Blacktip Island Scuba Divers Create Underwater Sharks-and-Minnows League

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Scuba diver “minnows” Gage Hoase (left) and Ginger Bass race for the safety of a nearby coral head Thursday afternoon during a game of “sharks and minnows.” (photo courtesy of Diego Delso)

Blacktip Island’s scuba-diving residents, deprived of tourists and other island visitors since March, this week created an underwater sharks-and-minnows league to add variety to their diving activities.

“We’re all doing lots of recreational diving these days to stave off boredom, but diving the same sites was getting pretty stale,” Gage Hoase said. “For a laugh one day, Jerrod tried to keep Joey Pompano from getting to the boat’s boarding ladder. Other people laughed and joined in and it turned into an impromptu keep-away game.

“Next day, everybody started playing tag underwater, so we formalized some rules and voila, we had a thing,” Hoase said. “It’s the same rules as above water, or in a pool. Mostly. Divers try to get from one coral head to the next, with the ‘shark’ in between. When the shark bangs his tank it’s ‘shark attack’ time, and the minnows have to get past him without getting tagged.”

Players say the action can get intense.

“It gets damned competitive down there,” Ginger Bass said. “People you’d never suspect of being gamers get super aggressive. And there’s always arguments about whether somebody was actually tagged. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, when you’re wearing a wetsuit. A couple of times we had to end the game so people could go to the surface and argue over who did, or didn’t get tagged.”

Some on the small Caribbean island raised safety concerns.

“These people are grabbing and clawing at one another 30 feet underwater. Eventually someone’ll get hurt,” island nurse Marissa Graysby said. “Somebody accidentally snags a regulator hose or bumps someone’s tank valve while they’re playing grab-ass, that could mean serious trouble.

“The only medical infrastructure on this little island are me and the clinic, and we have no way to evacuate anyone off island, Grasby said. “Blacktip is not the place you want to get hurt. Especially now, and for such a silly reason.”

Others said the nurse’s fears were unfounded.

“People get into the game, sure, but we’re all careful not to be stupid,” Jay Valve said. “If a reg comes out, all action stops until the diver gets it back. And we do air checks between each round.

“The real medical issue is what would happen if we all didn’t play this game,” Valve said. “it’s social interaction that doesn’t involve drinking, and folks blow off a ton of steam with this.  Marissa’s not trained to deal with the mental health issues if we all sat around doing nothing. Or diving the same old sites the same old way.”

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Blacktip Island’s Stargazers Launch Island’s First Astronomy Club

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The Milky Way’s galactic arm stretches across Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove Wednesday night. A group of amateur astronomers has banded together to form the island’s first astronomy club. (photo of Kristian Pikner)

An informal group of astronomy enthusiasts this week joined forces to form the small Caribbean island’s first official astronomy club to alleviate boredom while tourism is derailed due to COVID-related border closings.

“Everybody was sitting around, just staring into space one night after the Ballyhoo closed, and the idea hit us,” Blacktip Island Astronomy Society president Cal Batten said. “We figured we might as well watch stars together since we were doing it anyway after the bars close.

“There’s too many lights around buildings, though, so we meet out on the airstrip,” Batten said. “Everybody brings a folding lounge chair and their beverage of choice and we stay up most of the night watching the stars, hoping for a comet, that sort of thing.”

Society members say the club is a way to better themselves.

“I was going to learn a language, but this is less stressful and more useful,” Cori Anders said. “Plus, you can drink while you do it. It’s encouraged, actually. And it’s an opportunity to learn something new.

“Like, I know I’m a Sagittarius, but wasn’t sure what that meant,” Anders said. “So hopefully this’ll give me some insight into that.”

Others echoed Anders’ sentiments.

“I’m never sure which stars are which, or what people are talking about,” Lee Helm said. “But I do like laying on my back and watching the stars spin. You feel safe in a group. Unless the constable shows up.”

Island authorities are tolerant of the group’s activities, to a point.

“Club members are free to use the landing strip, provided they police all garbage when they leave,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “They also have to be gone at first light so they don’t interfere with arriving aircraft. Anyone laying on the runway at dawn will be arrested, be they conscious or otherwise. And they have been. Not to mention anyone by name, but his initials are Dermott Bottoms.”

