My Old Boss, Dan Rattiner, Founder of Dan’s Papers

Early Dan - I think when I met him he sported a mustache

Early Dan – when I met him he sported a mustache

By Cecil Hoge

In the year 1967, I managed, after six years of work, stress and partying, to graduate from the University of Virginia. My first act, after the 6 years, was to invite 6 of my fellow college friends and 1 college girlfriend (a very pretty and pert blonde young lady, named Penny Zetterstrom) to come visit my family’s summer house in Southampton.

My girlfriend was the first to leave after about 10 days of young love, she came to the rightful conclusion that I was not ready to make the big commitment and so she, with tears in her eyes and the summer wind in her hair, departed back to the University of Virginia determined to be, as she told me, a super woman. The problem was that I was not ready to be a super husband and so we parted with the clear understanding young love does not always work out.

Soon thereafter some of my other college buddies began to drift away, determined to take up the reins of life and go out and find a career. After three weeks that left me and Rich Miller, the last of my college buddies, alone sadly pondering our possibilities. We felt we were just not ready to get out there and find a career. One evening, after one or two or maybe more beers, the solution began to come into view. I had boat, Rich had motor, and after those facts became obvious, we decided we could merge our assets and become clam diggers for the summer. And that is what we did for the next three months.

I have written about that experience and in this blog you will find a story of that wonderful summer, but that is not the subject of this article. This article is about my old boss, Mr. Dan Rattiner. Before telling you about Dan, I have to tell you a little bit more about Rich.

At the end of the summer, with cool September breezes beginning to blow, Rich made his move. He would get into the banking trade, head down to the Caribbean, manage the assets of wealthy islanders, buy a sailboat and live happily ever after. That almost happened, Rich did go into the banking trade and he did buy a sailboat. After getting the sailboat, he decided he liked sailing more than banking and changed his career to the sailboat delivery business, delivering exotic sailboats to all parts of the world.

That left me in Southampton with my family closing their summer house and me at 6s and 7s. That is a British term meaning my life was in disarray and confusion. Fortunately, the confusion cleared fairly quickly when I happened to pick up a copy of the Southampton Summer Day. That was a free paper that was being given out in barbershops, museums and bars. I will let you guess where I found my first copy.

Now this paper was not very impressive at the time. It was 16 to 20 pages long, tabloid in shape and form, mostly in black and white type with some scratchy black and white cartoon drawings signed by a fellow named Dan. There might have been a second color added here and there, to the headlines, to some of the ads. Some of the black and white cartoon drawings were quite humorous and quirky. That was also true of the black and white printed stories. Anyway, this paper had a certain esprit and when I started to read it, I found out it was also written by another fellow named Dan. Putting two and two together, and in taking a look at the masthead I discovered that the two Dans were really one fellow named Dan Rattiner.

At the time, I was trying to figure out how to become a writer and I realized that Dan already was a writer. Now, as mentioned, there was something quite quirky and unusual about this paper. The articles were light-hearted, good-hearted, well-written and sometimes completely false. I am not sure what article caught my incredulous eyes, aliens landing in East Hampton or something like that. Now these stories, some of which were true and some which were complete lies, were all humorous and quirky. I have admit I signed on to the humor as soon as I realized that some of the stories were not really true.

It was then that I got a bright idea. I would submit some stories and ask for a job. That would allow me to stay in Southampton for the winter and there I could develop my skills as a writer. I do not remember just what stories I dug up or exactly what I submitted, but I sent some stuff off to the address on the masthead and addressed it to Dan Rattiner. After a few days, I called the newspaper.

I was surprised when none other than Dan Rattiner himself answered the phone. Apparently, his secretary was off for the day.

I asked Dan if he had gotten the envelope I had sent. Yes, he answered. I asked Dan if he read the enclosed material. No, he answered. I asked if he would he read the enclosed material. Yes, answered. With our conversation at an end, I left the telephone number of our summer house to call back. Dan promised he would.

