The Island


From USA Today Weekend (July 17, 1994)

by Douglas Coupland

The Island is a small place, yet there is one of everything here, and thus it is complete. Everybody knows everybody else on the Island, and although they lead very different lives, all the citizens are kind to one another, and everybody is united by the common knowledge that you cannot ignore the sun.

Herewith is a gallery of some of my favorite Island people:

First of all, there is Helga Krauser. Helga is heiress to a Luxembourg munitions fortune. She has five ex-husbands and a collection of Pop Art paintings that are rotting on the living room walls of her Island mansion, which she visits only twice a year.

Her best friend is Bunny Hollander. Bunny, of course, wrote many of the show tunes we all know and love and is every year a guest of Helga Krauser. Bunny speaks to people he doesn't like through his evil lap dog, Clarice.

Eddie works for Helga. Eddie is an ex-fry cook with tuberculosis who maintains the grounds. On his day off (Tuesday), he combs the beaches with his metal detector, looking for lost wedding rings.

Not far down the sandy lane from Helga lives the Colonel. The Colonel is originally from Ohio, where he invented a hamburger patty-stacking device that now nets him many millions of dollars a year in royalties. The Colonel and his friends drive around the Island all day in a golf cart. They consume rum drinks, and they beep the cart's horn.

Cyril is the son of the British Lord Love. Cyril is an accomplished pianist, and he has 11 fingers. (Such arpeggios! swoons Helga Krauser.) Cyril, like many Islanders, does indeed love his cocktails.

Lord Love, however, is, for whatever reason, greatly ashamed of his son's digits. Whenever he is telephoned to come and retrieve Cyril from a party where Cyril has perhaps been overly enthusiastic about his cocktails, Lord Love places his son in an upright position in his Moke's passenger seat and tucks his left hand, Napoleon-like, into his shirt.

Inga and Petti are a lesbian couple from Denmark who will always baby-sit for you in a pinch (be sure to hide your gin first!). With only a little extra prodding, they will make a rich and delicious tiramisu dessert.

Kelly is young and beautiful. She is from Santa Barbara, Calif., originally and is married to a Mr. McQueen, who is very old and very rich and very near death.

In the seven years Kelly has been married, she has lost contact with all of her old friends. And because the people in her husband's orbit are so much older than she is, she has no friends and is often extremely lonely.

Tonight, after a dinner of conch salad and angel hair pasta, Mr. McQueen extinguishes the dinner candles before being escorted away from the table by his nurse. He extinguishes the candles by coughing onto them, and Kelly is silently horrified. She sits in the somewhat tainted darkness until her husband leaves the room, at which point she then relights the candles. She looks at these new flames for a second and then snuffs them out by pinching the wicks with her fingertips. This is what she thinks: She thinks that, if she is going to sit alone in darkness, it may as well be a darkness she has made herself.

Marion long ago ceased being able to mimic passion. Her kids now have kids, and her husband, Roy, doesn't stay around the house much anymore. Marion senses a conspiracy within her immediate family to keep her propped up with greeting cards and small, benign niceties. The family no longer wants or expects her to have an inner life, and this makes her angry, as she knows there are vast continents within herself that remain unexplored. And now she wonders if it is too late to generate new worlds for herself.

Marion keeps a composed face while her family sings Happy Birthday to her at a large table at The Seahorse, the Island's favorite restaurant. Marion's face may be composed, but she is shocked at the images running through her brain while Roy, her children and her grandchildren look on - scenes of intense imagined passion with a cocaine dealer named Speck whom Marion met at Helga Krauser's party the night before.

To look at Marion's face - gently lit by the blue and yellow ghosts of fire skating about the Cointreaued surface of the flaming dessert with which she is being presented - it would be hard to imagine such violent, carnal longings percolating so close to the surface. Marion is even lightly stunned.

But when the song ends and all of the people in the restaurant go silent, waiting for Marion to make a wish and blow out the flames, Marion surprises everybody by reaching her hand out to the dessert and putting out the flames by running her hands over the surface.

Marion, says Roy, what are you doing?

Oh, Roy, says Marion. Sure, there are flames here, but what's underneath - the cake - it's not really on fire. Or is it?

Speck is a cocaine smuggler who will die tonight when his Cessna crashes en route to South Carolina. Speck's life may have been ugly and violent, but his afterlife will be beautiful. His skeleton and his plane will form the beginnings of a new reef of coral filled with gentle sponges and silent darting flocks of minnows, and Speck's soul will be at rest.

Douglas is a writer who stands on the beach at night. As he stands there, he thinks of that Roadrunner-and-Coyote cartoon, the one in which the Coyote buys the Most Powerful Magnet in the World, and when he switches the magnet on, hundreds of objects, irresistibly attracted, come racing across the desert in an avalanche of things.

Douglas looks out over the moonlit ocean and wonders what objects are irresistibly headed his way, what objects are irresistibly headed toward us all: grand pianos silently whizzing above the ocean's waters bouquets of roses pills gold coins and perhaps even that special person whose magnet is irresistibly attracted to our own.