While we both agree on this Homegrown solution – and for the record -- I adore her mother, Blythe Danner and have loved her stage work especially, as well as her films.

Then I make a strategic blunder.  Rather than add Blythe’s name there and hand it directly to Gwyneth -- for some inexplicable reason, I return to my Authors Table and pen “Blythe” in the comfort of my Authors turf while pondering how one family can have such kingdom names: Blythe, Gwyneth, Moses, Apple…
When I grew up I was the only Leeann but that doesn’t seem to be in the same league as these marquee names.

As a big aside, the other simpatico connection I – and my cousin Maryann – share with Gwyneth – is our abiding, unconditional love for our fathers. 
All of who have left this world for that part of heaven reserved for first-class fathers.

I rather wear my feelings for my father on my sleeve and so I sometimes felt that perhaps others might think me too personal or dramatic when sharing my deep abiding love for my father.
Then I read Gwyneth saying her father was the love of her life. 
I shared that with Maryann.  If others can accept Gwyneth’s declaration of filial love, then they could accept and understand mine. And Maryann's...

And Maryann is putting the finishing touches on her homage to her father with a cookbook filled with healthy comfort food and family meals – not so unlike Gwyneth’s “My Father’s Daughter” cookbook that “celebrates the joy preparing food for loved ones, a passion she learned from her beloved father,” according to the book’s overview.

The other link I have with the culinary cutie that is Gwyneth clearly is the food.
We both advocate for whole foods.  I emphasize locally grown and seasonal ingredients. 
And taste…

Back to the event.

Before I could return to Gwyneth with the signed book, there was more Hamptons royalty who’d just arrived.

I turned to see Alec Baldwin and his gorgeous wife, Hilaria.  There was a phalanx of photographers and lookers now surrounding the already buzz-worthy Gwyneth table.

I could see and capture the sweet, courteous exchange among the stars and then the introduction to Gwyneth’s children and photographed them shaking Mr. Baldwin’s hand.

Mrs. Baldwin was radiant. While very, very pregnant, she wears it so well.
In fact, as the two of us talked in the Authors table “pit” she said they were returning to town that night because their doctor said they were pushing the envelope.
me/author & beautiful Hilaria Thomas Baldwin

Hilaria is my Gotham yogi master.  Her studio is around the corner from our apartment.  
After trying several yoga studios in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, I found my yoga home. I love her, the studio, and the staff.
And in fact, Hilaria had me do my first headstand. After success, we joked I wasn't a headstand virgin any more J

No Baldwin Blurb
In terms of the book, I have somewhat of a history with Mr. Baldwin.

I will explain. 
And I wish I had shared this funny and somewhat tortured connection with Hilaria as we talked in the Authors pit.

The Baldwin blurb saga began a few clicks earlier.   

I was so fortunate and thank my lucky stars that Brian Halweil agreed to do the Forward for my book. Brian is the editor of the New York magazines: Edible New York, Edible East End and recently – Edible Long Island (did the Homegrown book influence this direction?  Hope so!) Brian is also a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute covering food and agriculture and he is also co-director of Nourishing the Planet.

I had wanted to find a way to ask Mr. Baldwin if he would do a book blurb for the Homegrown Cookbook.  After all, he is a Long Island native and I read he frequented a number of the restaurants featured in Homegrown.  It was a natural fit, I thought. 

Then not long after, Edible East End ran a story with Mr. Baldwin and Brian rhapsodizing about the Peconic Bay and East End oysters.  (Which are very, very spectacular if you haven’t tasted this bit of the Milky Way on your tongue!)
I called Brian and well, one thing led to the next.
Eventually, I met up with Mr. Baldwin at a benefit for the Two River Theater in Red Bank in the Garden State – near our country house.  I thought it was an ideal situation to bring up our mutual points of interest: culture, politics, humor, Long Island, restaurants and food and – but before I could explain in clear, complete sentences about the book and my modest request for a blurb, the moment was gone.  I get very unnerved around him.  I blather. To the point he leaned in and asked, “So what do you want me to do?”  Before I could respond, I resorted to pictures.  Thinking it might help if like a proud parent I could show off the progeny – (and a picture is worth a thousand words – and since I hadn’t progressed too far past monosyllabic conversation, I took out a few pages of the then-almost complete manuscript that I thought would trigger warm recognition of cozy dinners at 1770 House and Nick & Toni’s and…. But before I could unfurl a page, he stopped me. Or rather demurred.   
Is it a legal thing?  Not sure but I respected his request. 
I did get a nice picture of us together that night... (Too funny - or sad -  that I was wearing the exact same ensemble!) 

He suggested I contact his business partner and manager, Monica.
Which I did, eventually.
Monica is a true professional and has a great sense of aplomb, discretion, and humor. 
While she appreciated my request, she had to decline due to Mr. Baldwin’s oversubscribed schedule.  Even if I wrote it and he/they edited – there was no way.
While clearly disappointed I accepted it and her kind offer to help with the book when it was published.

It wasn’t until spring of that following year that I started taking yoga at Hilaria’s Yoga Vida Studio.  Almost the same time that Mr. Baldwin and Hilaria discovered each other, now that I think about it.
I was taking the Friday morning class because there was no sense rushing out of town – our country house was under renovation.  Hilaria taught with such joy and exuberance I think I was falling in love with her, too.
When I saw her on ET, I couldn’t believe it!  How exciting!
And suddenly, it seemed, she and Alec were an inspired couple. 
When she told us at the end of a class in June or so that she’d be taking some time off – her first real vacation in like forever – we all knew it was to help celebrate the engagement.  In fact, I went up to her after class to congratulate her and just like a best friend, she showed off her beautiful engagement ring.  I took her hand and wished her the very best, saying she deserved all the joy and happiness in the world.  She brings so much of that to all of us…
As things turned out, Alec was waiting for her after our class siting on the sofa.  I had to stop in the ladies room, as I wasn’t returning to the apartment, rather I was on my way to the Greenmarket to compost.  In the powder room, the women were all giggling and tweeting.  Cute. 
I thought the soon-to-be Baldwin couple would have left by the time I got ready to leave.  But no.  I tried to avoid his gaze as this was about the same time that woman was stalking him.  But then we all ended up in the same elevator.  Arrghh. Head down.
Nice elevator conversations though…

When the Homegrown book was published, I wrote to Monica and offered to send the now happily married couple a Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook
I could’ve dropped it off at their apartment building, which is also around the corner from us. 
Monica suggested I send it to 30 Rock. Why didn’t I walk it up?
I mailed it the same day as another book going to Canada.  I did have a signature request for the Post mailing at least.
Weeks later, I remembered to check in with Monica.  No, they hadn’t received the books, she said. I sent one to Mr. & Mrs. Baldwin and one to Monica.
She said things were crazy as Alec was doing the “Orphans” play on Broadway, the TV hit "30 Rock" had ended and there were so many baby gifts that had been sent to the office - so things were kinda’ crazy.  We had some funny email exchanges. I had the signature from the 30 Rock mailperson who signed for the books, at least.
And then, Monica then wrote that she found the books – they were sent to the apartment, after all.

So you see, this abbreviated story would have been a lot more charged than me asking the banal questions about baby names.  Sigh.  Hilaria might’ve gotten a kick out of the intersections of New York lives.

This was one of my regrets of the evening.

The other was not taking some time to get fixed up for dinner following the heady and hot Authors Night under the tent.
But we were giddy with anticipation and were soon heading over to the Hamptons Magazine dinner at Michael Braverman’s.  The biggest and most prestigious of all the dinners that night…

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