Sure enough, Dan did call back and he suggested that we meet to discuss the idea of writing for what I thought was the Southampton Summer Day. Dan named a restaurant to meet near East Hampton. A couple of days later I drove out to the restaurant in question. I forget the name, but it was on Montauk Highway, before you get to East Hampton. It was right next to a tank that had been parked there to commemorate something that happened during World War II.

The restaurant, if I remember, was a kind of diner, quaint, but certainly not posh. When I got there, I found Dan sitting at a table. At first I was not sure who he was, but after blundering about I discovered Dan was the youngish looking guy seated alone at one the tables. I should have known because Dan was the only guy seated alone at one of the tables and all other tables were occupied by two or more people engaged in active conversation.

I introduced myself, sat down and pretty soon Dan asked what I wanted to eat. I surveyed the menu that had a bunch of things I didn’t quite recognize. I asked Dan what he was going to have.

“Lox and bagel,” He said.

I was not quite sure what that was, but I decided I would go with flow – it was the sixties, after all.

“I’ll have Lox and bagel,” I said, not quite knowing what I was ordering.

Dan and I had lox and bagels. I had iced tea and Dan had coffee. At lunch, Dan began to give me the history of the Southampton Summer Day. It turned out it was only one of four different newspapers that Dan was printing and distributing. The Montauk Pioneer was the first paper that Dan had started in 1960. After a few years, Dan added the Hampton Beach, the Southampton Summer Day and East Hampton Summer Sun. Circulation was as many copies as he could distribute to various barbershops, retail stores, bars, restaurants and discotheques, and that was usually around 35,000 copies.

In between Dan telling me the history of how he founded the Montauk Pioneer and these other papers, I told him my goals. I wanted to be the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the East End. Dan said that was a fine goal, but one day does not a writer make. It takes time and practice. I was a little discouraged by the word practice. It sounded so prosaic and somehow it seemed to imply work.

I asked Dan what he thought of the stuff I sent. Well, he said, somewhat hesitatingly, it was a little rough, but it showed promise, that’s why he wanted us to meet.

That me left more encouraged.

Going for the jugular, I asked if that meant he could give me a job.

Dan pursed his lips and said yes, he could give me job. The only problem was, he explained, that he did not need a full-time writer on his payroll.

What did he need, then, I asked.

“Well, what I need just now is a newspaper delivery man.”

Dan went on to say that this was an ideal way to get to know the newspaper business and to become a writer in the long run. Dan went on to say he would pay $60 a week for delivering papers and a penny a word for every word he published of mine. A penny a word did not sound like big money to me, but the combination of some firm cash and some extra potential income from writing did sound intriguing.

I had read “Down and Out in Paris and London,” by George Orwell, about how old George worked in a sleazy cafe on the Left Bank that became kind of trendy after a while for no logical reason. And I remembered that old George worked in garret and wrote at night and at odd times when he was not serving Steak-frites and glasses of vin rouge. It seemed to me driving a delivery truck and writing at odd times was kind of the same thing and so, I signed up to become a delivery boy and a writer.

Dan felt kind of good about this and he began to tell me a little more of his history. It seemed that he and some other guys founded the East Village Other in 1965, but after a couple of years doing that, Dan got disgusted with the drug scene that naturally gravitated to that publication and so he retreated back to Montauk and continued publishing the Montauk Pioneer.

At first Dan did it all. He put together The Montauk Pioneer, he set the type, he sold the ads and he ran around Montauk delivering the newspapers. After the first summer, he found that in spite of handing out free copies of the newspaper, he actually made a small profit after all costs. In other words, the ads more than paid for the distribution and printing costs and something was left over.

That experience encouraged Dan to add newspapers. I believe the second paper he started was the East Hampton Summer Sun. After more summers of putting together the papers,  selling the ads and physically delivering, the two papers also made money. By this point, it was becoming a little enterprise. Dan hired a lady to help to put together the paper and a delivery boy. By 1967, Dan had added the Hampton Beach and the Southampton Summer Day. Dan also put together a little business plan and went to the Bank of Bridgehampton and had gotten financing for his expansion. Each and every year Dan was able to show profits, proving to the Bank of Bridgehampton that Dan was a good financial bet.

