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Essay
Volume 39 Issue 5 • June 4 - 10, 2009
now in our 39th season

Shuffling Home

by Robert P. Barsanti

people do many things during the month of June.  Boats are unwrapped, prepped, towed, and dropped in the water. The first keepers are brought into Straight Wharf, then the first “Native Bass” specials appear in our $30-a plate bistros.  Caretakers reel down last October’s punch list, while whipping the lawn mower over the yard.  The eyes of high school students veer from final exam prep to the athletic, co-ed life guards jogging up Sparks Avenue.  For many, the biggest event in June is The Shuffle. 

Most islanders have Shuffled.  You move into winter housing some time in September or October and settle down for the cold and windy months.  Then, in June, you shuffle into smaller, cozier surroundings.  Homeowners spend the winter in the main house—their home—bouncing and careening through the chutes and bumpers of the off-season.  In June, they lock up their personal belongings in one room, clean up the rest of the house, and slip out to the small shack in the back.  The summer visitors eat in their kitchen, sleep in their beds, and pay their mortgage over eight weeks. 

As a teacher, I didn’t own a house, so I shuffled between rentals.  In the winter, I stayed in a drafty but comfortable apartment behind Dr. and Sue Vallette’s house on Center Street.  But her family came in the summer, and I moved out to another house and another bed.  In my first summer, my brother and I evicted a student from his room and rented it from his mother.   Scott Manchester moved onto a bunkbed with his brother, while we took his bedroom in the basement of his mother’s house.  It was a wonderful, odd summer.  We came and left through a bulkhead, worked as much as we could, cooked outside, and referred to the housing as either “six feet under” or “periscope depth.”

For many of the summers after that, I unrolled a student from his bed and took it over for the summer. In doing that, I was more than a tenant and less than a son.  On one hand, I was a paying adult sleeping in a room with baseball cards, Hot Wheels, and models hanging from the ceiling.  On the other hand, I was joining someone’s home.

Over the course of those summers, many valuable reminders and rules were written in post-it and placed on my door.  I saved a few, remembered more, but forgot most.  Here are a few simple rules for The Shuffle.

  • Figure out where to put the clean dishes. 
  • Nobody will leave your Oreos alone.
  • Leave their Oreos alone.
  • Free cheeseburgers taste better than $30 steaks.
  • Compliment the chef. Always.
  • Start your diet in September.
  • Always cook for four.
  • Empty packages go in the trash.
  • Wake up second.
  • Go to bed second to last.
  • Bars have TV sets, too.
  • Strange sounds travel through walls both ways.
  • Good earphones are worth the price.
  • Privacy is what you don’t want to know.
  • Only corrupt your host.
  • Try not to scare the cat.
  • Blame the dog.
  • Travel light.
  • Toilet Paper doesn’t appear magically in the holder.
  • Pizza boxes don’t disappear magically from the porch.
  • Everything that appears magically should receive offerings & thanksgiving.
  • Your shampoo does not sit.
  • If you want to know what your toothbrush is doing, you need to watch it.
  • You never want to see anything you flush twice.
  • The ocean provides better water therapy than a shower.
  • Showers clean better than oceans.
  • Know your limitations.
  • Microwaves don’t dry shirts well.  Clotheslines do.
  • Everyone needs more chocolate, peace, and laundry detergent.
  • You aren’t his parent. You are his parent’s spy.
  • He will always beat you at video games. Always.
  • They are his Legos.
  • Your driver’s license is the most valuable thing in your wallet.
  • It’s your dog, too.
  • Mayonnaise, bluefish, and oranges do not improve with age.
  • Laugh only at yourself.
  • If they want your old foosball table, they will ask.
  • If you would hide it from your mother, leave it in your car.
  • You can practice your music only if you get paid for it.
  • If no one is talking to you, you have done something wrong.
  • Rent is more important than beer.
  • You don’t have guests, your host does.
  • Play with your own toys.
  • Stay low to the ground.
  • Solve problems.

Now, in my middle age, I don’t shuffle as much as I used to. Moreover, I have forgotten most of the post-its and reminder sheets that were left for me over the years.  I would like to hope that most of the rules and corrections that came my way over the years have somehow become incorporated into my personality.

On our small island, everyone Shuffles sooner or later. We shuffle between houses, between lovers, between families.  If you haven’t woken up in a guest bedroom yet, you will soon.  If you haven’t made a guest bedroom in your house, that will also come.  The great tides of fortune turn for everyone, hedge fund manager to scalloper.  If the tide is at flood right now, and your beds are your own, it will soon ebb and you will find yourself in a strange room in strange sheets.

Rooms, houses, and beds change throughout our lives.  The house you love so well today will be someone else’s tomorrow.  But the people we live with remain, even if only bound by memory and story.  And they will remember if you washed the dishes, walked the dog, and bought Oreos.

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