Nantucket Essays

Club for Boys

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

Spring landed triumphantly last weekend.  The oaks and elms blazed kelly green against a deep blue sky.  The wetlands and swamps glowed green and white as the year made the turn into spring and carried us forward into another summer.  The Juice Bar has re-opened with a rush of Watermelon Creams and Oreo Cookie Sundaes. The lines and the crowds haven’t appeared yet, but they are as sure as the fog and the bluefish.

Lines are a democratic annoyance.  Polite custom only allows the rules of “First Come, First Served.”  Of course, in the ignorant cultural mess of June, the New Yorkers still think they can crash the counter and get served.  Eventually, the irritating hospitality of familiar faces shame them into civility and they wait in line like everyone else.  At the counter, however, they start ordering hand packed quarts.

Spring not only brings Hula Pies but also birthdays.  My youngest son turned twelve in the yearly conflagration of flowers.  When I look back through the pictures, every birthday features forsythia, Japanese flowering crabapples, and a dense layer of fog a hundred feet over the island.  Most of the boys were the same; Sawyer, Zeb, Nick and the others.  In the recent past of Lego and Sonic the Hedgehog, they played within the rules and rulings of whiffleball in the front yard and Pinatas in the back.  Now, with the kindling of testosterone crackling inside them, we let them run and skylark.  Races become tag become tackle become wrestling before chaos reasserts itself and the running begins again.  I walked inside during the tag stage, picked up a camera, and returned to see them running through wetlands in search of the Llamas.  In an opportune moment, we set them to work in the swamp searching for something living: they returned with frogs, snails, and one very odd looking stink bug.  Then, having amused us briefly, they went back to their immersive clubhouse.  I don’t pitch anymore; I sit in the lawn furniture and lifeguard the club for boys.

Like spring, the Club for Boys bursts into flame quickly.  Suddenly, they ares awash in cheat codes, games, and spells.  They look to each other and tell their own inside jokes.  The words chase each other into the beach grass and the strengthening wind.  In a moment, their world will move onto beaches and boats and away from Mom and Dad.  You hate to move the belt out another notch, but it is the way you want it to be.  The Club for Boys has no room for old men.  You can’t run with them.

Boyhood ends when the world intrudes.  When your tight circle of buddies wobbles and breaks into a world of duties and favors: unforgivable sins and unredeemable debts.  You can no longer afford to live inside the blessed circle.  If you are lucky, however, you have only to turn and lean upon each other amidst the glittering cold years.  Good boys become good men with a turn and a smile.

Out here, on-island, they make the turn.  More than a few island businesses were built on running boys in playing fields and back yards.  The years keep looping around and pushing the boys into different fields and different games.  Eventually, they carry hammers, drive vans, and play touch football on Sundays.  They become islanders.  They become enmeshed in the web of friendships and favors that holds all of us together.

Which is not to say everyone has done the wise and thoughtful.  More than a few orgies of the stupid started in the names of natives and islanders.  We walked about with chests puffed out and indignity tattooed to our necks; “I live here!”  If you never turn from the insular and incestuous club, you invent insults and nurse paper cuts.  You plant a crop of split rail fencing to prove, once and for all, that good fences do not make good neighbors.  The great stewards of the island have found other ways to stay meshed in a spoiled boyhood.  They dump trash into the woods, steal from their neighbors, and excuse it all away under the power of their birthplace.  Some boys will remain boys

They come flocking to the island in the spring.  Red Cup Nation cruises in on the same boat that took the doctors and the ditch-diggers away.  They come with “Whoo-Hoo” girls, aviator glasses, and ping pong balls.  Young, rich, and entitled, they run amongst us as if we were poles on the boat.

I envy them, as I envy my son.  They are young, beautiful, and energetic.  Their lives have been free of death, tragedy, and bad decisions.  Nothing has happened to them that Daddy’s lawyers, guns, and money can’t fix.  Moreover, they are in their own Club for Boys, each focused on the others’ glistening smiles.  Yet, their exclusivity breeds their own ignorance.

On Surfside Road, within a chip shot of a police car, the Red Cup Nation threw bean bags at “corn holes” at two thirty in the afternoon.  They wore silly hats, scraggly beards, and a deep blindness to the elementary school kids walking home.  They could have been goldfish in a bowl.  Behind the wheel, the officer looked at the game of cornhole and shrugged.  Membership has its privileges.

The old patterns of life on island faded with the last century.  We are no longer a summer spot or Disney Land.  We have become a country club island.  The visitors no longer pay admission, they pay dues.  With those dues, come rights and prerogatives.  They can park where they want, take what they want, and then throw up in the street.  Those of us not in the club wait for tips.

The Country Club of Nantucket is no more real than my son’s Club for Boys.  The club ends when reality intrudes.  My favorite moment of the Wine Festival came outside of Hatch’s when a thirty year old law student with white sunglasses moaned and whined about getting carded.  With his out of date license, he could not buy wine for his mother.  Without his license, he also could not drive the white Mercedes back.  So, the third year law student had to call his mother for a ride.  I know this because he recorded it for his documentary.

The Club for Boys has a new charter member.

Articles by Date from 2012