Club officers include: Cal Batten, president; Marina DeLow, vice president; Peachy Bottoms, secretary; and Reg Gurnard, bartender.

The club’s informal structure is its greatest strength, members said.

“Folks who know about stars and stuff teach the rest of us,” Alison Diesel. “The other night, Cal brought out his big telescope to give us all cool views of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. And James Conlee, he swears he saw Uranus.”

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Blacktip Island Scuba Operation Touts Underwater COVID Cure

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Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick claims his mix of exotic breathing gas and deep dives has eradicated the COVID19 virus on the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of Rusty Goby)

A Blacktip Island scuba company Wednesday began administering what it calls prophylactic COVID19 treatments to island residents via compressed gas combined with hyperbaric activity.

“We use a special breathing mix that zaps the virus,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “Then we take you down to around 120 feet, and the pressure squeezes what’s left of it out of your body.

“We charge extra for the charter, but it’s well worth it,” Kiick said. “University tests prove this works, and so far we have a 100 percent success rate.”

Some in the island’s scientific community disputed Kiick’s claims.

“There’s no test from any university in the world that supports Finn’s snake-oil treatment,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology chair Ernesto Mojarra. “He’s giving people who-knows-what to breathe, then taking them down deeper than he’d ever take a dive guest. He’s going to get people hurt. Or worse.”

Other contested Kiick’s success rate.

“He’s claiming a perfect cure rate after he’s tried his boondoggle on what, four, five people?” Elena Havens said. “That’s an awfully small sampling. Oh, and no one on Blacktip’s tested positive for the virus. Pretty easy to claim success when there’s no virus on the island to begin with. It’s like me saying snapping my fingers keeps tigers away.”

Kiick defended his claims

“Elena’s right: there is no virus on Blacktip,” he said. “That just proves the treatment works. We’re keeping the island virus free. And there’s been no complaints, so that says we’re doing something right.”

Most treatment recipients were pleased with the results.

“I could feel the gas working right away,” Rusty Goby said. “A couple of breaths and I got all lightheaded. Then Finn took me down deep and all the colors brightened and swirled and held me close. I could feel the dead virus oozing out of my pores. Or something oozing out, anyway.

“And I’ve felt great ever since,” Goby said. “I went back for three more treatments, just like Finn prescribed. Whatever’s in that breathing mix really works. I may make it a weekly thing.”

Others questioned the treatment efficacy.

“Finn talks about the gas mix being a trade secret, but I think he just shoots a little flavored oxygen in the nitrox,” Alison Diesel said. “Then he charges triple the rack rate for a one-tank dive. I mean, I was goofed and all, but I can’t say I feel any different than before. Except I have weird dreams now. And that was after just one session.”

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Blacktip Island Foil Man Race Will Social Distance Runners

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Eagle Ray Cove will be the site of the first leg of Saturday’s delayed Blacktip Island Tin Man mini-triathlon. (photo courtesy of Christina Mojarra)

Blacktip Island’s annual Foil Man mini-triathlon, postponed due to COVID19 quarantine orders in May, will take place Saturday morning with social-distance protocols in place, organizers said.

“Racers are eager to compete, but we had to find a way to do it safely,” Rum Runners athletic club president Kay Valve said. “We were going to do it remote on Zoom, but that seemed pretty hollow. What we’re doing instead is having one individual start every five minutes. This way racers can sort of see each other, but not get too close.

“We’ll also have marshals all along the course to make sure racers maintain their distancing throughout the race,” Valve said. “The big concern is one racer getting in another’s slipstream and getting a snootful of any kind of germs that person’s carrying.”

Racers had mixed emotions about the protocols.

“It’s not ideal, but at least we can still have the race in person,” Rocky Shore said. “We’re still racing against each other, just not neck-and-neck. The only other option was to cancel an island tradition. And at this point, we all really need a pick-me-up.”

As ever, the race will feature a swim across Eagle Ray Cove, a bike ride from Club Scuba Doo to Diddley’s Landing public pier, then a run to the Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort bar.

