The Encroachment Paradox

Sunday: Stray Hours Alex and I are standing on a half mile stretch of sand along Founders Beach watching a middle-aged couple dip up and down between the fencepost and our line of vision. Their heads look like buoys, except bigger, more inflated. “Cidiots,” Alex calls them and then rolls his cigarette with a quick flare of the tongue. “How do you know?” I ask him. “I can tell – the way they made sure that we made sure that we saw them when they said hello.” “Officious,” I reply. It’s become the word I’ve used all week to describe strangers, bosses, situations, even inanimate objects. Alex drags a bare foot across the sand and marks an X that an incoming tide washes over. “My office.” It is Sunday and the incandescent warmth that has pocked our faces all afternoon is cooling into a cheerless shadow across the bay. Just light enough to still want us here. I watch receding sailboats cut against the angular striations of a wave and I feel motionless. Alex’s question pierces like a television broadcast from inside a rainforest: “What time’s your bus, man?” “6:42.” I say it mechanically. My head crowds with emails, out of office messages, sales reports, colleague greetings, and florescent lights. Daily puddles from within my publishing job circuit. 375 Houston Street, New York, NY, the headquarters of Penguin Group (USA). A monolith of a building. Corporate culture. But I am more than 90 miles east of Manhattan in the tiny town of Southold and, for what it’s worth, I have time to stave off the Monday morning chaos. I consider Alex’s verbiage: Cidiot. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the word. I recall countless after hours at Greenport’s Whiskey Wind watching over-served locals prattle on about the state of their town being overrun by fastidious, rich tourists during summer months. Cidiots, the male locals called them, before asking some of the younger, sexier, more “prone” girls if they could buy them a drink. I hadn’t thought about it then, but when Alex utters the word and then marks an X with his foot, I consider its implications. Addendum (in which we define the word Cidiot): Cidiot: (1) A male or female adult from Manhattan who enters a small town unaware of the town’s history, peoples, or culture; (2) One who spends less than two months, excluding summer months, in the town in which they’re visiting; (3) Conversely, a male or female, usually an adult, who has spent too long entrenched inside a city. Living in a Material World The Cidiot experience, as understood by locals, is twofold: Locals, possessing an uncanny sense that a tourist is a Cidiot, may feel encroached on, and possibly embarrassed to be in their own skin. Alex likes to tell a story about the scowls he received one afternoon upon walking back to his pickup truck in muddy work clothes. “It was as if they have never seen anybody do manual labor,” he had lamented. Despite this self-professed encroachment, however, locals understand that Cidiots are an invaluable function of the summer months – they supply important business for restaurant, maritime, and other industries while providing the North Fork with a renewed Updike-like aura, replete with board shorts, beach picnics, and starry-eyed romances. In short, the North Fork that is starkly quiet during the winter transforms to a popular destination that chaotically swarms as much as it beautifully mystifies. In the locals’ eyes, it’s nice to be wanted so badly. As much as Alex, an exemplar of generational Southold blood and modest income, wants to deny this, he cannot. So when I consider Alex’s story about the scowls he received, I am immediately confronted with doubt: Were they actual scowls or perceived scowls based on his personal mythology of the Cidiot? Were the tourists ardently admiring him instead of denigrating him? Were they even there at all? Myths about the Cidiot, and other myths for that matter, usually concern our distance to them, as well as our prejudices concerning their makeup. How can we insist that goldfish have three second memories if we do not swim in the bowl with them? Prejudices of the Cidiot are akin to many fears shared by locals across America, many of whom dread the day when their small town will turn into the next affluent metropolis, or more appropriately, the “next Nassau County.” They fear chain restaurants, parking lots, strip malls, gaudy houses, and other purveyors of a highly modernized, yet clustered world. Mostly, they just want to subsist in the North Fork’s natural beauty. And if nature has always been a vital part of these locals’ heritages, is it too not vital for the Cidiot? Neglecting their fancy clothing, the BMW’s, and other markers of a posh exterior, aren’t Cidiots just as concerned with getting back to nature as we are in preserving it? I surmise that if you were to ask Mr. Morgan Stanley where they should place the next Starbucks on the North Fork (three have failed already), he would blow off such a preposterous question. At least the optimist in me thinks so. What We Do When We Doubt Sunday holds on by the skin of its teeth. The anxiety of the bus drive to Manhattan dawns on me. “Why don’t you leave tomorrow?” Alex suggests. “We’ll go out tonight, sit by the dock, crack a few beers. Leave tomorrow man.” When Alex has doubt he comes to his self-proclaimed office at Founders Beach. Usually equipped with a kayak, Alex spends countless hours ruminating on his hobby, sailing, and his profession, wooden boat making. Our conversations converge and diverge on topics of music, poetry, physics, and the benefits of coastal living. Alex suggests again that I leave tomorrow and I begin to consider it. I play along and suggest to him we go out to Greenport to find vestiges of the bachelorette party we crashed the night before. Eight bachelorettes, all from Manhattan. I think of the scene: Alex and I sunburned and weary, trying to recapture Cidiots from last night who have surely made their way back to their city apartments. We wander side streets guided by porch lights for a glimpse of them, promising each other we won’t call them Cidiots when and if we find them. We don’t find them. We don’t even go to Greenport. I insist I’m catching the 6:42. Alex snarls and lights a cigarette. “Yuppy,” he says. It is precisely this insistence that has made me empathize with the Cidiot – no matter how many camping trips I do every year, no matter how much rubble and concrete and debris makes my eyes twitch with loathing, no matter how many shopping areas I try to avoid whilst in Manhattan. The fact is I have become an invariable part of the city’s narrative, even if that means making my weekend escape to the North Fork where I grew up and learned to love. And that’s the consequence Cidiots and non-Cidiots alike must endure: learning how to love a place that so virulently tries to reject you, that wants to be loved merely by itself. It is precisely why Alex calls me a Yuppy and not a Cidiot. It’s the word he’s preserved for me only. Once a year or so when Alex visits me in Manhattan he resembles a Viking trying to comprehend the inflated price of a hamburger. When I ask him why he couldn’t live in the city he replies, “Too much concrete. And plus, you can’t even smoke here anymore.”