Nantucket Essays

‘Sconset Rules

by Robert P. Barsanti

Only one person used a cell phone.

Over Sconset, God sealed his covenant in cerulean blue. A light breeze shuffled the scrub oak leaves in Larsen Park and shifted the straw hat on a woman who had turned down a job offer because it began in August and she just couldn’t go right now.

Gramma followed her two little charges, Garfield and Sparkles, past the “Fancy Groceries.” The two sat at a table, looked at a Richard Scarry book, and then asked for ice cream. And, it was the sort of day when you said yes to a morning ice cream cone, with sprinkles, and you smiled at them as they smeared it over their mouths and dripped it on Garfield and Sparkles. An older couple, with Popeye walks and bike helmets, sat at another table and proceeded to hold forth with a hungover and hydrating young couple. All laughed and all went well. A family of seven pulled in and settled with remarkable discipline for so many young kids. Two women in white overalls went over the trials and tribulations of men and work and dinner.

All of them were without phones.

I have heard that ‘Sconset has different rules. You can only drive 20 in Sconset, after all. The gardens are in full bloom, with overfed blue and pink hydrangea tottering along the path. The Rose of Sharon climb a Jacob’s Ladder up the sides of the houses. Even the neglected and unkempt weeds were full and flowing in the August Day from God. In ‘Sconset, you can walk down the middle of the street (as most do) with the quiet assurance of full membership and a fuller wallet and feel that nothing was going to get in the way of your afternoon tennis other than a quick nap.

Even ‘Sconset has entered the 21st century. The market not only has an ATM,, but they take credit cards. E-bikes hum into the bike racks and settle next to the featherweight Italian playthings of sixty-year-old Peloton heroes. Cell service, which can be spotty on the south shore of the island and behind particularly large elm trees, can be found both below and above the bluff. With the digital tide, Selfies, Tinder, and Candy Crush should be washing up on the eastern shore, even far up here in the brick covered park. Still, I saw no phones.

It could be that we have reached a saturation point with phones. It could be that we have reached a point when they have become so integral to our lives that we don’t need to look at them constantly. Or it could be that, since most of the people biked the seven miles out to this park, they have packed their phones deep under a spare t-shirt and an extra water bottle. And then one rang.

He was tall, older, rangy, and wearing bicycle shoes that make him walk as if he had hooves. He caught the call on the first ring, turned on his companions, and clip-clopped over to the back street for a private conversation. He wore striped bicycling shorts, a Yankees hat, and a baby blue “Rochester River Walk” t-shirt, with a “Friends of Strong” on the back. He folded his arms, tucked the phone into his neck and shifted his weight back and forth. After a minute, he snapped the phone off and headed for his bike. His friends followed quickly. He wasn’t being reminded to pick up crackers for cocktail hour.

No doubt he was a doctor. No doubt that he was needed. No doubt a family was waiting for his words, his opinion, his suggestions, his expertise. And no doubt that, if I was waiting on the other end of that line, my heart would beat easier to know that my Doctor had interrupted his vacation to offer his help. He was a hero.

We crush our heroes. They don’t get to live the lives that other people do: instead they have to keep that cape and cowl close by in case the bat signal goes up. A hero has no other role in life. They can’t be parents, children, or flint-knappers. They need to be in cell phone range and a short drive away from the nearest supervillain or natural disaster. Civilization requires heroes in the constant roving spotlight. They can’t falter, they can’t snap, they can’t rest, and they can’t let the halo of grace and competence blink for a second. Worse, everyone who loves the hero has to be ready for the phone call. No room is safe from the urgent beep, not the bathroom, the bedroom, or Larsen Park.

Heroism has its own intoxication, which could be mistaken for a reward. You are told how valuable you are, how necessary, and how appreciated. You get handshakes and the key to the city; you can almost believe that you are loved and needed. But you keep getting phone calls on Sunday morning which could have been answered by e-mails on Wednesday afternoon. Too many emergencies could have been solved with an attentive ear, a well-timed extra dollar, and a tequila shot of common sense. Too often, the job of the hero is to save the fool from his foolishness.

Nantucket has more than its share of heroes. The island isn’t particularly blessed with supernatural beings. Rather, as an island, there isn’t anyone else to call. On any given Sunday, plumbers, electricians, and propane deliverymen can be heroes. When the bathroom is afloat in brown water, all of those names in Hyannis and Mashpee aren’t going to get here soon enough to prevent a biohazard superfund site. With visitors accustomed to on-time delivery chains and platinum- level service, the “emergencies” can come fast and furious. One of our island landscaping heroes got a 7 am Sunday phone call because a sprinkler wasn’t covering all of the lawn.

In Larsen Park, in Sconset, you are where you are supposed to be. You might be midway through a bike ride, treating the grandkids, or self-medicating out of a hangover, but you are needed nowhere else but right here and right now. The news, the gossip, and the sports scores are best found in print, preferably the New York Times or Post. No Candy needs Crushing, and no Birds are Angry. For most of us, time hiccups and skips in the God granted blue of an August sky over Sconset. For our unlucky heroes, it remains an interrupted hope.

Articles by Date from 2012