Authors: Philip R. Craig
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For Bill and Vicki Tapply, Fly-casters, friends, and fellow scribblers
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
We were having lovely June weather. Our children, Joshua and Diana, had only a few more days of school and their mother had already added another pistol-shooting trophy to the growing collection she kept stowed away in our guest room closet. It was still a few weeks before the Glorious Fourth, which would semi-officially announce the start of the summer season on Martha's Vineyard, but already the streets and roads were full of off-island cars. Golfers were crowding the courses, and the beaches were almost full.
At one of these beaches, alas, we'd already had our first drowning: a teenage girl from New Haven who had been partying one night with friends at Great Rock Bight. Almost every year, it seemed, the island's lovely waters lured some unwary swimmer to early doom, reminding us all that our Edenic island was not the perfect paradise many believed it to be. The young girl's death struck us a bit closer to the bone than most because Manny Fonseca, Zee's shooting instructor, knew her father, and the father's hurt had in part been communicated to us through Manny. Moreover, Zee had been on duty at the hospital when the EMTs brought in the girl's body.
But life doesn't stop for death, and more people were arriving on the Vineyard every day. Houses were being opened for the summer, and on the bike paths the galloping moms were running behind their tricycle
baby carriages, couples were strolling, joggers were jogging, and even a few bikers were biking.
Bikes staying on the bike paths did not apply to the island's pro bikers, known to me collectively as Captain Spandex and the Tight Pants Bicycle Squadron, who appeared every summer like thorny flowers. Captain Spandex's real name was Henry Highsmith, and he and his cohortsâsinewy, forward-leaning, fast-pedaling folk decked out in skintight pants, bright shirts, and aerodynamic helmetsâscorned the bike paths as being too slow and dangerous. They kept to the paved roads, challenging cars for the right of way and taking great umbrage when the irritated occupants of passing automobiles rolled down their windows and screamed, “Bike path!”
I had not screamed that scream although I shared the view of the island plebeians that all bikers, including Captain Spandex and his ilk, should use the bike paths, because our narrow roads, especially the up-island ones, are dangerous even for cars, to say nothing of bikes.
Some, including my rich businessman friend Glen Norton and his golfing cronies, were less restrained when they read letters to the editors of the Vineyard papers written by the Captain Spandex/Henry Highsmith crowd claiming the high moral ground in transportation matters, contemptuously contrasting their silent, nonpolluting bikes with noisy, gas-guzzling cars and especially the four-wheel-drive SUVs that are so popular on the island. Henry Highsmith himself repeatedly extolled the physical, psychological, spiritual, and ecological merits of his daily bike ride from his home in Chilmark to Vineyard Haven, to Oak Bluffs, to Edgartown, to West Tisbury, and back to Chilmark, while condemning drivers of SUVs who made similar trips.
Two such SUVs belonged to my wife Zee and me. We, like many islanders, used our trucks to drive over sand, especially to the far fishing spots on Chappaquiddick and, like other people who live at the ends of long driveways, to plow through the occasionally heavy winter snows. We were quite unapologetic about our SUVs and doubted if Captain Spandex could use his bike to do what we do with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
I was both irked and amused by the cyclist-golfer wars because both sides were so morally pretentious, and snobbery in all forms, including my own when I remember to think about it, offends me.
Glen Norton was annoyed not only by Captain Spandex's campaign against SUVs but also by his other haute-environmentalist views. Henry Highsmith seemed to oppose everything from widening the island's narrow roads, to increasing the number of bike paths, to approving new housing developments, to golf courses in general, including those that were already extant. The last was particularly infuriating to Glen and his pals because to them nothing was more inspiring than undulating fairways, sand traps, and challenging greens.
Thus the letters to the editor from Captain Spandex and his Bicycle Squadron predictably elicited responding epistles from Glen and other even angrier golfers, including one Jasper Jernigan, whose letters were filled with a satirical venom that amused Captain Spandex and his followers not at all, as their answering letters made clear.
“Why do they write those things?” asked Zee, putting down the Friday
we'd picked up on the way home. “All they do is annoy each other.”
“It's like getting rid of stomach gas,” I said. “They feel better afterward.”
I knew whereof I spoke, since every couple of years I wrote a letter protesting the annual closing of Norton Point Beach to SUVs by the Fish and Wildlife people in their ongoing vain effort to increase the population of piping plovers. My position was that the closings did next to nothing to help the plovers and were therefore simply another governmental exercise in stupidity; the triumph of dogma over data. My letters accomplished nothing, of course.
