Charity Water
Nantucket Essays

Cynics of Spring

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

Spring has arrived with a truck. It stopped by at noon, got its invoice signed, and then dumped everything it had in the yard. So the grass has become overgrown, the shrubs crawl up the house, and the mulch is eye high. The world is wet, muddy, and in bloom. The daffodils are leaving, the roses are coming, and the lilacs weigh down the air. My nose can’t handle the tidal wave of spring, nor can my lungs or my sinuses. I turn around and close the door and find a roll of paper towels for my face.

The harsh winter brought on this sudden spring. Other winters, with the drizzle and the damp, would slowly let the flowers and trees bloom sometime in April, then fade into June. This year, when the ground froze a roof over all of the bulbs, they came busting through as soon as the mud cracked. One morning I took off my polar fleece and the garden, the yard, and the wetlands burst into life; pollinated, sneezing, red-eyed life.

Still, other aspects of spring came more sedately. Andromeda climbs into the night sky as Orion slips over the evening horizon. The striped bass have returned, as have the seals and the fishermen. The landscapers are hard at work, the sailboats are slipping back into the harbor, and the new hires are learning the registers as fast as they can before July comes thundering down. Spring comes as it always does; fast or slow, but it always comes with fog, boats, and confusion.

Nobody watches calendars quite the way high school seniors do. They count down the days on the chalkboards and the walls of the school until, in one terrifying moment, only one day remains. The last day of school drops with horrifying promise. For the graduates, the day comes with the first serious “never” in their lives. They will never go back to the football field, the Ms. Phaneuf’s classroom, or lunch. That “never” looms like a fog bank; it hangs purple on the eastern horizon, and then it creeps in. When they were in fifth grade, they walked around the school for one last time, but they didn’t sense the loss that their parents cried for. This time, they feel the fog slip around them. On Thursday they have the Ball, on Friday, Baccalaureate, and by Saturday night, they will have graduated and will need visitor passes at school.

When you stand at the door to the Yacht Club and watch the Senior Ball unfold before you, a great cynical bolus rises up in your throat. In 2014, Prom costs around a thousand dollars for each young stalwart that steps on the red carpet. It slips away in dresses, photos, flowers, tickets, and every other little thing the pretend wedding costs. Prom has stopped being a dance and has become a fairy tale story that needs to be interpreted and enacted for each couple. Dinner, dancing, prom parties, and the final bleary-eyed breakfast after the whirlwind starts. In the last few years, “promposals” have slipped onto the menu. A young man has to come up with some public and creative performance art piece in order to passive-aggressive ask a girlfriend to prom. Fumbling words at the locker aren’t enough anymore; the request needs to come arrayed in red cups on the school steps or said on one knee in math class while wearing a wet suit. The great cynic sees a price tag on everything and a smile on none of it.

Of course, the great cynic stands behind the potted plants at the entrance to the Yacht Club and remembers his own prom at the Danversport Yacht Club. It had everything that this dance didn’t. Police went through the bags and purses at the door. The dance floor was cleaned of vomit twice. The bathrooms were unusable stages for another sort of performance art. After my date and I danced one more time to R.E.O Speedwagon, we decamped to Kowloon for chicken fingers, butterfly shrimp, and regret. I dropped her off at midnight. My generation has been improving the world ever since.

This rising generation, this earnest crowd in prom dresses and graduation gowns, may be the best the country has ever seen. According to the C.D.C., they smoke less, drink less, and are less violent than any generation that has come before them. They are more tolerant, more engaged, and more academic. And they are more diverse; only sixty percent of the student body is white. Cynical me, standing at the door under the lilacs, needs to get out of the way and let them clean up.

My fellow graduates and I have left them quite a mess. We weigh them down with a student loans that could buy a house. The oceans have warmed and brought more erosion to the beaches of Nantucket. We have sold off the land we have given so that the Hedge Fund Glitterati can sail and play golf unmolested. Instead of hiring our kids, we collect our workers at the high speed ferry in the morning, then drop them off at night. Were I young and graduating, I would run off to Township 136 in the woods of Maine and duct tape my phone to a moose.

But they won’t. This is the generation that builds orphanages in Hondouras, fund raises for water pumps in Africa, and shows up with trash bags and their sleeves rolled up.

Cynicism seals you into a little hole in the ground. You shrug, draw the curtains, and give up. You can share a joke and a knowing wink, but the world moves on without you. To be a cynic is to give up your shovel and to stand by the side of the road. You stand aside and let others take the dance floor and the stage.

In this sudden spring, this generation burst forth blooming into this world and onto this island. At Senior Ball, they slip away from their parents and take the floor. Dressed in matching colors, dancing to music we can barely understand, and laughing, they leave us. It will be their stage, it will be their club, it will be their island soon enough.

Articles by Date from 2012