Friday, July 27, 2012

From Exploration to Shrinkage

Now that it’s over I can admit that I didn’t do much on my vacation. Of course me being me, I gave myself a bit of unnecessary guilt over that. Vacation is time to do what you want; agenda-free time spent doing nothing or everything. 
I think because I live alone and spend a lot of time alone I was apprehensive about vacationing alone. I thought to myself what’s going to make this any different from being in my apartment in Astoria? You know what made it different? I wasn’t in my apartment in Astoria. I spent a week with my own thoughts and my own body on an Island. Waves of the Atlantic crashing on one side. Waves of the Bay lapping on the other. Sand and Dunes and lots of gay people. Beautiful gay men, regular gay men, older gay men, lesbians of all ages, people of all shapes and sizes. 
I may not have taken part in all the drinking and night life that Cherry Grove has to offer, but I did take advantage of one thing. I said “Hello” to people. Every morning as I made my way into town I said “Hi” or “Good Morning” to every person that I passed. I didn’t even wait for them to say it first. I initiated. That is movement in a positive direction. I’m not foolish enough to think that this will remain a part of my life when the ferry pulls away from this magical place, but while there it’s was a huge part of my life. 
It didn’t go unnoticed however when someone just ignored the salutation. It was more often than not a younger gay. Some people just travel with their pretentiousness as an invisible carry on. I usually do that too. I know it. But on this trip I seemed to have dropped that piece of me into the water as I exited the ferry and stepped on to the dock on the first day. Of course taking note on who didn’t respond I also took note on who did. The old guard. The gay men that have been coming to this haven for years are the ones who are the friendliest. I don’t think I was even being naive that they had an agenda (i.e. to get in my pants) either. Speaking to each other is a way of life there. It’s something that has slowly come back into my life since I moved from Manhattan to Astoria. The block on which I live is part of a neighborhood. Sometimes it brings me joy to speak to my neighbors. I guess it brings a little bit of the small town humanity of my younger self into my adult life which is so far removed from that place where I grew up.
After many days spent just hanging around my rented cottage either sitting on a sofa reading or watching television. Or sitting on a lounge chair on the fabulous deck reading. I decided it was time to visit two places that I knew I would regret not seeing.
One was the Meat Rack the other the Pines.
Okay, so the Meat Rack. There’s no delicate way to explain this place. It is path-laden, wooded area that separates the hamlets of Cherry Grove and the Pines. How did it get such a lovely, visual name you may ask? Well, that’s easy. Men go there and have sex. You read it right. Its sandy trails that lead off into even more secluded areas from the main path are where gay men can go hook up, do their business, then go back to the beach or their house or whatever. It’s not a new idea. There’s even a place like this in Central Park. 
Back to the Meat Rack. I didn’t want to hook up with anybody in the Meat Rack, but I wanted to see it. It’s legendary. It’s part of the culture of Fire Island. I wanted to walk through it. I won’t lie. I’m voyeuristic. I would not have been upset had someone being going at it when I walked through. Hey I’ve lived in New York City for over 15 years. While in my apartment building in Manhattan I could watch nudity across the street from the windows of my living room or bedroom. All of that said, calm down and take a breath. I didn’t see anyone in the Meat Rack. I didn’t even hear anyone. Hearing can be almost more erotic than seeing. Anyway, I just walked through. It was a simple path of sand with dunes and trees on one side and more trees on the other side. I made my way to the other side which put me on the outskirts of the Pines.
I now understood why everyone who knew I was staying in Cherry Grove responded positively upon hearing I wasn’t staying in the Pines.
Oh. My. God. If I wanted to be in Chelsea I would go to Chelsea. The Pines was full of very worked out, beautifully tanned men. Some with dogs. Others with their pets tucked into their speedos. Yep. Let your mind wonder for a second. You’ll get there. You got it? Good. That was the second thing I noticed about being in the Pines. The first was that no one and I mean no one said “Hello.” I spoke to people just as I had been all week in the Grove, but after too many non responses I gave up on that bit of friendliness. 
So maybe I shouldn’t write off the entire hamlet based on the actions of a few, but I passed many a man on that walk from the outer edges of the Pines into town and the only ones who spoke to me were a couple or three older (white hair in their 70’s) men on the way back. I had heard that the Pines was more of the party town. It’s got an exclusivity feeling to it. By the looks of the houses it’s got a lot of wealthy home owners as well. Beautiful boys partying with wealthy gay men - sounds like a gold digger plot for an episode of The A-List on Logo.
I did not hang around the Pines. It was more like a sweep through. I made a big loop and took myself back in the direction of the Grove. Time to get back on the turf I was more comfortable in. The turf that was much easier to live in. The turf where pretension might have existed, but was less prevalent because of all the nicer, laid back people you were apt to meet.
The two previous days before this excursion through the Meat Rack and into the Pines had been cloudy and/or stormy. On this day, however, the sun was shining. It was gloriously beautiful. I couldn’t let it pass me by.
