Did you ever wonder WHY?

Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Marty, I have begun to wonder about things. And now I have something to say when I am blog-topic-less. So…here goes.

Did you ever wonder why a dog who barks incessantly suddenly stops?

It happened to me the other night. For almost an hour, Rover kept woof-woofing. It sounded as if he were somewhere down the street…the sounds weren’t close enough to be next door, but loud enough to be annoying. A German Shepard, perhaps. Or maybe an alto poodle. Left home alone. And unhappy.

Woof, woof. Arf, arf.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. Really, I do. Anyone who’d ever seen me with Snuggles (my cocker spaniel—see photoSnuggles copy) knows that’s the truth. But on a warm evening, with the windows open, the woof, woof, arf, arf was, as my friend Bev would say, “working my last nerve.” (I love that saying.)

So I closed the windows. The arfs were muted, but still there. I tried to read. I washed the dishes. I flicked on the TV news, turned it up loud. The woofs evolved into a deep howl.

Then, suddenly, they stopped.

I waited. Nothing. Nadda. Yay.

Then I started to, as Marty would say, wonder why.

My thoughts could have gone to dark places, but, as I said, I love dogs. I decided to deduce that his (or her) owner must have returned home. The sweet dog was happy again, wagging his tail, trotting into his house, crunching Milk Bones and enjoying a few laps of cool water that would no doubt soothe his throat that must have been burning from all those vocals.

I returned to luxuriate in the quiet and stopped wondering why. Until the morning when I had to do errands.

I opened the door to the outside, juggling my keys, my purse, and a trash bag (I was en route to the dump). I stepped out onto the small deck and into the early sunshine. All was lovely until I took my next breath. My throat closed up. My eyes suddenly watered. I tried to mouth-breathe, the way a doctor friend had once taught me.

Unfortunately, nothing helped. I quickly raced to my car, threw the trash bag in the back, jumped into the driver’s seat, and slammed the door. But even inside my hermetically-sealed VW Jetta, the smell was unmistakeable: skunk.

And that’s when I knew. The dog must have stopped barking because he’d had a visit from one of the neighborhood black-and-white critters. He must have forgotten that this is their island, not his. And I suppose, like me, even skunks appreciate silence.

The end. No more wondering needed.

P.S. I have not heard a peep, so I assume that the dog has returned to the mainland with his owners. Unfortunately, the aroma of his visitor still lingers. Not as strong, but still there.

I have no idea if there is a moral to this story. Maybe Marty can come up with one.

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Life is a Potluck Dinner

They liked it. :-)

It wasn’t actually dinner. It was the annual St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church picnic (aka Potluck); it would be held at the venue facility in Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs, and would follow a traditional service. Set atop a bluff, the tastefully rustic building offers a spectacular view of Lagoon Pond, the new drawbridge, and Vineyard Haven Harbor in the distance. The day was bright and sunny; while we were there, a couple of ferries came and went, their gleaming white upper decks dotted with passengers, a statement that summer is almost here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I did not have a clue what to bring. I lost my ability/desire/call it whatever to cook sometime in the late 1980s. And for a Potluck? Argh. I usually resort to brownies. Or sugar cookies, if I can add M & M’s and stash some in the freezer.

But for such a beautiful day, I decided to push the nutritional envelope.

I found my answer on the Internet: Slice of Tomato; Slice of fresh Mozzarella; Sprig of fresh basil. Drizzle olive oil over all. Even I could do that.

But while I was assembling (can’t call it cooking) my “dish,” it occurred to me that these events are really like life: when you join any group, you never know what you’re going to get, but chances are, it won’t all be potato salad.

Starting a new job? Your co-workers will definitely be Potluck. Some sweet ones, some tangy, some who might not seem terrific but turn out amazing.

What about School? When I was a kid, every September was a Potluck: The only time I knew what would be at the table was in high school homeroom when the class was alphabetized. I could be fairly sure that Ray Barafauldi would sit in front of me and Molly Briggs would be behind me. (Back then my name began with a “B,” which you’ve probably figured.) My prediction was usually right unless there was a new kid in town or someone had moved away.

As I sliced the mozzarella, I realized that every time we step out in public we step into a Potluck. At the Post Office, the Library, the Supermarket . . . some people smile, some chat a bit; some hold up the line, others seem content to stay in their own little worlds.

