The first time I ever heard the words "Fire Island", they came from the mouth of Joan Rivers. It was during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960s, when I was still a child. I don't remember exactly what she said, but whatever it was left me with the lasting impression that Fire Island was a rarefied place frequented by men who weren't part of the mainstream (to which Joan might add, "winky-winky").
SETTING THE STAGE
Ten years later, I was in my junior year at Penn State. I was just coming out and starting to embrace disco music, and in the spring of 1978 I bought the debut album by The Village People. It had songs with titles that were gay destinations, such as San Francisco, Key West ... and Fire Island. Not being familiar with Fire Island, I could only wonder what the lyrics of Fire Island were referring to (e.g., "don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya"). I was also unfamiliar with its geography, and thought it was a tiny island, perhaps like Gilligan's Island. (Paul Jabara also released an album in 1978, with a song on it called Pleasure Island, which undoubtedly was a tribute to Fire Island.)
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
In 1979 I moved to New York and that summer I met a fellow at the Club Baths, Joe from Bay Ridge Brooklyn. He was probably around 40. He had a share out in the Pines, but told me he wouldn't be comfortable taking me there because I was too innocent (true) and he was a different person when he was out there. This only added to the place's mystique.
GETTING MY FEET WET
Two years passed and I was dating another fellow who was also 20 years older than me. On the Sunday of Memorial Day (1981) weekend we took a day trip to Cherry Grove. The weather was glorious. That evening we had dinner at the Monster (a year before it opened in the Village), where we were greeted by a lively host, who was wearing a muumuu. We didn't venture to the Pines. On the trip home the scheduled train didn't arrive so we waited more than an hour on the train platform in Sayville for the next one. To make matters worse, I was coming down with a cold.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PINES
I made my first visit to the Pines in the summer of 1982. It was with another boyfriend, Rick, and we went at the end of July as part of his birthday celebration. We stayed at the house of a friend of his, and we all went out on Saturday morning (to Shore Walk). The "house mother" was a short, bald-headed fellow from Argentina whose name was Chin Chin. He had a huge Great Dane, named Gandhi, who was larger than him, and Rick and I joked that Chin Chin probably had sex with him. This was my first taste of decadent Fire Island life, which involved taking a "disco nap", then doing some drugs before going to the Pavilion in the wee hours of the morning. On Sunday, we were recovering on the beach, where I was smashed into the sand by a huge wave when we were playing in the surf.
A BUSY AUGUST 1986
My next visit to Fire Island wasn't until 1986, but I made three visits on three consecutive weekends, all with different friends, all in the Pines. The first visit was just for the day. My boss, David, and I went to visit friends who had a share at the house formerly owned by Tommy Tune. It was on the ocean side of the Pines. Before leaving I took a shower on the deck, which afforded me a beautiful view of the ocean.
The next weekend I spent it with people I had never met, but they were friends of my elderly friend Jim who had died in June. I met Jim through SAGE which had paired me up with him as part of its "friendly visitor" program. After he died his friend Bill, who owned a liquor store in the Pines harbor, contacted me and invited me out. His house was at 568 Driftwood Walk, which, 10 years later, was the walk my summer share was on.
The third visit was over Labor Day weekend and my friend Tom and I stayed on Fisherman's Walk with a couple he knew, Donny and Dennis. The weather was unseasonably cool but sunny. One memory is of the four of us lying on the beach one night and gazing up at the stars and looking for shooting stars. Donny was feeling under the weather that weekend and within a year he succumbed to AIDS.
INTO THE 90s ...
Six years passed before my next visit, but that visit on Labor Day 1991 was just for a few hours. My boyfriend Tom and I took a trip out and made an unannounced visit to say hello to friends of mine who had a share on Beach Hill Walk (that's me, pictured below). They weren't home so we hung out on the deck for half an hour before getting on the ferry back to Sayville. Two years later was my longest stay (before I took a share). A former roommate, his boyfriend and I rented a house for a week in early August 1993. The place seemed to be overrun by deer, even on the beach.
It was during this vacation that I made my first venture into the Meat Rack, but my late night exploration was thwarted by the pitch black that greeted me upon entering "The Enchanted Forest". It would have been wise to get the lay of the land beforehand in the daylight. That happened the next afternoon. But there would be plenty of other opportunities to "explore" once I took a summer share ...