After we had finished our lox and bagels and as we were walking out the restaurant, Dan said two things to me.

“Your hired,” and “I officially pronounce you a Jew.” This was because I had done such a stellar job of eating the lox and bagel, which, by the way, I thought was very tasty. Who knew lox was actually salmon?

So that began my fairly long association with Dan Rattiner. That winter I delivered the newspapers (I believe there was one other delivery boy doing penance with me) and, in between, I wrote articles for Dan.

One of my first assignments for Dan was writing a Guide Book to the Hamptons. To do this and not shame myself, I retreated to the Southampton library and did some actual research. Among other things, I read a history of Long Island. I was quite surprised to learn, according to the history I read, that there were five Indian tribes on Long Island when the Europeans first arrived and that Long Island was populated by almost 100,000 Indians before the Euros arrived.

I was also surprised to find how tough things could get in Southampton if you had a little too much to drink. Apparently, you were made to sit outside with your head and arms stuck in some kind of wooden clamp and then all the residents could throw eggs and lettuce and tomatoes at you while sat there helplessly stuck. Talk about a tough crowd. I was also surprised to learn after the Spanish American War almost 10,000 soldiers were sent to Montauk to recover from the various diseases they picked up in that war.

I got to throw in some current events, like surfing in the Hamptons or when one of the members of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sal, got married. I am not quite sure how I stumbled on to this news event. I think I was on my way to the beach club (aka The Southampton Bathing Corporation), when I saw Sal in gloriously striped pants come romping out St. Andrew’s Church with John Sebastion and other Spoonful members in tow, throwing flowers and rice, playing tambourines and guitars. It was a riotous performance and the times they was a changing. Things was happening and I was happy to report on such goings on.

In short, I learned a lot of things about Southampton and Long Island. With the information that I gathered from research and gossip, I wrote the first draft to the Hampton Summer Guide. That was my first big writing job. Other things that I wrote were little blurbs on various restaurants and happenings. A particular event of no particular importance I remember reporting on was about a girl named Wendy, who I named SunBunny, primarily because she was the girlfriend of the other delivery boy and she distracted the newspapers printers in Newark, New Jersey, enough to threaten the potential delivery of the paper, or so I said.

 

My first article claims the Light-In was a Fiasco

My first article claims the Light-In was a Fiasco

By November of 1967, Dan published the first full article I wrote. This was a great thrill for me. It was in the The East Hampton Summer Sun. The title of the story was “1500 People Stand For Lighthouse”. The subhead was “Rattiner Calls Light-In a Fiasco”. This was not what Dan said, it was what I made up. I went on the report that Dan said there were 3 things wrong with the “Light-In”:

  1. The people were all wrong, there were not enough Hippies, just families with children.
  2. The police were too nice, they did not exhibit any extraneous violence.
  3. The music was all wrong, instead of rock music and flag-burning, a patriotic band played and all the people protesting were completely peaceful, very cheerful and, hence, all wrong.

I went on to say that the only consolation was that $400,000 was raised to save the Montauk Lighthouse. Of course, most of what I wrote was completely untrue, including the bit about $400,000 being raised. But it was true that 1500 people did attend the Montauk “Light-In” and it was actually pretty successful demonstration of support for the Montauk Lighthouse. And, by the way, Dan was successful in drawing attention to the plight of the Montauk Lighthouse, which, at the time, was gradually slipping into the sea.

And finally, as many people know, the Montauk Lighthouse was eventually saved.

I delivered papers that whole winter, but distribution was down because of the season. It was only in the summer months that the full range of drop-offs became evident. One of the things that occurred as a side aspect of delivering papers is that I got to go into a lot of strange places. At the time, head shops and discotheques were enjoying sudden and increasing popularity. Like all businesses in the Hamptons, they were seasonal and enjoyed their best business in June, July and August.

I remember a few. There was a head shop next to The Grotto of the Purple Grape, a restaurant between Watermill and Bridgehampton that enjoyed some passing success. The head shop, whose name was Soporific, was run by a young man named Billy who always wore aviator sunglasses, whether in the dark UV lit backroom of the head shop or standing outside, he always had on that pair of aviator glasses. I am sure he thought of himself as a kind aviator, if only in the mind.

