Earlier this summer I wrote a post about my experiences at Fire Island in the years before I took a share there (1981-1995). This post highlights experiences during my share in the Pines on Driftwood Walk between 1996 and 2002. During these seven years four of us were housemates every summer while sixteen others had a share for at least one of these summers. While not quite an expose like Hollywood Babylon (no names are named), nonetheless what follows is a bit dishy, a touch titillating.
LEARNING THE ROPES
What kept me from taking a share in Fire Island for so many years was my impression that getting out there was such a hassle, i.e., take a subway to Penn Station to catch a train; then change trains at Jamaica or Babylon; get off in Sayville, and rush to a van that took you to the ferry; and once off the ferry, a schlep to the house. However, it turned out the 2-1/2 hour journey wasn't all that bad, especially since I often traveled with housemates.
Looking back at it, what sticks in mind most is the acronym BIGOS, which helped in remembering the stations between Bay Shore and Sayville ('I' was for Islip, 'G' for Great River and 'O' for Oakdale). At Oakdale I'd get up and make my way to the door so I could hop off at Sayville and get to a waiting van ahead of the other eager boys swarming off the train.
Another useful piece of information was that the walk from Pines harbor to our house took about eight minutes. This was especially helpful when deciding what time to leave the house when heading to the ferry for the to the City on Sunday evening.
In all my years, the worst travel experience was on Labor Day 1998 when a severe thunderstorm struck mid-afternoon, causing widespread disruptions on the Long Island Railroad. After waiting for two hours for the train at Sayville, a group of us took a taxi up to Ronkonkoma where we got a train not affected by power problems. I ended up walking into my apartment at 11:00 rather than 8:00.
In 1999 the LIRR started running double-decker (or bi-level) trains from Babylon. However, despite their technical advance, the new cars had a pitiful lack of room for luggage in the racks above the seats. Also, these new trains presented riders with a new decision - whether to sit in the upper or lower berth ("tops" or "bottoms" could sit in either, there was no segregation). This was similar to the decision when boarding the ferry.
DIVISION OF LABOR
My housemates joked that my primary role at the house was to be the eye candy who greeted visitors on our deck, where I'd be sitting on a chaise lounge reading Entertainment Weekly.
Sometimes my welcome was extended from the pool.
Of course, I took part in other house activities such as grocery shopping, cutting veggies for dinner and loading the dishwasher after dinner. I also organized the house's photos. And one summer I bought a manually operated ice crusher as a gift for the house. Inexplicably, I was the only one who used it (I now have it in my apartment).
My unappreciated gift.
While my primary reason for spending time out at FIP was relaxation, some housemates loved to have projects. I contentedly observed, from a distance, while they installed solar panels on the roof to heat the swimming pool, put in a sprinkling system to water the flowers during the week, and constructed a wet bar out on the deck.
THE CALL OF THE WILD
The Meat Rack was just a three or four-minute walk from our house. My first time there was in the black of night, and as I cautiously made my way through the sandy paths enshrouded in shrubs, and low hanging tree branches, the movie Blair Witch Project kept coming to mind. However, on nights of a full moon there was no trouble finding your way around, and the place truly became a wonderland. (As Olivia Newton John and John Travolta said so well in Grease, "Oh, those summer nights!") However, as the summers went by I gravitated to daytime "walks" because I wanted to see the merchandise before touching it.
During these summers I went on dates back in the City with eight gents I met out in the Pines, six of whom I was "introduced" to in the Meat Rack.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
On Labor Day weekend in 2000 I bumped into a fellow at Sip'n Twirl who I had dated briefly after we met on Labor Day weekend ten years earlier. Magic happened and we ended up walking out to the moonlit beach where we had a passionate "reunion". The next day I saw him and told him how much fun the night before had been, but he was very aloof and, poof!, the magic was gone.
A RAINY WEEKEND TAKES ITS TOLL
In May 1998, a boyfriend and I were the only ones out during a chilly and rainy weekend. What should have been a romantic weekend turned sour. John was agitated because our house didn't have a TV (at his apartment he had two that were always on, and tuned to different channels). And he didn't help with cooking or cleaning up afterwards. Tension flared, sex was withheld, and on Sunday we broke up.
RAISING THE FLAG
Like most houses on the Island, ours had a flagpole over the house and a flag holder in the entrance way by the door to the deck. One of the duties for those who arrived first each weekend was choosing two flags from our extensive inventory. My favorites were the flags of Barbados, Djibouti, Estonia, Panama, the Seychelles and Tanzania.
MOMENTS TO REMEMBER ...
