The first tropical vacation I ever took was on my parents’ honeymoon. My mother had just turned 22, and she was pregnant with me. We all went to Bermuda, almost universally against our will. My father said that when we landed back in New York, my mother ran screaming and crying back into her parent’s arms; they were waiting for her at the exit gate. It was the first time she had been away from them for more than a night. It was the last tropical vacation we took for many, many years.
For most of my youth, we spent a month of every summer on a Northeastern Island —Fire Island, Block Island, Nantucket, Shelter Island, fucking Nova Scotia. The chilly weather and frigid water suited our Irish blood. My father got to display his manliness by showing us he could stay two or three hours jumping waves even after his skin turned blue. My mother liked that there were cultural things to do on rainy days — lectures at the town hall, or scrimshaw classes at the whaling museum.
From morning until night, she kept us on a tight schedule of activities. Vacations were not about relaxation; they were about experiencing something new, which is why we island hopped as soon as anything became too familiar.
In the coffee shop where my friend Sadie works, there are always three or four men who are there to see Sadie. They come in and out in a steady stream all day.
The men are not the average types you would see in a Blue Bottle coffee bar that is also a surfer apparel shop. There’s a man who wears an Andy Warhol banana shirt. There is a man who wears a fireman’s jacket, even though he is clearly beyond the fireman age. There is an old Italian man who wears cardigans. For a while, there was even a 6-year-old Chinese boy named Lu Ming, who lived with his family in the Buddhist temple around the corner.
Lu Ming would stop by the coffee shop every day looking for Sadie, even though she only works there, on average, once or twice a week. He brought her presents. He brought her food. He did her chores. He cleaned the bathroom. He harassed customers. It sounds like Lu Ming is a demon slave, but in actuality, he is just like most people— completely enamored with Sadie’s beauty. He ended up getting banned by the owner for being so annoyingly devoted.
Whenever I go into the coffee shop, I like to point out to Sadie that 80% of the customers are there to see her. The rest are just lost tourists. “They would never fire you,” I told her. “Or else this joint would go out of business.”