Provincetown - Sunday June 08 2003
setting: Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
After we checked out of our seedy Orleans motel (skipping the complimentary continental breakfast), we had a little time to kill before a morning-after-the-wedding brunch back at the fancy Tudor mansion, so we found our way down to the beach. This was on the Atlantic Ocean, not some sheltered harbor. The day was cool and spitting rain, not an ideal one for walking on the beach. Nonetheless, we came upon another couple leaving just as we were arriving. Amazingly, it was none other than Blond Tanya and her husband Bill, yesterday's newlyweds.
We'd come mostly to find shells, but there didn't seem to be any. Instead we collected a number of flattened, rounded stones. I also found an interesting stone that had the form of an abstract penis. Note the band of quartz standing in for a circumcision scar.
Later we spent a few minutes down on the shore of Nauset Harbor, just below the Tudor mansion. Three crows had landed on one of the boats in the harbor so as to give it an inspection. Farther away we saw someone hoist his sail and head out - though there didn't seem to be any wind blowing. We posed for photographs around some of the boats parked on the shore, some of which were no larger than a refrigerator.
Posing in front of a small boat named Sloth in some arm of Nauset Harbor, Orleans.
Gretchen sits in Sloth.
Bloody marys were the drinks of choice at this morning's brunch, though I counteracted the alcohol with cups of black coffee. I should note, by the way, that I had no hangover at all this morning despite what I'd considered prolific drinking (meaning more servings of alcoholic beverages than I could count). I haven't had a detectable hangover since I lived in Brooklyn nearly nine months ago. I used to get them reliably every weekend.
At the brunch this morning with Gretchen and last night all by myself I found myself talking with Kim, one of Tanya's best friends. Her personality is shaped in a way that made her very easy for me to communicate with.
After the brunch, Gretchen and I drove all the way to Provincetown. Following the metaphor I'd made yesterday, if Cape Cod is an arm and Orleans is on the inside of its elbow, Provincetown lies within an effeminate gesture being made by the hand. It is the end of Cape Cod, a town surrounded on all sides (except one) by water. We wanted to see the place where US 6 comes to an end. Such places normally feature some sort of sign. In Santa Monica, CA, for example, there's a sign that reads "I-10 Ends." But US 6 doesn't actually end in Provincetown. Instead it enters a rotary, and one can keep driving on Route 6 endlessly, either in a tight loop or back westward again, all the way to its western end in the suburbs of Chicago.
There's something about resort towns on the margins of America that attracts practitioners of the so-called gay lifestyle, and in Provincetown it was a hard thing to ignore. I'd venture to say that on the crowded streets of this early Sunday afternoon, a majority of the hand-holding couples were same-sex. There were nearly as many lesbians as gay men.
The main reason we'd come to Provincetown was to attend the Bird Man Festival. People dress up as birds and strap on homemade winglike contraptions and then compete to see how far out into the water they can fly from the wharf. It's done to raise money for the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project. Unfortunately, it had ended just before we arrived, meaning the whole thing only lasted about an hour.
We walked up and down through the bustling shopping district, stopping in a few stores to look at things that had caught our attention in the window display. One store was devoted almost entirely to Christmas decorations and was even playing Christmas music. This was the place we should have come before our wedding to get the perfect fragile glass object for me to break beneath my heel in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. The only problem would have been the price. Like everything else for sale in Provincetown, these Christmas ornaments were ludicrously overpriced.
The thing about gentrification in America is that it always seems to require a flowering of local gay culture. But usually once the neighborhood becomes safe for strollers and soccer moms, it typically enters its breeder phase. Kitschy boutiques come to be replaced with convenient pizza parlors and esoteric movie theatres repurposed as karate centers. In remote vacation spots like Key West and Provincetown, however, the remoteness of the local economy is such that the breeders never come, and gentrification is arrested at the "precious" stage of evolution. There are plenty of stores, but they don't sell anything you really need to have.
We would have bought some salt-water taffy, since that's a big Cape Cod thing, but we sampled some in a store that didn't sell anything else and it just wasn't very good.
Eventually we left Cape Cod, stopping along the way at a little roadside restaurant so I could have some genuine Cape Cod fish and chips.
It's not often that I travel within the United States and get the feeling that I have gone to a fundamentally different place, but Cape Cod doesn't really feel like conventional America. Part of it is a matter of language. As in England, trash is referred to as "rubbish" in the Cape. And street signs in the Cape have a way of cautioning about such realities as an area being "Thickly Settled." Most intersections meet at traffic circles, which are referred to in the Cape as "rotaries." Evidently there's something isolating about living on a narrow spit of land out in the ocean that not even Clear Channel broadcasts and USA Today can erase.
Traffic was kind on the drive home, and we made good time. We stopped for dinner at our favorite Mexican place in Saugerties before picking up Sally. Our waiter for most of our meal was a young lad of about ten.
Gretchen on the stone jetty at the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown.
Folks in Provincetown after the Birdman Festival.
A sculpture in Provincetown's bustling shopping district.