My friend Bill Styron
Every once in a while your world stands still. This happened the other day when my good friend Bill Styron passed away. There are certain friendships that are so important they leave a mark on you long after the person is gone. So it is with Bill Styron, my friend for 40 years. Our lives were entwined by sharing our summers together on the Vineyard, and also by sharing our depressions with each other.
Mike Wallace and Bill and I all had serious depressions at the same time. We helped each other get through them. When we finally came out of it we called ourselves the "Blues Brothers" and went around talking to groups that were interested in mental health issues. We went to the University of Southern California, we went to the Carter Center in Atlanta, and we also appeared before suicide support groups. Our mantra was, "Don't commit suicide because you might change your mind two weeks later."
We had a lot fun, strangely enough, talking about depression. We argued about who had the worst depression. Styron claimed his was a nine on the Richter scale. He said mine was just a rainy day at Disneyland.
Sharing our depressions felt like having survived a war. The experience bonds you to the other person for life. Styron wrote serious books about serious subjects. But when you spent time with Bill and Rose, his wife, there was a lot of laughter in the Styron's home.
I remember once Bill had planted a row of corn in his dirt driveway. I ran over the corn and Bill kept screaming out of the house, "How could you kill another person's corn! What kind of serial corn killer are you?"
The next morning I sneaked onto his property and put up a sign, "Beware of vicious corn."
Bill had an Infinity and I had a Lexus. And that was a bone of contention. Who had the better car? One day during a hurricane a tree fell on Styron's Infinity. That afternoon his children came down the road with cameras, and when I met them, they said, "Guess what? Dad's car was just smashed in by a tree."
I started laughing as hard as I could. That evening I found Bill in his living room terribly grumpy, and he said, "No friend would laugh at another's tragedy."
I said, "It was my choice." Better his car than mine.
I only cite these examples of the fun you can have with friends. I, of course, respected Bill for his work. The fact that he was one of the best writers in America may or may not have affected our friendship.
Bill's last days were unpleasant ones. He suffered from everything and made countless trips to the hospital.
With true friendship, I accused him of going to the hospital so he wouldn't have to write another book. He looked at me and said an obscene word. We stayed connected to the end.
All I can wish is that you read his books, and all I can hope is that future generations will discover that he was one of the best writers of our time.
Art Buchwald, the columnist, is a Vineyard Haven summer resident, as was William Styron, the novelist, who died Nov.1. Mr. Buchwald wrote this for Rose Styron.
Impressive organization, from the ground up, marked Friday's flu clinic
I went for my flu shot on Friday at the high school. I expected to spend quite some time in the effort, and was prepared - even had a book in my pocket. There was no chance to read. There was no time even to wonder how to get to the gym. The parking team had me in a slot and pointed me to a door before I could ask directions (as all real men do); once inside, the signs were clear: arrows, arrows, and more arrows. I was drawn down corridor after corridor like a cork on the tide and emptied into the gym where I was confronted with an array of tables organized into rows: answer questions here, then move on to the nurse. No waiting. No lines. Everyone knew what to do. Signs told me what to do. Before I knew it, I was flushed out the end of the gym and back into the stream to return to the parking lot. Painless, quick, and impressive.
But before I left, I had to find out who had been in charge of this well-run operation. I asked a nurse. "No one was in charge," I was told. How could this be? I asked others and received the same answer. The clinic had been organized collaboratively: it had no general, and no one organization put it together. Health-care workers, hospital nurses, VNA, VNS, EMTs, boards of health - they all worked together to plan and implement a most professional large-scale event. There was no czar, the county did not organize it, nor the MVC or the hospital. It was built from the ground up by the many health service people on the Island.
There is no question that much praise is due to all who participated. It is also comforting to know these groups could do it again - replicate it by sending e-mails, executing a telephone tree, and the broadcast of a message by Island communications. The operation worked. It can work again if an emergency required it, or perhaps just next year for a flu clinic on Veterans Day. It could work for handing out pills, emergency food rations, and countless other potential situations in these increasingly difficult times.
But there is another important lesson we can take from the success of this effort. All six towns can cooperate, organize, and produce. This Island seldom does that easily. Why is this example special? I believe it illustrates the utility of building cooperation from the ground up rather than the top down. The flu clinic was not ordained from the county or any other super agency; it was cobbled together to fill a need by like-minded health workers of all stripes from all towns, and it had the pride and high spirit of a winning team. Everyone pulled together to carry the day. Those who have recently been elected to review the county charter should take careful note of this success and see how much of the collaborative approach can be transferred to other needs involving all six towns. How do we build more regional successes?
The 2006 Veterans Day flu clinic has set a high standard. Thanks to all involved, and may its success be repeated to fill other Island needs that transcend the capabilities of any one town.
J. B. Riggs Parker is a Chilmark selectman.