“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible, or as normal as things get on this little rock,” race marshal Ernestine Bass said. “We’ll have GPS trackers on all contestants to ensure distancing, and proctors on motorcycles will be able to zip to the site of any distancing issues. If someone starts to overtake, they’ll have to run in place, with their personal timer stopped, to re-establish a safe distance.

“There won’t be any big, dramatic finish, but there will be adrawn-ourt award ceremony that’ll build lots of tension before the winners are announced,” Bass said. “We’ll set the trophies out by the pool and let the winners go get their own when their name’s called.”

Organizers said there are also protocols in place to protect spectators.

“There’s giant fans installed on parts of the course where people are likely to gather or where trees grow close to the road,” proctor Christina Mojarra said. “Any place where there’s a potential for low air movement, we’ll create our own wind to diffuse any potential airborne virus hot spots.”

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Plague Romance Highlights Blacktip Island’s Summer Theater Season

HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF

Gage Hoase takes center stage Thursday during rehearsals of the Blacktip Island Community Players’ production of The Horseman on the Roof. (photo courtesy of Craig Sunter)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will stage an English-language version the plague-themed French classic The Horseman on the Roof Saturday and Sunday to mark the start of its summer theater season, BICP members said.

“We needed something topical, with everyone so focused on this virus outbreak,” BICP director Doris Blenny said. “A play about cholera is just the thing to boost peoples’ spirits and get their minds off their problems.

“We decided on doing the play in English, too, since no one had time to learn French. And no one would understand it anyway,” Blenny said. “Plus, no one knows what a ‘hussard’ is. And ‘sur le toit’ sounds quite dodgy in English.”

BICP members said the play will also help residents socially distance.

“We’re staging the play literally on the roof of the Heritage House,” cast member Jessie Catahoula said. “The audience’ll sit outside, with chairs spaced out all around so people can see the play from every angle.

“There’s a few little platforms installed for important scenes and staging, but most of the action’ll be smack on the tin sheeting,” Catahoula said. “It adds an element of danger to the performance we think the audience will love.”

The cast includes:

Marina DeLow as Pauline

Gage Hoase as Angelo

Elena Havens as Monsieur Peyrolle

Alison Diesel as The Doctor

Lee Helm as Maggionari

Jessie Catahoula as Giuseppe

Jerrod Ephesians as The French Army

Payne Hanover as Various Angry Mobs

Cast members struggled to perform on the tilted surface.

“We surrounded the house with mattresses during rehearsals, so many people were falling off,” Alison Diesel said. “Most got the hang of it, but we’re leaving the mattresses deployed for the show, just in case. If it rains, that metal gets slick as snot.

“At one point, Lee Helm slipped was hanging on by just his fingers in the rain gutter,” Diesel said. “There was some debate about whether we should save him or just let him fall. We ended up having Dermott add an extra mattress and letting gravity take its course.”

Some in the community questioned the choice of subject matter.

“Doris and them are making light of a serious public health situation,” Frank Maples said. “This isn’t what we need right now. Some light opera would’ve been nice to take our minds off this constant pandemic nonsense. The island needs diversion, not depression.”

Others embraced the play.

“We just love watching them rehearse every evening,” Chrissy Grasby said. “They wanted to practice in private, but it’s on the roof, so they couldn’t really stop us from gawking. It gives the little ones something to do outside, and they just love when actors fall.”

Blenny has high hopes for opening night.

“It won’t be much of a surprise, with everyone having seen rehearsals, but the show will still go on,” she said. “We just hope folks’ll all come back and see the show sober. But what are the odds? Of the sober part.”

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Blacktip Island Church Reopens For Silent Services

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The Blacktip Island interdenominational church will open its doors Sunday to worshipers for the first time since the small Caribbean island was placed under COVID quarantine in March. (Photo courtesy of Pierre Grunt)

Blacktip Island’s non-denominational church Thursday announced it will reopen and conduct silent services starting Sunday, in keeping with the Tiperon Islands’ COVID-19 prevention guidelines, church leaders said.

“The worry is any kind of vocal activity can aerosolize the virus, even if you’re wearing a mask,” the Rev. Pierre Grunt said. “Now that we’re allowed to hold in-person services, we have a duty to make them as safe as possible. That means no one’ll be allowed to talk. Even me.