But it all works, doesn’t it? The folks at the office, the kids in school, the people meandering around town: If we all were the same, things would be pretty boring. Especially if everyone was a novelist like me whose head lives in make-believe much of the time.

At the picnic yesterday, someone brought salad, someone brought meatballs, someone brought quiche; several brought desserts. I didn’t see any potato salad, but people seemed to enjoy my Tomato/Mozzarella/Basil/Olive Oil concoction. We all helped ourselves to the seemingly incongruous selections—some sweet, some tangy, most, amazing—and proceeded to revel in the cacophony of life.

But wait! I forgot the best part! At two minutes before the service was to start, the woman in charge of the altar things realized she’d forgotten the communion wine. For one horrified moment there seemed to be no answer. Then Father Chip’s gaze shifted to the assortment of desserts that awaited the after-service celebration. “We have red grapes!” he announced. “Fill up the Chalice!” Perfect. I guess there truly is everything one needs at the Potluck table.

www.jeanstone.com

Hark! I went!

I never cared much IMG_5032for Shakespeare’s works. All the “Lo,” “Behold,” and “Alas” words find me rolling my eyes. Back in high school, I always felt I was reading another language—the kind where you walk into class and the teacher only speaks those words, and the text is only written that way, and you don’t have a clue what’s going on.

But now I’m on the Vineyard and the Edgartown Library is awesome.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing, Virginia (our favorite film lady) will show two films of his plays each day Monday through Thursday; live performances Friday and Saturday. The tribute began yesterday with a film screening of Falstaff, the Verdi Opera featuring a top jokester favorite of the Bard.

If there’s anything I know less about than Shakespeare, it’s Opera.

When I was a kid we watched the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. My dad had a wonderful sense of humor. In between the circus acts and comic shticks, Sullivan often featured an opera singer. My dad then employed exaggerated lip sync and dubious sounds that rose up from his toes in order to imitate the vocalist who was usually a soprano. My sister and I doubled over in laughter.

I tried to put that image out of my mind yesterday as I went to view Falstaff. I really enjoyed it! For starters, the new community room is wonderful, the 12-foot screen something to behold (Behold!) and the production that was filmed at the Met was terrific. I really enjoyed it. Thank you, once again, to the Edgartown Library for challenging and expanding my mind.

Tonight I will go watch Othello. I think I read that one in college. As I recall, it wasn’t exactly beach reading, but I suppose some of Shakespeare’s fans might find VINEYARD MAGIC much ado about nothing. Alas! I do tend to be a product of my generation. Though I secretly wish my dad had been with me yesterday. He would have done a great Mistress Quickly.

Farewell, Downton Abbey

IMG_4752The shock is beginning to set in. After next Sunday night, the wonderful PBS series Downton Abbey will be history. Done. Only to be viewed again in . . . re-runs.

Enter the Edgartown Public Library.

The building on North Water Street officially closes next Saturday—coincidentally, the day before the final episode of DA airs—as it begins its move to a magnificent, new facility. In preparation for the last hurrah of both DA and the equally beloved library, a screening of the show’s finale was in order, to be followed by High Tea.

Given the tight quarters in the basement of the old place, seating would be limited. The sign outside declared that the event was “Sold Out,” though the price of admission was merely enthusiasm and early registration. About 20 folks scored a “ticket.”

A decked-out gentleman greeted us at the door and presented himself as “Foster, the Butler.”

Women comprised most of the audience. There were a few hats, and I noticed that at least one lady was wearing elbow-length gloves. The room was abuzz with conjectures: would Mary run off with Tom, the former chauffeur? Would Robert drop dead? Would Marigold ever seem happy to be there?

IMG_4753The lights dimmed; the fish tank was unplugged, eliminating both a fluorescent glow and the drone of its filter; our hostess appeared. Good grief, it was Mrs. Patmore! Or was it? Dark hair, not blonde, peeked from beneath her cap. Her apron was cleaner and crisper than Mrs. P.’s. And when she spoke a few words of welcome, she sounded suspiciously like Virginia Munro, who is known to have choreographed more than a few terrific events in the basement.

No matter. We chose to believe that, indeed, it was Mrs. P., not Virginia. Whoever she was, she pushed a button and . . . ahhh . . . the music began, the long shot of the grounds of the estate and the hind end of the yellow lab guided us toward . . . well, I’m not going to say anymore. No spoilers here. Suffice it to say, if you are a fan, be sure to watch next week.

