In this serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after years in Manhattan to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe loathes Richard Moby, chief of the off-Island landscaping business Broadway. He is irrationally convinced that Moby wants to destroy Abe personally, and Island-based nursery businesses in general.
Glad to hear you enjoy the zaniness of Becca’s Life On the Rock. It isn’t all work and family melodrama, of course, but I daren’t tell you too much about the other elements of daily life — quahogging, fishing, Land Bank walks, the fried clams consumed while watching casually stunning sunsets — or you’d die of jealousy. Oh, and we also have a few beaches. (Hey, inhale some of that cross-town bus exhaust for me, would you?)
Abe sent the Burning Bush to Amherst and we’re waiting to hear back. I’m picking low-bush blueberries frantically. Otherwise, things are calm now — that’s the irony for landscapers, this is a semi-sane time for us, while the Black Hole of early spring, that drives others to cabin fever, is when the landscapers are at their most bustling. For everyone else, summer is the season to work your butt off so that you can make it through the year.
Plenty of folks do what they can in the summer... and then in winter (which lasts into May), they do whatever else they can. When I was growing up, soooo many Vineyarders were handymen. That’s how they made their living: I do carpentry, I dig holes, I care-take houses, I fix cars, I tile, I paint, I hunt, I scallop, I fish, I plough snow, I shingle, I cut down trees ... his was the norm. Dunno if it’s like that now. I probably have to be here a full year before I can really tell.
Of course, with the Internet, there is a whole new breed of year-rounders, telecommuters who either work from home or shuttle to and from New York or Boston while raising their families here. These folks tend to make more money than your average handyman. So nowadays, there actually are some year-round residents who belong to a tax bracket most of America assumes all Vineyarders have always belonged to.
The school system has become a melding of that: working-class kids, not-at-all-working-class kids, and some in between. It’s probably a great thing, but I don’t know yet; I missed the rise of that phenomenon completely. A school buddy and I were reminiscing yesterday that few of our classmates ever lived in the “nice” old Edgartown houses. Ironically, off-Islanders who hear we’re from here assume we all grew up in such houses. No way, man — mostly, our parents serviced those houses.
I’m not trying to sound like a whining member of the great unwashed. Far from it. In fact, the whole “ecology of Island economy” gives those of us who grew up here two huge perks.
First, it’s a small-town community, and roots run deep. I come back after 20 years, and my parents’ friends immediately take me in as one of the pack, although my parents died years ago. If it snows next winter, three people have already volunteered to plow me out, and I know they’ll refuse payment. That is not so true for the folks who moved here once it became an “in” place to live. They complain about the high prices just as much as the natives, but they miss out on a lot of the perks — like free snow-plowing — because they don’t hang out with the natives. They hang out with each other, and lament the high cost of snow-plowing.
Second, and almost in contradiction: there is some truth to the notion that a rising tide raises all boats. People who never had anything much but the scrub-oak-covered land they inherited or bought for a song, decades ago (not as an investment, just as an affordable place to live) suddenly found themselves, about 20 years ago, sitting on goldmines. My friend’s dad is a former handyman (now general contractor) and here’s the spiel he gives to everyone who will listen: As residences not only skyrocketed in number but also expanded in size and quality, the plumbers and tilers and carpenters and electricians suddenly found themselves with so much work they could expand, hire help, work long and hard and suddenly have plenty of money. They’re crusty old Yanks, so they may not like the traffic explosion or the proliferation of “summer dinks” or even “winter dinks” — but they sure do like that economic comfort, which was pretty alien to the year-round scene before the Vineyard was “discovered.” And a lot of them, however cool they act, get a kick out of rubbing elbows in the hardware store with Jim Belushi or Tony Shalhoub.
But then on the other hand... the rising tide also raises prices, often faster than regular Islanders can keep up with (although to the credit of Island employers, wages are better here than off-island). There’s no way I could afford to buy a house here now, despite years of steady employment while living cheap in a rent-controlled apartment. I grew up in a cottage my dad built with his own hands, on five acres of overgrown fields (i.e., scrubby woods) he bought for $2,000 before I was born. When my folks died, the place was sold to defray the costs of my upbringing and education. If I wanted to buy that same house back now I’d need a million dollars.
Luckily, I have cousins letting me live with them cheap through the summer. I’m sharing a miniscule bathroom with a family of five and I’ve been warned that mold will take over the house in about a month, but it’s a home and I’m grateful for it. In the fall, when rents go down, I’ll look for a place, since I haven’t been back long enough to qualify for affordable housing.
Meanwhile, most of my waking hours are spent at Pequot, and each day the whole staff nervously waits to see if the U-Mass extension office will validate Abe’s enraged claim that Richard Moby is a deceitful law-breaking bag of scum who deserves to be arrested, if not executed...
Be part of the Your Name Here campaign: any person or business donating $250 or more to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services can get a mention in Moby Rich. Please call 508-693-7900, extension 374. Nicole Galland’s critically acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. See online nicolegalland.com for more on Moby Rich.