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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

I’m the second child and second daughter of a large family, born and raised in the Second City (Chicago). I attended a small parochial school named for a second-string Irish saint (Saint Ailbee). Because my last name began with a “w,” I sat in the second to the last seat in almost every class (to the constant consternation of Markus Wieloczienski who sat behind me). Eventually, though, my life took an upgrade and I experienced some firsts: winner in my class in a bicycle safety contest (I was the only person in my age group who competed), and first place for prose in my college’s literary magazine.

Now, I discover, I moved to a second county.

Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an organization dedicated to health and healthcare, released statistics ranking Massachusetts counties by their health outcomes. RWJF, as they like to initial themselves, boasts on their website that they are “the nation’s largest health-focused philanthropy.” Which is odd. I always thought philanthropy was something you did, not were. Of course they get to be number one in their field. It’s easy enough to rank innocent, hard-working counties when you’re sitting at the top of your own stack.

You’ve probably guessed by now, we – Dukes County – didn’t win. We have, in bookies’ parlance, “placed.” Number two of fourteen.

‘Twas not always such. According to RWJF’s statistics from previous surveys, we rose to the top twice in the last five years. In 2010 and 2011, we ran second to Nantucket County (aka “The Dark Side”). In 2012 and 2013 we beat Nantucket for the number one spot. You may have seen the parade.

This year, Middlesex County (whose very name should denote mediocrity) sneaked up and landed the top spot.

“What does all this mean?” you ask. Beats me. The categories are a bit confusing. For example, “Premature death.” We aced that one, but they don’t state if it’s because we had the most or the least. Besides, premature death? Don’t you just go when you go? How often do you hear someone say at a funeral, “Poor guy, he had at least four years left.”

We ranked number five in Quality of Life (come on!) and Health Behaviors. Under the latter, we did pretty well until you get to “Excessive drinking” and “Alcohol-impaired driving deaths.” My guess is that the non-Martha’s Vineyard parts of Duke’s County are responsible for our downfall there. The Island has more 12-step programs than there are peas on Cronig’s salad bar, so how could we have that kind of problem here? Besides, the guy who ran his car into the Net Result last week won’t be tallied until the next count, so I think it’s that crowd on the Elizabeth Islands that’s messing up our curve.

By the way, Dukes is below the national average for teen births. Way to go, MVRHS!

We came in second in “Physical Environment.” We was robbed. But, again, the categories are kind of goofy. “Air pollution” and “Drinking water violations” make sense, but “Driving alone to work?” “Long commute?” Do they know where we live? There’s no such thing as a long commute. And our work schedules in the summer? Car-pooling is pretty much right off the table. Again, I think it’s those mainland-working stiffs on the Elizabeths. An over-water ride to the office is bound to mess up the stats.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong. Statistics are like a landed fish to me. They flop around in my head then flip right out again. I barely passed remedial arithmetic, so I’m not likely to understand them, much less explain them. But hear this: I think they’re wrong. Being a one-plus-year rinseashore (I’m on my second washashore cycle), I know my Island – and no MIDDLEsex County is healthier than we are. So, the only real explanation is that those folks on the Elizabeths have skewed the figures and that’s why we’re number two healthwise. They’re a sickly bunch of folks over there. All ten of them.

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Seriously? Pittsfield? Where's the ocean? — Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Some people just don’t get it. In a recent article on the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch website, an article titled, “Retire Here, Not There: Massachusetts,” proposed that there are more economical places to retire than Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. And they offer “natural beauty and plenty of cultural activities.” Author Anya Martin suggests four “reasonably priced” alternative areas for the golden years: Northampton, Barnstable, Pittsfield, and New Bedford. All really nice places. Really. And, no doubt, reasonable. But as any Islander will tell you “reason” has nothing to do with living here. Of course we know we can get more bang-for-the-buck almost anywhere else. How often are we told, “You can get almost twice the house for the same money in Willoughbytown Village, Mass,” or “If you lived on the mainland, you’d be paying a dollar less per gallon for gas”?

It’s a little like telling someone, “Don’t vacation in Paris. You can get more for your Euro in Minusculebourg.” Or “Rio? Save your reals. Much cheaper in San Não Encontrando.” Right.

So what do Ms. Martin’s reasonable areas have that can be switched out for a life on the Island?


Ms. Martin defines it as a “college town with big-city arts, culture and amenities.” In fact there five colleges in the area. Oh, boy! Let’s retire where there are thousands of young adults away from home for the first time. We have Oak Bluffs for that. There’s also a mall, restaurants, bookstores, galleries, gift shops, and coffee shops. Other than the mall, we pretty much have the rest of those things in spades. And malls are kind of what we don’t want here.


