Monday, March 17, 2014

Nantucket on Foot: Walking Around the Storied Island on a Beautiful Pair of Legs.

Now that's a beautiful pair of legs ... and they're mine!

Wait --  hold your fire! I'm not the one saying they are beautiful.

"Beautiful" was how my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Dennis Burke, described them a couple of weeks ago in his office at Mass General in Boston. I was there for my regular 5-year check-up on the double knee replacement that he did for me ten years ago.  

After X-rays and a two-hour wait -- Dr. Burke's rep is such that he is always swamped -- he welcomed me with his natural, big smile.

"How have you been doing?" he asked.

"Great, playing tennis, running full out on the court, played this morning."

"Let's have a look," he said, clicking on the computer and pulling up the X-ray of my knees.

 Leaning forward, he took his time, studying, and studying. I was getting nervous.

Finally, Dr. Burke turned to me, smiled, and said, "Beautiful. They look just as good as when I put them in ten years ago. Have you had any problems?"

"None. I don't even think about them. Thank you, thank you."

"Great, we'll see you in five years," he said, shaking my hand. And then he was out the door. I was in his office about ten minutes. For Dr. Burke, it was just another big success. For me, it was not only a life-changer, but a life-saver.

But this story is not about my beautiful knees, well not exactly anyway, though feel free to tell everybody  that I have great legs. It's about doing something that double knee replacements have made possible -- hiking for miles around the storied island of Nantucket, in off season, without a tourist in sight.

I was in Nantucket visiting my friend Bill, who lives on the island. He and I go back some 25 years and we "get" each other. By that, I mean that we both know and accept that the two of us are, shall I say, "different." For example, I was in Nantucket on my own, without my good wife Barbara, but with her full support.

Bill went off with me every day while his good wife Tracy cooked for us and let me take over the entire living room as my VIP suite. As I write this, Bill has just left for Nicaragua with a Nantucket friend for a full month, doing so with Tracy's full love and support.

They are back-packing it. They have no schedule. They don't know where they will be staying, where they will eat or what. They aren't sure they will be able to communicate in this Spanish-speaking land.  Bill has been trying to learn basic Spanish. On our early-morning swims at Nantucket High School, he counted his laps in Spanish.

Wondering how Bill is doing in a completely alien land and culture, I called him on his cell phone. There was no answer. So I left a message: "Bill, I'm worried. You okay? You want me to send somebody for you?"

I called him a couple of weeks later. Again, no answer. If I know Bill, I'm sure he doesn't want to listen to any crap from me or anybody else from the outside world, good wife Tracy excepted. Still, I left another message:

"Bill, you okay? Got a place to sleep? Are you hungry? Had enough? You know, I'll be happy to send somebody to get you." Pause. "Hope you're having a great time, Bill." 

No reply, so far.

Now the story of our five days together in Nantucket, with pictures.

Here's Bill on our morning hike with his dog Jackie leading the way. Jackie knows exactly where she is going and keeps looking back to make sure we are following. By the time we walk Jackie, Bill and I had already been swimming laps for an hour at Nantucket High.

In the boy's locker room one morning, I was made to feel like a celebrity. Bill introduced me to a friend of his. When he heard my name, his face lit up. "George Pollock! Sure I know the name, Captain George Pollock of the Essex."

He gave me a hearty handshake. "It's a famous name here in Nantucket."

I puffed up.

Every morning, Jackie was met by a play pal, below. As soon as they see each other, they start jumping around and yelping. The dog is totally friendly, but gives me a curious look that says, "What are you doing here, off-islander?"

Below is a scene on our morning hike.  Newcomers to Nantucket are always amazed at all the open space and forests.  Some two thirds of the island is forest with a large deer population.

Below is the Whaling Museum where I went one afternoon for a terrific free presentation by Alfie Sanford, sailor and explorer, on his adventures sailing across the Atlantic

The audience was mostly older and probably all-year-round residents, except for me. This was the winter off-season, a quiescent time with no tourists and when the some 9,000 all-year-rounders have the island to themselves. In the summer, the island is overwhelmed by tourists.

When the presentation was over, I stopped at the front information desk of the Whaling Museum. I was curious about this famous Captain George Pollock of the Essex. Given my crazy background of prolific breeding Pollocks, we could be related.

 "I have a question," I said to a woman at the desk. "I heard there was a famous George Pollock in Nantucket history."

"Yes," she said immediately, "Captain George Pollock of the whaling ship Essex that was rammed and capsized by a large whale. It was the inspiration for the book "Moby Dick."

 "Whoa," I said. I thought: What Bill's friend said was true!  But I wanted to make sure.

"How was Captain Pollock's name spelled?"

"P-O-L-L-A-R-D," she said.

I was both sorry and glad I asked.

