I have always loved Provincetown. From my very first day here, well over 50 years ago, I knew I belonged.
I remember a long-ago conversation with the (late) cartoonist Howie Schneider. We were sitting at Ciro and Sal’s bar. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life (I was 22, maybe 23), and I responded: “I want to live in Provincetown.”
He pointed out, correctly, that that was not enough of a goal, and it turned out that my ambitions did force me to leave for a time — to Boston, Florida, California, and New Jersey — but even as I pursued educational and career opportunities, I always felt like I was sacrificing something. It always felt like a diaspora, and I always knew I would return. (Luckily, my wife, who was born on the Cape, felt the same way.)
The day I left to begin an exciting five-year adventure in California, flying out of Provincetown Airport, I pressed my head hard against the little airplane window to keep every bit of the dunes and Race Point Beach in sight for as long as I could, and when it was no longer possible, I almost let out a sob. Years later, back on the East Coast, but here for summers only, there was palpable pain in leaving town at the end of each August. Our children cried, and so did I, inside. All those other places I have lived, although having merits of their own, were not quite right; they did not fit me exactly.
I identify with Provincetown. It is my affiliation. I feel fortunate to be an American, but I reject populism and nationalism, and, given our terrible history, I do not believe in American exceptionalism. I am a straight white male, but I do not consciously choose my friends based on those criteria. (The unconscious is too weighty a subject for this column or this columnist.) I am vaguely Jewish, but long periods of time go by when this never even occurs to me (less so with the current spike in anti-Semitism). I vote Democratic but the party inspires me only in its contradistinction to Republicanism. It is not my identity. Provincetown is.
I love the town for what it represents, for its differentness, its quirkiness, its openness, its history. I love its beauty but also its humbler places. There is a triangle of space between Land’s End Hardware and the building next door that reveals the harbor: a shard of beauty in a parking lot! I love Bradford Street as much as Commercial. I love the steep hill on Bradford by the Grace Hall parking lot that almost kills me every time I bike up it and may someday kill me on the way down, and the one up Winslow to the monument and the COA. I love town government and being involved in decisions that affect the town, even when they are difficult and frustrating.
But it is mainly the people. There are people here who actually spend their days fishing, making art, or studying whales and coastal geology. We are certainly above the national average in all those categories. I feel bonded to the people who share this little space with me, whether I know them well or not. I feel especially bonded on these stark winter days, when only the hardy and optionless remain.
Yes, the people: the Portuguese, what’s left of them; the Jamaicans and the young Eastern and Central European workers; the drag queens. I love going to Stop & Shop. Hanging out in the produce aisle is a big part of my winter social life.
These thoughts come to mind on a cold and blustery January day, walking the empty streets, past all the vacant houses and closed shops and restaurants. I marvel at just how many tones of gray there are, how many tinctures of blue. The silence is wonderful.
We who stay the winter are a hardy lot. We don’t blame those who get away; we try not to feel superior. We are like the herring gull — survivors.