I had to laugh. I mean it was the biggest joke, right?
I’m a 40-something, single gay man who, for 4 years now, has rented a cottage on Fire Island in Cherry Grove for a week. I take myself on vacation. For many gay men those stats (GWM, single, 40s, non-share rental) might lead to nights of debauchery and the kissing of strangers in the privacy of his rental. (That’s not really my M.O., but still.) This season’s trip, however, (and here’s the joke), I was to be joined by a baby. Every man needs the right accessory.
Some things have changed since I first started vacationing on Fire Island. The previous three years, I’ve asked my two best friends if they could to join me for a day (or two), the weekend, a beer, or a frolic on the beach. Neither have taken me up on the offer. It's understandable. One lives in Boston, so getting to Fire Island is not the easiest commute for him. The other is self-employed and loses money if he's not working. I've always understood their inability to join me. That said, I didn't ask either of them this year. You might say I've gotten accustomed to their answer and just didn't want to put myself through the disappointment of the declination of the offer.
Here’s what changed. The self-employed bestie has become a father. He asked me what my dates were for this season. Then miracle of miracles asked if he, his partner (girlfriend?), and their baby, Ruby, could join me for a day. I was overjoyed. Seriously. Then I started making my joke.
I began to tell my friends, “I'm going to Fire Island with a baby this year.”
Everybody, including me, laughed. And why not, it’s funny. Fire Island does not evoke the image of a single gay man and a baby. It evokes the image, for me at least, of scantily clad men on the beach, sun-drenched bodies lying on beach towels, drag queens performing in the bars, hosting bingo, entertaining you while you drink. It evokes images of porn stars stripping then fucking in a bar that’s so packed with men standing around (huddled actually) watching, that one can’t see the action if he’s too short or too far from the stage. Where in any of these scenarios does a baby fit into the life of a single gay man on Fire Island?
She fits in pretty well with someone who actually goes to Fire Island and spends most of his time observing rather than participating.
The fact is, none of my friend-set are as young as we used to be. Sure 40-something is not old, but we're not 20-somethings. We're not heavy drinkers, or partiers, or drag show attenders that stay for the after party. We're bourbon sippers and red wine drinkers. Sometimes we enjoy a gin martini (instead of vodka) just for the throw-back vintage feel of it. We're card players and sit-around-the-living-room talkers. It makes sense that my friends and I would be a little more settled even if that includes one of them being a first time father, which is about as far from settled as you can get.
I am not one to run around with my dick out while I'm on Fire Island. Don't get me wrong, I've spent many a day sitting around nude on the beach. I've walked my naked body to the water and enjoyed its polar-till-you're-used-to-it chill. I've thrilled as the waves nearly knocked me over, then walked my shrunken-by-the-cold-water manhood back to my towel to dry off and warm up in the sun. I've had day drinks and hook ups. I’ve flirted and been cruised. But I've never been accompanied on these sacred shores of gay frivolity and hedonism by a baby. And yet I was excited when Friday arrived. I went into “town” to meet the 1:50pm ferry and watched as they disembarked—my best friend, his girlfriend, and the Ruby of my eye.
It was so good to see them. This was the first trip to Fire Island for all three. What I remember most about greeting them was that all the shirtless boys and their dogs, all the lesbians and gay men, all the other families that were disembarking that ferry faded away when I hugged and kissed them and received my first smile of the day from Ruby.
When you have a 4-month old to attend to she goes everywhere with you. No one left behind takes on a new meaning on Fire Island (i.e. no one stays at home). If we went out to dinner and drinks, we all went out to dinner and drinks. If we went to the beach, we all went to the beach. Ruby did not see her first drag show, but she did attend her first tea dance.
Yes, you read that right. On Saturday we made our way to Fire Island Pines. I don’t much enjoy the Pines to be honest. In my 3 previous summers of vacationing on Fire Island I’ve been to the Pines twice. Both times I couldn’t get back to Cherry Grove fast enough. The energy is different. The best way I can describe it is: in Cherry Grove almost everyone you meet says “hello” or “good morning.” In the Pines that kind of pleasantry, openness, friendliness is not on display. On my previous two trips I felt like an outsider among my own kind. But I digress. My guests wanted to see the Pines so I sucked it up and took them there. And wouldn’t you know this year I got cruised by more men than ever. I wasn’t holding the baby (she was in her daddy’s arms), but I wondered if she was like the cute dog that garners so many cute men the attention of other cute men. Ruby might have been my good luck charm by sheer proximity. At one point (during their stay but not on this trip to the Pines) I made the joke of wondering if people thought Matt and I were a couple and Michelle was our surrogate. Nah. I’m going to chalk it up to the sexy white beard and the leaner body…the blue eyes and the willingness to smile back. This trip to the Pines was proving to be worth the walk down the beach.
After pretending I knew where I was going and leading us in the wrong direction I sucked it up once again and asked a couple of guys directions toward the Pavilion.
Once there we meandered around the marina, went into a shop then an art gallery. Then the decision was made to have a drink. Remember, no one left behind. With Ruby in tow we made our way to the Blue Whale.
There was that moment when I thought everyone around us might either be judging us for bringing a baby to the outdoor bar or secretly begrudging us for the mere presence of the baby. It seems I was the one with the insecurity and the fear. These thoughts were all in my head and no one seemed to really care. Yes, people noticed Ruby, but not in a smirky-mouthed, these-people-with-their-baby-are-interlopers kind of way. More like an aww-look-at-the-cute-baby kind of way. Then Ruby found her groove. Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild” began to thump across the sound system that filled the outdoor space with dance beats and Ruby found the rhythm. She immediately began to move her legs, lifting her knees high, kicking, bouncing joyfully. She did this, to comedic effect for all of us, through the entire song. She was one happy girl. There’s video to prove it. Just ask her mamaw.
Having finished our cocktails we decided it was time to head back to Cherry Grove. The outdoor deck of the Blue Whale was beginning to fill up. It was then that we realized we had just taken Ruby to her first Low Tea.
Low Tea at the Blue Whale is a tea dance where one goes to see and be seen; to mingle and chat; to drink. It’s a gathering. Tea dances are usually held in the late afternoon and last for 3-4 hours. There’s typically a DJ and cocktail specials. It’s a chance to get together with your friends or meet new friends; to socialize. The tea dance is very much a part of gay culture especially in gay resort towns like Fire Island Pines and P-town. As we were departing the Pines, walking against the convergence of gay men flocking to tea, Ruby was the IT girl. She received more attention and garnered more endearments than the latest starlet to prove she’s not only beautiful, but a great actress too.
Ruby is too young to remember anything about her first trip to Fire Island. But I remember. I remember the dissipation of weirdness that I felt about having a baby with me on vacation. I remember the joy of spending time with my best friend, his girlfriend, and his daughter (his daughter!) I remember Ruby smiling, laughing, crying, dancing to Madonna. I remember watching as her daddy dipped her feet into the ocean for the first time. I remember after two days together Ruby suddenly starting to cry when she looked at me. (Insert catty remarks here.) I don’t know what that was about. Maybe she saw devil horns or a scary clown face. I remember us discussing how Ruby was going to grow up in a world where same-sex couples had the freedom to marry. How she would one day see in her history book the time prior to the SCOTUS decision and wonder what that must have been like. Ruby’s mommy and daddy won’t conceal from her that her guncle Michael is attracted to men. For her it won’t even matter because it will merely be something that is. She’ll go back to Fire Island one day and there won’t be a flinch or a question when she sees two boys or two girls holding hands or kissing. That will simply be life.
“Thanks for the memory…” Hope we do it again sometime.