I’m still coming down from my Provincetown High. While I was there I discovered the two sweetest words in the English language: Middle Saturday. We raised the bar this year; I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do just one week again. I know what a privilege it was to be able to get away for two solid weeks on the Cape, and I don’t take it for granted. But it still wasn’t enough.
Which is why, as I said, I’ve been reading Michael Cunningham’s Land’s End: A Walk in Provinetown. He takes the reader almost step by step around the end of Cape Cod, exploring the dunes, the beaches, the town and its people. He writes,
“It was originally part of Truro, the next town over, but in 1727 Truro disgustedly drew a line at Beach Point, and the resulting sliver of loose morals and questionable practices was called Provincetown.”
“Among the strollers and shoppers on a summer afternoon, it is not unusual to see, within a fifty-foot radius, all of the following: a crowd of elderly tourists who have come for the day on a tour bus or have disembarked from a cruise ship anchored in the harbor; a pack of muscle boys on their way to the gym; a vacationing mother and father shepherding their exhausted and fussy children through the shops; a pair of lesbians with a dachshund in a rainbow collar; two gay dads in chinos and Izod shirts pushing their adopted daughter in a stroller; a dread-locked and ostentatiously tattooed young woman who works at the head shop; a man dressed, very convincingly, as Celine Dion; elderly women doing errands; several closeted schoolteachers from various parts of the country who come to Provincetown for two weeks every year to escape the need for secrecy; several weary fishermen coming home from their stints on a scallop boat; a bond trader in three-hundred-dollar sandals, up for the weekend from New York; and a brigade of furious local kids on skateboards, seeing how close they can come to the pedestrians without actually knocking one over, a stunt that is usually but not always successful.”
The only thing he left out was our group of six, weaving our bicycles single file through this colorful parade, wearing helmets (safety first!), flashing hand signals, ringing our bicycle bells (if we were fortunate enough to get one, Jonathan), trying not to bang into people with the outer perimeters of our chair packs, screaming y’all and all y’all and hey y’all (even those of us from Ashburnham), pointing out all the cute kitty cat t-shirts in the shop windows, politely and informatively disciplining impatient lesbian drivers who say things out their windows while cutting you off at an intersection like “watch out it’s a Prius it doesn’t make any noise” — all while on our merry way to the beach.
We saw Michael Cunningham in a bar one night when we went to hear an act called “Scream Along with Billy.”
Some friends pointed him out to us [center] sitting on the edge of a sofa right in front of the piano, nodding (not screaming) along with Billy. I leaned toward my friend Ehrika and said “that’s what a Pulitzer Prize winning author looks like.” And she turned, quick as you please, patted my arm, and said, “Well good luck with that Bill!”
Cunningham writes: “It is the Morocco of America, the New Orleans of the north. While the people of Provincetown are capable of holding grudges with Olympian fervor – your sins may be forgiven there, but they are rarely forgotten – it is ruled fundamentally by kindness and a respect for idiosyncrasy. Bad behavior is frowned upon; unorthodoxy is not. A male-to-female transexual may stand in line at the A&P behind a woman trying to manage her three unruly children, and no one thinks anything of it. They are both buying the same brands of cat food and yogurt.”
It is just like this. It’s all of these things. It’s overcrowded and too expensive. It’s quirky and kind. It’s artsy and down to earth. It’s relaxing and astringent. It’s town and country, land and sea. Its shores are raw, primitive, pristine, and protected. And it’s where, every other summer, a group of us gets away to enjoy each other’s company, to relax, unwind, drink coffee and read books, do a little shopping, eat ice cream cones and fresh lobster and drink cucumber martinis and Tequila and lots of beer and, as much as we can, sit on the beach and get baked. There’s no place else like it.
Apparently I wore the same shirt all week. But it was Provincetown: so nobody cared.