@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
The first time I went to Cherry Grove, I was only a child. Cherry Grove, of course, is the notorious gay town of Fire Island. It’s so notorious, that some people associate all of Fire Island as being this sort of gay sanctuary. This is not entirely true. Fire Island is a special place, with many towns, all with their own little personalities. I was lucky enough to grow up on the south shore of Long Island, where, my dad owned a small boat and our family spent our summers going back and forth from the main land to the barrier island off Long Island.
Fire Island has its many benefits. They’re beautiful beaches and since they are only reachable by boat or ferry, the shores weren’t nearly as crowded as Robert Moses. We’d laugh and laugh as we drove our boat under the Robert Moses bridge, summer after summer, as the cars stood in traffic waiting to get the beach. We were already on the water. Salt water splashing on our faces.
We didn’t frequent Cherry Grove growing up. Right across the the bay for us was Atlantique Beach, and as far as Fire Island goes, that was the more “gritty” boat town. As at that time, it didn’t have any restaurants or bars. It had one beach shack that was barely open and didn’t serve much more than chicken tenders and burgers. Boaters camped out and brought their own food to cook on the charcoal grills. But Atlantique was our spot. As well as our best friends. It’s where we boogie boarded, learned to surf, played man hunt, fished, crabbed, clammed, watched the stars, ran in the sun and swam in the sea all day long. It’s where some of my fondest memories live forever. Like a snow globe, I can shake my mind and all the images fall around me of glorious summer vacations.
Cherry Grove is further east on Fire Island, thus a longer boat ride. It neighbors Sailor’s Haven where we would sometimes take our boat. Sailor’s Haven is home to the Sunken Forest: an enchanting forest in the marshlands on the beach, a hidden gem of Long Island. From Sailor’s Haven, you could walk to Cherry Grove, which we did from time to time. This was rather taboo not necessarily because it was a rainbow flag flying proud and loud to be gay area, but because the beach was clothing optional. Some of the earliest penis’s I remember seeing were at the beaches of Cherry Grove. This was neither traumatizing nor sexy. It was more of an anatomical real world lesson. Our parents instructed us to shield our eyes but of course as a curious child, you’d peak through your fingers. I was raised Catholic, so it was dirty to look, but my god, were these people proud of their bodies.
When I tell people of the nude beaches, I think they always picture men with abs and women with perky breasts. This is almost never the case. It’s not the “10s” or even “9s” or “8s” walking around in their birthday suits. It’s almost always someone you’d rather not see naked. But, my god, do I admire their confidence.
Last year, I spent a lot of time at The Grove. But the COVID year was much different than your usual Fire Island. My friend and I joked because once we were on the boardwalk and neither of us were wearing masks and a naked fellow scolded at us for not wearing our masks. In my mind I said, “sure, but do you mind covering your balls with a mask first?” I seriously do not understand people’s priorities sometimes.
Cherry Grove is one of my good friends favorite beaches, not just because she’s gay but also because she lives further east so it’s the easiest beach to cross the bay to. It’s also where we met. I was there for a bachelorette party at the time, borderline brown out drunk, and we formed an unlikely friendship and rather strong bond because we’re so similar.
The Grove is practically dripping of sex from the moment you get off the boat or dock. People are dressed to impress, if they’re dressed at all, and they’re more thirsty for sin than actual hydration, which, in the sun and given the amount of booze perpetually going around, is highly important. Every day is a party. Every night is a rave. It’s almost too much freedom. But you also feel weirdly safe. And while I sometimes question this level of security you feel in a place with such promiscuity, I’ve never felt threatened there (however, the one and only time I’ve been roofied was at Fire Island, but at Ocean Beach— relax, I was in the care of my best friend and nothing bad happened to me besides puking on the ferry).
Last year, due to COVID, the wild parties were on hold (well, I’m sure they existed, I just didn’t attend). We were day trippers. Despite the shitty year, my best memories of 2021 were those summer days at Cherry Grove. Sure, I missed the blurry dance nights where things often got weird (as you looked forward to). I was still offered cocaine mid day at times, but I turned this down as coke isn’t really my drug and also, cocaine at 3pm on a Sunday seems gratuitous even for Cherry Grove.
It seems odd to me that I’ve never actually had a sexual experience at Cherry Grove. It’s been the “prequel,” if you will, but the only thing I’ve made love to at Cherry Grove are the Rocket Fuels. Rocket Fuel is the official “drink” of Fire Island. It’s a Pina Colada that’s topped with amaretto and Barcardi 151. It’s an expensive drink, but two of them will get you fucked up. And they’re delicious.
The first gig I did where I got wasted at before going on stage was on Fire Island. This was at the town of Ocean Bay Park. Tim Dillon was also on this show, and he was the only one who did well, if my memory serves me correctly. This was often the case with Tim Dillon. We started at the same time, in the same scene and well… you can see who’s career has taken off as he’s a regular on Joe Rogan’s podcast and I remain a nobody. But even back then, it was pretty obvious Dillon was going to be a star. He was too good.
Anyway, at this gig, we were only getting paid in drinks and pizza (this is common). Included in this were the Rocket Fuels. Usually, I avoided drinking before shows, especially at this time as I was relatively new. However, this gig was doomed. It was outside and on one side of the bar they were having our comedy show and the other side of the bar there was a DJ and half naked people dancing. I couldn’t help but just to laugh. They were setting us up to fail. You can’t have a comedy show next to people dancing in bathing suits. So I decided, fuck it, I’m getting drunk. I giggled through my set. It was too absurd to care.
Fire Island, especially Cherry Grove, had that effect on me, and many. It’s the Twilight Zone over there. No cars. Not a worry. A collective mission to party. This was the best part of the fucking year. It’s summer vacation. You’re restored to some sort of youth. It’s the land of ‘yes, please, and more, thank you.’ Where you’re made to feel good. Sexy. Desire is contagious. Mischief is encouraged. Lust is an language of it’s own. Acceptance is abundant.
You’re a freak? Great. We are too. Welcome. Welcome to Cherry Grove. Unleash your inner groove. Can I offer you a Rocket Fuel? Hello, Summer. You beautiful, beautiful creature.