Close, but no cheroot. It’s on the Cape, so there’s water handy. Beaches, hiking trails, fishing, bird-watching, oystering, and a huge mall. Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, don’t want it. Houses are cheaper, though. Still, it’s not an island.


Are you kidding? Western Mass? Berkshires? Certainly if you were thinking about living on an Island, this would be your best alternative. People who love water sports and ocean views naturally gravitate to cross-country skiing and mountains. It’s inland. Waaaaay inland. Mountains. Not even close.

New Bedford

Whew! We’re back to seaside. New Bedford is quaint and has a lot of the amenities of MV without the sticker shock, but still – it’s not an Island.

And that’s what they don’t get. There is something magical about living on an island that trumps all reasonable considerations. Poor people live here – people who would not be poor on the mainland. Whether retiring CEO of Megacorp, Inc., or washashore landed for a summer job, we’re here because we arrived here and fell in love with the joint. We heard the siren song of the Island and were hooked.

It’s not an easy life. We complain a lot about the isolation of winter and the hustle of summer. High prices. Small town politics. Having to go back to the mainland for certain services. But we don’t leave. The few that do, frequently find their way back.

But we’re calmed by the remarkable blue-tinted light that artists from everywhere come to paint. We’re lulled by the lap of water all around us. If it’s not in our immediate hearing, it’s in our souls. We’re amazed at the natural beauty that pops up when we drive around a bend in the road. And what could replace showering under the stars on a summer night?

So, Ms. Martin, I challenge you. Visit the Island. Stay for a weekend. I’d be willing to bet my rosa rugosa that you’ll be printing a retraction quicker than you can say, “Northampton/Barnstable/Pittsfield/New Bedford.” And it won’t be buried in the back of the paper.

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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Yes, I am a little tan, thank you. Just got back from vacation. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. My housemate (HM) has a timeshare there and has been after me to come with her for ages. This year, finally, I had both the time and the means to do it. Worth it. Totally.

For me, a lot of the excitement is in the planning. We determined, in the name of breezing through security and customs, to bring only carry-ons. The challenge was, how to bring a weeks’ worth of clothes in a small suitcase. This is dangerous territory for an overthinker – especially one who carried her passport on her person from the day we booked our flights, lest she leave it home. We decided two bathing suits (with coordinating cover-ups) each would suffice. One on, while the other was drying. One set of day clothes. Flip-flops. Easy-peasy.

But evenings! Dinners! Dancing! A whole weeks’ worth! In a suitcase that would fit into that little space designated on those airport signs that everyone ignores. And, depending on how crowded our flight would be and which “zone” we were assigned for boarding, we might have to check it anyway.

Since I recently moved from the mainland to the Island, I still have a lot of clothes that don’t really work here. Sparkly things. Fancy dinner things. Dancing things. What joy to dig those out, spread them on the bed and decide which would make the cut. Thus began the pre-vacation fashion show.

“How about this?” I breeze out of my room into the kitchen, and disturb HM’s work at her computer.

“You’re going to dress up that much?” she asks.

“How often do we get the chance?”

“Hmmm.” She’s already packed. “I usually bring one dress.”

“You can’t imagine what I thought you just said.”

She climbs the stairs to her bedroom and for the next few hours we model all of our summer finery, chanting our mantra, “How about this?”

Eventually, we narrow down our choices with slightly more than will fit, deciding to make the final cut (and suitcase choices) after we’re able to print out our boarding passes and find out our “zone.”

Shoes are an issue for me. “There’s dancing every night,” HM informs me. “If you’re single, the staff guys dance with you. They’re really cute.” Being somewhat a toothless cougar (still eyeing the prey but too tired for the leap) and a sucker for a good samba, I tap my Chapstick laden lip with a finger while I examine my footwear choices. I have a great pair of Capezios for Sunday night ballroom at Nathan Mayhew, but they’re actually too good. It won’t be a kept-clean no-street-shoes wooden floor that my sueded soles will be massaging.

“Bars,” I’m told. “We’ll be dancing in bars.” Spilled drinks. Sand and dirt. Another option was called for. Unfortunately, my summer footsie collection consists of flip-flops and wedgie shoes that are difficult enough to walk in, much less dance. Found two pair of adequate shoes at Le Poulet Rouelle (Chicken Alley) and stuffed those into the suitcase along with a week’s ration of underwear.

