Friday, July 06, 2007

The butcher on Fire Island

Dominick was the butcher out at the summer beach community where my parents had a house since the 70s. (Jim and I sold it in 2002 after their deaths, after we realized that $100,000+ of work probably wasn’t in our budgets.) This was back when it was okay to use that term for that profession – butcher – not deli worker, etc. You knew what a butcher did, and nobody was embarrassed by it, least of all the butcher himself.

He wore a tie and a white coat buttoned down the front that was stained with animal blood, and Dominick would give us slices of fresh bologna, the best bologna I have ever had since. Perhaps the taste was the taste of carefree summer more than the fact that it was made of…what is it made of anyway? I just did a Google search for this answer and came up with nothing satisfactory.

Not only did we dine liberally on mystery meat every time we went in the store – which, by the way, was pretty much the center of our activity away from the beach, as it was next to the Candy Store and constituted the “center” of the village – but during breaks from teaching sailing (it was a hard life), Dave, Dave, Jon and I would sit outside the store on the wood bench under an overhang and munch on boxes of Pop Tarts and Entenmann’s baked goods. (Like I said, a hard life.) The store taped on its plate glass window facing the walk twice a week – in advance of Wednesday and Sunday/Monday nights – posters of the coming movies. The Wednesday movies were geared mostly toward kids and moms, who were pretty much the only ones out at the beach during the week. The Sunday/Monday movies were targeted with dads in mind, many of whom stayed out Sunday night and took “the death boat” – meaning you felt like death warmed over at that hour of the day – Monday morning at 6:15, which delivered you across the Great South Bay in time to catch the early train from Bay Shore into the City with the rest of the Long Island commuters.

The movies that came to the community in those days were things like “Here Come the Fuzz” with Burt Reynolds and “Rabbit Test,” which was hands down the worst movie I have ever seen, even though it starred one of my favorite comedians, Billy Crystal. It was before people knew he was funny, though, and therefore I think he forgot to be funny. As you will recall, he never hosted the Oscars until the 90s.

The movies were shown in a large room with a vaulted ceiling, a space that also served for dances and wedding receptions, in a single-level building of about 4500 square feet, that was surrounded by clay tennis courts. The edifice dated back to the days of the Chautauqua Society in the 19th century. We would sit in blue and green directors chairs, with the canvas seats, and the big joke – not exactly original to us – was to lift off one side of the seatback and line up the flap carefully with the side post, giving it the appearance of being attached, and then waiting for your friend, or your friend’s mother, or the girl you had a crush on to whom you didn’t know how to express your emotions except to do adolescent tricks like this, waiting for them to sit back and – OH MY!! – have them be shocked to fall back on the person sitting behind them.

Everyone walked around in bare feet or rode bicycles. Toddlers and infants were pulled in wagons, and “mothers’ helpers” (a.k.a. au pairs, nannies) could be seen hauling a couple of towheads up to the beach, which was a fifty-yard wide stretch of pristine white sand facing south on the Atlantic ocean.

We ate Pop Tarts and mystery meat, and rode bicycles and watched Burt Reynolds movies and danced and played tennis and walked alongside mother’s helpers who became our friends and girlfriends, and we congregated in front of the store, me and the guys, and talked about…probably the surf or girls or the movie that sucked the night before. We didn’t talk about back home. The real world. School. Homework.

We all looked the same, and in fact once about a dozen of us went to a Rossington Collins (the band of survivors from the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash) concert down at the Palladium on 14th Street in Manhattan in late summer 1980, before the Palladium turned disco for the 80s. Afterwards, we went uptown to sit on the steps of the Met just to hang and talk. We all wore painters pants and concert t-shirts. We were tanned and thin and preppy. Someone walked by and said, “Oh, look, the cast of an Orange Crush commercial.”

photo: joseas

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