Forum — From the December 2014 issue

Hammer Island

Download Pdf
Read Online

Over the Fourth of July holiday in 1985, when I was seventeen years old, the film producer Morris Walls took me to Hammer Island. This is an island shaped like a hammer off the coast of Friendship, Maine. The place could have sprung from someone’s jealous dream about white people. No roads, just boardwalks. Cars, bicycles, golf carts, skateboards, and roller skates were all illegal here. Hammer hearkened back to a more decorous time, before the invention of the wheel.

In obedience to strict unwritten rules, the women all wore white or yellow or Breton stripes, and the men wore button-down shirts and khaki shorts and boat shoes with no socks. Most of the houses dated to the Civil War or so and had not changed hands since then. They were called “cottages,” and no cottage could have fewer than six bedrooms or lack at least one colonnade, turret, or spire. Wicker porch furniture was mandatory, and you had to sit in it between the hours of 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. Whenever anybody walked by, you had to call, “Hello! Come up, come up! We’re picking crabs!” Or you had to say that if you owned the house and the person passing by owned a house on Hammer, too. If you had been coming to Hammer Island for thirty summers, renting the same house for $4,000 a week, you did not get summoned to a porch for crab picking. You were still looked upon as an interloper and a thug.

An untitled photograph by Emily Stein, from her series Saturday’s Mosh

An untitled photograph by Emily Stein, from her series Saturday’s Mosh

Morris Walls was famous for a number of good movies and for blinding a casting director in one eye when he punched her cheek with a collins glass. He was despised and feared by large numbers of people, yet he was smart enough to understand that, on Hammer, his brutal prerogatives did not obtain. Walking from the ferry, towing our luggage in a wooden-spoked cart, Morris flicked a cigarette butt over the boardwalk rail. A teenage boy walking behind us retrieved it. He jogged up to Morris, tapped him on the shoulder, and slipped the cigarette butt into his palm. “No littering,” said the boy. “I know you’re new here, but we take it pretty seriously. Technically, there’s a three-hundred-dollar fine. I’m not going to report you, but just so you know, most people would.”

In California or New York, threatening Morris Walls and handing him garbage would have been a sure way to get sworn at, slapped, doused with hot coffee. But Morris understood that attacking the boy would be pointless. The boy was of the island, and he spoke with the full authority of the place behind him. Slapping him would have made no more sense than slapping a tree or a patio brick. Morris put the cigarette butt into his pocket.

The boy was sixteen or seventeen, with a long, tan head. His ugliness was of a flagrant, crate-jawed kind that was itself a form of beauty, like the face of an expensive horse. He turned that face to me. “What’s your name?” he asked.

I told him: “Maxine.”

“Todd Greene,” he said, smirking as though he’d said something remarkable. When he saw that I was not going to break into applause or tears, he strode past me, making for the wharf. I turned and watched the sinews in his orange calves bunch and vanish with each swing of his dirty leather shoes.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 8

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year. Or purchase this issue on your iOS or Android devices for $6.99.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
is the author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a story collection. His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Own Goal,” appeared in the June 2010 issue.

More from Wells Tower:

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2017

A Dream Preferred

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Snowden’s Box

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Duce

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Prayer’s Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bee-Brained

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Mothers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Please enjoy this free article from Harper’s Magazine.