You guessed it. I slathered my body with sunblock and packed my beach bag and walked my happy-to-be-back-in-Cherry-Grove ass to the beach. That lovely spot with the driftwood, just right for leaning up against, was available, and I couldn’t claim it fast enough. I spread out my towel, marking my spot. I then walked to the water. I had to stand in it. I needed to feel the waves roll across my feet and the subsequent erosion of sand as the waves headed back out to sea. I love that feeling. The shifting sand that initially feels so packed and sturdy giving way right under you, creating a hole into which you will sink, feet covered by sand after another wave or two hits you. Solidity giving way to vulnerability.
There were many more people on the beach on that day (Saturday) than the first day (Wednesday) I decided to go nude. I sat for a second mustering my courage. Then I rolled my eyes at my own nervous fear and said to myself, “What are you afraid of? You don’t know anybody here.” When my talking to was done I promptly removed my shorts and began to enjoy my book au naturale.
One of the drawbacks of vacationing alone and sitting out in the sun is the uncertainty that you’ve been able to cover every part of your back with sunblock. There I was nude on the beach and I could tell it was time to lay on my stomach for a while and give the front side of my body a break from the baking. I attempted to apply the sunblock to my back before leaving Casita. Believe me, I tried. I looked in the mirror. I reached around with both hands from above and from under to make sure every spot had been hit, but I just knew as I contemplated turning over that there would be the one area that would burn. I could see it: a funky, dagger-shaped red sunburn where I had missed an area. Not just a spot. An area. 
What’s a man to do? Well, in my case I used my well practiced skills of saying “Hello” to people all week and asked the girl behind me and slightly to my left if she would help a gay, oops, I mean, a guy out. She was more than happy to oblige. She walked her hairless, naked body toward me and I walked my manscaped, naked body toward her and she applied generous amounts of sunblock to my back. And you know what? It wasn’t weird. I laughed about the pitfall of being on vacation alone and she asked my what I was reading. I was only 12 pages into the new book, but I told her what had prompted me to buy it. I don’t even know her name, but she kept me from that funky, dagger-shaped red sunburn. Now if I had only applied sunblock evenly to my ass cheeks. Yep, you read that right. The parts of my backside I could actually see and slather without problem I didn’t seem to slather evenly. Two large red sunburned spots on my butt. Insert eye roll and laughter here. Please. Go ahead. I did.
I burned on my ass cheeks and on the top of my feet. Nothing is sitting or shoe prohibitive nor unbearably painful. That’s the silver lining on the red blister cloud.
There was one more thing I had to do that day at the beach. I needed to test myself even further. So I had managed earlier in the week, when there were less people in the Grove, to sit in the nude on the beach. On this day when the beach was much more occupied I had managed again to sit nude on the beach. The one thing I needed to do was get up from the safe haven of my towel and walk to the water in the buff. I needed to let it all hang out, dingling and dangling, while I went to the water. I wanted to frolic in the water. I would have been angry at myself in hindsight had I not frolicked in the water. 
I returned to water’s edge continuing until the waves that once hit me at my calves passed my thighs then slung water up to my waist thereby engulfing my exposed penis in the cool, salty water of the Atlantic. I laughed. I stood there as wave after wave hit my body. Big waves. Small waves. Some waves with enough power behind them to knock me down. I never fell. I dug my toes into the sand so hard. I was determined to keep my balance. I found myself laughing out loud as I stood in those waves. It was amazingly liberating. Naked as they day I was born. 
Eventually, I felt like “George Costanza” on the Seinfeld episode when the girl sees him after he’s been in the pool and his manhood is, shall we say, not at its manliest. “I was in the pool.” I had to take my cold water effected manhood back to my towel. This was even more challenging than walking to the water in the first place. I had to suck it up and hold my head high knowing that I was smaller in appearance than the sunbaked body that had first entered the water.  
Even more challenging: finding my towel. When you’re standing in moving water, and in most cases moving with it, you don’t even realize that you are no longer in that direct line in which you walked from your towel to the water. As I made my way from water to land, I quickly scanned the beach for my towel. Thankfully, I hadn’t deviated too far from my spot while fighting the waves. The boyfriend of the girl who had so kindly applied sunblock to my back had placed an American flag bandana on a tall piece of driftwood that stood next to their sunbathing sight. 
Thank you wind and the American flag for helping me find my way back to the comfort of my beach towel. 
To say I wasn’t aware of my shrinkage on that walk back to my towel would be a lie, but I kept my head up, focused on that blowing bandana. People just seemed to be going about their own business. No one seemed to care. Of course had my penis been hanging to my knees as I exited the water I might have gotten a reaction. The point is: if anyone was pointing and laughing I didn’t see it. It didn’t seem to be that kind of crowd anyway. And you know what? I walked across that beach, shrinkage in tow, with a smile on my face.
Yay me!!