FIRST PRIZE - Patrick Williams of Nantucket
Nantucket Essays


by Robert P. Barsanti

Two couples ambled out of a Calvin Klein advertisement and down the middle of Crooked Lane. All four were of a certain age and credit score, with the right catalogs coming to their houses and the best stores, placed carefully by marketers, in nearby malls. Both women wore sundresses, sandals, and white wine. The men were in chinos, sweaters, and a hedge fund assurance. I waited behind them, with a pickup bed full of the dead, the fetid, and the rotting, at 11:45 on a Saturday morning. The seconds ticked by at the dump gate and across the universe, but not for the timeless L.L. Bean Weekend Ensemble. I put my hand on the horn and felt ridiculous—I let it rest there.

Schoolchildren can spot my truck when I drive by. My truck has driven through winters and sand, so that it mutters and grumbles down the road. The exhaust needed a stop at the mechanic before it got approved for another sticker. Still, I didn’t want to blow the horn. I would think reality and an ancient Toyota should growl them awake from their American Express Points Dreams and wake them up to the dripping reality fifteen yards behind them. Luckily, before disbelief numbed my extremities and dragged me into the hole beneath the car, a white BMW turned the corner and headed at them. The moment shattered like the ice sculpture falling from a balcony; the foursome slipped to the side of the road, and I could proceed to a regularly scheduled meeting in Madaket with the rats and seagulls.

This early in the season, we should have a tacit agreement. If the visitors stay in town where the festival tags are in season and the doors are open, we will race about in the rest of the island and finish the preparations. We will clear everything that fell, died, and became waterlogged if they could just stay where there are bricks on the sidewalks and menus in the windows. Then, when the air warms just a bit more, the rest of the island will be ready for its time on Snapchat and Instagram.

May crashes into the island. The boats unload an audience prepared for the myth of Nantucket, rich in cobblestones and Veuve Cliquot, while the stage hands are busy preparing the scene. Porches need to be repaired, cedar mulch needs to be spread, and the lawn needs to be cut to fairway length. Meanwhile, the early arrivals look deep into the budding and blooming moors, the dripping lilacs, and the slow breaths of a gentle ocean and sigh contentedly. We have deadlines and places to go: they have put away their watches and have arrived.

Nantucket is an island of luxury, and there is no greater luxury than time. For the rich, they have enough money to get away from deadlines, commitments, and 9 AM staff meetings. The job can stay in a briefcase, computer, or on an Assistant’s desk. The children are cared for at the pool or the clubor the lacrosse fields of St. Grottlesex. Dinner waits behind a swinging door and chores drove away in a loaded Toyota Corolla just this morning. Time is a stream they have just stepped out of. They can lie on the sand until their socks dry.

The rest of us are braced against some very slippery rocks in the middle of that stream. Time comes in hours and invoices, measured and cut. Our jobs beep at us during coffee and ring during dinner. Meals, children, chores, and everything else builds in a current and washes towards, then passes, then drifts away from us. We measure our lives in voicemail and gas receipts. We drive from job site to Marine Home Center, keeping our debit cards in the black and the gas gauge on red.

And we are fooling ourselves.

The rich are different from you and me because they live Somewhere Else. And Somewhere Else doesn’t have red-tailed hawks turning in the afternoon sun, beach grass and beach plums waltzing to the winds, and the faraway glimmer of sunlight on ocean. Somewhere Else has six lane highways, Starbucks, and traffic on the threes. When they come to the island, they know they have arrived. Conversely when we go to the mainland, we realize that we have left.

At 11:45 on Saturday morning, the foursome didn’t have anywhere to go because they were already there. Their cars stayed behind their hedges. They could walk and breathe the sea air. They could notice the trees, the grass, and all of the other things that go whisking past my peripheral vision as I keep my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel.

We are an island for walking. We have parks and paths and sidewalks and a thousand interesting things to see if you pass by one foot at a time. You can peek in windows, look down alleyways, and stare off into the distance at some godforsaken idiotic red Sputnik sculpture plunked down in the middle of a backyard.

One of the curses of the new millennium is the destination. We travel in order to ignore so as to arrive unchanged and ready for the dream. We put iPad screens in the back seats of cars so nobody has to look out the window. If we go from destination to destination, we can go from one stage to another stage without getting muddy in the street. Everything is a performance for us to witness; nothing is boring nor real nor not for us.

Nantucket is a luxury and there is no greater luxury than time. But we are all parceled out a measured and mysterious measure from that stream. The one thing we have more than the visitors is time on-island. Perhaps we should notice it more (and get out of the middle of the road).

Articles by Date from 2012