Keeping Time

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

On Friday afternoon, just around quitting time, I stood in a line at Old South Liquors with a dozen cold beverages in my hands. It was a good time to quit; the air was warm, the fog distant, and the winds favorable. The men in this line wore jeans, hats, and hammers on their belts.

“How is the summer?” I asked the carpenter.

“I’ll let you know next week.”

I bought him a P.B.R. and hoped he could get his toes in the water soon. The end of August hangs heavy from the vine. It comes at the end of the party, when the lights come up and the band unplugs. The Opera House boats head to Newport, the Rainbow Fleet goes into cold storage and color print, and Summer Groove has echoed out into the Nantucket Sound. For the visitors, the summer peaks sometime in the middle of the Perseid meteor shower and the Sturgeon Full Moon. Right after the Pops Concert, the tide turns at Steamship Wharf and more cars are on standby waiting to leave than are in Hyannis waiting to come over. The clients and the colleges are calling the Yukons and Defenders home.

In the new century, the summer dances to a faster tempo; I remember everything waltzing through the heat and the fog, years ago, but now the days tango by. In my memory, summer brought the families and the college kids on Memorial Day then box-stepped through three months until Labor Day and returned them to the playing fields of Manhattan, New Haven, and Deerfield. These days, summer tours the facility and picks up slack. Peak summer drops in for the weekends until she assumes her position for the first two weeks of August. She calls her tune; the music rises, everyone gets out on the floor and dances.

And what a dance! Gigantic yachts line up stern by stern at the wharf, while the moorings fill with the pride of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The airport lines up the Lears and G7s in a parade. The lights of Monomoy and Brant Point burn, Sankaty has no tee times available, and boutiques send off customers with $30,000 in frocks and leather pants. The White Elephant offers test drives in BMW convertibles (watch out for the gull wing doors), movie stars can walk invisibly, presidential candidates come to raise money, and the Farmer’s Market sells corn at $1.50 an ear.

As the full moon wanes and the meteors fade, the dancers bow, the lights go out, and the road gags on Mercedes and BMW sport utilities. The Party ends and those in the know bow out early; The Big Zip sails, the planes jet off, and the lights on Brant Point wink out. Then, the Island Summer begins. We have the after-party, the Bartender’s Ball, thrown by the band and the bouncers, after the glasses have been washed and most of the chairs have been flipped. Island Summer arrives after its city cousin leaves on a jet plane. Then, you can close the shop for Sundays, let the grass grow for a couple of days, and take a few days off from the jobsite.

Like most after-parties, the celebration tops the main event. In late August, the water continues to warm in to the mid- to upper seventies, with the far off swells from the lovely swirling African ladies. The Tuna bar is open and serving, the stripers are returning from Maine, fat as golfers, and the marlin dance out in the eastern fog. On-island, the corn has finally come in sweet and yellow, the tomatoes hang heavy and crimson, and the Bartlett’s Truck is so full that it drops produce on the cobblestones. The Bartender’s Ball stretches out through the beginning of school, into October and winds down around the Harvest Moon.

Islands live and die in perfect time. The Sun and Moon call the tempo, beaten out in tides, currents, and seasons. We freeze in the spring, warm in the summer, luxuriate in the fall, and hide in the winter. Our civilization echoes those same hopeful rhythms. The Summer Olympics and the election complete their four-year cycles, the academic year is about to ring in a New Year, and the Patriots are poised for another season of conquest. All of these patterns buoy the spirit; it will always get better after it gets worse. August will come back, with The Big Zip and the Opera House Cup and the Boston Pops.

It’s impossible to believe that this won’t repeat. We can’t believe that this is the best that it will ever be. We can’t think that there might be time when the houses and the Boat Basin and the dinner tables aren’t full. We have to believe that the party will return. We can’t imagine a time when the wind no longer blows warm, the water isn’t friendly, and the corn isn’t sweet. Or that we aren’t there to feel the waves wash us. One way. Or the other. Tonight, however, the band plays at the Bartender’s Ball. The Plutocrats have moved on and left us with an island at its ripest.

At dinner, this evening, I ate a meal impossible to enjoy at any other time in any other place. Our plates heaped with freshly caught striped bass, native Bartlett corn, and the Caprese salad. We dined on nature at its sweetest and freshest. We sat with children and friends, telling stories and bad jokes. No one in Brooklyn or Buenos Aires ate anything as fine as we did this evening; those same plutocrats would have fought for our table scraps. The music played, the moon glowed, and the warm water continued to flow for this night.