Decades ago, local visionary Jay Critchley created “P-Town, Inc. — Formerly Provincetown,” a satirical project in which he imagined the inevitable gentrification of the town and its transformation from a community where people actually lived to “a playground for the affluent.” In his conception, as I remember it, the entire town would become an arcade under a dome, and people would be hired to play central characters. I imagine there would have to have been a George Bryant, a Freddie Bubba, a Barbara Rushmore — and, without a doubt, there would have to have been a Paul Tasha.
Paul, who died last week at 71, represented a time and a place that would be foreign to most people now in town. His Provincetown still exists — just barely. I knew Paul for over 50 years, not as well as some who are reading this, but better than many others, and it is important that people have a sense of his world and its realities. (The Independent will publish an obituary in a later issue.)
Paul told me that once he was pulled over for some infraction, and the officer told him that he could also write him up for driving without a seat belt but would overlook it if he just put it on. “No,” Paul told the officer pleasantly. “You might as well give me the ticket. I just can’t be told what to do.”
I didn’t know Paul’s politics, but he had a libertarian streak. It was in his genes. His mother, Rose “Sunny” Tasha, once forced a park ranger to arrest her for picking beach plums in the dunes; he didn’t want to take in an old lady, but she gave him no choice, standing up for her rights to forage. His father, Herman, was also an irascible individualist. The Tashas were “a special family,” someone said, and no one would argue otherwise.
Sometimes I would not see Paul for months, but when I did it was always an occasion. Years ago, he showed me a great horned owl’s nest he had discovered over by Shank Painter Pond. He was supremely comfortable in the woods and dunes and knew them better than anyone since Johnny Alexander.
He knew the water world, too. Long ago, a photo of me with an enormous lobster claw — big as my arm — that I had found out at Hatches Harbor was published in the newspaper. A few days later, I was on the beach out at Wood End, and Paul waved to me from his boat, then leaped over the side and swam to shore, carrying what looked like a small child. He had just caught a monster lobster that dwarfed mine.
Paul recruited me to serve on the conservation commission; for a time we served together. But seeing Paul on a committee was like seeing a coyote in a cage: he was not comfortable in a restricted setting, following Robert’s Rules of Order. He was not a joiner, but he was an activist. Ask anyone at the Division of Marine Fisheries, at the Cape Cod National Seashore, or in town government. He always had an issue to pursue. I would answer the phone and he would say: “Got a minute?” An hour later, he would still be going on,often dragging me somewhere to see some problem first-hand.
Many know Paul’s dune shack, inherited from Sunny, in which Harry Kemp lived for a time. It is a beauty. Fewer know the world of Tasha Hill, or “Tashaville,” an eclectic assortment of shacks and cottages off Howland Street over which Paul presided. Visiting there is like going to an Alaskan hunting camp. It is hard to believe you are in Provincetown.
Paul was comfortable in the company of dogs and horses. For years, beachgoers would revel in seeing him riding one horse (bareback — no saddle, no seat belt) and leading another over the flats and into the water in the East End of town.
Another familiar sight was Paul in his truck. That was where I saw him last, sometime after Christmas, out at High Head, just off the highway where fishermen often clean their catches. He was sitting and watching the cars go by.
Who knows what he was thinking? I doubt he was feeling sorry for himself. He knew exactly who he was. Sal Del Deo, his godfather, said that Paul “lived his life exactly as he wanted to.” How many of us can say the same?