Second County


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.