“I don't think I'll pursue the gas analogy,” said Zee, “although it tempts me to make an odiferous wisecrack.”
We had just come home from a Saturday-morning swim and were still in our bathing suits while the kids took turns washing off sand and salt in the outdoor shower. I put my arm around her waist. “Wives aren't supposed to make fun of their husbands. I'll bet Captain Spandex's wife doesn't make fun of him.”
“I have trouble believing that Henry Highsmith has a wife,” said Zee. “At least I can't imagine anyone marrying a man as uptight and self-righteous as Henry.”
“Me neither,” I said, although we both knew full well that Captain Spandex was, indeed, married. According to the letters from Henry's defenders, which hotly contrasted his obvious virtues with Glen Norton's and Jasper Jernigan's clear lack of the same, Highsmith was not only an acute moralist and cyclist supreme, but a brilliant Ivy League professor married to an equally brilliant Ivy League professor who, with their two beautiful children, shared his passion for both ethics and the cycling life.
“Maybe we should stop fighting him and join him,” said Zee, running her hands up my bare back. “We can pump up the tires on those bikes you got in that yard sale three years ago, and get some exercise.” She
brought her hands back down and rested them at my waist. “You might lose these love handles you're developing.”
“You're imagining things,” I said. “I don't have love handles. I'm a perfect physical specimen. Look at this.” I released my right arm and flexed it. The bicep was somewhere this side of Mr. Universe's but it looked pretty good, I thought.
“That's your casting and drinking arm,” said Zee. “It gets plenty of exercise. I'm talking about the rest of you.”
I leered down at her. “Other parts of me get exercise too, my sweet.”
She kissed my naked chest. “True, but if the brain is a muscle, Captain Spandex would agree with me that yours could use a workout at least once a day.”
I released her and raised my hands to the gods. “Everybody wants me to get exercise. First Glen Norton and now you. I get plenty of exercise.”
“How long has it been since we took a long walk?”
“Fishing is exercise. Clamming is exercise.”
“How about drinking and napping in the yard?”
“Man does not live by bread alone, and I need my rest.”
Joshua came in, drying himself with his big towel.
“The beach was good, Mom. Let's go again this afternoon.”
“Why not?” said Zee. “How about going down to Katama so your father can get some quahogs while the rest of us swim?”
“Can we play in the surf?”
“If it's not too rough,” I said. “We can go about three, when everyone else is heading home.”
“Oh, good! And afterward will you help me with my homework? I'm writing about the color wheel.”
Joshua went to his room to change into summer shorts.
“What's a color wheel?” I asked Zee.
“I advise you to beat your son to the computer and learn something about it before you start helping him.”
It was a good plan. I said, “Glen Norton wants the pleasure of my company.”
“What does he want you to do?” asked Zee.
“He wants me to play golf, of course. Glen can't imagine anything better than playing golf.”
She arched a brow. “Well, I guess that might not be a bad idea, if you walk and carry your own clubs. How long is a golf course? Several thousand yards, I seem to remember reading somewhere. If you walk that far, it'd be good for your legs.”
“My legs are beautiful and manly just as they are.”
Actually, my legs were far from beautiful. They'd taken shrapnel in a long-ago, faraway war, and since then other scars had been added.
Diana came in, wrapped in her towel.
“I'm hungry. Can I have something to eat?”
Diana was almost always hungry, and like her mother she could eat like a bear. However, unlike Zee, who, to the disgust of her women friends, never gained a pound, Diana was growing steadily.
“Change clothes and you can have a sandwich.”
“Can we really go to the beach again this afternoon?”
“Have you been talking with your brother?”
“Yes. Can we go?”
“Sure,” I said. “The plan has already been made.”
Diana smiled the smile that made her look like a miniature Zee. “Excellent!” She went on to her room.
I looked at Zee. “Quahogging is exercise,” I said.
She sighed. “Doesn't Glen support that new golf club everybody was so up in arms about? Pin Oaks, the one that's going to cost so much money to join?”
“Another reason for me not to play golf. I could never afford to belong to that club. It's for people like Glen, with a lot more money than I'll ever have.”
“They have to build it before Glen can join it, and Henry Highsmith isn't the only person to oppose it. But I know a lot of ordinary people who play golf on the courses we already have. You don't have to be rich to play golf.”