“THE BORGES CURE” AND THE NEAR-BURIED BOAT
It was a fine Easter Sunday in Ptown—warm enough to take off my shoes and walk along the beach behind 6A’s seasonally-shuttered hotels. The rash of violent weather earlier in the week had left more detritus than usual; I can always find small broken shells, but on that day, the beach was littered with so much uprooted seaweed the landscape resembled a scalp-peppered battlefield. I found skate cases, crab molts, a few dead fish, and posts from damaged piers. But the most interesting thing I came across was a near-buried boat.
A corner of the stern and part of the hull were still visible—even though its bow was completely buried to the point where it was impossible to tell there was anything under the sand at all. Although the vinyl letters that spelled out Kitti Wake were in relatively decent shape, I don’t know how long the boat had been there; it seems to me it would have taken awhile for it to get buried that deeply, but with the wildness of the ocean around Ptown, who knows?
I made a connection between this almost-buried boat and the intensely sad, elegantly rendered story “The Borges Cure” by Lynne Barrett. The piece opens with a woman’s recollection of a night decades earlier when she and her then “almost-former lover” spy the writer Borges on an escalator. Following the couple’s split, the woman struggles to understand and quell the pain by “read[ing] and re-read[ing]” Borges work “when I was unable to sleep.” Although she is confident that the Borges cure “will rid me of all but this old healed hurt, like a vaccination scar in a spot I can’t view without some contortion,” the story’s last line reads: “I could, I think, forget him [the lover] completely, if only I had not been with him when I saw Borges, which makes him unforgettable.”
I stood looking at the near-buried Kitti Wake and thought. It’s obvious the woman in the story needs to bury the memory of her lover so that she can move on with her life, but she doesn’t necessarily want to—otherwise she wouldn’t have chosen the very activity that reminds her of him as her shovel. She wants to hang on to that single night, perhaps because of its magic. How many of us do that? We bury most of what we need to forget, but don’t see the harm in leaving some of it above-ground, perhaps so we can find it again. What happens then, though, is that a sharp edge is left exposed—one that can poke us and hurt us all over again at any time, and sometimes when we least expect it.
 The storm on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 was so intense that not only were drains overflowing on Commercial Street in the East End, “The Pier Corp.’s crane barge sank,” according to the April 1 edition of The Provincetown Banner. You can read that article here: http://www.wickedlocal.com/provincetown/features/x1664785677/Provincetown-harbormaster-grapples-with-double-trouble
 “The Borges Cure” was published on March 22, 2010 as Firebox Fiction in Night Train. You can read the story here: http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/contents/barrett_fb.php
 Lynne Barrett, “The Borges Cure,” Night Train March 22, 2010, http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/contents/barrett_fb.php.
CLIFFS AND CRITICAL DECISIONS
A favorite short story is Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets.” Plot: ambitious employee climbs out an eleventh-floor window to retrieve his career-boosting project notes.
It’s a fine study in story structure—character, conflict, crisis, change—and an even better examination of that second element, conflict. Specifically, inner conflict. Conflict that so often happens when, just as in a good short story, we are trying to make a crucial decision. When we are torn asunder and asking ourselves, ‘should I do this, or not?’
A couple of weekends ago I went to Newport, Rhode Island. I went to visit friends and to reconnect with a very special place: the famous Cliff Walk, which lately I’d been pining to see. I walked with Mark and Melissa and beheld the cerulean sky, the peacock ocean, the swirling aquamarine eddies, the jagged cliff sides composed mostly of metamorphic rock.
We stopped at the head of Newport’s famous Forty Steps, which have been around for a couple of hundred years (although restored now—the originals were wood) and was where servants from the Mansions met to hang out. The steps cut between Ellison’s Rocks and Conrad’s Cave—places which, although a bit scary to reach, are navigable, and I’ve ventured to both in the past. It was high tide, though, so I couldn’t go to the cave (you can really only go to at low tide; during high, it’s like the pirate’s hole in Disney’s The Rescuers). So I instead descended the steps and shimmied through a chasm in the outcropping to stand on Ellison’s Rocks. When I got to the bottom, I looked straight up.
There were the steps, and the sheer cliff right beside it. The contrast struck me. I have some experience with rock climbing, and I remembered that when you’re going to rappel, it’s pretty intimidating to stand on that ledge and look down—it’ll be over quickly, but it induces vertigo. Even though the stairs take longer, the descent is less traumatic.
