The Nantucket Aggression
Editor's note: In April of 2014, reclamation crews recovered a badly-damaged day-planner in the charred remains of what was once a four bedroom, three bathroom home with beach rights near the junction of Cliff Road and Madaket Road in Nantucket. The nine entries included here, restored through the meticulous efforts of the archivists at Boston University, are attributed to Chadwick (Chad) Fern, who was a private wealth manager at Peterson Morris. His words, filling almost 20 pages in the "Notes" section at the back of the planner, capture the tension and horror of those unsettling days in the mid-summer of 2013.
July 25, 2013 — 9:10pm
I am writing here now because it occurs to me that this is history — possibly even the defining moment of our lives. By all accounts our (summer) home is under attack.
This afternoon, all was normal in our offices. Arthur Black, the well-known real estate investor, was through for an after-lunch and, as always, I was engrossed in the conversation. Simply put, the man is a genius. He has judiciously applied his family's wealth in every major recession of the last thirty years, buying at the market's troughs and selling at its peaks, and making tens of millions along the way. (It would be indiscreet to go into more detail than that.) These are high times for him and, under our stewardship, his wealth has recently grown. He seemed pleased with the latest progress. He exchanged news with Mr. Morris, our managing partner and son of the founder, on some of their Princeton friends, and he told us in some detail about a sailing regatta — Hyannisport to Halifax — that he is planning to take part in at the end of August. He is really one of those supermen who combine business acumen with an adventurousness that I only wish I could emulate. He has, in the last ten years, also climbed Kilimanjaro and Rainier, and he has trekked extensively in the Serengeti and the Cotswolds.
At one point in the conversation I must admit that I drifted a bit, trying to remember who we were scheduled to eat with on Saturday, but I came to just as Mr. Black was delivering one of his characteristic aphorisms. He was talking about a painter his wife had commissioned to do the view from their place in Mackinac. "There are the business people and the creative people," he explained, "and I'm glad to be one of the business people." There was a pregnant pause. "Because we have enough money to tell the creative people what the heck to do!" Everyone burst out laughing and I was taking down what he said when my assistant, Laura, handed me a note. My wife needed to speak with me urgently and I excused myself, reluctantly.
Her voice sounded anxious from the first and I assumed it was something with one of the children. Taylor and Darcy and their cousin Parker are always getting into scrapes down on the island — knocking over sand castles, crashing their bicycles, setting fire to the moors. If it's not one thing, I've often said of them, it's another. My wife was on a different tack, though, and she informed me that she had just heard a horrifying story from Missy Lynch, who had phoned her from the parking lot at Siasconset beach. Apparently Missy and her kids were having turkey and cranberry sandwiches down by the water when suddenly they noticed a line of boats on the horizon motoring towards them at speed. What seemed at first like a single row apparently became an armada of small craft and several larger fishing vessels — they counted as many 90 of them — which kept coming until they began to run aground not 50 feet from shore. Missy said that each boat had at least five or six men aboard and that they quickly began unloading large wooden crates. She reported that the men were Spanish-looking (probably Puerto Rican or Dominican), but she and her children scampered away as soon as someone else on the shore (my wife thought it was one of the Caldwells from Weston though she wasn't sure) exclaimed that it looked like they had guns. The fast-spreading rumor, which was shortly thereafter suggested by the Boston radio stations, is that those who came ashore are a group of revolutionaries who are seeking to take over the island in protest of wages or inequality or something to that effect. They have apparently taken charge of Siasconset proper and have blocked the incoming roads, even to the Nantucket police department, who have formed a perimeter around every entry-point to the village.
My wife told me she was terrified and I tried to comfort her. "Be calm, Sweets," I said. "I'll be on my way soon." I thought of taking the high-speed ferry, as I was scheduled to do later in the day, but felt that something more urgent was needed. I snapped into action and asked Mr. Morris if any of his friends were planning on chartering down to Nantucket tonight. It turns out that several were, and he found me a place. He is a good man.
