by Robert P. Barsanti
The traffic doesn’t come in and out of the elementary school as it used to. Parents are spending an extra moment or two with the kids, hoping that they remember how to smear blood on themselves and play dead if the moment occurs. The building has so many doors, so many windows, and hasn’t become the hard target that all of the good schools aspire to be these days.
We are AWARE. We know. We know who the danger is. All of us who have ever fired a gun at a beer can or paper target, remember THAT guy who had the gun he couldn’t afford, who had bedazzled the stock, and who wore an authentic replica uniform. Live and let live, it takes all sorts, and we eye the JayVee Jugaloo. And we hope that today isn’t the day that it clicks in his head that he has the power.
Today, we won’t think about him. We won’t think about the mothers who wrote the names and address on the back of their kids when they sent them out of Ukraine. We won’t think of the little voices whispering to 911 on the floor of their classroom. And we won’t think about providing a DNA sample, in case there’s a match. Today, we keep our heads down and hope it isn’t today.
We let the kids go out the door with a kiss. “I’ll pick you up at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club” we pray.
Helpless. Every thinking adult on our island has gotten comfortable with feeling helpless. We can’t prevent machine gun poets from splattering the walls of stores, theaters, or elementary schools. We can’t keep the unmasked coughing idiots from the boat. We can’t prevent the billionaires from buying the neighborhood up for dorm housing. We can’t prevent off-island corporations from buying up the island’s small businesses and converting them into boutique “visions of Nantucket.” We can’t prevent the gas prices from rising, Keeper’s from closing, or the scallops from choking on algae. Helpless.
So we look at our phones and send out Instagram hearts. We watch Charli’s newest dance. We look for the right place to send that big, black Angry Bird in order to clear the pigs. Then we hope to pick up our kids. We look to control what we can control inside our little gardens, and let the world spin the way it will. The Supreme Court doesn’t sleep in my bed. Tucker Carlson isn’t in my living room. The former president isn’t on the john. If we can keep our heads down, keep the work coming, and the creek don’t rise, we’ll be fine.
We are tired. Exhausted. One outrage follows the other in a slideshow of crazy.
Helplessness is the triumph of hate. We sit on our sofas like ash, extinguished and cooling. On-island, money incinerates the past. The neighbor sold his house for three million and then the new owners knocked it down. The nice old couple gave their house to their kids and now it is broken into a third of an acre lots. Everyone is working August hours in May, because none of the workers can come here anymore. The flow of friendly faces disappearing on the boat saps my heart. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and police sell their lottery ticket of land and head to Maine.
Almost 75% of the island didn’t vote this year. While the turnout isn’t the lowest the island has ever seen, the helplessness has infected the body politic. The fascists in this country want to shoot up the classroom of civic virtue. The boards and the committees want for participation, as if everyone wants to get shouted at over outdoor dining regulations and mask mandates. If we believe that government can’t be the answer, then it won’t be. The Plutocrats will have their lawyers draft a memo, post it in the locker room at the Golf Club, and we will all take notes. Maybe we’ll have fireworks this year.
However, this election brought Matt Fee back to the Selectman’s table for his fifth term in the dunking barrel. In his time, he has outlasted Kopko, Glowaki, Soverino, Watts, Isky, Glidden, Atherton, and Doug (I’m waving here!) Bennett. We all lost when we couldn’t imagine a use for the land and fields of Westmoor, but since then the island has spun through sewer systems, firemen’s contracts, municipal buildings, and Covid. He gets to eye the Hedge Fund Heroes and their coir bags, the developers, the investors, and the potholes. Always the pot holes. I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but I appreciate that he stands. Even if his shirt is dirty.
Hope has snot on its shirt. It shows up for meetings with disheveled folders of paper, stuffed like roast beef into a sandwich. Hope does not wave a bloody shirt at the Rotary, nor does it hold a bullhorn or a gun. Hope keeps showing up, lining up the microphone, and starting the meeting. Government works when we believe in it. Maybe not as well as we would like…maybe not with the speed that we want…but it inches its way forward. It’s the help that isn’t helpless, it’s the hope that isn’t hopeless.
He lives on a lottery ticket, the plans already laid out and approved. Someone from Harvard has already put a forefinger on his arm and made an offer. I’m sure he is as exhausted, annoyed, and interested in a one-way trip off-island as any other islander. But he shows up, stands up, and speaks up. The island is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.
For seventy-five percent of the island, change is surrendered up to the digital apathy of business and bother. Most of the voters are content to sit down, dip their heads, and whine over their coffee. But those that aren’t: take a vote, raise your hand, and join a committee. Today isn’t the day we duck our heads and pray. The future needs a quorum. Change does not come from the barrel of a gun but from the stroke of a sharpie.