A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 227

Friday, July 30

Another NIMBY squabble is underway on the East End—this time over a proposed cell-phone tower.

Last week’s headline-grabbing fracas involved noisy flights in and out of the East Hampton airport, with a group of middle-class residents saying the airport should be shut down. They’ve had it with all the din from the 1%ers’ helicopters and private jets.

Now, an even less affluent group of homeowners are up in arms over a plan to install a 185-foot cell-phone tower right in the middle of their modest Fort Pond Boulevard neighborhood in the working-class area of Springs. 

The East Hampton Town Board says there are few alternatives. And believe it or not, in this day of ubiquitous cell-phone jabber, there are some areas of East Hampton where it’s nearly impossible to get a cell-phone signal.

That’s particularly problematic in the middle of our current health emergency. First responders have trouble communicating with each other, and calls to 911 don’t always go through.

Previous plans would have placed cell towers elsewhere—but those have been frustrated as well. Negotiations were underway to place a tower at Camp Blue Bay, a Girl Scout enclave on Three Mile Harbor. But the Scouts backed out saying they didn’t want such a tall tower on their patch. The town’s communications consultants say a shorter tower wouldn’t provide the needed connection between Springs, Montauk, and Wainscott.

Just what are the Fort Pond residents so concerned about? Is it simply the looks of the proposed tower, which could loom over 60-foot-tall oaks? The impact that such a tower might have on property values? Or maybe it’s 5G paranoia—the idea that there could be unknown health hazards connected with cell-tower radiation.

Fans of the Breaking Bad sequel Better Call Saul will recall the suffering of Chuck McGill, brother of the sleazy lawyer “Slippin’ Jimmy” McGill. Chuck is plagued by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”—a possibly psychosomatic malady that leaves him cowering beneath a space blanket in his house and unable to work or function normally. Although the medical establishment and the World Health Organization pooh-pooh the notion of such a malady, claims about it continue to circulate—probably even in Springs.

The Fort Pond Boulevard folks say they will sue to block the cell tower…just as other residents sued and successfully shut down a different tower located at the  not-very-far-away Springs Fire Department.

Meanwhile, it’s not unusual to see would-be cell-phone users standing out in the middle of local streets, fruitlessly attempting to locate a cell-phone signal.

I think what’s going on is a conflict about the future of the area. The place is rural and woodsy—but newcomers, in flight from the pandemic and in search of pristine beaches, want to bring their urban amenities with them. Like the conflict between local wildlife and the SUV—and between the polar ice caps and climate-change-inclined Big Oil companies—there can be little doubt of the ultimate victor.

Dinner: a frozen Amy’s pizza and a green salad.

Entertainment: the winning if slightly mysterious Japanese feature Asako I & II.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 224

The predator lurks.

Sunday, July 11.

Along with the local deer, who stroll nonchalantly through our yard, there is a family of alarmingly large hawks living nearby, sometimes also venturing onto our turf. I encountered the one shown above–some 15 inches tall at least–along with his mate and one offspring during my morning walk. He didn’t seem very concerned. Maybe he thought it would entail too much work to eat me.

He was munching on something as I approached, and I don’t think it was a bagel. Probably some innocent little rodent or fellow bird. Too bad the hawks don’t eat deer.

The primary predator helping to winnow the deer herd is the automobile, as a local newspaper once pointed out. The victim’s carcasses can frequently be seen along the sides of roads. There are human victims, too: In a freak accident some years back, an auto hit a deer and sent it flying through the air, whereupon it struck and killed a bicyclist.

I wonder if the deer was wearing a helmet. Seems like we need not only bike lanes but also deer lanes.

Meanwhile, there’s a move afoot to shut down the East Hampton airport. Middle class folks complain that the constant jet-aircraft and helicopter traffic disturbs their peace–and that the aircraft serve only the 1%. There have been heated, standing-room-only political hearings on the matter, and no doubt the local pols, recipients of the 1%’s largesse, just wish the issue would go away. Lee Zeldin, the mossback GOP congressman who represents the area, had a spokesman present who said the town should not pursue “needlessly harsh measures.”

Hmmm. If there are only a very few people flying into the airport, why then is there a noise problem?

Turn-of-the-20th-century sociologist Thorstein Veblen would likely have an answer. Veblen, author of The Theory of the Leisure Class, coined numerous witty and on-point observations about the behavior of the 1%. Why did the ancient Chinese Emperors insist that their wives and concubines sport very, very long fingernails? Well, it was a display of what Veblen termed “conspicuous waste.” It showed that the Emperor had sufficient wealth to surround himself with women who were unable to perform any useful labor. Their morbidly long fingernails wouldn’t allow them to peel a lychee nut, much less clean the bathroom or prepare bird’s nest soup. Similarly, the retinues of various kings and pashas included hugely muscled servants who did little more than stand around and scowl. With their biceps, these bruisers could have been moving mountains. Why not? More conspicuous waste, Veblen opined.

So, today, I suspect, the 1% favor aircraft that make as much noise as possible: It’s a manly display of their pecuniary strength and ability to shake the heavens. Did you think Donald Trump alone craved public attention?

Dinner: barbecued pork chops, potato salad, and a lettuce salad.

Entertainment: Eric Rohmer’s romance caper Rendez-vous in Paris.