My Town

Jan 15, 2019

Credit David Dunlap, "Building Provincetown"

You have your town, and I have mine. You love your town, and I love mine. It is late fall now, our summer visitors, have left for their true homes – left with sadness, with regret, but left nonetheless – with dreams of returning.

Now we have our towns back, we have the space and the time to reflect upon the real qualities of the places wherein we spin out our lives. We go back to those original haunts, we pass by those places of long-ago happenings, of formative landscapes, of beaches, wharves, street corners and bars where memory delivers those versions of ourselves of decades gone by, where things happened that changed us forever, where people who no longer are alive interacted with us as if they would never vanish.

There are layers of memory – last week, last year, fifty years ago. It is the same (more or less) beach I walk now that was here those fifty years ago, the same flaked paint off the same old shed wafts into the same moist air, as I breathe again for the millionth time.

Walking downtown I pass the old library at the juncture of Commercial and Freeman, where the eager “professional drinkers” used to perch on the low concrete wall, waiting for the Foc’sle across the street to open at 11 am. 

The Focl’se used to be  the epicenter of the bohemian 60’s. It  morphed into Fat Jacks and then The Squealing Pig. 

But, before all that, it was The New Deal, a rough-and-tumble fishermen’s bar, where, story has it, Norman Mailer once crashed through the plate glass window and landed on the street and hailed a police car as if it were a taxi. 

My friend Dan has a newspaper clipping about the bar from 1959: “Men Lose Retreat In Tavern Change.” What once was a safe haven for was now to admit the “fairer sex”… in the name of “progress.” 

I think: what could those fishermen have imagined of this town almost 60 years hence, with all the social and economic changes that have occurred. Five bucks for a beer! A parking space for a hundred thousand! A million dollars for a house! Dot-com millionaires casting their influence over all. Hard as life used to be, people could still afford to live here, one way or another. Now, it is really difficult – almost impossible.

I am not certain if it matters who lives here, but who does not live here or cannot live here definitely matters.  What people do to live here definitely matters. The fishing community is the best model of a people connecting with a landscape in an organic, holistic, real way. Many of us yearn to emulate this quality, even as it fades away. Do we want a town without fishermen? A town without a high school? Do we want a community of just millionaires? Where will we get our characters like Eddy Ritter? What, in the end, can we do about it? 

I try, but can’t bring into focus this town 60 years from now. But I wish those poor future souls well.