Of course, there’s the matter of (gasp) liquids. Whoever made the rules for security really has no concept of what it takes to be a gently ageing ingénue. The rule of thumb for make-up – from washing the face to the final touch of mascara – goes like this: 1 hour, plus 10 minutes for each year over 40. That’s just for daytime and will only bring you up to code. We need cleansers. We need creams. We need foundations. We need industrial-strength mascara for thinning lashes. We need pencils in the colors our eyebrows used to be. And because the process takes a lot of coffee, we need whitening toothpaste AND gel whitener AND whitening mouthwash.

Shampoo. Conditioner. De-frizzer. Mousse. Squirrel. (Sorry.) Not to mention sunscreen with an SPF of 130. How is one supposed to fit all that into a baggie that would barely accommodate a container of Activa and a spoon?

By debarkation day, we had winnowed our trousseaus and cosmetics to manageable levels (although it took two people to close each suitcase), but we stretched the definition of “small personal item” (i.e. handbag, laptop case) well beyond reason. However, Saints Dolce and Gabbana and the fashion gods were on our side. We made it through security and were able to board both planes without having to check anything.

The flight, however, was a different story – one for next weeks’ blog.

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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

I’m in the locker room at the Y and I hear one woman tell another about some specific ache or pain she’s experiencing.

“Whole grains,” recommends her communicant. “Cut whole grains from your diet.”

Great, I’m thinking. We’ve now officially eliminated every food. We’re down to nothing.

I realize that there is a lot wrong with food, especially food that is corporate farmed. More people seem to be allergic to more things than ever before. Wheat, a dietary staple since the Pharaoh wore knee pants, is now a gluten-glutted bad guy. Children who normally would consist of three-quarters peanut butter are deathly allergic to goobers. And beef? It’s no longer “what’s for dinner.”

If you read and believe everything that’s on the internet, discussed on Good Morning America, and attributed to Dr. Oz, you would end up subsisting on naught but home-filtered water and the occasional gulp of air.

And, yes, I do believe we need to be careful of what we eat. And, yes, Monsanto’s executives probably have hearts the size of the smallest flea in fleadom. Farm animals should be raised humanely. But here’s the thing: we’re obsessed. The subject of food and additives and nutrients and lack of same infiltrate every dinner conversation, party banter, and locker room yakfest. We bring our apps to Stop & Shop, Reliable, or Cronig’s and scan for goodness. We pour over articles and Facebook entries that warn about the newest and worst. And, instead of putting together the healthiest meals, we settle for least harmful.

But why the obsession? Why does culinary consumption worm its way into almost every conversation? Perhaps it brings us common ground. One more topic to gnaw on after we’ve exhausted the weather.

Or maybe it’s the disparity of lifestyles. Certainly there’s a great gap between those who emulate the lupine lifestyle of Michael Pollan and viewers of “The Chew” who would never hesitate to spend an extra fifty cents to add bacon. People on both sides of that gastronomical ferry ride proclaim, “I would never eat like that.”

In some ways it can be worse on the Vineyard. From E-town to Aquinnah, Islanders on one side of the coin are blowing their summer rental income on pricey meals at the best Island restaurants. They track the movements of chefs like gambling junkies perusing the ponies. Admittedly, Island cookeries tend to use fresh, healthy, local ingredients, but are not averse to slathering on a creamy sauce. And, the whiter the chowder, the better. Meanwhile their counterparts are praying at the altars of their CSAs, ahhhing over the greenness and  freshness of this week’s broccoli and discussing what, exactly, makes it organically grown.

Might it be control issues? We’ve become a fear-based society. Fortunes are made by companies who lull you into thinking you can prevent bad things from happening. Insurance companies like you to think that if “the worst happens,” (you die) your family will wave a brief farewell and be able to go back to business as usual if only you sign on their dotted line. Even the name, “life insurance” hints that a policy will prevent your demise. We slather anti-bacterials on our hands and kitchen counters, lest some microscopic germ invades. (By the way, we need some of those germs.) Home security systems assure that loved ones will remain safe if the other “worst” is attempted (home invasion). We buy cars for “safety features.”

And we obsess about what goes into our stomachs, fearful that if we eat the wrong thing, we’ll get cancer, we’ll grow old prematurely, our hair will lose that healthy glow, we’ll tire too easily, we’ll have trouble sleeping at night, we’ll have trouble waking up in the morning, our skin will flake, our paint will peel, our dog will get mange, the NSA will tap our phones, and the IRS will audit our taxes.

Me? Right here? Also guilty. I had to laugh when I realized that in a freight ferry conversation about this very thing, I ended up also discussing the latest news on the latest food baddie. And I sensed surrounding travelers itching to join the conversation.

