So I live out in the ocean on a tenuous spit of land at the very end of a transcontinental highway. The entire place is built on a foundation of sand. It gains its livelihood from the whims of vacationers. Or the ebb and flow of the tides. There’s no real opportunity for growth, either economic or civic. It’s a town full of the work-a-day world’s castoffs and rejects and ne’er do wells. I’m at the proverbial dead end of America.
And there lies the beauty.
To say simply that P-town attracts interesting and unique characters would be a great understatement as well as an injustice. This town, out on the edge of America, is rich with personalities — eccentric, crazy, non-conformist, sweet, gentle, loud and larger-than-life. Here are a few that I’ve had the pleasure of observing and knowing:
The Walking Lady — Small, darkly tanned and seemingly frail, I see her walking everywhere. Sometimes she pushes a bike, sometimes talking to herself, sometimes plugged into her iPod; she’s ubiquitous. I often think there’s some crazy going on in her head but a conversation at a bonfire reminds me otherwise.
Cra Cra — Joel’s name for Crazy fits this young man well. The rumor is that he’s a recovering heroin addict but I’ve been seeing him here for several years with no outward signs of bodily harm. Young, rail-thin, dark, brooding, he circles town on his bike and doesn’t seem to have a job, at least one I’ve never seen him perform. If he’s on the smack, it’s working for him because I’ve run into him in the Bank making sizable deposits.
Cra Cra II — This one is a recovering addict. Only he’s on the road to improvement and that road is Commercial St. Far from his pre-season gaunt appearance, he looks healthy and well-fed. He’s made our main drag his personal fashion runway, working it from one end to the other, smiling, laughing and waving to anyone who catches his eye. If Provincetown can be rehab, he’s its success story.
The Bearded Lady — Another one I’ve seen for years and years. She’s a 4-by-4: four feet tall and four feet wide. Dark features and usually wearing overalls, she sports a rather healthy goatee and a “fuck you” attitude. Her dog is a bull terrier and they favor each other more than strongly. I was afraid of her until I met her one drunken night and now she stops by for the dog’s bacon and a chat. A gem and a body piercing artist, this one.
Chef I — The first chef I befriended here. A gentleman in the southern manner. Kind, courteous and unassuming. Disturbingly handsome. He may be solely responsible for his employer’s return to town next season….if she’s welcomed back. He’s the man I would hire if I were to own a place. I have so much respect for this even-keeled, quietly confident cook. Well done, Sir.
Chef II — Another unassuming gem. This time in the shape of an attractive, mid-40s, redheaded lesbian. Like my friend Alison in Atlanta, she’s a nurturing cook; patient, confident, resourceful. A quiet, wicked sense of humor and fragile ego. Her food gives me pause. I’m honored to know her and look forward to working with her again and again and again.
Parking Lot Lady — Yet another local legend. She owns several contiguous lots that sit directly on the harbor, spanning 3 of P-Town’s short city blocks. 85% of the land is taken up with her precious shell-paved parking lot. The other 15% is occupied by an art gallery and her “guest” house, housing mostly the Eastern European kids she pays to direct cars to their proper spots and ensure that nary a shell is out-of-place. Decked-out in Lily Pulitzer, she’s got one finger on the pulse of the East End and another on the balance of her quite substantial bank account. She can spot an illegal or improper parker from the West End. Beware.
Jimmy — I have a contentious relationship with this larger-than-life bartender at the Atlantic House, America’s longest running gay bar. He used to scold me (justly) for being too high to make sense but now we have an easy relationship of mutual respect. I’m not sure when it happened, but this 600lb-plus barkeep has become one of my Townie favorites. And, the pictures of him in his drag heyday as Diamond Lil still inspire.
Flower Bike Lady — I have no idea who she is but she’s about 60 and rides around town in a flowing dress on a bike festooned with an abundance of artificial flowers, always appropriate for the season. There’s a permanent smile on her face and I, for one, love that.
The Hat Sisters — These two Boston gentlemen magically appear at Tea Dance every weekend (and during holiday weeks) just as the party is reaching its peak. A long-term couple, perhaps bound by their unique tradition, they dress as mirror images, down to the boa and the hose. Always a crowd pleaser, they make afternoons at the Boat Slip familiar and fun. A lovely dose of positive energy soled in size 17 double EEs.
Restaurant Matron — She and her husband bought the most popular restaurant in town 30 years ago and she’s been printing money ever since. At first glance, she seems the greedy miser, sitting at the door, welcoming the geriatric busloads with a curt smile and firm directions down the narrow corridor to the various host stations. But once the proverbial onion is peeled and one begins to learn of her involvement in the community, it’s impressive. She arranges the necessary visa and housing details for her sizable Jamaican kitchen staff; she supports many of the Outer Cape AIDS, Breast Cancer and Homeless charities; she’s not afraid to take a stand politically and her son sits on the board of the community bank. She defines “community leader” and it’s nice to see her boys follow suit.
