There was no way I was going to drive my dodgy car to Provincetown on Labor Day weekend, so Sandy decided we should spend the big bucks for the fast ferry. Eighty big ones, no less. Cool. I like ferries. My car and I have taken one to Long Island. My friend Miri and I took one to Formentera (a desert island off of Spain where we celebrated the Millennium). Ninety minutes and we’ll be in the center of P-Town.
I’ve known Sandy Oppenheimer since she was a twinkle in her parents’ eyes. Her mother and mine grew up together. She is the brilliant collage portrait painter whom my publisher commissioned to do a portrait of Sarah Palin for the cover of my Voter’s Guide, Thanks But No Thanks. If you want a treat, check out her Women’s Series – they’re unique and opulent and, most of all, exquisite. (See the portraits of Frida Kahlo and Romaine Brooks at the left.)
We have to get up at 5:00 to complete the bus/subway/bus/walk trip in time to make the 8:30 ferry. We desperately search for the way to the dock from our final stop at the building known as the World Trade Center in a desolate piece of landfill on the edge of downtown Boston. There are no signs. No one to ask. My constant bitching reminds Sandy of the main character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book she is reading, Olive Kitteridge. “Olive,” she says to me, “enough already.”
I know myself and I’m fine in a moving vehicle as long as I’m in the front seat. I don’t do so well in back. But by the time we get our ID checked (a peril of printing off our boarding passes at home), the front seats are gone. We sit at a table in the second row. And sit. And sit. Our departure time has long passed and still we sit. No one else seems to be bothered, except for the guy behind us who realizes that he won’t make it to work in time. I ask the concession stand employees what’s up. “The engine won’t start. The Captain’s down in the engine room with some of the other guys trying to figure it out.”
Eventually we depart. I stand outside watching Boston recede with a young lad from County Cork who has only been in the country 48 hours, none of which he has wasted in sleep. When I return to my seat, I start to feel strange. Rapidly, full-blown seasickness overcomes me. I feel that my torso is in a vise and is about to implode. I grip the edge of our table, bend over and stare at its aluminum rim for the rest of the 90 minutes. Sandy observes that yellowish-green – the present color of my face – isn’t all that flattering.
We are delivered by pedicab to the home of our hosts. These are two well-loved long-time artists: Marian Roth the photographer/painter and Mary Deangelis the clothes designer. They were Sandy’s close friends – as were half of P-town’s residents from what I am to see – when she was living in P-town decades ago. Marian and Mary’s house is a wonderland of interesting stuff, multiple interconnecting rooms and a garden dripping with scrumptious ripe tomatoes. It is also a hub of friendship, a veritable community center for women artists of a certain age and their families.
I’m as limp as a dehydrated coleus, but I rouse myself for a couple of hours to join Sandy for our stroll around Provincetown. It is Labor Day weekend, the last gasp of summer. To me the tourists seem rather out-of-place, but it’s not my problem. Our mission is three-fold: to visit Mary’s handsome shop Silk and Feathers and fondle her gorgeous creations; to view Marian’s latest paintings at Kobalt Gallery which displays and sells her work (see The Red Boat, The Backshore and Mary's Day Off to the left); and to find out the location of another friend of Sandy’s, Carol, with only the lead that she is working at one jewelry store or another. While Sandy slips into the plethora of Commercial Street jewelry shops (fruitlessly as it turns out), I lean on whatever solid object – tree, wall, pole – seems likely to hold me upright.
Once we return to our base – and it is a sign of how debilitated I felt that I don’t even recall how we got there - I take to my bed for much of the rest of the day. Luckily, I am reading Tobias Wolff’s captivating memoir This Boy’s Life, so I distract my horizontal self with it while hearing downstairs the serial comings and goings of long-lost friends who have heard that Sandy is in town.
I make it down for dinner – everything of the food persuasion is predicated on the tomato crop – and a chance to meet Barbara E. Cohen, the artist whose painted Polaroids have been collected in a range of sweet books. In a flurry of generosity she presents both Sandy and I with copies of her Provincetown, including unforgettable images of such local icons as the Lobster Pot and drag queens.
Our return to Boston the next afternoon follows a seaside lunch with the elusive Carole Pugliese, a video artist and masseuse, and with the playwright Sinan Unel, a hero who gifts us each with a Dramamine pill, which we swallow without a moment’s hesitation in the hope of avoiding the sea scourge. I’m very nervous about getting a front seat and go all Olive Kitteridge on Sandy, who worries as little as possible about as much as possible. I scurry alone to the end of the pier. In fact, I have to talk the boat employee who is herding the long line of early-arrivers into believing that it will not be worth the crew’s well being to have me go sick on them again. She jumps me up to the front. I call Sandy and her friends who are still back at the lunch café and they bring her up to me at the dock. (I can’t board the ferry without her ID). We get the seats I want.
I fasten the acupressure wrist bands with the bead sitting on some inter-tendon spot and hang on. Nothing happens. In fact, Sandy and I find ourselves dozy and dumb, drooping and numb. We do the reverse trip without incident.
Finally, we get into my apartment and fall onto the upholstery with an uncharacteristic level of dazed stupidity. Sandy maintains enough mental and physical anchor to get herself to my computer where she looks up Dramamine. The side-effects seem like enough to put us into a coma, so we don’t fight it. We make the transformation from visiting the center of a vibrant community whose members look after each other like the high-energy old days of collectives and communes, to being in a drugged-out state of heavy-lidded city dwelling. Home sweet home.