So, if we’re talking about food so much, how much of our lives are we dedicating to planning, shopping, preparing, and eating? How much cranial real estate is branded “MEALS”?

I’m trying. I’ve decided to spend a little bit of time each week planning healthy meals and grocery shopping – concentrating, as a friend suggested, on the outer aisles. I’m going to try to make it balanced – more greens and veggies, less sugar and fat. Nothing fried. Fewer Nonni’s Biscotti for dessert. And, if I occasionally split a Black Dog Mousse Bomb with a friend, I’m not going to beat myself up.

We need to let go. No matter what we eat, some of us will get cancer. Some will get heart attacks. Some of us will have car accidents. We’re all going to die. We are not going to control everything that happens to us.

So, can we talk about something else for a while?

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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Now that the dust has settled on the roundabout – at least temporarily – some people are finding it more efficient than they expected. Traffic flows a little more quickly and a surprising number of drivers have figured out the pecking order of entering.

Many of us are even thinking, as we pass through Five Corners, or the mess where Vineyard Haven Road meets State Road and Look Street, or the entrance to the bathroom of our summer rentals, “This would be a good place for a roundabout.”

As Islanders, we’re not very gung-ho about change when it’s proposed, but rather accepting after the fact.

Although roundabouts, their pumped-up cousins, rotaries, and the rarer “traffic circles” proliferated in the late 90’s and the early part of whatever century we currently enjoy, they are not new to the U.S. It’s rumored that the American Revolution began a few minutes late because Paul Revere missed his exit into town and had to hoof around a few extra times. Minor skirmishes were avoided during the Civil War through strategically misplaced signs. Boston, with little room for roundabouts, was forced to confound travelers by one-waying already confusing streets.

Europe, however, pre-dates our wagon-wheel configurations with ancient squares, plazas, piazas, places, and such. Built in front of churches, they tended to be in the center of town, with the streets and alleys radiating from the hub. This became the means to populate the villages and burgs as visitors, unable to find their way out, tended to settle in.

The first true modern roundabout is considered to be the one that defines the architecture at Bath Circus in Somerset, England. This was completed in 1768. The largest, and perhaps most confusing, is the Place de l’Étoile (now called “Place Charles de Gaulle”) that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In true French fashion (national slogan: Confrondez toujours!) it currently joins twelve straight avenues in a flurry of traffic that would dizzy a seasoned astronaut.

In fact, the reigning country for roundabouts is France, with more than 30,000. I personally experienced some of these on a recent trip. My travelling companion and I drove around several in mid-town France. Fortunately, we brought GPS. Unfortunately, the French outsmarted it by adding shopping center entrances, bike paths, driveways, and slug trails to the mix. So, when our GPS suggested we take the next right onto L’autoroute Déstastre, it took more than a few circuits (and impromptu shopping trips) to reach our destination.

My first experience with the American roundabout genre occurred when I moved to the Island in 1994, wherein I was welcomed to Cape Cod via neatly maintained flora many more times than was necessary. The sign for the Martha’s Vineyard exit was approximately the size of a Dollar Store notebook and not very readable at the standard rotary speed. My then 18-year-old son, always helpful in these situations, repeatedly repeated “You missed it again!” until I began rethinking my objections to corporal punishment. I finally slowed to a crawl and navigated through honking cars to the correct exit and we were happily on our way – until, of course, the one after the Bourne Bridge. Same drill, but without the welcome.

I’m afraid the apoplectic road system soured my city-bred boy to the beauties of New England and when we reached Vineyard Haven the following month, he promptly left to return to Chicago. I still occasionally hear from him in the form of post-cards from the Bourne rotary.

Our own shiny new Vineyard roundabout has only one lane and four exits, so I suspect it’s not going to be the problem for visitors that the off-Island counterparts have been. Once they learn that the vehicles already in the circle have the right-of-way, they may find it rather convenient. And once it’s planted, it may even be kind of attractive.

So maybe, just maybe, the roundabout might prove to be a good idea – all around.

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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Raise your hand if you remember Karaoke at the Atlantic Connection. Hmmm. How about at Season’s? Anyone?

About twenty years ago, I used to meet three of my women friends weekly for Bad Singingstock at Seasons. Not regular churchgoers, and needing a uvular outlet, we carpooled, two and two, every Wednesday night. One would scurry in to secure a table and snatch a handful of the Xeroxed and third-cut slips of paper where we’d write our names and our choice of song. A plastic-enclosed song list already sat on each table. The first in got first choice.