But either one will get a person to the same spot.
I put inner conflict over making a critical decision in this context. When we face that giant leap and contemplate a net-free plunge, it can be a long way down, baby. When we, however, break that conflict into smaller formations and conquer each one at a time, it may take longer, but it’s less overwhelming. And the outcome is the same.
One of the most interesting lines in “Contents” comes at a moment just after Tom has set his feet on the window ledge, when he’s “eleven stories above the street, staring into his own lighted apartment, odd and different-seeming now.” It occurred to me that after the conflict has been resolved and we’ve lived with the decision for a little while, we often look back on it and realize we’ve made the right choice. That the alternate life we could have led somehow looks odd.
And we may even forget why we thought the decision was so difficult to make in the first place.
 You can read Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” here–it does have a couple of MINOR typos–nothing significant enough to mess up the piece (yes, I did a line-by-line check)–but it’s free : http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/20302005/Deadman.htm
 This reference is from the Newport Comprehensive Land Use Plan, published by the City of Newport in–I’m making an assumption from the link–2005. Unfortunately, although there is a link to the PDF online, there really isn’t any publishing information. If you’d like to read the report—which is excellent in terms of wanting to know everything about Newport’s history, cultural, ecological, and geological resources—you can either click here (the PDF is posted directly on my site): comp_landuse_05 or visit this link: http://www.cityofnewport.com/departments/planning-zoning/maps-plans/pdf/comp_landuse_05.pdf
The information I’ve cited appears on page 1.
 Linda S. Manning, “An Amazing Stroll through Time…Walking the Walk…The Cliff Walk,” Rhode Island Roads: The Online Magazine of Travel, Life, Dining, and Entertainment for People Who Love Rhode Island, http://riroads.com/outdoors/cliff_walk.htm
 For more information about The Rescuers, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rescuers
 Jack Finney, “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” in Adventures in Appreciation Annotated Teacher’s Edition, ed. Judy Allen-Newberry, Anthony J. Buckley and Richard Tuerk (Orlando, San Diego, Chicago and Dallas: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), 102.
Melissa Martin-Ellis is an illustrator, writer and photographer, and Vice President and Creative Director of Millennial Publications. Her artwork and writing have been featured in numerous New England exhibits and galleries, as well as in print media such as the Redwood Review, Newport This Week, Newport Life Magazine, The Boston Globe, Horseman’s Yankee Peddler, The Newport Round Table Anthology and Balancing The Tides.
She is the author of three nonfiction books, The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, The Everything Photography Book and The Everything Ghost Hunting Book for Adams Media. She the co-moderator of the Newport Round Table Writers’ Group in Newport, Rhode Island. She is currently working on a graphic novel project about the disappearance of the honeybee and collaborating with her husband, author Mark Ellis, on a paranormal thriller novel.
You can check out her stunning photos of Newport at http://www.mellissart.com/.
LIFE AND DEATH AND STAR WARS IN THE DUNES
The great and terrible beauty in Robert Frost’s work.
I experience my first touch of regret
for a voyage undertaken
too early, while wholly too late.
~ Melissa Duckworth, from the poem “Adrift”, first published in The MacGuffin, 2004
On my last day in Provincetown there was one place I’d never been: The Dunes. While most known, probably, for the presence of dune shacks—where famous writers and artists stayed to work—they’re also a popular tourist destination. But when we pulled the car over at an entrance point on Route 6, I had no idea—although I’d seen pictures—what venturing in would mean.
In 1974, my father wrote a paper called “Robert Frost: An Alternate View.” Not a very exciting title, I know, but accurate. His paper establishes that “the stereotyped portrait of Robert Frost is that of an American romantic—a “Farmer Brown,” so to speak—who loved nature and wrote affectionately about it” and then posits to the contrary: that “Frost is presenting a view of natural process which is always uncaring and often cruel and heartless” and that he “pictures a dark and hostile world bent on breaking the spirit of man.”
My journey into The Dunes brought his thesis alive. Just like in Frost’s poetry, everywhere there was a strange beauty born of nature’s violence. Sea grasses whipped in the wind left intricate geometric patterns in the sand; a tree repeatedly brow-beaten by storms seemed to be rooted on both ends, forming a graceful arch; a freshly-dead seal carcass’ blood gleamed like a ruby against a monotonous beach. Simultaneously, there was the ugly presence of man-made objects in various states of decay. A rusted washing machine; shattered wine bottles; cracked and sand-filled plastic containers; splintered painted boards. This lent the landscape an unsettling air: these objects were alien beings in a warring world in which they couldn’t possibly survive.
