by Robert P. Barsanti
The other day, I waited on Surfside Road. I know all of the ways to duck around the traffic, slip up a dirt road, but I was listening to a radio and missed the turn. I was carrying two air conditioners to a house I was caretaking. With the heat and humidity of the summer on us, the owners wanted to cool off the bedrooms, at least. On the radio, the Harbormaster had sent out a message that pretty much all of the south shore was closed to swimming due to sharks. As for me, I was stuck behind a Defender 90 from New Jersey with five beach chairs hanging on a rack off the spare tire. And while I was sitting stock still in traffic, amazed at my own stupidity, I fell out of time.
Twenty-five years from now, I, or perhaps a son, will be flabbergasted at this moment. I am not sure what is the most shocking. Perhaps, in twenty-five years, they will wonder why I was riding around behind an internal combustion engine warming the air, melting the poles, and poisoning the future. Or, perhaps, they will sense the irony of installing air-conditioning on Nantucket, an island that has been cooled by sea breezes and fog for thousands of years. Or finally, they will be amused at how often we hit the snooze button and, even with sharks hunting up and down the beaches, we still send our children into the water.
It’s the new normal which is the problem. When it’s raining meatballs, we will get extra heavy windshield wipers, shovel them off the deck, and invoice the owners. We get so caught up in keeping ahead of our voicemail and to-do lists, we don’t really notice when things go crazy. And when things go crazy and rain meatballs, we incorporate the crazy into the normal, like chocolate chips into cookies. “The meatballs really taste good today. I put two dozen in the freezer for the winter.”
Last weekend, forty-five sharks were spotted on the south side of the island. Many of them starred in twenty-first century iPhone cinema. One Instagram film shows the same gigantic white shark chew up three seals in about ten minutes. Another film catches a hammerhead bite a striped bass in half, in a breaking wave. Lots of excitement for the whole family.
Personally, I remember going to Fisherman’s Beach with the young men, and pulling them out when a seal swam by. I believed that swimming with a large wild animal was probably a bad idea, but I have since grown a touch more cavalier about the seals. We are so comfortable, we don’t photograph them as much as we used to. And the kids aren’t in the water anyhow. The lifeguards that drive by on ATVs warn us every two hours about chumming the surf.
So much of the change that goes on seems so much larger than we are. Awareness and recycling hasn’t prevented the return of Jaws to the South Shore (with special musical tribute from John Williams and the Boston Pops). People have been warning us about the future of cars on-island, housing, and global warming for forty years. When the dire predictions were coming from Al Gore and Mike Kopko, we were able to let those slip to the back of our minds like parking tickets and bounced checks. The key to enjoying life on Nantucket is to look past the obvious. Or, in the local dialect, “Wait a month.” Meanwhile, seals begat sharks.
“Jaws” appears to have overestimated the concern and caution that the average beachgoer has. Chief Brody isn’t here to close the beaches. Instead, we’ll make do with a drone or two and some lifeguards on ATVs. Until soccer practice starts and they head back to Trinity and Hamilton. At that point, remember not to use a red air mattress.
Too often, when you stop someone in the grocery store and wave the red flag of crazy, you get a shrug and a “What are you going to do about it?” I suppose I can’t do anything. I can’t cool the waters, chase the seals away, or coax the predators into deeper waters. I was thinking of making some signs that say “Kids are friends, not food” but there aren’t any billboards in the water off of Cisco. I understand why my friends smile, pat me on the shoulder, and ask if the store had restocked the double-stufs.
Somehow, during the last few years, the island passed over a line when tolerance should have become alarm and alarm should have become outrage. Paul Revere rode through town and everyone kept sleeping. Hopefully, the Redcoats won’t prevent me from turning over the two houses in Sconset. Guests are coming on Saturday.
The meatballs are falling. Restaurants can’t open because they don’t have the staff. Traffic is stationary, before the new developments come on-line with more AirBnB guests. The high school graduates step right off the parade float and get on an outbound ferry, followed almost immediately by their teachers. The scallops preceded them a few years ago. The schools, the hospital, Our Island Home, the police, and every other business can’t hire enough people, or pay them, or house them. According to the town planners, “Nantucket has good problems. Other towns wish they had our problems.”
I suppose as long as Surfside Road has Defender 90s with five beach chairs hanging off the backs, we will keep muddling through. I am in the same position as everyone else; I pray for September. Meantime, while the outrageous has become the new normal, I am running my engine, waiting in traffic, and doing what I can to keep the invoices going out and the checks coming in.
But it’s outrageous.