An attendant at Hanscom Field expressed surprise that I was heading toward the island and not keeping away from it. It will sound grandiose, but, like my ancestors who waged the revolution, fighting so proudly at Monmouth under General Charles Lee, I hope to show my mettle today. Except by proxy, we Ferns have not have not been a part of a good battle since that time, and, despite some fear, I feel a strange exhilaration at retaking the fight.
July 26 — 10:28am
It seems that this group of insurgents is more coordinated and skilled than we thought for in short order last night they took out the radio towers, seized the harbor and established control of downtown. Not four hours after we landed they had seized the airport, blocking the runways with cars and rubble that will make it impossible to land. The secret, it appears, is that they had legions on the inside. All of the summer help - the Jamaicans, Haitians, Bulgarians and Spanish types that we had come to trust so much — seem to be in league with those who landed yesterday. It is like an infestation that we allowed to happen; they were the benign stewards of our restaurants, shops and gardens and then, suddenly, as if commanded by a supernatural force, they bared their teeth and turned against us. In the town it is reported that they simply walked into the open police cruisers and drove them away (to a location that the authorities cannot find) and, with brutal efficiency, men who were gardeners and contractors by day, used their tools to bore holes in the hulls of every vessel in the docks, rendering them all unseaworthy. There are scores of them, and my neighbor, the Italian hedge fund manager from Rye, thinks they number almost as many as the summer residents of the island. By all accounts, they are very agitated.
I cannot grasp why they have done this — especially, why they have done it here. The fact is that this island is a goldmine for a working man. An industrious person can make 30, even 40 dollars an hour performing the most menial task, and those with some skill will make much more. All supplies can be marked up. All real estate, as long as it is built to historic code, will fetch a price that is easily double that of the same structure on the mainland. Hardly any of the women on the island cook themselves, so tasty meals are always at a premium, and when it comes to price there couldn't possibly be a less sensitive pool of consumers. If it is too cheap, it is often said, most won't even buy it.
Jean-Marie, a Haitian fellow who last week helped install cable in our downstairs entertainment room, confided in me that with the money he makes in a summer he could feed his whole family back home or send for three or four of them to live with him for the year. If he went back to his nation (which I know from the news is a seriously undesirable place) he could probably live like a king. Our country has never stopped providing opportunities like this one for those who are willing to work.
In any case, I have to confess - here and only here - that I am now frightened. A very small part of me (the ignoble part, I suppose) wishes that I had stayed in Boston last night. But it is important to be with my family, particularly if they try to take our homes. And I am taking some solace in the fact that I have always been quite respectful to those who are uprising now and that, despite the fact we live on a fairly fixed budget, I have always tipped at least twelve percent to anyone on the island who has given us decent service. Also, while the insurgents have apparently spoken very harshly to those with whom they've interacted, there are also very few reports of physical violence beyond a bad beating downtown last night. The victim, who was apparently very recalcitrant and but tipsy, had been mocking one of the men who was patrolling the streets, shouting ignorant epithets about Taco Bell or some nonsense like that.
With our communications knocked out, we are relying heavily on word of mouth. Many young, fit college-age men have been enlisted to run between homes spreading and collecting news. It calls to mind the days of the minutemen and makes me proud of our traditions. I have also just learned that, two streets over, a neighbor who made a fortune in IT has resurrected a satellite connection that he had before the island got broadband. I plan to make my way over there to see if I can learn more.
July 26 — 8:45pm
What I saw today at the Richardson's chilled me to the bone. The prevailing image on all of the web sites was a photo taken downtown this morning of a dead man — a man I happen to know — hung upside-down by his feet in the middle of Main Street. It is a bit grainy, but I can see the Toggery Shop in the background so I am fairly certain of the location. At first it seemed to me that he was wearing Nantucket reds, cinched tightly around his lower legs, but on closer examination I realized that he wore only shorts. The rest of his legs were covered in bright, pinkish blood. The major outlets were reporting he had been randomly pulled from his home on Orange Street and taken as an example by the insurgents. He was severely beaten, they said, and then shot when he began to fight back with a cobblestone he had loosened from the street.