The selection of merchandise was eclectic, to say the least. It included water pipes, cigarette papers, state of the art bicycles and brightly colored, extremely comfortable Peruvian hammocks. In the dark back of the inner head shop where UV light ruled was the full selection of cigarette papers, water pipes, bongs and other smoking paraphernalia. Upon on going back there, one was almost always greeted with the pungent and sweet smell of marijuana, occasionally intermixed with the smell of incense. Most often Billy was back there in aviator glasses behind a glass cabinet displaying the wide variety of cigarette papers and water pipes and other smoking paraphernalia. He always smiled.

Outside the head shop, before you entered the dark environs of the head shop, was a really high-tech assortment of bicycles and extremely brightly colored Peruvian hammocks. Sometimes, you would find the young aviator, Billy, proprietor and owner, swinging slightly in the breeze on one of his hammocks outside. Occasionally, when a customer came over to ask a question about one the $600 to $800 bikes (big bucks in those days) Billy would lift his head up and say,

“Yeah man, they are state of the art, I sell top end stuff.” That was usually the maximum sales effort that Billy made, but he would always punctuate it with a sly stoned smile that said to all others in the know that he was in the know.

Whatever his sales technique was, it seemed to work, because Soporific operated successfully for a good ten or fifteen years.

Another place I remember was a discotheque hidden deep in some potato field somewhere between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. How to get there, I could not tell you. What its name was, I could not tell you. Basically, you kept going down roads with endless potato fields on either side and eventually you got a dirt driveway and drove down that for a quarter mile and ended up at a large imposing wooden clapboard house and that was the discotheque. Strangely enough, other people found their way to this place and late at night The Velvet Underground, complete with Nico, Lou Reed and the original members, and other trendy, psychedelic groups would play late into the night.

I am still not quite sure how anyone found that place at night. I had found it during the day delivering newspapers. I was never able to find it at night. But with the guidance of my psychedelic cousin, who had powers beyond her age, I was able to find it late at night. But I will tell you without a spirit guide you would never get there and perhaps that was the point.

This was an early version of my clamdigging saga

This was an early version of my clam digging saga

I wrote and delivered newspapers all that winter and the next summer for Dan. Dan tried to get me interested in all aspects of the business, I guess all young business owners do. It is only natural. You want to share the joy, you want to create enthusiasm with your employees, you want to get people to sign on to your program. It is only natural and I can sympathize with this, even if my sympathy took 40 years to develop.

Dan tried to enlist me as a typesetter and there I drew the line. This is one of the big regrets of my life. I consider it on a par with never trying skiing when I had the opportunity. So I did not try type-setting other than a few half-hearted and momentary efforts. The reason being my mind goes faster than my physical movements and so I tended to forget things. In type-setting that meant forgetting to put in certain letters or words…generally I included most parts of most sentences. I still suffer from this disability. It seems that age has not improved my skills. Who knew?

No matter, I was a miserable type-setter for Dan, both in performance and in enthusiasm. In short, I thought it was not my job. Years later, I regretted this very much. Why?  It certainly would never have been something I was very good at. But no matter, it was something that I never properly learned, never experienced and it was the passing of an era. Yes, I did some years later, learn about type, the selection of type, the beauty of type, the subtlety of type, when I started working with a layout artist selecting type. And yes, I did that. But I never did what I should have done, except for a few rare cases. Stain my hands with the type, pick up the type pieces, put them laboriously in place, learn how Luther did it. It is a regret and I feel I owe Dan an apology. Hey, I was stupid.

There are other things I believe I owe Dan apology  for. He introduced me to Elaine K. Benson. I thought nothing of it. She had an art gallery and she wrote a column in Dan’s different papers called “Elaine K. Benson, Her Column”. Well, I did not know it, but that was a kind of guide to future possibilities, but I ignored it.

