Everyone asks, how’s your summer going? Well, not everyone. The former president who is coming this weekend hasn’t. But, sigh, the standard questions are, give or take, these: What are the kids up to? Having any fun? How’s business? Been to the beach? Done any sailing? Hasn’t the weather been funny? dry? wet? hot? crowded? Can you believe the traffic? Can you believe how rude people are? Had many house guests? Catching anything?
I don’t mind the weather, the traffic, the rudeness, the crowds or the houseguests, at least not as much as I mind the questions. Let’s talk about something else, shall we. I think we should all propose topics for casual conversation that diverge from the run of the Vineyard mill summer script. There has got to be something interesting going on in each of our lives.
I feel I’m doing my part. The other day, as I was stopped in a line of cars heading up the hill out of Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard’s main port of entry. Joe was stopped in the line of cars heading down the hill, it happened that I was right across from him. He has a tattoo inscribed on his forehead that says, Back Off. Although he’s a lifelong, laid-back Vineyarder, I’ve never been precisely sure to whom that tattoo is aimed.
Joe leaned out the window of his van and asked, How’s your summer going?
I replied, I’m going to install a roundabout in my kitchen and charge a $1 surcharge to each kid who goes around it. That will help finance the park and ride lot I’m opening in the field to the north of the house. It’s going to be free parking for anyone who leaves a car there, but they’ll have to walk to the ferry, and I’ll ticket their cars while they’re gone.
A cloud of uneasiness passed across Joe’s tattoo, but he tried again: What are the kids up to?
I said, I have got them all jobs putting up signs and snow fencing for the legion of conservation voters, loving nature but vain enough to believe that by their puny impediments they may defeat the ocean’s tireless depredations, preferring fences, ropes, and signs to beach grass, rosa rugosa, and sunbathers. All except for one of the kids, who won’t come out of his room. I think he’s in a messaging standoff, and he’s one of those kids who just has to have the last word.
The cars weren’t moving, so Joe, his avenues of retreat cut off, said, perplexedly, Are you all right? You don’t seem yourself.
I said, I’ve begun to install my Burma Shave signs along the Beach Road between the $50 million Lagoon Drawbridge and the incomprehensible Five Corners intersection. The point is to give people a distraction as they wait in traffic. Otherwise the frustration builds, and when they get to Five Corners they attack the congestion with the zeal of a car service driver in Manhattan.
Easy. Does. It. Don’t Let. Five Corners. Be the End. Of Your World. Burma Shave.
The lines of cars began to move, and pretty soon Joe was down the hill about two car lengths. I knew there was plenty of time, so I got out of my car and walked down to where Joe was. He started to roll up his window, but I got there before it had closed all the way.
I said, We have sent Ping away for part of the summer. Ping is a pug. He hates crowds, so he’s off at a weight-loss camp in the Adirondacks, a rustic place with a lot of outdoor activities. He starts every morning with a dip in the males’ pool, a sort of a rock-lined grotto filled by diverting part of a quick flowing mountain stream. It’s about 45 degrees year-round. He and the other campers jump in, seize up, and the counselors retrieve their rigid little bodies just before they expire. The shivering takes off pounds. In his letters, Ping seems happy enough, although he’s begun to dot his “i’s” with little illustrations of dog bones or lamb chops. I never thought of him as an artist. Of course, we miss him, but we know he’ll be happier if he could lose seven or eight pounds.
Catching anything? Joe said.
(Adapted from News Hounds: An Accidental Newspaper Life on Martha’s Vineyard)