“We did a trial run where I did a Power Point sermon, but that put people right to sleep,” Grunt said. “I settled on acting out my sermon. Folks are already used to silent prayers, and the congregation’ll hum the hymns. With any luck, the loudest noise during the service’ll be cash hitting the offering plate.”

Churchgoers praised the idea.

“It’s been ages since we’ve been to church, what with the lockdown and everything,” Sally Port said. “Reverend Grunt’s divinely inspired to come up with this solution. Everyone on island’s tested negative, but you can’t be too safe. There’s so many stories of false negatives.

“Some people suggested using American Sign Language, but turns out no one knows ASL,” Port said. “Reverend Grunt’s pretty good at getting his point across with gestures and glares, even before this. And it’s not like his sermons vary too much anyhow.”

Church officials stressed other safety precautions in place to encourage attendance.

“The pews are cordoned off in six-foot gaps with blue painter’s tape,” church deacon Goldie Gobie said. “And masks, of whatever nature, will be required. We’ve also instituted a do-it-yourself Communion where congregants bring their own bread and wine and administer it to themselves. We’re calling it a ‘BYO Eucharist.’

“With the distancing, though, anybody needing baptizing’s out of luck,” Goby said. “The Our Lady of Blacktip Catholic church’s doing drive-through blessings with Holy Water spray bottles, So that may be an option, undignified as it is.”

Some residents said they would not attend, despite the precautions.

“To me, it’s probably best to avoid church altogether,” Reg Gurnard said. “I’ve been doing that for years and I’ve been damned healthy. If it ain’t broke, I’m not about to fix it.”

Others are opting for alternative worship services.

“I’m having an all-inclusive, ecumenical service Saturday, underwater on Jawfish Reef,” the former Rev. Jerrod Ephesians said. “Anyone of any faith, or lack thereof, can come sit in the sand with me and get in tune with the universe. And I set up a GoFundMe page for offerings.”

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Road Rage Spikes After Blacktip Island Confinement Lifted

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Gage Hoase’s car rests in a ditch beside Blacktip Island’s booby pond following the second road rage incident Wednesday, the small Caribbean island’s first day of deconfinement. (staff photo by Wendy Beaufort)

The end of Blacktip Island residents’ COVID-19-related stay-at-home order Wednesday was marked by a steep uptick in road rage incidents, community leaders said.

“Everyone’s on edge, being cooped up for so long,” said Kay Valve, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort general manager. “It was the first chance people had to get out and drive around, and, well, some of them got a little over enthusiatic. If confinement brought out the best in people, deconfinement brought out the worst in some.

“It started with B.C. Flote and Doc Plank yelling at each other after they nearly crashed vehicles in the car park,” Valve said. “Then B.C. started waving a machete and things turned ugly. Nothing would’ve come of it, but it happened right outside the lobby, where God-and-everyone could see it.”

Authorities were quick to de-escalate the situation.

“I took away B.C.’s machete, then made them drive off—slowly—in opposite directions,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Gave them both official citations, too, so they’ll have to explain themselves in court. Everyone needs to know we won’t stand for this kind of hooliganism. I’m clamping down, hard, before it gets out of control.

“I was still cautioning them when word came about ‘Tonio Fletcher and Gage Hoase going at it at the east coast intersection,” Marquette said. “Two roads on the island, and only a handful of cars out, and those two knuckleheads managed to have a wreck and a fistfight. They’ll be going to court, too. They’re lucky they’re not in the jail.”

Witnesses say the second incident also resulted from a traffic gaffe.

“Gage rolled the stop sign and cut ‘Tonio off,” Jessie Catahoula said. “‘Tonio chased him down and ran him into the booby pond. It was actually pretty funny to watch, especially them going at it hammer and tongs in the bushes after. Rafe didn’t think so, though.

“I guess for two months people haven’t really had access to cars, so their skills slipped,” Catahoula said. “Or they couldn’t wait to make up for lost time. We’re all happy to be able to drive again. Hell, everyone’s speeding and joy riding.”

Many residents questioned the constable’s get-tough response.

