Back when I was in high school in Denver, Colo., I discovered James Thurber, essayist, cartoonist, playwright, humorist, curmudgeon. He seemed to live the perfect life — writing for the New Yorker and living primarily in Manhattan, but also spending time in Paris, in the Connecticut countryside, on the island of Bermuda and on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in a little fishing village called Menemsha — an exotic place I had never heard of before.

Now that I live on the Island, and like every summer watch the comings and goings of seasonal residents and tourists, who travel here by airplane and car in relative ease, traffic notwithstanding, I thought back to Thurber’s journey from the ballyhoo that was Broadway to the lullaby that was Menemsha. In the 1920s and 1930s this was a major undertaking. He and his wife would hire a cook and pack their bags for a month’s vacation, sometimes for the whole summer. They would pile into a taxi and head for New York’s Pier 14. There they’d board a ship called the Priscilla and meet their luggage in a stateroom. They would leave port at about 5 p.m.

Priscilla was a luxury paddlewheel steamship — a royal example of elegant transportation, eventually to be replaced by cars filled with middle-class families driving along newly paved highways. These ships were floating grand hotels, the kind you see in sophisticated film comedies of the 1930s, where the upper crust on the upper deck waltzed to orchestral accompaniments between nibbles of caviar and flutes of champagne.

The next morning, some 15 hours later, Priscilla would pull up her skirts on the shores of Fall River. The Thurbers and their cook would disembark and take a taxi to New Bedford. Once there, they would board a smaller boat. This vessel would stop at Woods Hole to pick up freight and more passengers. Next stop was the Vineyard where they’d hire a car to take them to a cottage in Menemsha. There, in a relaxed state without the bother of electricity, Thurber would work up one New Yorker story on his portable typewriter — one story that would foot the bill for their time in this timeless place.

As he once said to S. J. Perelman in a language familiar to the other humorist: “It was well worth the schlep.”

The initial lure was cast by Thurber’s agent, who had a home here. His name was John Gude and he also represented Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney, among others. Gude died in 1998 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital at the age of 96. His children — Liz, Dave and Jonathan — have strong roots here as well.

In 1941, 80 years ago while he was in Menemsha and 20 years before he left the planet, Thurber agreed to an interview with the Vineyard Gazette. The reporter was a savvy summer girl of 18 named Polly Woolcott. Four years later she would marry the artist Stanley Murphy. In 1948 they moved here and became residents. She was a great lady and died here in 2009 at 86.

In his Vineyard Gazette Reader collection, Henry Beetle Hough noted that this interview was “carried on by an attractive girl, entirely without sophistication, who was not yet twenty.”

Without sophistication, maybe, but not without smarts. “Recently awakened from his afternoon nap, Mr. Thurber still looked and acted somewhat groggy,” she wrote. “He has a small mustache and dark graying hair which he wears rather long in front and runs his fingers through wildly until it stands up straight on the top of his head. He talks in a lazy, almost drawling manner.”

Then she quotes him: “I loathe sailboats….Awful things. You get wet and you sit on the sheets and then the boom comes around and socks you. I’ve been hit on the head by booms more times than any man that’s still alive. The Queen Mary is the only kind of boat I like. It’s just a nice comfortable hotel, and you don’t see the water for days. Sailboats are so futile. You always come back to the same point you started from.”

She notes that a few years after his career began at the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, he came to the New Yorker as managing editor. “Don’t think it’s any distinction,” he said. “Everybody starts on the New Yorker as managing editor and works his way down. We have thirty-seven ex-managing editors on the staff now, and three of them are office boys…”

Later in life, Thurber offered an excuse for how he handled interviews: “My opposition to interviews lies in the fact that offhand answers have little value or grace of expression, and that such oral give-and-take helps to perpetuate the decline of the English language.”

He had a love affair with the English language. Quite often this would be the topic of a “casual,” the New Yorker term for a short humorous piece. He put all of God’s creatures under a magnifying glass and found all had blemishes. He focused on life’s frustrations and the inexplicable. He showcased people, including himself, trying to act logical in illogical situations. This is the definition of farce.

As a cartoonist, usually of pensive dogs and excitable people, Thurber became known for many one-liners. Here are two of my favorites:

A woman on the telephone saying: “Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?”

A gent pouring wine for a dinner guest: “It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

These from the mind of a man who once said: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

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.