Right around eight, the lights dimmed and we’d pull out reading glasses, pens and a flashlight. The list was in mice type, it was dark, and they only supplied one pencil per table. We knew each other’s preferences, as well as the other regulars’ and seldom chose a tune that we considered “reserved.” If, however, a regular didn’t show up, his or her song was fair game. We’d time our drinking, sipping more quickly at the beginning of the evening to fortify our courage, then carefully rationing to maintain our false bravery without becoming too drunk to read the lyrics.

Our favorite was “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow. One of us sang the lead, while the other three squeezed behind her on the tiny platform for back-up. We had the moves. We didn’t have the voices.

Some of the regulars were five or six special needs people and they usually performed as a group. Because their reading skills were usually not follow-along worthy, it was purely accidental if one sang a word or note at the same time as another. One of us would frequently join them, singing loudly in an attempt to corral the dissonance into a cohesive whole. Although that didn’t often work, the attending year-rounders would applaud as if it were John Denver himself performing “Country Roads.” The tourists turned to each other with confounded expressions. “It wasn’t that good,” they’d whisper to each other.

A guy named Mike, now long gone from the Island, presided over the proceedings. I don’t know what they paid him, but it wasn’t enough. There were many participants who might be referred to as “Perpetually Displeased.” He didn’t call them up soon enough. He called them too soon. He let someone else sing their song even though their slip was in first. He supplied the first note, even though they knew it or he didn’t help them get on key when he should have. When there was a contest, it was never fair. “I was much better than her,” someone would complain. “I think he’s dating her,” someone else would snipe. Please. We were all bad. The contest frequently came down to who wasn’t too drunk or awful.

I won – once. It was a total surprise because I know I am not a good singer. “Oh, you’re just being modest,” you pooh-pooh. No. Although I have my days, it’s pretty much agreed upon that I will never be a famous warbler unless bad singing suddenly becomes a trend. I have a half-octave range and I don’t know how to use it.

I won because I was funny. When I mounted the stage to sing, I said something like, “That’s a hard act to follow. I guess the best I can hope for is Miss Congeniality.” (And now you heard that line and I can’t use it again.) Also, it was a slow night, and the only other person who came close to qualifying had won the last three weeks in a row. But I agreed to believe I won for singing talent.

The prize was, get this, dinner for one at Seasons. Of course you’re going to bring someone else. Clever, these Americans.

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Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.
Joyce Wagner, Overthinking.

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Most Islanders are familiar with the term “wash-a-shore.” We’re the folks who come to visit and don’t leave. I came to visit, stayed five years and left. Thirteen years later, I’m back. I’m a “rinse-a-shore.” Second “wash” cycle. Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to return.

A lot of rinsers will tell you the same thing. Off-Island life is brutal. When we hear someone complain about the schools here, we sagely shake our noggins and think, “You ought to check out the ones in Chicago. Or Detroit. Or L.A.”

When someone grouses about having to drive “all the way to Edgartown,” we throw back our heads and laugh.

Main Street clogged with tourists? Try midtown Manhattan on a Saturday night.

Having recently returned to the Island, the differences are still fresh in my mind. A few that poke readily through are as follows:

  • An off-Islander will sit in traffic gridlock for one or more hours, several times a week,  year-round, and complain. An on-Islander sits in traffic for fifteen minutes, once or twice a week, for three months of the year and complain.
  • When a stranger walks into the living room in the middle of the night, an off-er calls the police.         An on-er calls the woman next door and informs her that her husband is drunk again and has wandered into the wrong house.
  • Off-ers have two to three locks on their access doors. On-ers have one and it’s rusty.
  • Off-ers have security systems against burglars. On-ers have motion detectors against deer.
  • When sick or injured, off-ers make an appointment with their doctors. On-ers contact their astrologist, then their herbalist, then their shrink, then their primary care  physician.
  • On-Islanders can’t fathom showering inside in the summer.
  • Off-ers don’t usually rent out rooms or vacate their homes completely during the summer (unless it’s to come here).

We rinsers understand that Island life is not always, well, a day at the beach. Like the rest of the year-rounders, we pray for an inheritance to pay for groceries (the Island Club Card helps). While off-Islanders know to the penny how much gas costs at any gas station, we don’t even bother to look. And sometimes (especially in the summer) we feel like hostages of the Steamship Authority.

But ask any rinser, anyone who’s spent a substantial amount of time in the real world, where they’d prefer to be. My reply is likely to be, “Bathed in the remarkable, but expensive, blue light of Martha’s Vineyard.”