Fire Island, This Time

The hole appeared maybe in March. It was the size of—and as oddly shaped a trapezium as—a bad West Village

The hole appeared maybe in March. It was the size of—and as oddly shaped a trapezium as—a bad West Village studio.

The town’s dock becomes a short boardwalk that deposits arrivals deboarding the boat from the mainland at a cramped, poorly planned intersection; that is Cherry Grove, Fire Island’s entire tiny downtown.

So arrivals find that to their right is a restaurant, and then behind that a bar. Ahead of them is the walkway to a bar; and behind that the pizza parlor; and, a bit up, a store; and, nearer, a Prudential Douglas Elliman office. To their left is a tiny post office, another real estate office and a bar. In the middle of all this, essentially, is the hole.

As spring came, the hole became a bit of real estate in its own right. Rebar was posted. Eventually, a waist-high concrete wall was poured along its periphery. This work had been done, now and again, by different young men, white and Latino. Who employed them, and on whose behalf, was not clear. None seemed to be particularly skilled, but some of them were shirtless, and therefore were often photographed.

One particularly thin yet muscular young man, referred to around town as "the porn star," disappeared from his work at the hole for a day or two.

One of the joys of a small town, like this outpost on Fire Island with its entire physical presence described by just shy of 300 buildings, is that everyone knows absolutely everything, except the details of all those things, which are usually conveyed increasingly incorrectly as each person takes his turn with each story.

For one thing, it was unclear whether this workman had ever performed in a pornographic film, or whether the nickname only asserted the analogy between such performers and this guy with the slightly shaggy, swaggery demeanor.

The story was, according to people in town, that the porn star had brought his young daughter to town for a while. In her presence, his lover had made sexual comments to him.

"I want to suck your dick" was cited as one of these comments; an unsurprising thing to say to a lover, but less plausible in front of his young daughter.

Over this, or over something else, the young man had beaten his lover "to a pulp," according to two residents; had, they and others said, broken the other (older!) man’s jaw; and then been arrested and taken to the mainland for a day, or two, or more.

In any event, he did eventually return. The porn star’s hands, when I saw them, were mangled, every knuckle bloody. They looked like a Bonobo’s feet.

There was more. That had just been one of three altercations that day, according to a real estate agent downtown.

So progress on the hole was slow. As May came on, renters arrived to join the owners. The small grocery store opened. The island’s population exploded. The trees came in. Frogs began their screaming in the evenings. The big hole gained a small hole inside itself; a cinder-block heart, surrounded by a sand field, nestled inside the concrete retaining wall.

Memorial Day weekend, the real beginning of the season, came at last. According to what everyone said, it was a project of the pizza parlor.

"It’s an interesting idea to put a septic tank in the town square," said a landscape architect on Friday at noon. "I don’t know what to say about it."

He talked about it with an East Village landlord for a while.

"They should get Claes Oldenburg to do a big soft sculpture of a turd over it," said the architect.

The restaurant directly opposite the septic tank, the Island Breeze—newly rebuilt, again; that location has a long history of suspicious off-season fires—was putting up American flag bunting. "That’d make a cute little skirt," said the architect.

Fire Island, This Time