Is the Party Over on Fire Island?

The Four Percent


As a Fire Island veteran, Jory Stiefel had his summer weekend ritual down to a T.

He would leave work on Thursday, hop on the 3 p.m. train from Penn Station to catch the 5 p.m. Sayville ferry and arrive at Fire Island Pines, the hedonistic gay resort off the south shore of Long Island, in time for dinner. Over the weekend, he would hit at least two parties and crawl into bed around 4 a.m.

But not now. “I’ve not stayed up past 10 since I arrived,” said Mr. Stiefel, a 36-year-old software engineer, who fled his Manhattan apartment in March and has been camped out at his four-bedroom cedar-shingled house, a stone’s throw from the harbor. “There’s just nothing to do.”

Indeed, the party on this barrier island, with its fabled history as a hotbed of desire and dissipation, looks to be over this summer. The restaurants are closed for dining. The Pavilion dance club, where throngs of shirtless men would gyrate till dawn every weekend, is on hiatus. And Low Tea, the popular and boozy happy hour at the Blue Whale restaurant, is on hold.

“You used to walk up to Low Tea and kiss 40 people before you got to the bar,” said P.J. McAteer, an owner of the Blue Whale. “This was a sex-filled community. Now you can’t walk down the boardwalk holding hands.”

“I’ve had no cancellations,” said Bob Howard, 78, a fast-talking, longtime real estate broker in the Pines.

What has changed is the social scene. Late-night clubbing is out, smaller dinner parties are in. Day-trippers are gone, while weekend jaunts have turned into summer-long, work-from-home stays. Guests are being asked to take coronavirus tests. And houses are forming “quarantine pods” with intimate friends.

On the clothing-optional beaches and car-free boardwalks, designer swimwear has been replaced by fashionable face masks as the summer’s hot accessory.

Whether these measures will keep the coronavirus at bay, however, remains an open question, given the resort town’s hyper-social and sexualized scene.

“I see a rough summer ahead of trying to navigate all this,” said Jay Pagano, the president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association. There were already rumblings over the cloudy Memorial Day weekend. “Somebody was trying to have a party that sounded like it was going to be large-ish, and the police shut it down just as it was supposed to begin.”

The Pines is unique not only for its gay history, but also for a real-estate culture where the vast majority of the 565 houses are leased by large groups of New Yorkers who rent “shares,” paying $6,000 to $25,000 for a quarter share (one week each month for a bedroom).

“The very nature of the shared-house culture means that it’s so back and forth, there’s so much traffic,” said Jack Parlett, a British writer who is working on a book on Fire Island’s literary history. “The thing that makes it affordable for many is the thing that now makes it vulnerable.”

Yet, despite the potential for infection (Will bathrooms be properly sanitized between guests? How many people can squeeze into a hot tub safely? Are salt-and-pepper pots on the dinner table bad?), cancellations have been minimal.

“Anyone who has thought about it, and has two nickels to rub together, wants to get out of town,” Mr. Howard said. “The parade of men looking fabulous on the beach will go on as long as the weather is good.”

So homeowners and “den mothers” (the ones who organize the share) are trying to lay down social-distancing rules.

Despite Mr. Howard’s enthusiasm, the island may be much less crowded this year. Last summer, Mr. Stiefel had 35 guests staying at his house; Mr. Stiefel and his fiancé, Joshua Judge, were there most weekends. That number is down to 25, affected in part by Los Angeles guests unwilling to fly.

“Unlike last year there are only a few weeks on the schedule that are currently completely full,” said Mr. Stiefel, who purchased his home in 2013 and rents out the three guest rooms. “Normally at this point we would have a full house every week through September.”

Since each of the four bedrooms opens onto the deck, he is less concerned about the challenge of social distancing at home. Still, friends who plan to stay have been asked to take a test for coronavirus if they can. All five guests who stayed last weekend had been tested: three tested positive in March and recovered; two tested negative.

“Obviously that’s not foolproof and it’s not a guarantee, but at least it’s a data point in your risk calculation,” Mr. Stiefel said.

Some homeowners, especially older ones, are taking a more aggressive approach to social distancing.

Since arriving in mid-May, Mr. Krumholz has been heartened by how vigilant visitors are about wearing masks when walking outside, if little else. “Many boys are looking like the Lone Ranger’s wet dream, in tight hot shorts and no shirt,” he said in his Texas twang.

But not everyone is willing to take chances with strangers in the house.

“I’m with four of my closest friends, and we’ve created a pod,” said Justin Blake, 48, a public relations executive who has owned a house in the Pines since 2011. By agreeing to avoid anything but essential contact with outsiders, the five men feel confident relaxing restrictions within the home. “We mingle with each other.”

That means no pool parties, no hot-tub hopping, no dates back at the house.

“It’s going to be hard,” Mr. Blake added. “But it helps that I have a group of friends to enter this pod with because we’ll have some peer pressure to be careful.”

The diminished social calendar has other implications. Many parties are also vital fund-raisers. “The community has a long and important history of raising funds for important causes particularly around H.I.V.,” said Mr. Blake, who typically attends 10 such fund-raisers each summer, including Dancers Responding to AIDS.

Another potential casualty? Diversity. Fire Island has drawn a more diverse mix in recent years, but the virus appears to be setting that back this summer.

  • Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

“I think traditionally the Pines’s reputation was that it was predominantly for white muscle boys,” said Faris Al-Shathir, 38, a founder of Boffo, a nonprofit that held an arts festival in the Pines focused on inclusivity. (This year’s festival is canceled.) “There’s a lot more acceptance now of gender diversity, a bigger trans population, and, although it’s still very white, noticeably more brown and black bodies.”

With fewer weekenders and day-trippers, at least until the amenities open up, this summer may resemble the more privileged 1970s, when people like Calvin Klein and David Geffen would spend the season on Fire Island and dinner parties reigned supreme.

“You rented a house for the summer and it was a totally different environment,” said Mr. Howard, the broker, who describes it as the era of the velvet mafia.

While homeowners are settling in for the long haul, the outlook for guesthouses relying on short stays is bleak, in part because meals from restaurants are hard to come by. At the clothing-optional Belvedere Guest House on Cherry Grove, now one of the few black-owned businesses on the island, only two out of 38 rooms were booked in early June when it reopened. “If people can’t go out to eat anywhere, being open isn’t going to do much,” said Julian Dorcelien, 48, the owner.

Greg Scarnici, a D.J. and drag queen performer, had observed a similar thread on the gay dating app Grindr, which he said he checks to see which of his friends are on the island.

“A lot of people are using this safety net of saying, ‘Oh, I got it at the winter party, I got the antibodies,’” he said. “It’s the first time gay men have been happy to say they’re positive since 1980.”


Source link Real Estate

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.