Along the way, Dan introduced me to people who I had no clue who they were. One lady was introduced to me as Jackson Pollock’s wife. We shook hands. I had no idea who she was. She had sad dark eyes and was somewhat overweight when I met her. In retrospect, if I had known who she was, I would have asked a whole bunch of embarrassing and interesting questions. No matter, the moment is the moment you know to make use of and I did not know to make use of the moment and now it is past.

Late that summer I was not in the mood to give Dan an apology. I felt my life was primarily delivering newspapers and negligibly writing. Dan must have sensed my frustration, because at the end of the summer, he published three stories all at once. This was pleasing and complimentary, but by that time, the summer winds were turning cool and I wanted to move on.

Towards the end Dan ran several of my stories

Towards the end Dan ran several of my stories

So that is what I did. This time, I found a friend who wanted a movie script written and I tried my hand at that. It was not successful. In the process, I got a job in my father’s business (not hard, since I knew someone who was connected). So for that winter, I wrote a movie script that never got produced and made fishing rods for my father that I did get produced. I can say at least I learned how to produce fishing rods.

The next year, I decided to take full advantage of my philosophy degree and so I went and applied to be a writer at Esquire, Newsday and the New Yorker. Let me sum it up and say neither my previous printed history with Dan or my philosophy major impressed anyone who was willing to hire me. Newsday did not think I wrote fast enough to be a reporter (in truth I was a hopeless typist), Esquire thought my articles did not have sufficient weight and New Yorker thought my writing was a kind of joke. So much for my new career search.

Fortunately, I had something to fall back on and fall back on it I did. I went back into my father’s business and a strange thing happened along the way. I kind of fell in love with it. So that is what I did for the next 6 or so years.

Then a strange happened. I went out to Montauk for vacation and I happened to notice that Dan’s different papers had gotten a little bigger. I think they were now running 36 to 48 pages. At the same time, I noticed that things were changing in Montauk. So, without really knowing what I was doing, I wrote a story about Montauk.

I sent the story to Dan, saying I had noticed the changes in the papers, that they had become bigger and that there was more use of color. They were still tabloid in format, but maybe they 36 to 48 pages in length and chock full of ads. And I could tell by their heft that Dan was having some success in selling ads and distributing papers.

Dan did something inscrutable. He published my article without telling me. This led to a new avenue of discussion. Always sensitive to the payment issue (it was not one of need, it was one of pride), I suggested Dan pay me at my old rate…one penny per word.

Silence ensued, but eventually a $60 check arrived, again unbidden, un-heralded, but appreciated.

This started a kind mini career with Dan. I started to send in some articles and he started to print them, religiously paying me one penny per word. I was grateful and this continued for about a year and half.

Then I started submitting stories to Dan that I suspect crossed a hidden editorial border. Let’s face it, Dan’s Papers are not here to change the world and the articles I sent him wanted to. And I will admit it, some were kind of depressing, so you could say he was down on them because they were depressing (I wanted to cover the population explosion and the bombarding of Iraq). Apparently, Dan did not think that was in character with the publications.

Dan composing for a future issue

Dan composing for a future issue

Over time, the publications became one single publication…Dan’s Papers. And so, it became the brainchild of the present creature. Somewhere along the way, Dan got the genius idea or someone got the genius idea to create a color wrap with a color painting for the cover. This was, of course, pure genius because the East End was rife with painters. You name them, they were all here.

I proposed other new ideas…some Dan accepted because they were in his editorial vein. I wrote an article on how my salad dressing was much better than Paul Newman’s and Dan published that. Other ideas fell flat. I knew they fell flat when I would not hear from Dan. I would send in a suggested story and silence would ensue.

I had what I thought was a great idea… I would write a story about the Shinnecock Indians starting their own casino. I had big plans for their casino. It would be right out of Las Vegas but with some special Hampton features. There would be tennis courts, marble side walks, girls would deliver drinks on rollerblades. Slot machines in Lilly Pulitzer patterns would be on either side of the marble walkways. I figured Hillary Clinton would arrange detente with the Indians, New York State and the Casino Industry. There would be a giant surf machine, producing perfectly formed 20′ rollers that super buff surfers could ride all day. The casino itself would be housed in a giant sprawling Hampton’s style mansion with large open porches with roulette tables and slot machines inside and out. Yes, it would be a class act.

