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— Jim Lehrer
"It was a continual surprise."
— Annie Dillard
They refuse to take reservations at Caro's -- that's another reason I don't go there.
"What's he look like?" I asked her.
"Well, for one thing, he was wearing a suit jacket. Who wears a suit jacket in P'Town in September? And for another, he had one of those trophy wives with him. At least she acted more like a wife than a girlfriend -- you know what I mean, like she was a little bored. She was wearing tight designer jeans that showed off her butt, a skimpy silky top, sort of lime green, and glued hair." I asked her what she meant by glued hair. She said, "I guess it was moussed, not glued, but it looked sticky."
"Probably Manolo What's-His-Name," Raymie said. "Here's the thing. Where have all the artists gone? Where the playwrights and poets? Where's the pastel tourist? This town is being overrun by people whose only claim on real estate has to do with gelt."
I told her she was being naïve and asked, rhetorically, when the world had ever been different. "You told me what he was wearing, but not what he looked like."
"Eyebrows," she said. "They were so bushy they almost covered his eyes. Black eyes. Very white around the pupils, like a kid's. He had one of those aren't-I-groovy five o'clock shadows. Have you ever smooched with a man who hasn't shaved in two days? He had a mean mouth. Look, Dannie, I may be making all this up. I only got a quick look. But the eyebrows -- he puts Miracle-Gro on them and waters them every day."
"But the stew was good."
"Better than good," she said.
The one thing neither of us went anywhere near was that one year ago to the day the Twin Towers had been destroyed in the blink of an eye, sending most of us into a paroxysm of rage and fear and dreams of revenge (sometimes followed by an unexpected sense of guilt: what had we done to make them hate us so much?). I would have mentioned it if I'd had the right words.
Raymie ran one of the very few bed-and-breakfasts in Provincetown. There are a lot of hotels and motels, but only three B & Bs. I've always thought them an awkward hybrid, but apparently enough people want to stay in them to make them profitable. Raymie's divorced; Parsons is her ex's name, but she prefers it to her own, which she claims is too hard to pronounce. I think she secretly hoped that one of her male guests would take the kind of shine to her that leads to the altar. Raymie was fifty-one or -two and looked much younger, thanks to hours working out and eating the right things. She's not deeply into feminism -- at least on the surface. She's always been extremely self-sufficient and opinionated, but she hates most labels, especially when someone tries to stick one on her. The only one she's proud of is "environmentalist." Whenever anyone violates the National Seashore Trust or pollutes -- even by throwing a candy wrapper into the water -- she pounces. She's a bulldog about saving the planet, undoing global warming -- there's just about nothing interesting that Raymie isn't either for or against.
Superficially, Raymie and I are as unlike as Manhattan and Truro. She's a lapsed Catholic from Queens, where she was born and where she lived before her divorce. My New England roots go way back; my mom is fifth-generation, a Yankee who married her second cousin, causing a ripple within the family, but it wasn't enough to stop her. My difficult but admirable father died last year. He was a World War Two vet who lost the power of speech for three months after some harrowing action in Germany, then recovered sufficiently to get a law degree at Yale and use it profitably for thirty years. He left my mom comfortably off, meaning she didn't have to sell either her house in Boston's Back Bay or her place in Boca. She's a good egg, really, never comes to visit uninvited, tries not to tell me how to raise my children, and has no major health problems -- yet. Some people call me a hermit, but I don't like to think of myself that way, mainly because it sounds as if I hate people, which I don't. I just prefer being alone or in the company of my husband, Tom; my children, Beth and Mark; Raymie; and one or two others. I don't much like parties, especially when they're big and noisy. Some people think that if you don't like parties there's something wrong with you.
I often walk around with a twenty-year-old Nikon hanging from my neck. I shoot pictures mainly of things and animals rather than people, who seem to freeze or act silly when exposed to the serious end of a camera. My favorite subjects are pale reedy grasses, dunes whose vegetable cover changes from week to week, houses in the middle distance, where they seem most isolated and, even if they're nothing special in terms of architecture or building materials, assume a kind of stalwart personality. It's like when you take a picture of a man in a roomy overcoat standing quite far off, with his back to you, he looks more interesting than he probably really is.
