Fire Island, Summer ’06 (Too Long)

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OK. SO we got back from Fire Island. What a wonderful experience. It was so nice to go to the beach everyday. I really liked Fire Island because we were just away. As soon as we got there and walked out to the ocean beach I felt like I had been there since forever. It was an immediate stress reliever. I really like the ocean. And the bay reminded me of when I was a wee sprite playing at the bay with Scott and Leisa. But this is getting ahead of myself.

(Please note that C. and C. are 7 years apart, I wanted to offer them the patina of anonymity in this doting account)

Sitting down on the beach, knowing that here is no “pack-up” between me and home, made hanging out there just as relaxing as any of the myriad pharmaceuticals that the modern drug companies sell to the middle class American public to tell us that we have to much money I plopped myself down in the beach-chair and started to relax in place for five minutes before Lennox called me in to jump waves. 10 minutes later I was working on a sand castle with my brother S. and M. (it miraculously lasted over night). The last waves of the receding tide washed over it a bunch of times making us dig and pile even faster and higher than we would have otherwise. The laughter of the G______ boys fortified the crenellated pile of sand. L. came around and splashed in the pool that it made when the waves washed up over it, and all was good.

I’m not sure if it was later that day or the next morning when we went to explore the bay, but it brought us loads of safe fun. No, it was later that same day because that is when we had the great jellyfish attack. C. tangled with and was stung by a jellyfish. It hurt her to no end and kept her out of the bay for three of the five days we were there. C. was freaking out, though not hysterical in any way. There was a really nice couple there with their son who knew what to do (wash with baby shampoo) and/or see the doctor. Right next to the beach is a doctor’s office that we walked up to with the woman and knocked on the door. When there was no answer she went and got her husband’s cell and hit the speed dial for his number. (The woman reminded me so much of Amy Blumenberg that I have to shoot her an e-mail and ask if her sister was on Fire Island last week.) The Doctor soothed both our nerves (Chandler’s squeamishness while I was worried about her phrase “numbness in my arms and legs”) and told us to go home and take a warm shower. He made a couple of follow-up calls on the cell and was generally kind, warm and welcoming to us. God, it was so nice to be back on Fire Island again.

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The next day we brought a net and some pails and caught crabs and minnows and jellyfish (of a milder stripe). The water there was too shallow for any adult antics, but it was perfect for C., L. and P.. C. and M. also really enjoyed the bay because they could walk and splash all around with lots of kids their age (well 6 and under), and had complete autonomy. Once we discovered the net they would often start a “stone soup” aquarium in a large mop pail with all if the kids at the beach collecting Neptune-forsaken sea fauna to add. Eventually they caught so much that it was like a promiscuous sardine can with all sorts of fish, crabs, hermit crabs, jellyfish and seaweed for them “to eat” packed together as tightly as the BQE on a Friday afternoon.

The bay was where the supermarket and gift-shop were located and the further beach from our house at 14 houses away (the ocean was five houses away). After the first day M. would wake up early and go get us the newspaper and a few sundry items (Bagels, etc), bringing C. or L., which gave him a sense of independence and mastery that I think has come home with him (yesterday he went to the park with his soccer ball for the first time). There were a few different times when all the kids (well, not P.) went down to the bay by themselves and had adventures. I don’t think that they brought their shells to sell down there, but they did go down and poke about, even running back to ask if they could wade around some (no!, not without an adult). They cased the store (“Can we have the boat raft? We can all fit in it. It’s only $20! Please!”), met some kids, and got the lay of the land, just like their dads had some 40 years earlier.

So I just love the beach. I love the sand and the waves. While I didn’t really get into the water the first day (probably flashbacks to frigid Stinson Beach in Northern California) I was immediately home in the sand. S. and M. started a sand castle and before I had read five pages in the summer pot-boiler I was absorbing on the shore, I was digging up sand to make the “castle” (crenulated heap of sand) big enough to survive the receding tide. The kids were in the water as soon as we got there and stayed in for incredibly long “swims.” Once they discovered that that was where the big clamshells were, they set about harvesting them by wave-wading and catching them in the surf with their feet. C. was particularly adept at this, collecting a huge heap of shells for their “seashell project.” M. got them too, but I think he shared more with C., L. and P.. In any case once they were done with this we had a few pounds of shells to lug back the five houses home.

These shells turned out to be a godsend when the rains came. The kids spent the rainy mornings and afternoons coloring the shells with magic markers. As soon as it dried up enough to get customers heading to the beach, they were out there shilling their shelling (“She sells sea shells by the sea shore”). It was the fourth of July so M.’s stars and stripes patterns sold like hotcakes and C.’s more elaborate designs took more salesmanship. L., C. and P.’s juvenile stylings did sell too, but only because of the recent up-tick in interest in outsider neo-fauvist art among the upper-middle-class. The boardwalk was still wet as the sun fell below the remnants of the storm-clouds, bathing our intrepid artisans in the orange light of a perfect childhood day. I think that they each went to bed a dollar richer that wonderful evening. The next day they all went down to the general store and spent their money on crayons or candy or something that they themselves earned the money for, and purchased without adult supervision. The pride on Lennox’s face when she came home with those crayons was (to plagiarize from the VISA ad) “priceless.”