But, as my father wrote, “The darkness, however, offers a strange fascination that entices man. It is a lure of beauty that is commingled with a lure of destruction.” The Dunes is a beautiful and irresistible danger-fraught wasteland.
Like many situations in life.
 Charles W. Petersen, Robert Frost: An Alternate View. (Unpublished: April 30, 1974), p. 1
 Ibid., p. 3
 Ibid., p.17
 Ibid., p. 8
This was taken from a high point up off of Route 6 and shows The Dunes, where we were headed. The body of water you see in this photo has an interesting history. Originally, it was called East Harbor, and was Provincetown fishing fleet’s winter home. 1868, however, brought the construction of a dike to accommodate a railway and a roadway (where several seasonal resorts and cottages sit now). In 1910, the US Geological Survey re-named the body of water Pilgrim Lake.
The name stuck until 2008, when the USGS agreed to change the name back to East Harbor. If you’d like a much more detailed history, here’s a great article by the Provincetown Banner’s Kaimi Rose Lum.
The video below shows the full panoramic view: from this hill, you can see Truro, P-Town, and the bay beyond.
* WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD: ANIMAL CARCASS. IF SQUEAMISH, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO CONTINUE, OR SCROLL QUICKLY DOWN THROUGH TO THE NEXT RED TYPE YOU SEE*
Major. Score. Well, for me, anyway. When we were sitting on this quiet beach with not a soul around us, we noticed two large sea birds picking away at a carcass—a stunning dollop of red against miles of brown monotony. “That looks like a seal,” Pete said. I don’t know how he could tell what it was from that far away, but it turned out he was right. I’ve never actually seen a beached dead mammal up close, and having volunteered at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and helped out with animal rehabilitation, this was exciting—and a perfect example of what I’d discovered on our journey about the violence of nature.
Although Pete noted he thought it odd there were only two birds around the carcass—two birds who politely stepped away and let me take my photos and then returned when I was done—the markings in the sand indicate that there probably had been more than just these two at one time. I also thought—because of the brightness of the blood, the moistness of the innards, and the lack of smell—that the animal had been killed very recently (within the past twelve hours, maybe?) and most likely washed ashore and was left behind as the tide started pulling out. I took these photos at 12:45, and the last high tide was at 11. So it could have either been left behind just then, or left behind earlier, when the tide pulled out at 4 in the morning. I’d probably have a better answer if I’d paid attention to how wet the sand was. I’m regretting that now.
Of course, nobody knows when or how this poor creature died. But I have my romantic notions about shark attacks and boat propellers because of the way the body is twisted. While there’s a possibility that the seal washed up intact and then a large animal ravaged it, I don’t know if coyotes or whatever would have left this much meat behind. WHERE ARE YOU, BRUCE SHILLINGLAW, MARINE BIO GUY EXTRAORDINAIRE? YOU’RE GOOD AT THIS STUFF! COMMENT!
Because I just wanted more for the record, the video below is a roundabout of the carcass. There’s no sound except the wind, so it’s actually eerie.
* END GRAPHIC CONTENT*
The video, below, shows Pete checking it out. It’s an old washing machine, turned upside-down, and it’s full of wine bottles and trash.
INTO THE OLD FOUNDATION
Let’s be honest: Provincetown is a giant sandbar. Many of the homes here are built on sand. Some have basements, but there are some that don’t, especially the older ones.
I had to opportunity to go exploring beneath one of the older homes here on Thursday. My next-door neighbor Pete had to go beneath a house to make sure there wasn’t anything that needed immediate attention, like broken water pipes. We opened up an access hatch in the kitchen floor and shimmied down a narrow ladder into a musty, spider-infested jigsaw puzzle of rocks and boulders.
The floor was beach sand peppered with brittle driftwood; mats of dried seaweed—probably from prior to the foundation’s caulking—were thick over old rusted sewer pipes and broken cement. What was most interesting were the concrete blocks stacked in odd places. “Holding up the joists,” Pete pointed out. “Just wedged in there. Totally unstable.”
Rooting around down there made me think. Sometimes a situation in life is like a house built on sand: even if the house itself is simultaneously old, familiar, comfortable, and charming, underneath, it can be unstable and full of issues and dead seaweed. My little journey served as a reminder that sometimes we need to make the decision on whether or not it’s worth it to make repairs—or simply let the damn thing fall into the sea.