“I get why Rafe wants to stop this stuff before it gets out of hand, but this’s Blacktip. Things work themselves out,” Lucille Ray said. “Once people blow off some steam, things’ll go back to normal. Or as normal as it gets on this island.

“Rafe citing people left and right’ll just make things worse,” Ray said. “Thing is, with a citation issued, they have to go to court over on Tiperon, but we’re still not allowed to leave the island. Gut feeling is Rafe’ll drop charges when travel opens back up. He’s just blowing of some post-confinement steam, too.”

Marquette would neither confirm nor deny Ray’s theory, though he did issue citations to the Blacktip Times reporter and photographer covering this story.

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Anti-Police Violence Protest Erupts on Blacktip Island

anti-police protest

Blacktip Island’s police office and jail has been the scene of three days of anti-police violence protests by several island residents. (photo courtesy of 3wisemen)

A crowd of several Blacktip Island residents protested police violence outside the small Caribbean island’s police office and jail for the third day Thursday, authorities said.

“It started with Harry Pickett and Angela Fisher shouting and such outside the jail,” Customs officer Noddy Bolin said. “Next thing, two more folks joined in. Near as we can tell they’re protesting violence in general. I don’t think there’s ever been a case of police violence on Blacktip.

“The jail’s pretty out of the way, so I don’t think anyone has any problem with it. Or notices,” Bolin said. “The signs are funny, though. One says something about ‘stoop violence.’ And Harry’s been waving one that says ‘know peas’ or some such nonsense.”

Police officials say there are no plans to disrupt the protest.

“I’m not at the office much, so they don’t really interfere with me doing my job,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “I was kinda surprised to see them there again this morning. There was talk of a curfew, but that seems like a lot of trouble if they’re not tearing anything up. Folks want to let off steam, that’s their right.”

“It doesn’t seem to be about me anyway, they just want to be part of what’s happening elsewhere,” Marquette said. “I’m the lightning rod, I guess. Worst incident I’ve been mixed up in was when I used a wheelbarrow to get Dermott out of the Sand Spit after he broke in, drank all their rum and passed out. I scraped his knuckles pretty good, but there was no other way to move that much bulk.”

Protestors agreed their anger was not aimed at Marquette.

“It’s nothing personal toward Rafe,” Fisher said. “There’s just so much police violence in the world, we felt like we had to do something. And since we can’t leave the island, well, the jail seemed like the best place to protest.

“Honestly, we were hoping for a bigger turnout,” Fisher said. “There’s still time for a few more people to join in — we’re here for as long as it takes to, well, do whatever.”

Long-time residents dismissed the protest.

“Closest we ever had to a riot was when the barge couldn’t dock for a month and all the bars ran out of hootch,” Elena Havens said. “That wasn’t pretty, but Rafe de-escalated it right quick. Threatened to call James Conlee’s mom, and that was the end of it.

“Rafe did get semi-physical when Jerrod busted into the Ballyhoo with a cast-iron frying pan, yelling about smiting sinners or some such,” Havens added. “But all Rafe did was block Jerrod’s path and tell him God wanted him to put down the pan.”

The island’s store owner, however, is taking matters more seriously.

“This island’s going crazy, and I’m more than prepared for any looting,” store owner Peachy Bottoms said. “I’m standing guard outside the door with my broom, and I won’t hesitate to whack anybody who looks like they might act up.

“Locked up all the spray paint and matches, too,” Bottoms said. “Eggs are being doled out two at a time. And if things get out of hand, I may not have pepper spray, but I do have a bunch of jalapeno juice.”

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Blacktip Island Bans Visitors To Enforce Social Distancing

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Blacktip Island authorities took steps this week to ensure the small Caribbean island’s beaches remain empty by banning residents and visitors alike from landing on the island. (Blacktip Times staff photo by Wendy Beaufort)

Blacktip Island authorities Thursday announced a ban on all visitors to the small Caribbean island to ensure compliance with current social distancing guidelines.

“The island was getting too crowded,” de facto mayor Jack Cobia said. “Folks have to stay 10 feet apart, and for the most part they are, but if we get too many more bodies on this little rock, people’re gonna have to start standing in the sea. With the current rate of arrivals, that’s just a day or two away.

