Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Nantucket Island: Wandering Around A Beautiful, Storied Isle

"It's time," said my friend Bill, who lives on Nantucket. As a youngster he spent carefree, adventurous summers on the island, earning the nickname "Surfer Bill."  Now supposedly grownup, he reminded me that it had been some time, a couple of years actually, since I had been out to Nantucket.

"You're right," I said. "I'm coming."

"When?" With good reason, Bill doesn't believe everything I say.

I said I would call him back with a date and, to his surprise, I did. The next surprise came when, on the appointed day, September 10, I actually walked off the afternoon ferry to a waiting Bill.

It was the start of a fabulous three days, with Bill and I doing what we want when we want. With Bill's wife Tracy working and my wife Barbara back home in Worcester, we were completely unsupervised, planning nothing, making it up as we went.

Let's start before I even got to Nantucket, in Hyannis. First, I had to park my car. "Don't park at the ferry center," said Bill. "Too expensive. Park at the Hyannis Transportation Center."

So I did. I paid $6 a day instead of $20 a day, or $18 as opposed to $60. That's 42 bucks in my pocket. Thanks, Bill.

But for it to work, you need to have luggage on wheels. The Transportation Center is a 15 or 20 minute walk up to Main Street. Unless you are Hercules or just a plain show-off, that distance with heavy luggage is too far.

After parking, I wandered up and down Main Street, Hyannis. It was a beautiful fall day and Main Street was packed with people, gawking, sitting, eating, whiling away time. Most were senior citizens, not young like me. But I resolved to be respectful of these oldies.

I was hungry. Bill suggested a place called Common Ground.  "Good food and prices," he said, "but they take their time. In other words, they're slow. But I hang out there and they don't care."

I walked the length of Main Street and didn't see the Common Ground. With street level view blocked by an awning, I walked right by it. I saw it on the way back, but another place with outdoor seating caught my eye.
It was a hotdog place, Hot Diggity Dogs. I never eat hotdogs. But I decided to have a hotdog with mustard, relish, and onion. Will one hot dog kill me? I don't think so.

The owner, shown at left, is from Shanghai and he waited on me as if I  really was George Francis Pollock the Third of the Pollock royal line of my imagination.

Never leaving the window, he watched me the whole time I was eating. With each bite of his hotdog, I made facial and hand gestures of exquisite delight. He waved back, smiling nonstop.

Hot dog gulped down, I got up to put my paper plate and napkin in the trash. The owner ran out and bowing and saying, "No, no, please. I do that for you," and he took the paper waste out of my hand.  Backing away, bowing, smiling, saying "thank you, thank you," he treated me as if I really was Prince George.

If he only knew.

Next, I was on the ferry to Nantucket and here is the scene as the ferry pulled out of Hyannis:

I enjoyed a leisurely two and a half hours reading my New York Times and drinking coffee along with a huge oatmeal-raisin cookie. Will one oatmeal-raisin cookie kill me? I don't think so.

I tell you, sitting alone on a ferry to Nantucket is as relaxing as it gets. You sit, sip black coffee, munch on a cookie, breathe deeply, and ruminate. No need for conversation or good behavior. You are alone, yet not alone, with lots of other people on board to look at and wonder about.

What's his story? What's her story? Look at that interesting elderly couple. Do they live on Nantucket or are they just visiting like me? A ferry to Nantucket has both the relaxation of solitude and the stimulation of being with other people. In no time, it seemed, the ferry was in Nantucket and I was walking ashore and exchanging waves with my friend Bill.

As usual, he greeted me with an impish smile.

"You made it," Bill said as we shook hands.

"I'm here, finally,"  I said, matching his three words.

"Get in," he ordered. I climbed into Bill's van and we bounced through the cobblestone streets of downtown Nantucket. Here is view of Main Street:

Having been friends for neigh on 25 years, Bill and I understand each other. We don't need to talk much. I know he's different. He knows I'm different. We needle each other nonstop. I make him out to be a social misfit and he does the same with me. However, we both think that the real crazies are everybody else.

Yet the greatest ridicule is reserved for each other. A perfect example was when we went out to breakfast together at a place where Bill goes regularly and is known by the staff. When the waitress gave us menus, she pointed at me and said to Bill, with a perfectly straight face, "Is this your father?"

I went into open-mouthed shock. Bill roared with laughter. I never saw him laugh so hard. The waitress clamped a hand on her mouth and ran off. I glared at Bill.

 "You okay, daaaaad?" he asked, drawing out the "dad" and loving it.

"You... you... you're going to get yours," I said menacingly.

When we were leaving, I said to the waitress, "Listen, if my kid here causes trouble, come to me, you hear? I'll take care of him."

All three of us had a hearty laugh.

Bill is a man of few words. Never from his own mouth will you hear of the incredible things he can do with wood. Nor will he volunteer a word about how he has meticulously studied the human body in order to create realistic sculptures of the human face.

You have to pull it out of him. Though few people know it, Bill is a talented artist. Please ... please, you didn't hear this from me. My job is to put him down, not up.

Obeying my order to "get over there and smile," Bill posed with a couple of his works. The small sculpture is of the human body in minute detail. "If you don't understand the human body," said Bill, "you can't possibly create an accurate sculpture of the human face."

Bill also did a sculpture of me that is on the desk in my mancave where I work. As I write this, the sculpture is staring at me. I don't think it captures my good looks, though everybody says that Bill has nailed my facial expression.

Just what I want to hear. Oh,well.

Still, I used Bill's sculpture of my face, below, for the cover of my e-book, I, Cadaver.  It is about the body donation program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass. where I live.  It is where, after I die in 50 years or so, I will be raising hell as a cadaver.

For the next few days, Bill and I swam at a nearby indoor pool, hiked for miles, rode bikes to the beach, and hung out. All of it was spur-of-the-moment.

Most of the time, we hung out together. But sometimes, when Bill had things to do, I went nosing around Nantucket on my own -- which I love doing.

Bill is in great shape. He swims at a fast pace, arms churning and kicking nonstop for a half hour or more. But I made a point of swimming just as long, if not as fast. No way was I going to get out of the water before he did.

We hiked for miles on beautiful, lush, woodsy trails. More than half of Nantucket is thick forest and open space. As with the swimming, Bill pushed it, obviously trying to show me up. Well, Bill, you didn't -- but nice try anyway.

Evenings we had healthy meals homemade by Bill's wife Tracy. After working all day at the Nantucket Historical Society, Tracy came straight home and started preparing dinner.

Our wives are carbon copies of each other. Both are serious, sensitive, planners, and perfectionists.   Bill and I are their exact opposites, though he is a perfectionist in his art. I am imperfection par excellence.

We were joined each evening by Bill's and Tracy's son Tyler who lives on his own and works on island as an electrician. After eating, we repaired to the living room for a movie festival using the Roku internet system set up by Tyler. It offers all kinds of movies dirt cheap  -- my kind of movie watching.

Finally, in my wanderings on my own around Nantucket when Bill was working, I could not help but admire the beautiful stone work that I found everywhere. I'm a rock hound and Nantucket is a rock hound's paradise. Here are a couple of photos of stone work that caught my eye:

The first photo is from downtown Main Street. Walking on it feels like being one with nature. The second photo is a driveway that is also a work of art and a thing of beauty. It's a Nantucket  kind of driveway.

I went home to my standard ugly blacktop. I want a Nantucket kind of driveway!

So long and keep moving.

P.S. For an earlier story on Nantucket's history and traditions, and why "off-islanders" like me are the lowest form of life on the island, click here.

Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life; "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life," is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

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