Chatham Light — Not her current name, rather the one under which I met her on my first trip here in 2000. A large black man, she always dressed in drag, spoke in a deep baritone falsetto and was prone to dramatic entrances and exits. She carried around a plastic web purse holding a flashlight as her beacon. She partied with us late-night at that awful house on Commercial, drinking all the bourbon in the process. I love her. She now goes by her real name and hosts at a harborside restaurant. She’s a checkout girl at the Stop and Shop in the winter. And she still remembers “her Atlanta boys.” Her portrait’s spot on the wall in the museum last fall was well-deserved.
Cat On A Leash and Dog On A Bike — Pets here, especially dogs, are treated as citizens. There’s a parade in their honor. People place memorials in the paper on their passing. They’re welcome on any restaurant’s patio, in Town Hall and in all retail establishments. They’re allowed to run free on the Town Beach. Cats have a harder time, though. Their numbers are scarce or at least appear to be. But there’s one that’s treated like her canine cousins. She’s led around town on a leash. I must say, she’s better on a leash than most of the dogs I see. Then there’s the guy that carts his aging Husky mix around on a special trailer attached to the back of his bike. The dog is perfectly balanced and shows no outward signs of stress. She looks quite content, actually.
So writing yesterday’s post did me a world of good, both in terms of wanting to write again and improving my mood in general. Thanks words.
I’m finding, much to my surprise, that I really like fall on the Cape. I like the warmth of mid-day. I like the unpredictable weather. I like wearing a sweatshirt and shorts. I like being able to ride my bike down Commercial Street without having to stop every 30 feet or so for some idiot tourist who steps off the curb without looking first. I like the quiet.
5 o’clock seems to be the prime time to take a bike ride. Not only is the light incredible, but people turn out to enjoy the end of the day. A trip to the grocery is fall’s answer to Tea Dance — much socializing and people watching and saying “hi” to fellow Townies you’ve not seen in weeks. Of course, I always end up at the Breakwater, my favorite place in town. Tonight’s sky was a busy conflaguration of fast, low-flying clouds, high thunderheads and sharp, clear, whitish yellow light. Lovely.
I guess it started just after Labor Day. What has traditionally been my very favorite week on the Cape turned ugly. It was cold and rainy non-stop from Monday night until I got up to go to work on Friday. This replaced the usually stunning warm days and cool nights so typical of the entire month of September when the collective End Of Season sigh settles over the town and everyone’s happy and the weather cooperates with days of surreal clarity. Not so much this year. It rained. And rained.
And then Tropical Storm Irene’s effects were brought front and center. While there was very little immediate damage from the storm, the after-effects of 60mph winds blowing salt water on to the trees became obvious. Fall came instantly, ugly and early. There was no rain during the storm to rinse the green leaves and so, what were normally the most vibrant colors of the summer, became brown, crusty and dull, zapped by Harbor moisture kicked-up by the wind.
And then people began to leave and businesses phased into their abbreviated fall schedules. Town got quiet. The stunning warm days of September were replaced by clouds and wind and haze and humidity. I followed suit.
My weekly trip to the bank to deposit my earnings became less and less pleasurable, fading into almost a sense of dread. Dwindling tips were luckily replaced by some ad hoc hosting gigs at Devon’s to help out a co-worker. But the writing was on the wall and in the wallet…the end of summer was upon me and my self-sufficiency would need to be re-examined.
Add these things to the fact that the best, happiets, craziest, funnest summer of my life was quickly coming to a close and it’s easy to understand why I might be a bit down.
But then this past weekend, I worked an event that reminded me that anything is possible on this tiny spit of sand way out in the ocean. I “shadowed” the catering company’s owner, watching him set up and organize. I tended bar on the lawn of the museum and saw, in one single evening, most of the friends I had made this summer. I had never tended bar before. I was fine with it. I didn’t stress. I made the Museum Director a fabulous cocktail for which she was very complimentary. It occurred to me when I got home that I did all of this without worry or angst or hesitation. I did it because I was interested in the event, its designer, the cause, the night, my friends, the pay and because I had no fear of being out-of-place or out-of-station.
Once again Provincetown provides on so many levels. I have my sense of self back. My self-confidence is secure. I can do whatever I want. I’m free for the first time in my life and it feels so very incredible. It’s not without fears (nor should it be), but it’s mine and I’m going to go with it.
Thanks Goddess, Universe, Buddha, Whitney and the all ye who conspired to get me here. I’ll not disappoint.