A generation ago, Angela Lansbury spent 264 television episodes as Jessica Fletcher, an Agatha Christie-style detective who solved murders for the most part right in her own backyard, the sleepy rural town of Cabot Cove, Me. Two observations occurred to me: why would anyone hang out with Jessica once you realize that wherever she is someone gets murdered? And what’s the matter with Cabot Cove, a little fishing village that has a violent crime wave commensurate with Chicago? By the end of the series, I was amazed that there was anyone left in Cabot Cove or that Jessica Fletcher had not been quarantined.

What it showed me was that a country township needs a full schedule of doings and goings-on to insure that mayhem is kept to a minimum. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

This summer I cannot believe that anything is idle on Martha’s Vineyard, except many a car engine stuck in traffic. In short, if you are living here this summer, there is no time to kill. Put another way, if you’re socially conscious or culturally curious, there is no time to recede into a chair and read a book. You should be attending something somewhere. As Woody Allen said, 90 per cent of life is just showing up. But on the Vineyard, that number this summer has been inching up, alarmingly.

It seems like every day and night there are a half dozen events to consider. And with this summer’s crowds, they all seem to be fairly well-attended. It’s even hard to find a seat on Cape Air. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this July was the hottest on record in the continental U.S.

First, there are the causes — the charities, nonprofits, political fundraisers and helping hands we all deep down inside wish we were. They are certainly worthwhile and worthy of attention, comprehension and contribution. But by summer’s end I’ll bet there will be just about one dollar left on this Island that’s unclaimed or uncommitted.

These, of course, are up against concerts, films, plays, readings, lectures, dances, art shows, book signings, fairs, flea markets, farmers’ markets, weddings and just plain old party-time get-togethers. One of the reasons why all of these events can actually take place on this Island is because there are so many places to take. Just think of how many venues there are on the Vineyard, besides homes and boats. To name a few, we have the Whaling Church, the Hebrew Center, Union Chapel, Agricultural Hall, Grange Hall, the Vineyard Playhouse (closed for renovation this summer), the new Martha’s Vineyard Film Center (being built this summer), the Performing Arts Center, Featherstone, Vineyard Arts Project, Chilmark Community Center, Katharine Cornell Theatre, The Tabernacle, Dreamland, Pit Stop, Hooked, The Yard, three town movie theatres, six town libraries, the Oak Bluffs arts district, galleries and studios all over, golf courses, yacht clubs, parks from Ocean to Owen, and locations only revealed by an RSVP. Pardon me if I left out something, and I most assuredly have, but you have to admit this is a lot for an Island.

Here’s another admission: I can’t keep up! I’m way behind in events! Where’s winter when you need it! I open the paper’s calendar section, look at my e-mails, check out the posters pinned up in town, and I’m exhausted. They’re everywhere — not only the events but also the friends and family who want to go to them. And they want to go with us or stay the night with us. We’d lock the house door but we can’t find the keys. I’m feeling claustrophobic.

It’s not only that there’s no more room for people or activities, there’s no more room for food. I can’t eat another bite! Every night there’s another invitational meal somewhere — from cookouts to clambakes to gourmet experiments to the proverbial wine-and-cheese-a-thons. All well-attended and well-intended. But now I’m well-extended and distended. Fasting begins to look good to me. So does January. I hear a haiku burbling.

Food for second thoughts

Sighing, he passed the relish

And relished the past

Back in our seasonal days, we used to flee this Island in August and find solace in our primary home back on the mainland in South Natick. Now we live here full-time and need to find a South Natick of our own right here. We must learn to pace ourselves to survive the summers. While we continue to support worthy causes, we must see to it that we do not become one.

Other year-rounders of longer standing give me the knowier-than-thou look as they watch me go by them as if I were spinning through a rinse cycle. They instruct me about being ever so selective in my enticements. “Go to just those events you really want to experience. Draw the line on the timings and durations of house guests. And come December, when you’re feeling sane and serene, take out your checkbook and remember those worthy causes you may have slighted in August.”

Next year I think we may consider re-routing potential house guests to Cabot Cove, but first we would have to do the right thing and arm them.


Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.