Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Island, Part 2

Turns out…you can go home again. In fact, you can return with the speed and regularity of a ping pong ball in a Chinese rec room…but it ain’t gonna do you a whit of good.

That’s because – no matter how many times you go home – you’ll find that the houses, places and things look spookily the same, but somehow…cleaner, and utterly opaque. Stupidly unaware, in fact, of the significance they hold in my memory. How dare they!

There’s the beach, for instance, on which Liz M. and I fumbled so meaningfully in the dark, now less trash-strewn, but also drained of significance, just another stretch of empty sand.

There’s the “dirtbag” bar where I knew everyone, once upon a time. Now it’s a shiny bed & breakfast, frequented by middle-aged (my-aged!) attorneys, now grey, but once, like me, wild-haired and bleary-eyed.

No, I don’t mean to go down this road. It’s not about the passing of time (a dull fact…get used to it!) It’s about meaning and where to find it.

I’ve got to think more on this…

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Island, Part I

Where do you call home?

Is it the place where you pay your mortgage? Spend your weekends? Raise your kids? Or is it the place where you were born…grew up…or grew out of?

A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to the place I still call home, even though I haven’t lived there for decades, and barely a soul known to me abides there still.

Shelter Island, it’s accurately called, hidden as it is between the higher-profile North and South Forks of eastern Long Island, and accessible only by ferry. There, I spent fourteen summers (and one winter) immersed in an idyllic cocktail mixed of 1 part natural splendor, 3 parts alcohol and drugs, and not-nearly-enough-parts teenage sex.

Even as a matter of history, Shelter Island was a place apart from the trendy Hamptons and the horsy North Fork.

As far back as the 1830’s – at a time when the Hamptons’ glitterati were mostly growing potatoes – Shelter Island was home to one of the nation’s first planned resort communities. Just a few decades later, in the 1870’s, early developers were transporting eager Manhattanites to the island via luxury steamer to participate in auctions for waterfront lots.

With the advent of the Gilded Age, however, abstemious Shelter Island lost much of its appeal to New York’s taste-makers. Better known for the waves of Methodists who summered at its revival campground, the island was largely overlooked by the wealthy elites who now flocked to trendier neighboring communities.

And so it remained…as late as 1973, my first summer on the island. No record mogul or investment banker worth his gourmet sea salt would be caught dead on Shelter Island, and so left it alone. As a result, it was – and to some extent still remains – a real community. A place where the leading politician had his office in a trailer at the town dump, and the names you’d find listed in the phone book pretty well matched the names listed on a 1870’s property-map.

It was a place where you could quite easily know everyone, and everyone could easily know you. A place with four policeman, 8 bars and endless potential for an eager – oh, so eager – young man with trouble on his mind.

And that’s where my story begins…