Apparently, Dan did not think it was a class act idea.

“Those people are like without humor,” he said to me after I called him up after a month of silence, “They take these matters seriously.”

Maybe Dan was right, but considering the election year we are presently facing (this being the summer of 2016), I could see some added embellishments with Hillary competing to get the Shinnecocks true justice and health care and the Donald building a 30′ high wall to protect Hampton billionaires from the garish new casino in town that the Shinnecocks would be happy to pay for. Oh yes, I could have a lot of fun with that.

In any case, I did not pursue my Shinnecock Indian Casino story further, although I think it still has merit.

In the last twenty years, Dan’s Paper’s became a marketing and literary force in the Hamptons and in choosing the name Dan’s Papers, Dan was able to instill all of the original ethos of his original papers and add extra layers that just made it more successful, like when he added gossip on the inside in South of the Highway or fantasy in about Hampton’s Subway Newsletter and color paintings on the cover and a 24-48 page color wrap on the outside.

About six years ago, I invited Dan to lunch. I suggested The American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

“Yum,” said Dan and a few days later, off we went.

There I asked him what changes in the paper was he surprised by?

Dan thought a while and said, “I never thought gossip would be a part of my newspaper.”

He did not say this with regret, but rather with surprise. I think Dan was being honest in saying that. It was not his intention. It was not his plan. But things evolve, things go forward and I suppose that is what happened with Dan’s Papers.

I know Dan’s position has changed in the community. Dan invited me to the Fortieth Anniversary Party of Dan’s Paper and it was quite impressive. Held at beautiful East Hampton ocean front home, with Billy Joel, Peter Jennings and a whole bunch of other billionaires and celebrities in attendance. Yes, things had changed for Dan.

When I first started delivering papers for Dan, it was often hard to get the various establishments to accept his papers. That is no longer true. Today, Dan’s Papers is a staple of the community, desired in all its different locations. The paper became over a period of years, the leading publication of the Hamptons and I think you can say that this is still true today. No other publication, super glossy or not, comes close. As such, Dan’s Papers is the arbiter of the Hamptons, of the Hampton’s Scene, of that peculiar lifestyle that seems to combine wealth with celebrity.

At lunch, I told Dan my idea for this blog. It was to be a series of stories about myself and my family. I had sent Dan some early drafts of the kind of stories I wanted to post and Dan was encouraging, but somewhat distant on the subject.

“It is a good idea to have legacy and knowing whether you are local or national can be important.”

He went on to say that he had hoped to be national, but it seemed that he was local.

“Dan,” I said, “That is question for the ages, not the moment.”

We left to the conversation there. It has now been a few years since I have spoken with Dan. In the meantime, I have proceeded with this blog.

Dan has continued to be the Bard of the East End. That title was given him by Chuck Scarborough, I believe. Dan much deserves that title.

My father said to me that the people in the Hamptons always change, but the houses do not.

I am sure there are many billionaires and not a few builders who would disagree. To me, the Hamptons has always been a place for the privileged to display their privileges. Originally it was millionaire doings and now it is billionaire doings, but other than that, not much has changed.

Again, there are quite a few billionaires that might disagree, but I think my father was right.

I am sure there are many improvements to the creature comforts offered in the new improved billionaire homes – movie theaters for 60 close personal friends, bowling alleys, indoor Olympic sized pools, helicopter pads, etc., but the truth is that the privileged continue to come to The Hamptons and they always will. And the truth is that my father was right, the houses remain, but the people come and go.

In the case of Dan, he was able to sell his controlling interest in his paper and still continue to write 2/3rds of Dan’s Papers every week. That is a pretty good trick when you think about it. It was probably a good deal for all concerned. Dan was able to offload the heartache and frustration of running a day-to-day business and the new owners were able to get a successful newspaper pre-loaded with a continuous supply of content. It all worked out.

About Cecil Hoge

Paddler/Scribbler
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