Martha's Vineyard is getting used to visiting Clintons But president's guest list hasn't changed much


EDGARTOWN, Mass. -- "I've lost count," confessed William Styron, the writer, when asked how many times he and his wife, Rose, had dined with the Clintons during the first two weeks of the president's vacation here.

As the Clintons have hopped from party to party around this island, it has seemed as if the same people have been picked up each evening to hop along.

By late last week, even President Clinton's aides had started referring to his evening companions as the "usual cast."

Besides the Styrons, the serial socializers on Martha's Vineyard have included Vernon Jordan, the Washington lawyer and Clinton confidant; Carly Simon, the singer; Katharine Graham, chairwoman of the Washington Post Co.; Diane Sawyer, the television journalist; and Richard Friedman, the Boston developer who has lent the Clintons his 20-acre estate here.

Clinton's stamina has impressed some of his fellow partygoers. "He's amazing," said novelist Ward Just, who has so far attended only one party with the Clintons (at Graham's house). "I try to go out and stay out till 1 o'clock every night, but I just can't."

On their third vacation here since the president took office in 1993, the Clintons are being treated more like full members of the smart set than celebrity interlopers, longtime Vineyard hands say. And they say that there is nothing unusual about the Clintons' brisk and circular mixing, which has included eight parties in 12 nights here, with another lined up for last night.

In late August, in a welter of chardonnay, chevre and striped bass, summer folk traditionally scramble to see their friends a few more times or to reciprocate earlier invitations.

Such seemingly endless recurrences of the same guest list, however, inevitably leave some out.

Jules Feiffer, the cartoonist, said that at one Clinton-free dinner party here Wednesday night, the host declared: "After a week of all of us having spent some time with the president, I'm curious to get some impressions." Everyone started to speak at once -- except Feiffer, who had logged no such time.

"I began to feel a certain rebel pride in that," he said, "at the same time mixed with humiliation." A reporter clumsily suggested that the omission of Feiffer from Clinton parties was surely an oversight.

"I hate to think it was an oversight," he said. "The last shred of pride I've got left is that it's deliberate."

Close Clinton observers here have been deeply vexed during this presidential vacation by one question: Why isn't the president playing more golf?

Because reporters get few glimpses of Clinton while he is on vacation, they tend to subject his golf game -- he usually can be watched at the first tee -- to the kind of removed and intense, but oddly affectionate, scrutiny that NASA technicians give to pictures of Martian rocks.

As of Friday, in 12 days here on the Vineyard, he has spent only 25 hours and 19 minutes playing 99 holes. He has scored on average 84.0.

This is particularly surprising because aides had said that after months away from the game because of his knee injury in March, Clinton was eager to make up for lost time.

The mystery had become so perplexing by Friday that Joe Lockhart, the deputy press secretary, took it upon himself to query the president about his unexpected behavior.

"He said he probably would have predicted beforehand that he would have played more," Lockhart told reporters at his daily briefing Friday. "But he's just enjoyed being around the house and the beach and the facilities that are provided in the house."

There has been much talk here, and in the newspapers, about how blase Martha's Vineyard is this year about the Clintons' visit. The novelty has faded, the reasoning goes; the first family is a fixture on the summer landscape now. And besides, people here are used to seeing stars.

"The Vineyard had a tradition of just treating people here as really ordinary people," Sandy Broyard, one resident, said the week before last. (Of course, when she said that, Broyard was standing at the foot of the lane leading to actress Mary Steenburgen's house, spotting celebrities as they arrived for Clinton's birthday party.)

In any event, it is hard to square such talk with the 3,600-pound brownie sculpted in the shape of the Clintons and their cat, Socks. The brownie materialized in the parking lot of the A&P; here Thursday, in one of the multitude of Clinton-related business promotions. The crowds came to gawk, but the president did not show.

"People like to see him," said Dana DeGregorio, the manager of the A&P.; Still, he added of the Vineyard's reception of the president: "It seems more relaxed than the last time. I think he is, too."

Pub Date: 8/31/97

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