I also learned that Captain Pollard was no hero. Far from it. After the sinking of the Essex he lost another whaling ship. It was even more horrific with many lives lost as the ship drifted aimlessly and starving crew members resorted to cannibalism. Captain Pollard ate some of his cousin.

Captain Pollard survived, but lived out his life as a despised, lonely Nantucket figure who worked as a night watchman. Now I just have to make sure Nantucket people know that I am NOT George Pollard, but George Pollock.

Back to footing it around Nantucket. I had heard about the erosion taking place on Nantucket's east coast of Sconset and one day Bill, Tracy, and I drove out there and walked around. It's an area of big, high-priced, ocean-front homes where the erosion has taken a great toll.

We walked past propped-up ocean-front mansions in the process of being moved. We stood on empty spaces where some had already been moved and could look down at the massive erosion eating away at the ocean front.

Above, Bill is with another visitor to the area. And wouldn't you know, but yours truly went to the edge and started jumping up and down for the camera.

Tracy was horrified. "Stop that, George," she quickly said. "That's dangerous. The ground could just give way."

I stopped. When a responsible adult like Tracy tells me to do something, I do it. Also, I do want to live.
In the town of Sconset, Bill pointed out the famous sundial home. The dial is shown behind us. It has no moving parts, Bill explained, and yet keeps accurate time from  shadows made by the sun. The sundial has been a fixture and popular tourist attraction for decades.

One day, Bill, Tracy, their son Tyler, and I went to a very unusual gathering, to say the least. It is called a Soup Party and it has been happening at the same couple's home for 23 years.

The couple is at left. I don't have their names because they were so busy they couldn't talk to me. Nobody I talked to could pronounce their names, much less spell them. (If anybody can, let me know at and I'll print them and give you full credit.)

The couple started the party to break up the Nantucket winter for year-round residents, to give them something to do, to let them see and talk to other human beings.

The Soup Party is not advertised. Word spreads by word of mouth. You have to be invited by somebody who is going. I got to go only because Bill and Tracy invited me.

In other words, no one, not even the hosts, knows who is going to be there. And every year people show up and meet each other for the first time. The party is called a Soup Party, and there was a huge pot of chicken/veggie soup on the stove, but everybody brought food and it was as feast!

The place was packed, boisterous, and with no apparent plan. It was all meet, yak, eat, and be merry. I heard a woman talking about a young guy sitting by himself eating. "That's Toby. He's a Nantucket Selectman," she said.

I went over to him. "Hi, Toby, I'm an off-islander just visiting and I heard somebody say that you are a Nantucket Selectman."

"I am."

"Kind of young, aren't you."

"I guess so."

"How old are you?"


"Twenty-six! I have a kid twice your age!"

Toby said he had lived all his life on Nantucket and felt unbelievably privileged to be a Selectman. But with constituents waiting to talk to him, my chat with him had to be a quick and was.

I noticed a fellow sitting by himself and, surprisingly, not talking to anyone. I went over and introduced myself. "Hi, I'm an off-islander just visiting."

"Same here," he said. "I live in Brookfield."

"A couple of outsiders, how about that?"

We exchanged names. His name is Tom. He said he was 46, married, with three kids high school through college age.

He thought he was old.

"Old? I have a kid older than you. My oldest son is going to be 50 on April 10."

He looked like he didn't believe me. Anyway, we talked and he said that his longtime employer had laid him off and he was in the process of reinventing himself. I gave him my card and he gave me his e-mail.

It was great talking with you, Tom.

When Bill and Tracy had things to do (that is, excuses to take a break from me), I was on my own. I walked for hours all around the center of Nantucket. Here are photos of scenes that caught my eye:

This last photo is of a long line of people waiting to get on the Hi Line, or fast ferry, off island to Hyannis. I take the slow ferry which is half the price and takes more than twice the time. Yes, I like the lower price, but I find the slow ferry relaxing and enjoyable, a welcome change from our usual time-constrained, hurry-up way of life.

Well, that was my getaway to Nantucket, mostly on foot with those beautiful legs given to me by Dr. Dennis Burke of Mass General in Boston. Thank you, Dr. Burke. Thank you, Bill and Tracy. Thank you, Barbara. Thank you, Nantucket, for the historic island of natural wonder and beauty that you are -- and for welcoming an off-islander like me.

Now I have to call Bill in Nicaragua and offer to go there and rescue him.

So long and keep moving.

NOTE: Something Tells Her, my new e-book, is now available on Barnes and Noble and  Amazon. 

Jane is abandoned as a baby and raised in multiple horrific foster homes. After her latest abuse, a sexual advance from her latest foster parent, she screams "NO!" and runs out the door Twelve years old, on the street, alone, no family, nobody, no money, how can she possibly survive? She can't -- except that Jane  is no ordinary foster kid. She doesn't understand "can't." Read excerpts.

                       Other 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. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

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