Pines People- Tony Setteducate
My first trip to Fire Island was in the early 1960’s. A group of us youngsters who hung out at Julius, the gay straight bar on the corner of 10th and Waverly Place, decided to make a weekend of it. After work on Friday we piled into Rodger’s convertible and headed out towards Long Island with Does Your Bubble Gum Stick to The Bedpost Overnight blasting on the radio.
Arriving at Cherry Grove I was a bit taken back by the spare room in which we were all going to share our space. But heck, we were young and each of us had brought a bottle of vodka along. That evening I was introduced to the Sea Shack where we had dinner and later danced.
I believe I also fell in love there, at least for the evening. The next afternoon some of us took a walk over to that family-friendly community called The Pines. At the time a small contingent of “conservative” gays were infiltrating the place and I ran into a few of my co-workers from Saks Fifth Avenue enjoying what then, I suppose, was the beginning of the social hour later known as tea.
The following summer I returned to Cherry Grove with my boyfriend. We arrived in his little motorboat to visit friends who had a house and while we there were invited to a toga party. Having nothing appropriate to wear we found some bedsheets under the boardwalk that we dyed pink and fashionably draped around our bodies.
It would be almost ten years before I visited Fire Island again as my life and my travels took me elsewhere. By that time the world had turned 180 degrees.
The modeling days…
I returned to Fire Island Pines in 1974, taking a share with several friends in a three-bedroom in the Co-Ops. I had one of the upstairs bedrooms which was really a closed off balcony overlooking the living room. Not much for privacy. The 70’s in the Pines was a hotspot for the jetsetter crowd. Models, designers, hairdressers and Europeans made it a compulsory destination. Everyone showed up at tea dance and in the evening the tables at the two restaurants were pushed aside for dancing. When the music stopped in the early morning hours house parties would begin. I can’t count the times I saw the sunrise as I walked home along the beach. At the time I worked in advertising at Macy’s. One of my assignments was to scout a location for a swimsuit video. This lonely renter has the pleasure of examining some of the most beautiful houses in the community. In the end we settled on the pool are of John Whyte’s beachfront home. New York City Ballet’s Allegra Kent danced and swam for the commercial. The following summer it was time to upscale. I was now the Advertising Director for a chain of men’s stores, so I joined friends in a three-bedroom with a pool on Sunshine Walk. We were invited to many of the big, theme parties. It was fast paced, and the party drugs helped me keep up with the times. By the end of the summer I was a wreck and wanted nothing further to do with Fire Island.
In 1980 my good friend Helen Berkowitz invited me to Fair Harbor for the weekend. She had been involved with Fashions of the Pines the year before and wanted to know more about the current year’s event. We took a water taxi to the Pines where we met with Sandy Paul.
Somehow I was volunteered to help backstage. That was my return to the Pines. The following year she pushed me to share a room with her in Sandy’s house. This time everything was different. I began to meet many of the people involved with the fashion show and became a part of it. Gradually, I became more and more involved with the community. I met Julie Martin, a fellow writer who wrote the Pines’ column in the Fire Island Tide newspaper. I became a trustee for the Pines Conservation Society and helped with many of the fundraisers. Helen passed away from cancer in 1984.
In 1991 Julie Martin decided to leave the Pines and asked me to take over the column, In And Around the Pines. While I had written advertising and press releases, the thought of writing a popular column that was widely read in the community was frightening. But I soon found my voice and made the column mine. It was fun but a lot of work. I got to meet so many people and heard from those that were unhappy with what I reported. I continued to write the column through the summer of 2001.
After that it was time for me to leave Fire Island, although a part of me will always remain there…
Today Tony remains an active member of the Gay community in New York.