His name was Tom Winter and he was in wealth management down in the city. He and his wife, Marybeth, were lovely people - long-time islanders. I remember dining with them shortly after my wife and I were married, more than fifteen years ago now, and the evening was delightful. He also had school-aged children. I cannot imagine their pain right now. I was physically traumatized by what I saw, and dry heaved in our washroom when I got home.
I feel quite helpless. We have no weapons to speak of (though some of our neighbors are trying to fashion things out garden sculptures and candelabra) and the latest word is that they are coming to homes and rounding up families.
I do not know what to do. At dusk I took the boys out in the front yard overlooking Dionis. They seem not to be too upset, though Darcy did cry a bit this morning after hearing his mother shrieking when I returned this afternoon. "It will never be the same here!" she kept saying. Gradually she quieted. I think she was so upset because, on top of everything this weekend, we have recently had to stay in the guest house. Her parents were down and, because they technically still own the property, we typically vacate the main house when they visit.
The boys played lacrosse with small sticks I had bought them earlier in the spring. A round, orange sun was setting, the moon rose behind me and Old Glory flapped on the patio. Wisps of eastward fog marched crisply across the dunes toward the sound and I found it hard to believe that anyone could ever threaten this paradise.
I focused especially on Taylor, who they say is most like me. He is still a boy, just 13 or 14, and I hope he stays that way a while longer. We have worked so hard to shelter him and his brother from the nastiness of this world, and I don't want him to lose out on childhood's joys. Comfortingly, he still spends the majority of his play time with his castles and knights (while others his age seem more interested in video games or skateboarding) and I am trying to get him to view this whole affair as something of an adventure.
"You need to watch out for your little brother," I told him.
"I shall do my best," he replied in the medieval English voice he likes to use.
If he can capitalize on the promise he has shown in recent squash lessons and get good recommendations from some people we know, I think St. Paul's or even Andover could be within reach. His mother is intent on Andover. If he did go to one of those places and earned a place on the squash team I really do think Dartmouth could be possible. We have legacies there on both sides of the family and I know a music professor, Emily Harter, a woman I dated before I met my wife. For once, she is not jealous and she has encouraged me to get back in touch with Emily sometime soon. Faculty children apparently have a 40% better chance of getting in than others so her daughters will have a tremendous advantage.
I cannot imagine what tomorrow will hold. And I am also perplexed as to why no one has come to our aid. An Internet report suggested that Congress and the Massachusetts legislature are locked in fierce debate over the proper course of action but time is truly of the essence.
July 27 — 5:31pm
When they came for us this morning, it was surprisingly uneventful. They pulled into our cul-de-sac in a Nantucket Island Tour bus and with a bull horn explained that we would be expected to board in ten minutes. They announced that we could bring what sounded like "one bah-pah" per family, which Darcy, who has already begun to take Spanish, correctly interpreted as "one backpack." They informed us that there would be food provided where we were going so we brought fresh underclothes, blankets, books and playing cards. We frantically made a round of the house, locking away valuables in our fireproof safe and looking for our battery-driven phone charger in case cell service should return.
I asked my wife if we should leave Taylor behind, whereupon she looked at me in utter shock. In my frantic state I had confused our son with Tucker, our dog. It is a mistake I have made before but this time it lacked any levity. Fortunately, I don't think the boy overheard. We locked the dog in the garage with an opened bag of dry food and a hastily-filled bucket of water.
Once we boarded the bus they searched our bag and then they searched the neighborhood for stragglers, weapons guns in hand. They suggested that they did not intend to harm us but warned that anyone who tried to escape would be shot.
