By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Following a late dinner and a disco nap, the men return to the Pines Pavilion to start partying in earnest. Saturday night doesn't truly get under way until well into Sunday morning. The season's densest concentration of buffed bodies will probably convene this weekend at Pines 99 a community-sponsored party aimed at undoing the bad press generated by GMHC's notorious annual Morning Party, which was discontinued after an overdosed partygoer was removed to a mainland hospital by medevac.
"It's a very odd scene now," says Moore, who first visited Fire Island Pines two decades ago, "before the big disco was built." In those days, he says, "the Pines was about transplanted Manhattan fabulousness," whereas the "Long Island gays and drags and old fairies" were relegated to the neighboring community of Cherry Grove. "The vibe was fantastic, this beautiful place with these beautiful men by the sea. In the olden days, one or two guys would stand out because they had a body. Now the majority are hulks. My lover's brother-in-law, his ex-lover's brother, is this guy who used to call himself the King of Fire Island. He had this great natural body and this massive chest that was all about the tits." These days, says Moore, the King of Fire Island would hardly rate a second glance.
"It's too much," Degen Pener, a freelance writer for In Style, says one August morning, surveying the sea of shaved and bloated pecs on the upper deck of the South Bay Clipper ferry. "It's over the top." Steroid stacking, pyramiding, and illegal drug cocktailing, says another longtime visitor to the island, "have gotten out of hand." It's a strange situation, says Bolerjack. "You have a generation of young guys who never really saw the effects of AIDS. They never saw someone bleed to death through his capillaries. They never changed diapers and saw KS lesions and smelled the smell of AIDS. Naturally, they feel the invincibility of youth." Weeks before a summer-defining party, a number of people start ingesting graduated doses of, say, the testosterone substitute Deca-Durabolin, he claims. "A couple weekends ago, I overheard some guys planning their drug strategy for Pines 99. They were going to 200 milligrams the first week, then 300, then 400, so they'd peak out on that one 'incredible' night."
¤ "I can't really explain what happened here," says a longtime Pines resident who asked not to see her name in print. "I first came out in 1967. My husband and I had our first island house in [the straight community of] Seaview, but we used to come over here to dance. I raised my kids here and it was so much fun in the late '60s and '70s. It was a different atmosphere. This was even before Stonewall, when guys couldn't even dance together anyplace else. It was all about Halston and music and fabulousness. We had a fine, fine time." And the men, this woman observes, "used to be so pretty, so fabulous, the most beautiful. Now, no one's pretty anymore. I don't even think the look is masculine. It's a feminine look, basically. With these pecs and things, they look like women with boobs."
August's first rain has thinned the crowd for a midweek tea dance. Only about 100 or so customers are clustered beneath the Pines Pavilion's red-and-white awning. This is a smattering compared to the weekend's capacity hordes. The mood of this gathering is mellow. The atmosphere is not markedly different from that of a neighborhood bar. There's a healthy number of guys with love handles and male pattern baldness; few bodies here would turn heads at a Blarney Stone. As for celebrities, well, there's a well-toned weatherman for a local station. There's Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias giving an enthusiastic bear hug to a radiant muscle boy. But that's about it for wild, unbridled sex. "It's funny," says Kevin Burris, a promoter who stages gay parties at the Bronx disco Warehouse. The weekend scene here among gay men, "and not just white ones, is total body, but not necessarily doing anything sexual."
Two to three years ago, Burris estimates, 40 percent of the men at his events were pumped up: "Now it's maybe 70 percent. You've got to have a body, and the bigger the better, so you can be nonchalant about it with your shirt off on the dance floor. But that's where it ends with a lot of these guys. It's modeling. As far as I'm concerned, it's not a sex thing at all. It's just a way of disguising how soft you are inside."
Seated on a bench, a man with an immensely convex chest is sipping a vodka tonic. His friend, a body builder with arms the circumference of Smithfield hams, is playing with the straw in his daiquiri. There's a quality of permanent pubescence about their conversation. Momentarily, they seem out of place.
"He said he wanted a real man," the first man is saying.
"Well, of course," the second man remarks dryly, "if you're going to take it up the ass, a 'real man' is what you want."
Another man, this one in workout clothes, is studying the scene from a spot nearby. He's buff, but not grotesquely so; if his smile seems a little loopy it's because he's bemused, he explains, not stoned. Bob Pfeiffer works at NYU's America Reads work-study program and also does part-time DJing at Global 33. He's here in the Pines on a weeknight because the body Nazis don't arrive en masse until Friday night. The Pines, explains Pfeiffer, "is a weird trip, a monoculture, but it's also a wonderful place." It's a transcendently beautiful and fragile fringe of sand in the ocean. It's a sexual sanctuary with an almost fugitive history. It's a place where "you're ultimately forced to see and reflect on how you register difference, and how comfortable you are with that."