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Thoughts on a Windy Night

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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.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on a Windy Night”

  1. jim backus Says:

    For Mr. Sutton:
    I was born and grew up in Wauwinet I (Guess, also Nantucket town, though I was never close to it)
    But we knew everyone because we were generally related to each other.
    If you get a breeze like you describe, booze will help you no more than it did my Dad; instead, grab a shotgun, load it with 4 chill and walk up to the glades at Costcata. Bet you can jump some Blackducks.
    I loved the Island, I guess from 1937 when I was born ’till I joined the Corps in “55.
    The doors were never locked, we had towers of strength- Irving Sovereno, Red Coffin, Arthur McCleave, June Bartlett, Bob Mooney(and his Dad, the Chief) and so many, more quiet but taciturn giants.
    I came back to Wauwinet after Bienikie had started his buy out.
    My Dad and I sat on the beach and he told me that Walter would ruin the Island.
    I guess everybody has made a bunch of money but Nantucket lives in my 72 year old memory as a place; though I now it ain’t there no more.
    respectfully, Jim Backus

  2. jean spangler Says:

    I came home directly from a client meeting – a 55 year old advertising/marketing hack…who has “had it” for many years. I am Six years ago, I made six figures – easily. When I hit 50, I was tired of 14 hour days, working weekends, and writing ad copy for plastic surgeons promoting breast implants. I hit the wall, thought I had enough money, and downsized. It was wonderful. For the past five years, it’s been me and my loyal art director Jay, who I call my “office husband.” However, in the past five years, I couldn’t muster the ego or energy to go after new business. Instead, I wrote freelance articles for NPR – for nad, nothing…except the satisfaction of hearing my essays broadcast. Now, I have a son at the University of Denver (out of state and out of state tuition is killing me). What’s killing me worse, is feeling trapped in a conventional city. Charlotte has been where I’ve made my living, but not my life.
    When I was 18, a group of college friends said, “let’s go work on Nantucket.” Because returning to my parents home for the summer was a death sentence, I agreed. I had wonderful jobs on the island. I wasn’t a party girl. My idea of a great time was biking out to Cliff Steps by myself with a beer in my bicycle basket and watching the sun go down. The seashell mobile I made that summer hangs today over my tub. Photos I took on just this summer (thanks to an expensive rental) hang in my hallway.
    I came home to try and sleep, but couldn’t. My mind has been in overdrive trying to decide what to do – rather than let this economy and this “life” that doesn’t really seem like living, get to me. So, I got out of bed, grabbed my laptop to search for a room, a small, inexpensive, one-year rental in Nantucket. it’s time. It’s the place I am happiest.
    I know the island isn’t what it used to be. Big money has continued to make it exclusive to the people whose most likely appreciate it for reasons other than “it’s the place to be” in the summer.
    Instead of finding a rental, I found your blog and wondered if you would share with me what it’s like to live there all year long, because I want to make a decision soon about making this leap. All I need is a year there to see if this is where I want to be. All I need is a job that pays the rent and grocery bill. Other than that, I plan to work and write. Work can be waitresses at the Fog Island Cafe, or finding a reporting/editing job at the Nantucket paper. I’m not picky. I just need a year to get my bearings and to know that I won’t end my life with music still left in my ears. Anyway, any advice?

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