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Volume 39 Issue 18 • Sept 3-9, 2009
now in our 39th season

End-of-Summer Staff Party

by Robert P. Barsanti

Summer slipped out last night.  The visitors, their cars, and their boogie boards rolled onto the boat and around Brant Point. They tossed their pennies overboard hoping to return, and we hope they do.  Their houses have been boarded up, the caretakers called, the milk finished, and the trash hauled out for one last time.  They took one last look up at Main Street and its sudden wealth of parking, ate a sugar donut, and rolled on.

Summer took many of the workers as well.  The surfing instructors and ice cream scoopers will be patrolling the midfields of Trinity and Hotchkiss this week.  The waiters and bartenders will be off to Killington and Snowmass, the golf pros will be back in Bradenton and Myrtle Beach, and the rest of us will remain here. 

Lucky for us. They have left us with empty beaches and full fields.  The stripers are back, fat with pogies from Penobscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine, followed by the tuna and the swordfish.  The tomatoes hang heavy on Bartlett Farm, too late for the restaurants, but just in time for our plates and a dash of salt.  Beach space has become cheap again, as have parking lots, reservations, and court times. On a Wednesday morning, you can park next to the Bartlett’s truck and spend a half hour on the bench talking baseball without smelling a cigar, hearing a cell-phone, or seeing any Lily.

On-island, Labor Day is a backwards holiday.  For parents and students, the season will shortly begin in earnest.  Summer reading, afternoon practices and new shoes are the order of the day.  Teachers, like me, drive the wrong way down Route 6 on an empty roadway across the median from a ten-mile back up.  For the chefs, bartenders, and t-shirt queens, the season has faded with the sun.  Their best days are behind them, with the promise of a few active weekends between now and Halloween.

Not all that long ago, Labor Day also brought the end-of-summer party.  One day, in that first week of September, the shop would close early, the staff would get dressed up, and the owner would splurge for a clambake or a big dinner downtown.  Sunburned college kids would put on their Chi Psi Winter Formal manners, and appear at a four star restaurant.  And it was great.

My first summer on-island came after my first winter teaching.  Twenty years ago, the island was a different place.  Cable TV had just arrived and the 30 Acres Porch was rolling into the night.  The Navy water tower still stood, the Oldest House had exploded, and the new high school and its pool were still pen and ink drawings in Superintendent O’Neill’s office.  Tom Nevers was being built, the moors were being protected, and Bartlett Farm Road was a dead end.

I didn’t own a car that year, so I biked back and forth to school, with my grading and text books turtled up on my back.  In June, I moved out of my winter housing to Helen Manchester’s basement and displaced two of my students for the summer.  My brother and I had a wonderful summer of mildew, video games, and outdoor grilling. 

And work.  Since I knew the high school kids, the Muse hired me as a front door bouncer.  I stood at the front, made small talk, checked I.D.’s, and made young faces fall when they saw me. I broke up a few fights, but mostly I waded through cigarette smoke, patrolled the pool room and picked up empty beer cans.  At the end of the night, we swept up and manned a fire bucket brigade to restock the cooler.  Like most work, it was long, smelly, and fairly boring. 

The job had its perks, of course.  I got to see NRBQ, Dave Matthews, and Yellowman, although I only paid attention to the Savage Brothers.  I somehow never had to pay, or wait in line, at the Dreamland.  I met one of our Senators, though I doubt he would remember me.  At the end of the night, we got all of the old pizza we could eat.  For me and the college kids I worked with, those perks kept us moving through the blue Marlboro haze..

Then, on the Tuesday after Labor Day, the owners took us to the Club Car. Most of us tried to look as if we had been there before, but we were gypsies in the palace.  Bottle of wine graced the table.  The waiters brought out caviar, with the huge frozen round of vodka; they brought out oysters and sweetbreads; they brought out racks of lamb, lobsters, and thick pastry wrapped balls of beef Wellington.  Then, crème brulee for the whole staff and an after dinner liqueur.  All of us, stunned and sated, went back to the Muse.

The owners were no fools; this feast bought them two tremendous prizes.  First, bouncers, bar-backs, and pizza girls would be far less likely to slide off island in the middle of August if they knew it would mean missing out on the Club Car dinner.  No short staffs, overtime, or closed nights in the high season.  More importantly, it gave all of those college kids going back to UVM and Trinity a story to tell about their summer and a reason to come back next year.  Returning workers were happy, productive, and predictable. It was a tyranny of generosity; for the takings of one register on one night at the front bar, the owners could insure that the same staff would return year after year.

And we did.  Many of the bartenders and cooks stayed on island.  We fired nail guns, tended at other bars, bought fast food joints, and made a life on the sand.  Twenty years later, we vote, pay taxes, have children in the schools, and make up the winter community. 

On Labor Day, we take back the island. September is our staff party. All of us lucky enough to be here wake up to cool but cloudless Canadian skies, empty beaches, blackberries, corn, Stripers, and empty bike paths.  The dining room is empty, the table is set, and surf is rolling in head high.  Dinner is served.

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