“We’re nipping this in the bud,” Cobia said. “Some folks are upset, but that’s beside the point. This’s a public health issue. We’re not about to have a situation where folks are hanging out offshore in skiffs or on pool floaties. That’s not dignified. Or healthy.”

Residents say the influx is due to the Tiperon Island government allowing access to the island after several months of quarantine.

“When quarantine lifted, a lot of year-round residents who got stuck off island came flooding back,” Rosie Bottoms said. “Wasn’t a big deal at first, but the folks kept coming. Staying 10 feet apart’s tough enough with just a few people around.

“Then all the second-home owners started coming back, too,” Bottoms said. “That’s when we realized it was a no-win situation. We’re already seeing lots of folks with wet feet from walking in the surf to keep their distance.”

Authorities said the ban will be strictly enforced.

“I greet every inbound flight to make sure nobody gets off,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We got limited real estate on Blacktip. The only way somebody can deplane is if somebody else boards and they swap places.

“It’s an unfortunate necessity,” Marquette said. “Tried spray painting big circles on the ground, but everyone ignored them. I got a list of everyone on-island right now. You’re on the island and not on the list, you get cited. Two offenses, you get to socially distance in the jail cell.”

Some on the island complained the new rule is unfairly restrictive.

“Rafe and Jack, they got no right to say who comes and goes. They’re taking away our freedoms,” Harry Blenny said. “Ain’t seen Christa Goby for months, since she’s stuck over on Tiperon. And end of the day, I just want to go outside, have a beer and holler at my neighbors. Now I can’t.

“All Rafe’s talk on enforcing, I think he’s just bored,” Blenny said. “Or putting on a show for the bosses. He always did like paperwork. Only person happy about this’s ol’ Doc Tang, and that’s just because his wife’s stuck on Tiperon and he ain’t seen her since March.”

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Blacktip Island Stages Socially-Distanced Literary Festival

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A ban on public gatherings on Blacktip Island prompted the Caribbean island’s literary festival organizers to broadcast this year’s readings island-wide over hastily-erected loud speakers. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny)

Blacktip Island Friends of the Library this week are making their annual literary festival an island-wide event via loudspeakers after social-distancing rules made it impossible to have the event at the Caribbean island’s Heritage House.

“We can’t have gatherings of more than 10 people, so that put the kibosh on any public readings,” BIFL president Doris Blenny said. “We tried having presenters just yell really loud, but that just caused more problems. Lee Helm couldn’t get through his limericks without his voice giving out.

“We were set to cancel the event altogether, then Rocky Shore came up with the idea of putting up loudspeakers so everyone on the island could hear,” Blenny said. “We’ve had amplified readings every night this week, and it’s worked out quite well.”

BIFL members say the readings strike a balance between art and public engagement.

“We thought about streaming it online, but no one wants to watch someone just standing there reading something,” Shore said. “The speakers we set up have most of the island covered so everyone can hear while they do other things.

“In a way, this is better than the traditional lit fest,” he said. “You don’t get the social aspect of it, but more people get to hear the readings. Once we come out of lockdown, I think we’ll find it brought the island closer.”

Some residents agreed.

“I never realized what kind of talent we had on the island,” Wendy Beaufort said. “I’ve heard everything from poetry to short stories to essays to one-act plays the past few evenings.

“Wednesday’s poetry slam was especially good,” Beaufort said. “And last night Antonio Fletcher played all four parts in his play, talking in completely different voices for each character. He does that most nights at the bar, though, too, so it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.”

Others were not happy with the festival’s new format.

“Don’t want to hear all that crap blaring out at me every night,” James Conlee said. “I want to hear ‘Tonio babbling on, I’ll go to the Ballyhoo. Before, it was easy enough to avoid this nonsense by just staying away from the Heritage House. Now, they’re forcing it on us whether we want it or not. Doris and them need to give it a rest.

“Literature’s fine, but it’s something you should do in the privacy of your own home,” Conlee said. “And wash your hands afterward. This goes on another night, I’ve got a pair of wire cutters I’m gonna put to good use on them speaker wires. I know my rights.”

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