My husband, Thomas Faber, is basically a gentle, distracted person who teaches anthropology at MIT, an institution famous for its hard sciences, its supertechno-everything. So subjects like the one Thomas teaches are more tolerated than sought after. But it also means that his best students are sort of like members of an offshoot religious sect. They cling together. They have keg parties to which Tom is always invited; they go hiking together in the White Mountains and play penny-ante poker at least twice a month (at which he loses a relative bundle because he doesn't know how to maintain a poker face). Tom often lets one of them crash on our living room couch. They're slightly more polite than our own children, but they eat everything in sight and Tom encouraged them to raid our refrigerator, something that really ticks me off, since I never know when or how many. This freeloading business lurks between me and Tom, and whenever we're tired or stressed, we return to it like an unhealed wound. I accuse him of being thoughtless; he accuses me of being a tight-ass. There's nowhere to go with this. A couple of years ago Tom won the Teacher of the Year in the Humanities Award.
We have an arrangement: I stay on the Cape from late April to November, and he's come and go. He spends most of the summer in Truro, but he also travels a good deal -- conferences, consulting, other professional commitments met, I must say, with lively pleasure. He's not the kind of nature person I am. He likes watching the water come in and go out and he's fairly into birds -- knows the names and identifying features of most of the shore birds that live around here. But he gets antsy after nothing but water and birds for two weeks or so -- and off he goes again. Beth says, "Dad isn't very good at doing nothing." But all and all it works out okay and we have, over the years, trusted each other not to mess with other people. I only did once, after a harrowing trip to the dentist when I was awash in self-pity. If Tom has, he has wisely kept it under his hat.
I quizzed Raymie about the clueless man at the restaurant because I thought I knew who he was. Abstractly, he was the enemy. If I was right about who he actually was, he had built a monster house on the bay side less than half a mile down the beach from our place, a house that was to nearby buildings as an elephant is to an ant. There you are, nestling in an area where the car with the most old beach stickers is considered much higher on the food chain than a new one. Small is precious, and the closer you come to inhabiting a shack, the better we genuine Truroites like it. Most of the older houses are gray and weathered and patched. What passes for gardens used to be the wild-growing rugosa and bearberry ground cover, but over the last few years some people have started planting heather and other hardy plants and flowers -- you can't blame them: The urge to garden grabs you sooner or later -- the need for order and color. The Cape wants color.
Just as soon as I hung up from my conversation with Raymie, the phone rang again. The phone seems to have assumed a major role in the play that is my domestic life and fate. I can't imagine how people managed before the telephone. Your husband went to sea and maybe fell overboard and you wouldn't know about it until a year later and all that time you were writing him letters and knitting him socks and thinking what you would say when you saw him come through the front door and the fire that sex with him would ignite as soon as he took off his peacoat.
This time it was Molly Jonas, a retired New York advertising executive who works in the Truro Town Hall and is almost as good a news source as Raymie. In a small town, rumor and bits of questionable news float about as ubiquitously as those little white bits of fluff in the spring, keeping the populace satisfied. Molly wanted me to know that someone was building a swimming pool next to his new monster house, already in a choice location, overlooking the bay. "Another one of those weirdos, thinking it's going to cut some ice with what passes for society out here," Molly said. I was saddened to hear the swimming pool news, this trend toward big and lavish, toward excess as unstoppable as tax cuts for the rich under the Republicans. Bush /fils/ was the kind of disaster you didn't even want to think about because you can't do anything about it -- like a terminal illness. I told Molly I was getting on overload and besides, I already knew about the swimming pool, which was untrue, but I wanted Molly to believe I had got there before she had.
"I have to get to work. It's late," I said. "I'll see you next week at the Stop & Shop meeting." This is one of our more heated concerns: the huge chain market had threatened to erect one of its stores just off Route 6 in Truro. Most of the populace is outraged by this threat, largely -- ignoring the obvious convenience it would bring to weekly food shopping -- because it would destroy the more or less bucolic nature of this sweet little hamlet. For these people it would be like putting a Wal-Mart in the middle of Yellowstone Park. I have to admit I was partly seduced by the convenience aspect, not having to drive thirteen miles to the A & P, but I joined the protest because my friends would hate me if I didn't.
Posted May 15, 2013
Posted January 7, 2010
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