Pictures and video of our trip below. The video is of a seaweed-jammed broken sewer pipe; we shined the flashlight on it so hopefully you can get a sense of what it looked like.
It hasn’t snowed much at all since I’ve been here; there has been only occasional “glitter snow”–a barely-noticeable afternoon squall that glints in the sunlight as it drifts to the ground. Here in P-Town’s East End, my daily experience has been that the sun shines and the temperature is crisp, but not unpleasant.
Back home, this would translate into people out and about and cars on the go. But that’s not the case. Perhaps it’s because it’s winter and the town has pretty much emptied—many businesses close and the homes around me are stalwart and silent. There is an eerie stillness in all this sunshine.
Yesterday, though, I got up, and could see out my bedroom window that the character of the morning light was different: it was dark and close. I pulled back the drapes and was startled to see the dormant rose bushes dusted with white and my tiny yard and picnic table frosted with a quarter-inch or so of the stuff.
I went outside, expecting it to be cold and more silent than usual; expecting what we get at home: the wind cuts through me, and it’s so quiet I can hear the flakes landing on those that had fallen before them.
But it was quite the opposite. It was so warm I only needed a sweater. The birds were singing. A couple of guys were chatting in front of a fence across the street (and one of them waved to me). And in the span of five minutes, a cable van, a heating truck, three passenger cars, two people riding bicycles, and someone jogging all sped past me. At the house across the street, two or three construction workers were banging boards around.
Apparently, there is a paint color called “Cape Cod Gray”—and it’s relatively standard. Behr, Olympic, Cabot Stain, Pittsburgh Paints, and several others (or maybe even all of them) have this color in their palettes. What’s odd is that when this place is the grayest, that is when it seems to come to life.
My yard and picnic table.
The sleeping rose bushes.
I like to call this the Lord of the Rings canopy. It’s in the garden adjacent to my house.
The view out my front door.
The view out my living room window.
My writing space — much darker than usual. I had to turn the interior lights on to work.
This is the house across the street. I love its monolithic quality in this light.
A similar shot, but I included it because, if you look closely, you can see a spot of the sun high above the house.
This is actually the front of my house. My condo is in the back.
Commercial Street, looking toward the Mailer house. Notice how well-traveled the street looks, and that it’s clear even though, at this point, the snow was still falling.
The sea beyond.
The Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in the snow. It hasn’t looked like this since I arrived.
The beach at low tide in the snow.
Another shot of the beach. I love the wasteland look of it.
This view, especially with the spot of sun above, reminded me of the ice planet of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.
Storms. I have always loved bad storms, even if I was simultaneously terrified of them. Right now, the storm that dumped a ton of snow back where I live in Connecticut earlier in the day has just arrived—only there isn’t any snow. There is wind. There is wind, and banging, and drums beating, and shaking, and slamming, and tremulous thunder, and glass breaking, and roaring.
We had a similar whopper here on Monday (although it was fifteen degrees warmer, at least, than it is outside right now). I was running back and forth between my apartment and the Mailer house, because there I was treated to a wonderful view of the angry waves (see photographs of the storm below). The sea smelled clean, like fresh vegetables and salt. And the wind moaned and shrieked like a thousand dying souls. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
But I’ve found that this extraordinary sound doesn’t only exist during storms here. Even at the close of a lovely day, I sit in my apartment and hear the wind moan and wail. Sometimes the house groans and creaks or even shakes, and nearby I can hear things banging: doors, mailboxes, real estate signs against the picket fences. It’s all very noisy.
But it is also incredibly atmospheric. I mentioned this to my next-door neighbor, Peter, who theorized that part of that wonderful noise is due to the proximity of the structures: the wind has plenty of small spaces to whistle through. I told him it was a frightening, but magical, sound. He sipped his beer and looked at me and said, “Once you’re used to it it’s not so great. Just everything you do, no matter what you’re doing, all you hear in the background is that moaning. Sometimes you hear things you can’t explain. When you’re here all alone, all winter long, you go wind crazy.”
I was wishing I could put that wind in a bottle and let it out back home, to see what “wind crazy” feels like.
Until ten minutes ago (yes, it’s a little after three a.m.). I heard glass breaking from somewhere. I roused from bed, climbed into layers of clothes, went out, walked around the house, checked all the windows and doors, and came up with nothing. Out of concern, I called Peter (feeling bad for waking him up, but seriously so terrified it really didn’t matter at the moment). He said, “thanks for checking—if you didn’t see anything, it’s probably okay.” He said he’d check everything again in daylight, but don’t worry about it, go back to bed and try to get some sleep.