We have been taken, with an ever-growing group of other summer residents, to the Miacomet Golf Club. We are surrounded on all sides by armed guards, some of whom have served us dinner or cleaned our yard. We have also learned that year-round residents, characterized by the insurgents as "neutrals," have been brought out to the course at Sankaty Head and are getting significantly better treatment.
That being said, I cannot complain about how we are being handled so far. We have been brought rations (crackers, water and apples) from a nearby provision store and no one has treated us harshly. At one point I gathered up the courage to move toward the pro shop and I called out to Robert, a well-known Jamaican from the Something Wonderful bakery, to ask how long we should expect to be detained. He turned to me and stared. I noticed his eyes were much less bloodshot than usual. "I don't know," he said firmly. "If we get what we want, it might just be a few hours." I asked if I could know their demands but he refused to say more.
Bus load after bus load has continued to roll in, and I would say that there are at least ten or fifteen thousand of us now. There is hardly any room at all to even sit, and when I went to do reconnaissance at an elevated tee box an hour ago, I noted that there seems to be a natural clustering of sorts, based, as near as I can tell, on secondary school affiliation. I would have thought it would be college, just for simplicity's sake, but perhaps in trying times like these we want to go back closer to our roots. My wife and I are on the border of St. Paul's and Miss Porter's, and Exeter and Loomis blankets are not far away. There also seems to be a "new money" area, for lack of a better term, which I could discern from all the dark hair and thick brows in the vicinity of the Par-Three eleventh.
Rumors are running rampant, the latest of which is that a family of strong athletes from Concord tried to swim off the island. Those who were bused in from Madaket lost sight of them and many speculated that they did not survive.
It is humid now but that should at least make it warm enough to sleep tonight. We — my God! We just heard the report of two clear gunshots and yelling from very nearby
July 27 — 8:15pm
Things have taken another bad turn. As I was writing earlier, it appears that a young man, just graduated from Bowdoin and scheduled to start at Booz in a week's time, had leapt the fence into the parking lot and made a mad dash up the slope toward the main road. Just as he crested the hill he was shot down by an insurgent marksman in full view of his family and all of those nearby. The guards shouted furiously at the assembled crowd and asked why they had to be so stupid.
"We do not want any more trouble!" shouted a heavyset Jamaican woman. "Please stay where you are and we will avoid any more trouble!" She seemed quite overcome and tears were streaming down her face.
An overheard conversation among the guards suggested to those nearby that there is a divide within the insurgent group with one faction seeking to up the ante on their demands and the others - who I gather are led by the Bulgarians and some native Irish — appealing for a bit more moderation. Apparently the State has already made some concessions but there does not appear to be an end in sight. The evening has become very still and quiet, and many seem to be inching closer to sleep.
I just returned from a gathering of the men from my class a few yards away. Peter Carney, whose name you will doubtless recognize and who is unquestionably the most successful man from our year, was holding court. He detailed first how his businesses were at a stage where they could probably run themselves and then he began to speculate about the sources of the uprising. "I can almost understand it," he explained, "having come from not so much myself. It's hard to be on the outside and sometimes you just want what you don't have. It can really burn you up. I've always believed, though, that if you persist and you really put in a hard day everyday that you will make it in this country. And my life has confirmed that belief." Many of us nodded. Carney had always exhibited a drive that we marveled at. "And so it's hard for me to be sitting here now. It really is. I feel like they have the wrong guy, you know, and without condoning what they're doing — whoever shot that kid, for instance, should be tortured to death — I don't really belong here. Hell, I was in their shoes once. It's not like I'm one of those assholes who was born on third and think they hit a triple." These were a few snorts and then Carney looked at me. I was surprised by his attention but I surmised we were on the same wave length. I gave him a nod to confirm that I understood his meaning. Perhaps, without my realizing it, he has recognized in me that empathy for the working man that he has and I have to say, in the midst of all this, I am still flattered by that.
