Well, we had the “I’m Sorry I Called You That Terrible Name On Broadway In July But I Was Stressed Out Dinner” last Thursday. It’s an October thing, a let-down thing, a healing thing, slow, a little uneasy at first, and without energy. We have it every year, a kind of group therapy after the summer people leave. It’s like waking up after a three-month drunk nervously wondering, “What the hell just happened and how much damage did I do?”
It will never change, and we’ll never get used to the tourist season. Every year the wind blows a hundred miles an hour, two or three times, and each time we are amazed at its power. It’s always the same. Memory does not have the capacity for extremes.
Broadway, where the dinner is held, isn’t really the name of the street, by the way. The streets don’t actually have any names, but UPS refuses to send packages to a place that has no street names so we just make them up as we go along. For some reason, except for Broadway, street names change all the time. Goose Dung Lane this week could be Riley’s Ricketts Road the next. This happens mostly in the winter when the boredom factor is off the charts.
The dinner always starts off pretty tentatively and low-key, everybody pussyfooting around looking guilty. There are no actual apologies at the dinner, one just cruises around making small talk and feeling the air for bad vibes which when found are turned into a friendly conversation. The evening moves on through the cocktail hour, meaning trips out to the bushes because no alcohol is allowed inside as it hasn’t always been a cordial affair. The dinner was even dropped for a few years in the 1960s for brawling — a definite no-no.
This year was even more subdued than usual after the loss of Alfred who always made sure there were floral centerpieces on the tables and would watch the whole affair from outside through the window. A veteran of the 1960s he was always sure that sooner or later a fight was going to break out and he hated the sight of grown women fighting. It was always the women, a clear reversal of the roles we normally expect in this society. But the men had been getting drunk together down at the dock all summer and airing their grievances as they came along,
It was duly noted that Alfred would have loved it this year as it was 70 degrees the whole night and no fights. We’ve seen Alfred out there freezing his butt off, he and his friend Captain Morgan doing their best to ward off the cold. A couple of times we’ve had to carry them both home and tuck them in. Not all the time, just sometimes.
Our other loss was Dickie who fell down those stairs stone cold sober over on the mainland which solved the old mystery, the hard way, of the steaming pot of short lobsters that showed up every year out of nowhere. There were lobsters alright but they were legal size which don’t taste nearly as good as the shorts, but there you go, change is coming, even here. We feel it every time there is a death and with that death a family gets an offer of money beyond their imagination of value and another piece of property is lost to someone who has only seen the island for a matter of hours and has no intention of ever spending much more time than that before they begin to think that things are a little too chaotic and need to be brought under control and run in a more businesslike fashion similar to whichever mainland place they come from or business they run.
The reality that they should have to accept is that the original pieces of our crazy little society came here for a reason other than the attraction to the beauty or the bragging rights or a businesslike approach to anything. They came to escape those places and that which they could not control or that brought them fear, insecurity, uncertainty and pain. They were looking for a place where they felt some control over their lives, could see the very edge of their world and be surrounded by the added protection of the sea. To them this very small place is freedom and keeping it a little crazy makes them feel alive. Now they pass on, one by one, and the families they raised no longer need that protection and see the island as a prison. With no sickness to heal or open wound to protect they move on and rarely look back.
In a few years the dinner will forget its roots but keep its charming name. It’ll become an annual cocktail party marking the end of summer. The ever social will come back to the island for the weekend for one last hurrah and talk politics, kids in college, business, the summer’s tennis and the yacht club. At the end of the weekend they’ll go back to their busy lives leaving the island empty, save for the few they’ve propped up to keep an eye on things.
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.