Our friend Janet has had a Cape Cod vacation condo in Wellfleet for years. And for years she’s encouraged Richard and me to come for a visit while she was there, or to simply go and use her place at our leisure. Somehow, we never managed to take Janet up on her offer before this week – just shy of the closing that will make Janet’s condo someone else’s condo.
“Talk about getting in under the wire,” Janet joked as she gave us a set of keys. “When you leave, please just strip the bed and sweep up on your way out the door.”
Richard and I packed a couple of changes of clothes and a bag of dog supplies – food, toys, bones, bowls, bed – before setting out with Willie on our journey, a beautiful autumn drive that took us north and east past Boston and finally out onto the cape. Once there, the shoulder of Route 6 occasionally gave way to sand and sawgrass and views to open water; I stroked the sleeping dog on my lap and studied Richard’s profile in the soft, late afternoon light, my thoughts wandering to Kennedys and Styrons and Vonneguts, to the generations of Brahmins who made the Cape their playground.
Janet’s condo is comfortable and surprisingly well furnished for a place about to be sold, complete with art on the walls and dishes in the cupboards. After we dropped our bags and put away the groceries, we drove into town at last light and followed our noses toward the harbor to find some dinner – including my first ever Oysters Rockefeller. I’ve never been to Cape Cod, and Richard hasn’t been here since he was five years old when he lost his grip on his mother’s hand and went tumbling and gasping in the surf. We had nothing planned for this trip, no expectation beyond a little down time and a change of scenery. Bliss.
The next day, after breakfast and a leisurely morning that stretched until noon reading Colm Toibin (Richard) and Ann Patchett (me), we realized we were in close proximity of Provincetown – a favorite and regular vacation destination of our newlywed friends Suzanne and Elaine. Provincetown, a holiday mecca for gays and lesbians, is a place that, in my mind, exists as some sort of sandy, salty, Oz by the sea. At the end of a rainbow, of course.
After lunch at the same restaurant on Wellfleet Harbor, Richard and I decided to drive the half hour or so to Provincetown for a look around; we’d take Willie for his afternoon walk, drop something at the post office, find a place for a haircut, and maybe stick around late enough for dinner. Once in town, we followed the shore road to the first oyster-shell covered parking lot we saw; we paid the attendant, put Willie on his leash, and – carrying a small gray tote with bottled water and a zip bag of dog food – the three of us walked toward the center of town.
The harbor and the seaside New England architecture was charming, though even this late in the season, the single lane shore road was flanked with tourists – pairs and pods of lesbians, mostly, since we’d arrived in the middle of “Women’s Week”. Several women we encountered stopped to greet and pet and fuss over Willie — and a few of them also said hello to us.
There were many restaurants and bars and galleries along this strip, with a mix of the usual tourist retail that included jewelry, fragrances, t-shirts, tiaras, ice-cream, espresso, and the like. Every two blocks or so, the stores seemed to repeat – more art galleries featuring fanciful fish sculptures, another coffee or ice cream shop. The closer we came to town center the more people and vehicles and dogs we encountered, and the more narrow the sidewalk became — so narrow, in fact, that it was necessary to step out into the street to get around window-shoppers. In a moment of congestion and confusion, with slow-moving BMWs passing by within inches, I scooped Willie up to navigate around a group of women with brush-cuts and a FedEx truck with its flashers on. I glanced left as I stepped off the curb and saw an unexpected and unsettling vision reflected in the plate glass window of a souvenir shop: there, looking back at me from Provincetown’s main drag was a middle-aged man in a ball cap, shades, and wool vest, a toy-breed dog nestled in his arms and a tote bag hanging off his elbow.
I’d never looked – or felt – more gay in my life.