The boys are quite scared now and we are trying to comfort them as we head toward sleep. Darcy won't stop asking about Taylor and whether he will be ok. He really loves that dog.
July 29 — 12:50pm
Yesterday was uneventful, relatively speaking, but this morning's activity leads me to believe that things are nearing a head. The day started with many complaining about the heat, the diminishing amounts of food and water, and the increasingly oppressive smells. Given the humidity, the human body odor is unpleasant and a change in winds has carried the scent of urine and other waste from the toileting area in our direction. Rich Roosevelt, who is also from my class, quipped that it smells like the men's room at a Bruin's game (or at least what we've heard a men's room at a Bruin's game smells like). It was the only time I came close to smiling all day. My wife, who has a very weak stomach, was terribly nauseated.
The turning point, however, came just a few hours ago, when a squad of the black insurgents and the Hispanic-looking bunch began walking through the collected throng, holding guns and, for lack of a better term, "grazing." Over the course of an hour they had identified and cordoned off around the fourteenth hole a group of mostly young and attractive women with some slightly older but also attractive wives, as well. A Jamaican who looked familiar came by our area and scrutinized the women there, dwelling on my wife for a moment but finally selecting the 19-year-old daughter of our dear friends, the Wilsons. Her name is Lizzy and she is a beauty with flawless skin, very blond hair and a figure that my wife once said could "simply not be improved." She protested and her father, Chris, said, "Absolutely not," but the Jamaican lifted his gun and jammed it into his ribs.
"You shut the fuck up. Nobody gonna hurt her," the Jamaican said. And they shepherded her into the main club house where the guards appear to have been sleeping. There was a terrible silence for ten or fifteen minutes, broken suddenly by the crying and shouting of a heavily-jeweled woman above the fairway bunker on the Par Three. Her husband was trying to console her. "$150,000 dollars worth of fucking work," she hissed between sobs, "and they didn't even look at me!" Her outburst made everyone in our section cringe. People lose perspective in moments like this.
The outcry since then has been enormous. A group of young men, near where the new money group is gathered, is said to be planning an all-out attack of some kind, and my peers have arranged a series of strategic conversations to happen over the next two days. The hope is that we will arrive at a charter of some kind to take us forward. And there is also another rumor — they are just incessant now — that one of Carney's old roommates from Harvard is orchestrating something big. What it is, no one can say, but it seems to involve action of some kind.
July 29 — 9:42pm
I am writing now by the light of my watch and I suspect that this could be my last entry. What a terribly final-sounding thing to say. But, nonetheless, I have been cut in on a plan, and I expect to be taking some action shortly. John Thomson, a defense contractor we know from the DC area, was able to roam on his cell phone and pick up a signal last night. He has authorized his men to drive one of their demo helicopters to Rhode Island and to launch it — fully armed. He expects they will come in on the insurgents' headquarters sometime past midnight and when we see the first explosion we've agreed to try to overtake the guards.
In the last few hours I have tried to impart some wisdom to the boys and, without giving us away, say a few good-byes to our friends and neighbors. I am especially relieved to have closed on a friendly note with Seth Ames, who has lived next door to us on the cul-de-sac for many years now. Last summer we had a serious dispute when his wife's Suburban and his Tahoe had made it difficult for the rest of us on the circle to park (particularly since we had just gotten a new Tahoe ourselves); we didn't address the issue directly, but we did agree to let bygones be bygones.