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The very day we arrived C. began to shape the kids up for exploratory excursions to the bay, the market, and around the neighborhood. I think that C. likes to be in charge to flex her responsibility muscles. While we were nervous at first, by the end of our visit She was taking them all down to the store by herself (even little P. @ just under 2). In the mornings M. would run down to the market to buy the Times and some bagels with cream-cheese. The first day he was reluctant to go trying to wake one of the girls for company: the second he woke early and solicited orders. Linda felt like we didn’t spend enough time with the kids because they weren’t looking to us for direction all the time (as has become our wont in our NY apartment). But truthfully since we’ve come back M. has been going to the playground on the next block by himself with his soccer ball to practice and play with his friends. All last week M. and I went out to the park to practice our soccer skills, caught up in the world-cup mania here in Western Queens.

Now I don’t want to make it seem like we were in some halcyon mansion. The house we were staying in was a small little thing that could only be called three bedroom on Fire Island and in some inventive parts of the West-Village and Chelsea. The third bedroom was a closet with built-in bunks that was so small if you sneezed you’d get wet from the rebound. However three kids slept in there; C. on top, C. on the bottom and Mason on the floor. The first night I think they were up later than the adults. The second night C., still very excited, kept C. and M. up with questions about the next day. By the third night their pillowcases were soaked in ether and they were anesthetized the moment their heads hit their pillows.

Mommies slept with their babies and daddies slept wherever. I slept on a trundle bed that pulled out from under the single Lennox and Linda slept on. It was cold and lumpy, but I was so tired that I didn’t notice. S. slept on the cushions remaining after Mason padded the floor of the kids’ bed-closet. I’m not sure, but I think that if we fit another soul in there it would have more closely resembled a slave ship than a vacation home. Please Note: one bathroom is not enough for nine people (even if one of them is in diapers).

One of the days of our visit, while it was still cloudy after it had rained we all walked to the next town along, Saltaire I think. We saw deer munching on shrubbery along the way as well as dozens of the cutest houses and most beautiful Fire Island oddities like the “Trash Taxi,” a buoy collection fence, and shin-deep piles of shells. We chatted and walked having a beautiful day together. Saltaire has a community center with a library, two churches a soccer/baseball field (which was a mosquito hatchery when we walked by after the rain), and a store.

Though there was no dedicated ice cream stand like Fairharbor where we stayed, it was an exceedingly cute downtown. We sat on benches after we played on the beach where the kids got their play-clothes wet (no bathing suits because it wasn’t beach weather) drinking hot cocoa and coffee. The freight ferry with a shipment for the supermarket arrived and we picked up some dry ice that had been used to pack the cold goods. When the novelty of the frozen gas wore off (bubbled away) Scott and I thought that the town looked familiar so we called my mom and asked what town it was that we were brought to as children. She declared that it was Fairharbor (though I still think that Saltaire looks very familiar, especially the open field and the community center).

That meant that in 1968 S., S. and L. were the kids running around, fishing off the end of the dock, splashing in the bay catching minnows, bodysurfing until numbness had crept past knees and elbows, selling trinkets of dubious value to the tipsy adults in the evening at the bay. It was we, as kids, who were stung by jellyfish, nipped by the crabs of our imaginations, and dabbed pink in the calamine lotion of Poison Ivy rashes. We were the kids enjoying the extra freedom of the car-less Fire Island, pulling wagons and riding bikes all around the town. It was us who got sent to buy the paper in the morning (easing the hangovers of our parents).

We were bought one fishing pole that we all had to share. I am sure that this was to get us all out of the house to let the adults drink and smoke pot in the style to which they had become accustomed. We would catch minnows and put them on that one dull hook 6” below the float and drop it down off of the pier. All we would ever catch was the hapless blowfishes that hung around the wharf waiting for litter to fall between the cracks like the underwater pigeons that they were. As often as not we’d catch a fish by jerking the hook up out of the water quickly enough to spear one through his puffer belly. We’d toy with them, keep them in a bucket and then throw them back when we headed home hungry. I wonder if there are any pufferfish left in the bay, or if global warming has moved them up to Canada?

One of our greatest triumphs that summer (two weeks?) was one day when we were “fishing” a man came by who had caught 10 red-snappers while out on a boat fishing. He had cleaned them all and wrapped them each in newspaper. As he pulled his boat up to the dock he saw us fishing and he gave his entire catch to us. Well we put those wrapped fish into our little red wagon next to the pole, pail and net, and marched them back to the house presenting “our” catch to some very amazed adults. C. (an adult) went about cooking them up as they interrogated us about our fishing expedition. Remember we had a toy pole with a safety hook (I’ve seen sharper points on “The People’s Court”) and had gone to the town pier where it was just deep enough for the ferry to leave rainbows the water. We came back with 10 12”-long fish worthy of Ernest Hemmingway. C. did an admirable job of cooking them once we confessed that someone else had caught them someplace else (we were not going to eat marina fish!). I’m sure that one of the adults was dispatched back down to the liquor store to buy another bottle of wine (the only errand the kids couldn’t do) for a merry feast of fish in the little beach house of my childhood.

So this letter is far-far too long, but I wanted to share with you C., M., L., L. and S.’s excellent adventure. We are covered in love like we were bathed in sand after sunbathing and bodysurfing. It will take more than the three baths that it took L.to get the sand out of her hair to wash the love off of our family after a week on Fire Island with the Brooklyn G_______s.

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