A summer on Fire Island

By the time I was 19 I couldn’t handle another endless summer in Ireland. I was still living at home, there was scarcely a fast food outlet in Dublin that hadn’t fired me and I had so many ketchup sodden uniforms that there was a real danger that one day I’d just lose it and wear my Pizza Hut pinafore to my job as Bewley’s coffee wench.
So like all frustrated young men I went online. I googled the words “beach” “gay” and “job” and a smorgasbord of resorts in America popped up. Obviously I went for the one which seemed the most debauched. Fire Island looked sort of like the Playboy Mansion with twinks instead of bunnies and because (weirdly) it was also listed in USIT’s student guide I was able to convince my parents that it was faintly respectable.
My first clue that this wasn’t going to be a normal job was the management request that I send in a picture of myself “wearing shorts and a t-shirt” along with my application. Some people might have seen such a demand and suspected some kind of people trafficking outfit but I was more flattered than anything when they said they’d take me. My attitude was, ‘who cares if they take my passport and force me into a life of slavery; at least they noticed my pecs’.
After a plane to New York, a train ride to the westerly tip of long Island and a ferry ride I landed on Fire Island. It was as beautiful as advertised. There were no roads, only little wooden walkways and at the waterside café rich gays sat sipping gigantic cocktails and wiping traces of cocaine from their noses. Strains of Cher drifted from the speakers. I ran down to the beach and jumped in the turquoise sea.
That would be my last swim for a while. Remember the poor old man in the video for ‘Shiny Happy People’? The one who does all the pedalling while Michael Stipe and friends bop out front? Well I was going to be the underpaid pedaller that kept this godforsaken gay Hampton moving.
After drying off and enduring the catcalls at my lack of a tan I was brought down to be introduced to my new boss. John White was the first male fashion model in the world to earn over 100k a year but by the time I stood shivering before him he had become a sort of gay Citizen Kane and sat around counting his own money. Under the watchful eye of his harpy-in-chief, Megan, I started my first day with a 16-hour shift after which I was pronounced a “huge disappointment” (I think I’d sold Bewley’s as “five star waiter experience”). I didn’t even know how to swipe a credit card.
Despite my general uselessness Karen had no problem working me to the bone. In her nasal “Lawngk Island” whine she would give me little lectures about how she herself had three jobs – one of these was doorman at the local nightclub and she wouldn’t let me in if I had a shift the next morning – and how “I wasn’t in Ireland now.” My ‘colleagues’ – a motley crew of hustlers, grifters and disused actors – weren’t much help. If they felt I was flagging on a shift or feeling annoyed because a patron called me “boy” (as in: “get over here boy”) they’d offer me “a bump.” Ketamine is packed with vitamins and minerals, apparently.
Fire Island is divided into separate gay and lesbian communities (actually there’s some straight areas too but they’re tucked discreetly away) and the differences were instructive. In the lesbian area – Cherry Grove – the houses are little Hansel and Gretal-ish wooden huts, still not quite finished and just crying out for a few home repairs. In the Pines, where A-gays like Calvin Klein and David Geffen spend their summers, the places are more like Barbie Dream Homes. Nobody touches a carb after noon and the little convenience store sells such essentials as lubricant and caviar. These two areas were divided down by the infamous “meat rack” – a place where men got biblical, al fresco. I lived in the Grove but worked in the Pines so I had to run this gauntlet nightly. When you’ve been serving burgers for 18 hours an orgy is really the last thing you want to see.
I somehow survived the Fourth of July and The Invasion – an annual contingent of drag queens who take over the Pines for one day – but with Labor Day fast approaching Megan finally gave me my marching orders. I was given one night to leave “steerage” (fittingly named after the 3rd class quarters in the Titanic). The boat left Fire Island in the dead of night and I vowed never again to set foot in a gay resort.
John White died a couple of years after that and a conglomerate of young businessmen inherited the meat rack and the Barbie dream homes. Ten years later I’m also back in New York and a friend of mine wants us to take “a share” in a house on the island this summer. The plan was to make a triumphant return to the restaurant I worked at and lord it over my former slavemistress, perhaps leaving a large tip to show how far I’d come in the world and that there were no hard feelings. That was before the crash. Now I’m just hoping that the bed bugs are not as bad in steerage. And that I can still pull off those shorts.

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~ by Donal Lynch on October 9, 2009.

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