Culture Clash
Nantucket Essays

Culture Clash

by Robert P. Barsanti

The big red sign said “Stop! Don’t come in! Stay Outside!”

So she came in.

Lily was picking up sandwiches and drinks and cookies. Lily was wearing a darling beach coverup with tassels and little silvery beads. Her sandals didn’t exactly match, but they didn’t clash either. They were cute. And she was receiving a text.

Lily didn’t deserve to get yelled at. She thought.

Yet, she did get yelled at. A full throated bellow sent her back into the mass of humanity she had been separating herself from. And, as she gathered her umbrage, she was advanced on and forced outside the door.

Standing in the parking lot, the crowd who were also waiting for their sandwiches to be delivered, did not rise to her defense. Instead, Lily stood in tears and waited for some apology and some acknowledgment that this was just not the way you treated people. She couldn’t understand it. This is not the way she got treated.

Which is, unfortunately, a shame, because if Lily was treated this way, as a regular sign reading person out on the street, she may have been able to avoid a bellowing.

Yet, Lily got apologized to. Her pardon was begged. Her understanding was required. Lily gave her money, she received her lunch, and she was able to keep her appointments at the club. Thankfully, her Yelp Review remains unwritten.

For many, reality is an arrangement to be negotiated. At the Platinum level, the concierge will advise reality on your needs and expectations. In August, the flashing hazard lights on the Discovery suggest that she will only be a minute so we might as well wait. The manager is sure to find the correct brand of Soy Milk after he has been summoned. For the most part, this intersection between privilege and reality is the source of island humor and winter stories. On most sunny days, you can find this intersection at Nobadeer Beach, where the wisdom of Fairfield Connecticut’s Finest Auto Salesmen come into fully inflated contact with the leftovers of the Great Wisconsin Glacier. Hilarity ensues.

Not that islanders are immune from getting stuck up to their axles in reality. For us, our failures of imagination are more parochial and permanent. We like to believe that Someone Else, either an institution or an individual, will protect us from the consequences of our foolishness. We make zoning decisions for the cash and forget about the people who need to live here who can’t be paid in Hedge Fund dollars. We have spent decades believing that if you worked harder, you could buy a house. So now, anyone who wasn’t born with a house or a trust fund, must commute around Brant Point in order to work here. Our hospital, our school, our police, and the rest of our town departments go begging for passionate, qualified, and homeless workers. If only the surgeon wasn’t so lazy and could work a side job in masonry, he could stay.

As an entire island, we suffer from a failure of empathy. We want everyone to think like us instead of trying to think like everyone else. We don’t want to stand in anyone else’s shoes, we want them in ours. If everyone could stand in our shoes, they would know how difficult it is to drive across Nobadeer and they would stop laughing. We believe in ourselves, fully, and can’t stand when everyone on the beach doesn’t believe in us as well. Vroom, vroom.

If we were stuck in any other August, the culture clash would just produce eye-rolls, amusement, and the occasional bellow. But this August, like the last one, has grown sideways and it doesn’t seem to be growing back. It is one thing to send your concierge to negotiate with the reality of fog, sand, or the stock of Soy Milk at the supermarket. It is quite another to expect that germs and pandemics can be negotiated with.

Yet here we are, with bartenders and patrons both livid at the prospect of Grace Potter performing to a room full of masks. Restaurants are closing for a few days with sickness and exposure, pushing off your fish tacos. The stink of this does not just fall on the Platinum crowd, but on the rest of us as well. The diners aren’t the ones with the Covid, the chefs and the servers are.

Still, I have entitled friends who haven’t received the shot. After a firm dopeslap, I don’t know what to do for them. Didn’t they see the sign on the door? Didn’t they notice that they were the only one standing there? Didn’t they realize that they had to letthe air out of their tires? They smile at me, and wave their hands, and cry politics, or technology, or Western medicine. Neither ginger ale, nor elderberries, nor yoga will keep you from a one-way ride on a helicopter with a tube down your throat.

Nature can’t be tipped. Germs gracefully float over the velvet ropes. Rising tides don’t read the zoning map. Sometimes, no matter how hard you clap and wish, Tinker Bell just ain’t coming back.

August is the Sunday of months, when we lie back, tilt the hat, and desperately try to forget that Monday is coming. And even if we wish hard enough, believe, and pray, Monday will still come with a bill in one hand, and a ventilator in another.

Perhaps, if enough people get sick, the enlightened will listen.

In the middle of a heat wave, lifeguard whistled a surfer into the beach at Cisco. He could have ignored the noise. The waves weren’t quite what he had envisioned, but they could carry him for a while and there was hope that something of substance would wash in. Still, the whistle continued. He saw everyone staring, heard the warning, and paddled into shore. A shark had been spotted by a drone twenty yards off the beach.

And the world went on.

As an island, as a community, as a people, we would do better to listen to the guards when they whistle than to shout at them for being too loud.

Articles by Date from 2012