I think I’ve gone wind crazy.
I don’t have the greatest camera, but if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the waves. This was taken from indoors.
THE LAST PEOPLE ON EARTH
Riches in the Ruins
In writing, as with any kind of intense pursuit, it’s important to have a balance while you’re doing it. I came up here to the Colony with a lot of work to do, and I’ve certainly achieved that. I even managed to get out to a few things—an art gallery opening, a wonderful dinner party at the Mailer house, a poetry reading. Last weekend, however, after working intensely for three or four days and only attending these events in the evenings, I realized I was feeling a little caged in. I wasn’t getting out enough.
Enter my next-door neighbor, Peter, and his friend Duff. They live here year-round and I definitely hold them among the coolest people I’ve ever met. During the first week I was here, I’d discussed with them my passion for abandoned places and urban exploring (something I do, in reality, very little of—I mostly just look at other explorer’s photos). And they had a surprise for me: some abandoned jewels just down the road apiece. Would I like to go? Hell, yeah!
So this past Sunday, although it was a bit nippy, it was sunny and a beautiful day to be out—in many ways, there’s no better weather in which to visit an abandoned place. All that beauty (especially by the sea) is so incongruous with the empty places, the rotting places, the places where, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the echoes of the lives that happened in them. I came home inspired; a new short story is cooking in my brain as we speak. In an odd way, all that incongruity—and being away from my keyboard for a full day—restored my balance.
Here are photos and videos of our day–we visited a base, most of which is now nature preserve and open to the public; some of it is still in use by local organizations, but the base ceased operations in 1985. The other building was a biology lab, and I’m not sure when that closed–although its closing pre-dated the late 1990s judging from graffiti on the walls.
Apparently, there are a couple more places, but we ran out of daylight. Here’s to hoping I get an opportunity to go see the rest before I leave!
Organized tour? NOT.
Walking Tour #1: A bit of background.
“[There’s just] all kinds of stuff out here…”
Next few pix: Seriously? This place is reminiscent of the set of The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, precursor to The Omega Man (Charlton Heston, 1971) and I Am Legend (Will Smith, 2007). [If you’ve never seen The Last Man on Earth, or don’t even have any clue what the hell I’m talking about, you owe it to yourself to rent it now.]
These are all single family homes.
There are four streets of them…
Peter on the Roof.
Home sweet home! Those trees’d be a pain in the ass if your dinner party guests had to get through them to find your front door. Yup, that’s me. Martini, anyone? May I bring your slippers?
Broken merry-go-round on the playground.
Many years ago, parents sat on this bench and watched their kids:
Here’s a shelter where people, most likely, waited for transportation:
We were pretty fascinated with this cover, which we could have probably pried open if we’d had a crowbar. Check out the design, the year, and the strange symbols. Drunken mischief? Or does somebody have, like, food and stuff socked away down there (I didn’t put the photo here, but beneath this cement platform there are what appear to be air vents).
Fallen electrical equipment. The storms out here do get pretty wild.
I’m not sure what caused this hole. It was in one of the front windows of a home–a window that would have most likely looked into the family room. Where a Christmas Tree probably would have been.
Interior. What’s with all the weird art?
Dormant dining room.
These trees reminded me of scenes in Sleepy Hollow.
Walking toward the sea.
The Abandoned Beach Cliff Adventure. This is truly great!
Nathan shot this while we were chatting.
An abandoned cistern. This view struck me as reminiscent of the pool area from which the piranha escaped in Piranha (1978).
I was fascinated by this creepy picnic area.
THE ABANDONED LAB
Obviously, someone was here before us…whoever it was drank his beer, but left a near-full pack of Marlboros.
From this point forward, we’re going counter-clockwise through the place. This was a loading door of some kind — the opening was large enough to fit a small vehicle through.
This is the area to the left of the door.
Notice this spiral painted on the wall–it looks like the same spiral painted on the man-hole cover I pointed out earlier. Weird.
Ceiling damage in one of the back rooms.
I’m always fascinated by fuse boxes that no longer work. This one I particularly liked because I swear it’s the same model I had in my house growing up. Or maybe they’re all the same anyway? I don’t know.
Could you imagine working in this dark hole? I think it would depress me.