If a summers success is measured by the deep warm glow of bronzed skin and a well-rounded belly filled with freshly caught seafood served at a kitschy clambake, then the stretch of time between early May and September of 1989 was my greatest warm weather achievement to date.
I can’t remember exactly whose idea it was to rent the tiny clapboard beach house in Dennisport MA, but it was a decision that would change the course of a few stupid privileged kid’s meaningless lives.
The four of us, with the wisdom exclusive to college sophomores, had been careening wildly from one bad summer financial decision to another. I’d had a worrisome trail of lost and discarded shit jobs that were beginning to look like a work ethic void, and everyone else wasn’t faring much better. The decision was made, deposits were sent and the experiment began.
The first two weeks were bliss, all of us in our relentless prime toasting ourselves on windswept dune-lined beaches, the kind Jaws might like to swim past looking for a snack, and then the Acme anvil of reality fell on my fantasy, destroying it with the swiftness of Roadrunner flattening Wile E Coyote.
Suddenly people were waking up at six a.m. and heading out to earn money, audibly sighing at the sight of my gently snoring form, and determined to motivate me to do something besides roll gently down the hill to the warm sand of the beach. After two weeks, my vague suspicions that my roommates thought of me as lazy were confirmed when they began hissing at me to “get a job” as they left the house at seven a.m. under a cloud of vicious contempt.
I still didn’t feel compelled to act, but a bad situation involving a tuna melt at the corner deli and a lack of funds forced my hand. If I wanted to eat, I had to work.
My job experience in Cape Cod up to that point had been limited to endless hours of hard basking in the blazing sun, but my efforts had gotten me the kind of deep rich tan that is usually only achieved after a long summer endurance event consisting of foil, baby oil, sheer force of will and the hands of time.
In the past, I had relied on shameless nepotism to land cushy office jobs at my fathers and mothers offices in New York. Spending summers doing crossword puzzles and reading gossip magazines in the comfortable air-conditioned confines of concrete safety. Now I had to come to terms with the local beach economy offerings, which consisted mostly of positions requiring hard labor and long hours. They needed a workforce with grit and consistency. Both areas where I was painfully lacking. My diaper wearing crybaby act was wearing very thin and my roommates perfected their disgusted glare technique as I struck out night after night.
Finally, someone quit the front desk job at the seedy, by the hour, Lamplighter Motel and I was employed.
My first week was both terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. I would check outrageously drunken couples into rooms for quick and unsatisfying sex, and provide what looked like long-term lodging for extended families that were clearly staying for an unspoken duration. Then there were the parties. Large blocks of teenaged kids and their kegs went clanking up two flights of outdoor metal stairs and into the rooms. People jumping off the roof into the pool of questionable cleanliness, ( the ph was NEVER right). Streaking, screaming, probably a few murders. The cleaning staff would come and get me to check rooms that had been annihilated during the late-night debauchery – used condoms stuck to the walls, blood all over the television, a guy we thought was dead, but turned out to be a severely hung over shallow breather.. it never ended.
The crazy thing about the Lamplighter was that you couldn’t slam your fist down in anger that you’d been hoodwinked. It was exactly what it had promised to be, a vile semen stained den of sadness fueled by alcohol and no oversight. I knew I hadn’t been hired by the Ritz-Carlton but standing there looking at another vomit filled bathtub as an immature nineteen-year-old I was fluctuating wildly between self-loathing and wild aggrandizement. I’m worthless with no skills/ I can do better than this.
I spent the better part of three months walking the dusty road back and forth to my No Tell Motel, and then just like that, with no warning to anyone I up and quit. Immaturity, relentless optimism that I’d snag another job in a beach community with limited seasonal offerings, and the oppositional defiance disorder that whispered in my ear “no one can tell YOU how to spend your summer!” all converged in a perfect storm consisting of lack of impulse control and poor decision making. I was unemployed for the final four weeks of our adventure.
There was some roommate pushback initially, but the cottage’s sunbaked delightfulness, the relentless inside sunlight made possible because it was completely devoid of window hangings, the smell of coconut tanning oil and the pervasive feeling that we’d gotten a glimpse into a slightly askew version of adulthood helped give my ‘take this job and shove it’ antics a rosy glow. All the ineptitude and laziness I’d kept under wraps was out there on display. No job, no prospects, hours lying on the warm sand with a mind so free and blank that the nation’s teachers would recoil in horror. I ate only leftovers and the occasional free meal provided by my hardworking boyfriend at the time. Once I caught him looking at me, as I wiped Ritz Cracker crumbs from my mouth, and his face contorted into a mask of realization as he had what I can only imagine was a terrifying flash forward into his possible future with someone who was as unambitious and incapable as a slow loris without a grape.
Eventually, I straightened up and flew right, but not before we ran down the clock on what would be the last hurrah in Hyannis Port. It was the final summer where I had no clarity, zero understanding of the stakes in life, not really knowing what was real or what you could lose if you were careless. The endless myopic selfish weirdness of that summer fit like a badly cut suit the following fall. It had been steered entirely by destructive drives and too much sun and there had been no one to answer to every morning except the ocean. Now I only go South for my vacations.