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The wind woke me up. It does that sometimes, howling off the water and across this flat little island. When I moved here for good, some 20 years ago, the sound of the foghorn and the whistle of the day’s last boat leaving for the mainland, made this place seem even further away from the mainland than it is.
I had not arrived because I loved this place, unlike so many people. I had arrived for a more personal reason, and for the first five years argued for her to go back to Boston with me, or at least Providence. Even today, I am still someone who values the people I have gotten to know far more than the natural beauty of the place.
Still, the wind woke me.
I went downstairs, poured a Jameson’s, and sat at the kitchen table. It has already been one of those autumns that carries with it the feeling of a cold winter to follow, and not in the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” sense. We are heading into a winter filled with our discontent.
Commercial scallopers are anxious about the season, after the waders and rake folks came up empty for the most part. Builders are finding jobs scarce. You can almost see the bills beginning to pile up all over the island.
In the old days, people understood that you might not be able to find work in the winter, and trusted that you would make up those bills when you could. But now the bills mostly carry off-island addresses.
The pain from Wall Street is felt by all ages. The elderly people who bought into an assisted-living project called Sherburne Commons may now find themselves cleaned out financially and without a place to live.
Who needs Halloween in this frightening economy?
Still, we have been broke before. Did it just take less money to get by then? Are we used to a different lifestyle, with more expensive expectations, these days? Can you be broke and get by these days, or does simply getting by leave you broke?
My first job here was as a carpenter’s helper, shingling houses mostly. I worked with people I knew and, for the most part, liked. Every Friday I cashed a check for $250. I took some of it and had a few beers with the guys. I went home and tossed the rest of it on the table to pay bills. I felt like I was in fat city. That was not long ago, but it feels as if everything has changed.
The runaway cost of living had something to do with it. That springs from rising property rates, I guess, and sky-high rents for restaurants, who try to make up the difference on the menu.
On a trip back to my old neighborhood I went to have something to eat with one of my brothers. We went to a local bar and grill. A steak, French fries, and a simple salad cost $14. My brother complained the price had gone up. I could not tell if he was kidding. I reminded him that the price of a Nantucket hamburger begins at around $8.
Last Sunday afternoon several football games were on television screens of all sizes at The Chicken Box. There were free hot dogs in the steamer. I was talking to a friend about the Brady-less Patriots and then about the bad economy. He has lived here at least as long as me.
He said something that nobody wants to say out loud. “Maybe we all just got used to having things too good,” he said.
Maybe. I sat at the kitchen table late last night and listened to the wind and finished my whiskey. I thought about whether our expectations got ahead of us. I thought about whether we can ever go back to a simpler time, when living here was not so connected to how much we earned.
I decided that we will find out some of the answers this winter. I went back to bed.
– John Stanton is a writer and filmmaker living on Nantucket.