I am especially glad about how I am leaving things with my wife. She is very dear to me but for several months she has not communicated with me very much. In these past days, though, her spirit seems to have returned and she is treating me to the same sharp wit and energetic challenges that I have come to understand as her way of showing affection. I think our problem started in the spring when we took her to Mass General for some severe abdominal pain. We learned that she had ovarian cysts — not altogether uncommon but apparently quite uncomfortable. We had to have detailed conversations with the doctor about, for lack of a better way to say it, her female area, and it was in the course of one of these conversations that I made a mistake that I believe brought on her upset. When the doctor inquired about her "cycles" and she reported that they were normal I forgot myself for a moment and remarked that I was not aware that she had them. While I was vaguely familiar with what they entailed I hadn't seen any evidence of them in our married life, and knowing the women in her family, who are all so vibrant and healthy and blond — well, it just did not seem to me like something they would do. I realize in hindsight, of course, that I was being terribly naïaut;ve but I thought my comment could really be taken as a compliment. She seemed embarrassed and withdrawn after that, and I have wanted to make it up to her ever since.
Tonight, though, I told her I loved her very much and she smiled sweetly when I did so. She said she would take good care of the boys and told me to be very careful out there. It was impulsive but I kissed her right out in the open as I had done once when we were courting and, though she recoiled a bit, I did not sense that she was unhappy. I asked her if she had any regrets if anything were to happen to us and she replied that she "only wished she had cheated on me with more men." There was pregnant pause and then she chortled that chortle of hers. "I'm kidding, of course." She got me pretty good, I must confess, and I laughed a bit at having been fooled by her yet again.
As for my own regrets, I feel fortunate to say that I have very few. I have had a good job, been fortunate in my family life, and visited wonderful places including most of Europe and, in my wild younger days, Japan. I saw the Kentucky Derby and the changing of the guard, and have accumulated at home what most visitors tell me is the most extensive collection of Native American arrowheads that they have ever seen. I can say without modesty that I am a good to very good squash player, depending on the competition, and I have never been overweight, except as a very young child. I suppose I do wish — dearly wish really — that I had been accepted at Dartmouth, but I often reflect that things have turned out nearly as I would have hoped had I gone there, and Middlebury really has quite a good reputation these days. Sure, I think I might have tried a few more things and perhaps found a way to have a bit more of a connection with a few more people but I have done the best I can, I think. I do wonder, as anyone might, whether I am leaving this world better than I found it but that, again, is awfully terminal thinking, and there is no reason to believe that, in a week's time, I won't be right back at my desk, tending to business as usual.
Despite the smells and the general anxiety I sense around me now, I am quite at peace. I hope I will show courage in the coming hours.
[Editor's note: The final two entries, which we assume were written on the same night and early the next morning, are difficult to read due to water damage and the fact that Fern may well have been writing in the darkness, as evidenced by several sentences that are written on top of one another.]
There are fires in the distanc which we don't think are from helicopter They probably set by the insurgenttss.
We hear them nw we have hidden in the finished basbasement of someone who must have done very well at United Airlines. There are small replica planess everywhere. They are shouti right outside.
I love my family
Editor's note: The entries end here and we expect that Fern and his cohorts were killed shortly thereafter. His body was one of fifty-four recovered after the events of that night, the majority of which were found very close to the golf course camps. He appears to have made it another mile and a half on foot with three others to the abandoned basement of the home where the day planner was found. The next day, as the contemporary reader well knows, Congress declared the insurgents (lately called "peaceful protestors" by their defenders) terrorist agents and asserted that it would not negotiate with the consensus demands of the occupiers, which included $1million each, perpetual annuities and guaranteed admission to Ivy League universities for their children. On August 4th, National Guard members from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, supported by the Coast Guard, stormed Nantucket and took back control with relative efficiency. In two days of fighting six enemy combatants and one US serviceman were killed, along with 87 civilians who were caught in the crossfire or otherwise harmed in the reoccupation process. Military and legal proceedings exploring the sources of these tragic events are ongoing though it is certainly the case that the attitudes of the nation are forever altered.
A final postscript that will perhaps comfort the reader and Chad Fern himself, if he is watching from another place: On September 13th of this fall, Tucker Fern, who recounted the experience of late July and early August 2013 for his admission essay, will start his first day of school at Phillips Andover Academy.