Compared to other houses, ours was rather tame as far as drama went. Still, if life in our house had been presented as a reality series, here are some of the moments that might have been highlighted:
- A housemate was baking a cake in the oven and asked me to take it out when the timer went off. However, although I was sitting at the dining room table, and another housemate was reading the newspaper in the living room, neither one of us heard the timer go off, and the cake was singed. It turned out it was my birthday cake.
- Pines celebrity Robin Byrd supposedly walked off with a box of our paper towels after they were unloaded from the ferry.
- Here are just a few of the personal "slights" I suffered: 1. A housemate chastised me for pronouncing Long Island with a hard 'g'. 2. I was ridiculed for not knowing how to flick open a fan, and fan myself coquettishly. 3. A dinner guest asked me if anyone had ever told me I looked like Smithers from the Simpsons. (The house was divided on whether it was a slight or an innocent comment.) 4. Finally, one summer my last name was misspelled in the Pines phone directory, jeopardizing my chances at being tracked down by someone I exchanged names with at tea, in the Pantry ... or elsewhere.
- After one of our housemates broke up with his boyfriend we learned that the ex had a brother in prison, convicted of murdering two strangers he thought were his parents.
- Another housemate was a lawyer who had a gay couple who owned an architectural firm as a client. After a lengthy litigation was decided in their favor, they had the audacity to claim poverty and refused to pay, but expected to keep their settlement - which, as their attorney, our housemate had control of. (Ironically, their lawsuit was against a client who didn't pay them!) This couple had a house in the Pines and if any of us was seen saying hello to either one we were given grief.
- During the last night of my first summer, I had a dream in which I was given my drag name - Collette Whatchoowant. Obviously, a French Canadian Indian princess.
- Two housemates were the primary chefs and they never met a piece of meat they didn't think could be enhanced by smothering with an apricot or prune compote.
- During the 4th of July weekend in 2002 all of Fire Island was inconvenienced by "rolling blackouts" that lasted for 2-4 hours. They began on Saturday evening, and after a few hours, one of our housemates broke the monotony by putting on a wedding dress he just happened to have at the house, and glided down Fire Island Boulevard in the pitch darkness, creating an eerie, spectral image.
- The "Wig Wall" was always there to liven up any dinner party.
Houses held parties that were either charity events or parties with a theme. Ours held the latter. The Hat Party took place in the first or second week of August and was a late afternoon/early evening affair (5-8:00). Guests wore a hat, simple as that. Some used no imagination and came with a baseball cap (but if they arrived bare chested, no one noticed) while others put a lot of thought and creativity into their hat. In general between 125 and 150 attended. Raw veggie platters and cold shrimp were served. The biggest debate would come weeks before when the design of the invitation was debated.
Hat Party 1999
Hat Party 2002
At the close of the 1999 season huge pipes were laid on the beach to bring in sand being dredged from the ocean's floor. It attracted quite a crowd, probably because the season's big parties were over and this was the most excitement to be had in early October.
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY
The first few summers I was attached to my bottle of Skin so Soft to keep mosquitoes away. Then, because of West Nile Virus, there was a major effort at spraying the island to eradicate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes. From that point on I didn't need protection. However, sand fleas still tormented me whenever I tried to lie out on the beach, biting my ankles.
Just because it's a carefree weekend destination, doesn't mean FIP is immune from reminders of our mortality. For instance, an ex-boyfriend of one of our housemates was found dead on his deck, a victim of a heart attack; he was only in his 40s. Then there was the fellow who collapsed and died on the dance floor of the Pavilion (Aug. 1998). One person drowned in the ocean in the vicinity of Fisherman's Wharf (Labor Day 1999), while another was found dead in a swimming pool at a house on Ocean Walk (4th of July 1999). I was also at the house the weekends Princess Diana and John Kennedy, Jr. died in 1997 and 1999, respectively. Because we didn't have a TV, and no wireless internet back then, we depended on the houses that had TV for updates.
Since most of my time on the Island was spent in a bathing suit, it was an important purchase. Every summer I'd buy one or two to add to my collection. There were four in particular I favored (all square cuts). One was a cotton, black/white checked number, a second had a blue-pink geometric pattern, another was a turquoise number by Raymond Dragon with a vertical white and metallic sliver stripe, and, finally, my favorite (seen below) was navy with a a vertical yellow-white-yellow stripe on one side. One of my boyfriends went wild whenever I wore it. (He asked me to give it to him if I ever decided to throw it out. I haven't been able to find it, so perhaps he took off with it.)
The most favorite of them all
Alas, after constant exposure to bright sun, chlorinated pool water and salt water from the ocean, they, like we humans, faded.
UNTIL NEXT YEAR ...
And here is the final look at the deck of our house before we closed the door on the 2002 season ...
A fond farewell to the summer.