by Robert P. Barsanti
I have become blind to phones. I understand that we live in a time when people can enter their own digital bubble, mentally recline on the electric curve, and watch the fun swirls—I know the attraction of Words with Friends. But, on a Saturday afternoon in August, one young man had his phone out on the fast boat, sending video for the entire trip from Hyannis to South Wharf. As he stepped down, five other people went down the ramp also recording and broadcasting a crowded South Wharf to a breathless audience.
Once I am aware of one phone, I see them all. They are recording their wait at the Juice Bar, they are broadcasting their dessert at Dune, they are sitting on a towel at Surfside and recording the waves on the beach. Young women are posing in front the yacht “Pipe Dream” and snapping selfies. Young men have tried to climb the support arm for the windmill with hand focused on their face. My personal favorite was recording himself biking up the cobblestones.
One might need to have a the mind of a visitor to sympathize; they aren’t entirely wrong. If you haven’t left the island since April, and that was to go to Home Depot and grab a bite at the “Spoon and Seed,” the problem may not be with the people with the luggage and funny hats. The visitors on this boat (at least some of them) were stuck in an hour’s worth of traffic at the bridges, crawled past an accident on Route 6, and then crept along the American Mall of Route 132. They have paid fortunes in time and money to stand on the bricks. Our island is a dream made real. They leave the heat and brake light parade of the mainland to witness huge racing sailboats cutting through the Sound, two sailboat regattas dancing in the wind, and the Tax Cheats Armada tied stern in at the wharf. (Homeport: Panama)
In the twenty-first century, we live in two communities: a digital one and a real one. Our phones and our social media connect to our kids, our college friends, and the guys who post funny dog pictures. Phones open small windows out of the loneliness of here to the family of there. On the other hand, for islanders in August, phones are a closed and locked door. They are to be turned off, stuck into the glove compartment, and forgotten, lest we be called in for more extra shifts or a favor for a caterer or a question about the new magnolia tree.
For most islanders, August means work. We live in a heart-stopping place and work at a stunning pace. The cottages need to be turned over by noon on Saturday. The shift is short one waitress, one cook, and the dishwasher walked out two weeks ago. Things need to be pumped out, flushed, refilled, tuned, rejiggered, polished, and plated with a smile.
And you can’t leave. You don’t go back to school; you don’t go to Snowmass in the winter; and you don’t return to Bulgaria. Instead, as everyone else goes to other, more important commitments, islanders remain married to their aprons and hammers.
Like every relationship, it demands you answer the phone. You never really wanted to learn how to properly set up a lobster bake on the beach, but the island called and here you are. You have a M.B.A., but the only case study you are doing right now is at the Chicken Box. Ghosting is not an option. You can’t quit all of those people you work with, all of those other people you like, and the rest who tip cash because the Governor and the President don’t need to know everything.
Nobody needs to check Snapchat to see where you are working. Nobody needs to post a video on how ugly the Saturday evening shift is at the Chicken Box or how many patients are waiting in the Emergency Room Sunday morning. We’re all here already. We can smell it. Our oldest friends worked at our first job. For me, I was at the Muse with these guys. For others, it was riding the back of the Miles Reis Truck or waiting tables at The Skipper.
So, islanders cannot see the beauty of August. You don’t see the breaking wave of Hydrangea on Cliff Road, you see Mike sprucing up the rest of the yard. You don’t see the line of people waiting for ice cream, you see Ron trying to remember three orders. You don’t see a waiting room full of patients, you see Gretchen helping them out.
As a result, you don’t see what visitors see. And because you didn’t wait for hours behind a “Sweet Septic” truck at the Sagamore Bridge, you don’t feel the Peter Pan vertigo of going from K-Mart to cobblestones.
After a day of going from pillar to post, and then washing the sheets and towels, I drifted out into the evening and tried to see with the eyes of a visitor. At Steps Beach, I dropped down the stairs to the bioluminescence swirling in the water. Three connected families were leading their children into the shallow water to watch the colors flow and spin in the warm water. Over a small grill, they toasted marshmallows, made s’mores, and entertained their children, in the setting light of a fingernail moon, with something more remarkable, and warmer, than anything a screen can capture.
After that, I drove to Sanford Farm and parked. First, I cleared through all of the e-mail and voice messages that had built up over those few hours. Then, with the phone turned over, my eyes adjusted to the night. Even on a busy August Saturday, when the island is fully loaded and getting bottle service, the moors glow in a dark and ancient light. Cassiopeia, Lyra, and the Big Dipper shone, bright and complete, gently moving around the pole. The Milky Way ambled across the dome and, at the speed of thought, one meteor crossed the sky seconds before two more flashed.
Some people work fifty-two weeks a year to spend one week here.
They’re not wrong.