Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Island

Bruce Vilanch boarded the same ferry to Fire Island Pines that I caught. He was slated to host the Fire Island Dance Festival. New Yorkers never embarrass the celebrities who live amongst us and who we pass on the streets every day so I resisted the urge to take his picture or ask for an autograph. I did dare to crack a little joke. I told him that the upper deck was reserved for first class passengers. He quipped right back at me, “Believe me, this is a downgrade.”

You can only get to Fire Island by boat – the ferry, private boat, or, if you unfortunately miss the last ferry at night, by very expensive water taxi. There are no cars or roads on the island. Instead there are boardwalks. Not the usual beach front boardwalk found in most resorts, but a network of intersecting walkways with names like Neptune Walk, Tuna Walk, and Black Duck Walk.

Our house is on Ozone. It is just one house in from the ocean but fortunately the house in front of us is one of the last remaining single story ranchers left on the beach. The rest have all been replaced by multi-story contemporary mansions. We have a clear view of the beach and beyond from our deck.

There are nine of us sharing the house, ranging in age from 20-something to, well, me. I tend to be the oldest member of the groups I find myself in. I am also the only retired member of the house.  We gather for up to a week once each month. Two of the guys are spending the entire summer on the island. I think I would be bored to tears spending that much time there. By accident, we have turned out to be a rather compatible group and there has been only minor drama in the house so far.

Ours is a hard drinking crowd. They arrive Friday evening tied in knots from the stress of their demanding jobs in the city. The vodka begins to flow immediately and keeps flowing for the duration. By Saturday afternoon everyone is pretty mellow.

There is a regular daily pattern at the Pines. Mornings are quiet, usually spent sipping coffee on the deck. Some of the guys hover over their laptops doing mysterious work. Afternoons are for the beach and perhaps a nap. Later we have cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and perhaps a soak in the hot tub. Around 6 PM a series of “teas” begin. Low Tea at the Blue Whale with dancing inside and mingling over expensive cocktails on the harbor deck waving hello and goodbye as the ferry comes and goes. Then High Tea in the upstairs room of the Pavilion where the DJ plays the same music as Low Tea and the seemingly identical shirtless bartenders serve the same expensive cocktails. More waving to the ferry. There is a Middle Tea somewhere but I’m not sure where.

Around 9:30 everyone drifts back to the house for dinner. We take turns providing and preparing meals. There is no formal plan but it seems to work out by itself and we have some amazingly good dinners. After dinner some of us head out for nighttime revelry. I rarely join.

Conversations on the beach tend to be influenced by the abundance of scantily clad men sitting nearby or walking along the front. Periodically one of us will announce a particularly hot guy is passing and most of us will look at the intended object but a few of us will invariably look at someone else. There is, thank god, some variation in our tastes.

So it happened that the other day we were having cocktails on the beach and discussing relationships. Our youngest member declared that in a perfect world he would have a dedicated lover who would rarely demand sex, a hot sex buddy who would rarely demand anything else, and that he would still be free to whore around with whomever he wanted. This was greeted with both enthusiasm and derision and we soon found ourselves in a sloppy debate about the meaning of words such as love, romance and lust. As with all beach conversations, it sputtered and faded out as a group of particularly hot men came into view.

I could stay the whole week if I wanted. But by Tuesday, I’m itchy to do something, anything, rather than lounge all day on an island that is cut off from the world – an island that lives by its own rules and on its own schedule. I miss my cat, I miss the rumbling of the elevated train at the end of my street, I miss supermarkets. When I announce that I am catching the noon ferry back to reality, my housemates are mystified. Why should the only man who doesn’t have to get back to a job want to leave? Maybe it’s precisely because I don’t have to go that I want to. Next month I may stay longer. Maybe the whole week. Maybe I’ll fall in love and never leave. All I know for sure is that I don’t want any vodka today.

Please let me know your thoughts. Click "Comments" below.


  1. Well, nice to see things haven't changed much in the Pines in 30 years.

    Regards, Bruce Karp

  2. Well, Bill, now I know what I am in for. I look forward to that time of leisure from the leisure time I have now! It is not easy to do nothing; idle hands make devil's work; meditation requires so much effort and there are things I don't want to dwell on. I too understand the desire to get back to the hurly-burly, the va et vient of urban quotidian life. I have not been to FI for some years but remember the pleasure of getting on the boat and feeling the city and cares fall away from me. Will it be the same I wonder? Will I stay on for the week listening to the silence, watching the waves, enjoying the light and the incipient fading of the year? We shall see. Your young man's comment is amusing and so young. The world is not perfect but it is the best we have and very beautiful on the island. There's a lot to be said for beauty. I look forward to joining you in Cockaigne.