So the guy says, “Hey buddy, you got a minute?”

You know a story is coming so you say, “Sure.”

It has been said that stories have a beginning a middle and an end. I beg to differ. Stories are infinite, ever being transformed, added to, and morphing into ever fresh versions. There is fiction and nonfiction. It always confused me that true stories have a ‘non’ in front of them, as if lesser. The fact is we are all stories, and all storytellers. All across the Island in coffee shops there are stories being flung about in great magnitude. There is a drugstore I know of where the stories start early in the morning, around 5:30 a.m., and go on until around 8 a.m.

When I was cooking on a Tall Ship on a round-the-world voyage, every morning, very early, the older guys in the crew would hang out around the galley and we would all share the tales of our lives. There is something about coffee that brings out stories. In the drugstore the stories are traded by Island dignitaries — police officers, painters and plumbers. It is a level playing field and each has its own perspective. The topic could be a local event or a worldwide one. A story is offered and someone pipes up, “that reminds me of the time,” and then the initial story is added to and embellished.

In Hawaii just chatting is called, “talking story.”

“Yeah I ran into one bradda, and we talk story, and you know what he told me?”

And the story grows.

The key, for the nonfiction kind of story, is that they are born of experience. “You’ll never believe what happened to me yesterday,” say’s one to another. “No way,” comes the reply, “that reminds me of the time.”

And the story grows.

The fact is we are all storytellers. Our lives are stories. All of our experiences, no matter how mundane, are the seeds of stories. Often they outlast our own lives.

My dear, late friend Oliver Hazard Perry, aka Johnny Seaview, a moniker he received from his time as bartender at the late great bar the Seaview in Oak Bluffs, was a fine storyteller. It never mattered to me that he told the same stories over and over again no matter how mundane because they were expressions of his unique experience.

“Brother, let me tell you, when I was a kid...” and suddenly I was on the streets of Boston in the 1930’s following a kid around who was delivering beer, or I would be at a famous nightclub during prohibition, or walking up the back stairs of the Seaview hearing of his love for Loretta, the owner and his sweetheart.

My first trip to the Vineyard came about when a brother’s father-in-law invited us to fly here in his Cessna. We landed in Oak Bluffs and went to lunch at the Seaview and there holding court was Johnny. But it wasn’t until years later when I came back to the Island and decided to stay that I met him and his friend Dick Manley at Linda Jeans. Our friendship began at that coffee shop and grew with the telling of stories. It was a simple handshake and a joke that started it all off. They were tree surgeons and Johnny quipped “Yeah, we’re always branching out.”

Not only do we tell each other stories but we tell ourselves stories too. Often these are of the fiction type. We have the uncanny ability to re-write our own history, turning the fiction into nonfiction in our minds.

Stories connect us to each other. They weave us together. Some people are considered storytellers which could be construed as a person who makes things up. Others are so called because of avocation or vocation. Storytellers of the latter sort have often held great power. In the Irish tradition, it has been said that the king would never insult a bard, commonly known as a singing storyteller, for fear that a new story in song would be told of him and would soon spread across the land.

As you go about your day, remember you are living your story. Equal to Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce, you are the bard and the king cannot insult you or stop your story. You can tell it or keep it to yourself, choose fiction or nonfiction. Your story is never ending.

“Hey buddy, you got a minute?”

Joe Keenan is a musician, writer, baker and shingler living in West Tisbury.