When you can't get away, you have to get along

By Phil Crossman | Sep 22, 2016

There is a critical distinction between us on these islands, any small island, for that matter, or between any isolated community, and populations elsewhere. We can’t get away from one another, and so we experience continual and unavoidable interaction. Aside from the occasional vacation, very little of what we do requires us to be elsewhere. We live and work here, don’t commute elsewhere to do business and we don’t go elsewhere to carry out our transgressions. We commit them right here in the glare of the spotlight, within the shores that are our boundaries.

Of the 1,200 or so who call this island home, about one percent are continually in the spotlight, but their appearances are generally uninventive and uninteresting, nothing more than an excess of arrogance that seems sometimes an unfortunate byproduct of adolescence and, on occasions not rare enough, just hangs on too long. I’m familiar with this spotlight, not because I remember much about it myself, but because my elders, of whom there are with each passing year fewer and fewer, and of whom I expect to one day be free, remember clearly, and too often they have nothing better to do than remind me of my own past.

Far more interesting, though, is another 20 percent or so. These folks indulge a more refined mischief. They do not seek notoriety, but neither are they cowed by the prospect and, once illuminated, simply make the best of it, not only because there’s little else they can do but, it almost seems, they recognize the entertainment value and the degree to which sharing their opprobrium will brighten our lives.

They have been reconciled to the very great likelihood that the spotlight was bound to find them at some point and have developed, nurtured even, an attitude that constitutes an acknowledgement of the shortcomings that propel them to center stage. An atmosphere of irony breeds happily in these circumstances, but leaves the participants with an ever-watchful eye for that moment when the spotlight will shift from stage right to stage left, that moment when the observer becomes the observed, and so not too much mileage is gained from the misfortunes of others. Much advantage is taken, but not all that might be.

One winter, the last of too may she’d spent in his unsanctified company, an island girl moved out on a certain someone and moved in with her mother up-island. Before she left, she posted a list of her complaints on a sheet of plywood from which he had fashioned a hatch of sorts in a spot where, for years, he’d promised to install a proper front door. The list contained 14 observations, each describing a separate instance of something in or around the house that was undone or half-done. Presumably she’d have added more, but had run out of plywood. He subsequently posted a notice in The Wind announcing his availability as an inspirational speaker on the topic of personal alliances. The title of his talk was to be "An Unfinished House, the Key to a Lasting Relationship." We were all suitably appreciative.

Instances of irony don’t always result from mishaps or misfortune. Sometimes they are simply the product of community-minded imaginations doing what they can to brighten our winter doldrums. Witness, for example, the announcement that Port o Call Hardware would create the Snap-On Tool Bridal Registry. The registry was expected to attract island brides in droves as they chose, from among the offerings of tools, fasteners, housewares and fixtures, items likely to enhance the couple’s new home, excite the interest of the groom, or ensure his allegiance.

A recent perusal of the registry revealed the upcoming nuptials of Gwen Dyer and Phil Knowlton, Gwen having listed vise grips, duct tape and a motion sensor switch as items she’d be pleased to see at the gift table in April. Angie McFarland, indicating a May wedding to Jamie Olson, asked for a collapsible queen size bed with hand pump and a case of Carpet Fresh. No real conclusions suggested themselves, but possibilities were offered liberally.

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