Nantucket Essays

Municipal Rain

by Robert P. Barsanti

The Fourth of July is easy to avoid.  Out on the water, or at the beach at Cisco, the Fourth of July is not all that different from the Fourth of August or even the Fourth of September.  The sun shines, the breeze blows and thunderheads build up over the mainland, only to dissipate over the Sound.  Sand castles are made, waves are bounced over, and lemonades are available for all.  If you want a bunker in which to hide from America and Americans, the beaches of Nantucket offer asylum to all who seek it.

Nantucket has been breaking into more and more asylums in the last twenty years.  The clubs have parceled themselves some acres and some people, gave them membership cards, polo shirts, and hats.  Then they closed the gate and served cocktails.  Isolation and independence have their blessings, but they tend to be very, very quiet blessings.

The boys, however, sought for something a bit more exciting, preferably with a squirt gun attached to it and a good, solid, shirt-stretching drenching, so we loaded up the Super-Soaker and headed into the mass of revolutionaries on our cobblestones.  Several years ago, the oldest boy clambered aboard the capitalist insurgent 1927 American LaFrance ladder truck and starting soaking away.  His younger brother, sensibly, hid in the Hub.  Now older, he no longer hides but has discovered the pool the firefighters create for the squirt gun Wyatt Earps and he felt his trigger finger itch.  So, this year we will be armored in our swim suits and armed with the best American plastic and a hunger to make  someone wet.

Everyone gets wet.  You can hide in a store, you can tuck yourself down an alley, but someone, on a truck or with a squirt gun, is going to spray you.   It’s not a good place for a silk blouse, a wool coat, or a white shirt.  After both fire trucks have finished, torrents of water run down the gutters, stream down the windows, and drip from your hair.  Last year, I was with a young couple who energetically tried to protect hundreds of dollars in clothing from the water, only to finally tuck it inside the a store and accept the municipal rain.

Good spirits (and intact dry goods) carried the day.  The Fourth of July has been set down as the nation’s birthday.  It would be puckish and unpatriotic not to accept a good soaking under the July sun on this day.  Moreover, if you didn’t notice the fire trucks coming onto Main Street, you really haven’t been paying attention.

Our country doesn’t bring us together much.  Three networks became a thousand and only Facebook can guide us.  Below a certain age, Facebook is the Walter Cronkite of a generation; we only know what our friends “like.”  Above a certain age, we choose our flavor of politics and get our news sorted appropriately from either CNN, Fox, or MSNBC.  As the marketers have parceled us out into Pottery Barn niches and AARP zip codes, we fragment further.  Each of us lives in our own America, with a personal constitution, Supreme Court, and a Declaration of Independence from every one else on the freeway.  The twenty first century has taken one and made many.  We are united only in our buying history, credit ratings, and patio sets.

In each of our Americas, we lead our own parades.  In one America, in the Occupy Wall Street tents, some earnest soul would note that a goodly percent of those on the cobblestones were of the top 1%.  If they weren’t on Main Street for the pie eating contest, they were on the island’s tennis courts and on our golf courses.  Nantucket, he would say, is a castle with a twenty- five mile moat and a ferry for a doorman.  If you can pay the passage, find a place to sleep, and buy something for lunch, you must be doing pretty well for yourself.

To the 1%, perhaps, Nantucket is something they have earned.  The bonus and the corner office and the partnership brings the house on Medouie Creek and the backyard putting green.  The fire department and the police perform for him, much as the landscapers and the bartenders do.  The fire engine is like a golf cart, just bigger.

For the rest of us, tax money bought those fire engines, paid for the police, the firemen, and the watermelon eating judge.  Tax money built the pipes, paved the streets, built the water tower, and dug the wells to so that we all could get soaked with good Nantucket well-water.  We enjoy a civic and municipal soaking on the Fourth of July.

These days, we are many Americas.  Class and money have put us on different streets and in different schools.  Should we stare too closely into our neighbor’s windows, all we would see are the contrasts.  Perhaps that is important in November or even at Town Meeting in March, but on the Fourth of July, we should let that all wash away on Main Street.

As Americans, we forget and ignore all that we share; we separate on the slight differences.  We live in the same place, breathe the same air, and hope our kids have it better than we do.  We share a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, and the hope that we can be better than we were.

We are all wet.  The Che t-shirt clings just as tightly as Toby Keith’s. Your money won’t protect you, nor will your name, nor will your race.  Visitors are just as soaked as Natives.  On the Fourth of July, Republican and Democrat, Libertarian and Liberal, are all one under the hose.

Articles by Date from 2012