As for our group, two hours later we watched in stunned silence as the credits rolled. DA was over. A distinct sound of rustling tissues filling the room; sniffs were sniffed; low murmurs were murmured, if that is a word.

The lights came up again. Foster called for our attention. Then he announced: “Ladies and Gentlemen, tea is now being served in . . .” wait for it . . . “the Library.”

Of course it was. Tiny sandwiches, tea cakes, pudding tarts. And yummy tea, poured into a colorful array of delicate porcelain teacups that had once belonged to Virginia’s . . . er, Mrs. Patmore’s mother, and had been rescued from a carton in a basement for this most fitting occasion.

The best part is, as with M.A.S.H, Cheers, and, of course, Seinfeld, I will always remember where I was for the Downton Abbey finale.

Pardon my Doornail Cliché

IMG_4674Anyone who lives East of, oh, I don’t know, L.A. perhaps, is aware of the wicked freezing temperatures this past weekend. And few folks will be shocked that my car refused to start.

Sadly, no one knows a car has a dead battery until one is going out. Needing to be somewhere. Having stuff to do.

I had a list. Errands. Not fun, but necessary.

So when I turned on the ignition and heard that dreadful . . . nothing . . . I groaned. It was as dead as a clichéd doornail.

AAA no longer services the island. (That’s another story.) But they reimburse you, once someone defibrillates the thing.

A nice man showed up quickly. (Hooray!) He got it going. Then he told me I should drive it for a while without shutting it off.

I’d like to pause to mention this happened here a few years ago when I stupidly failed to turn the car lights off after dark. (I was still getting used to the utter blackness of the nights and was concerned, well, okay, terrified, of skunks.)

When AAA arrived (that was before the “other story”) and solved the problem, I was told to drive my car for an hour. Problem: I’d been heading for the boat. “Not with this car you’re not,” the AAA guy said. Huh? It’s only 15 minutes to the ferry, but once on board, I’d have to shut my car off. The folks behind me might say mean things when we reached Woods Hole and my car couldn’t disembark. (Not sure if AAA serviced the Island Home.) Anyway, I drove in circles around the island for an hour and took a later boat.

Fast forward to this weekend. “But I have errands to do,” I whined after the nice man echoed his predecessor. Then he added, “Well, luckily you’re on the Vineyard. Just leave it running.”

Leave it running? My car doesn’t lock when it’s left running. (Thanks for the safety factor, VW.) Still . . . I had things to do.

First, the post office. I dashed in quickly, one eye peeled on the parking lot where telltale smoke puffed merrily from the exhaust pipe into the frigid air. I made it back before car thieves could arrive.

Next stop, the pharmacy. Unfortunately, the things I needed weren’t by the window. My heart pounded just a bit, but when I returned, my car awaited, nice and toasty, as I’d left the heater running, too.
Last stop: the seafood market. The owner stood inside, peering out. “Let me know if anyone steals my car,” I said. He chuckled, shook his head.

I paid for my clam chowder. On the way out, another woman entered. She, too, was alone. As I got back to my car, I realized she had parked beside me. And she’d left her motor running. With no one else inside.

Moral of the story: This is Martha’s Vineyard, Jean.

Warning: Wherever you are, I don’t recommend trying this at home.

Pepe was Here.

hh_sba_skunkIt’s been a quiet evening. I’ve been sitting in the living room, drinking tea, watching a movie, playing Words with Friends. And now, it has happened without fanfare or warning: the unmistakable, slow-rising, scent of . . . skunk.

I have learned that skunks are indigenous to the Vineyard. Like a lot of people, they seem to like it here. There once was a campaign to name the species the island’s official bird. Don’t know how that worked out.

They’re bigger than most birds. Up to 18 pounds. My research says they’re born blind, and that they wind up with lousy eyesight but terrific hearing. So, if they can’t see the cars coming on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road—especially around dawn or dusk—you’d think they at least could hear them soon enough to get the heck out of the way. It would help avoid snarky answers to the riddle: “What’s black and white and red all over?”

As someone who spent years in western Massachusetts, not far from active farms, I am no stranger to nature’s scents. (Think dairy cows.) Sometimes your eyes sting so badly it’s easy to forget that it’s organic, so it must be good for us.

I’m not sure how much good the skunks are, though, especially since they are primary predators of the honeybee. If we had fewer skunks on the Vineyard, perhaps we’d solve the problem of global bee extinction.

The whole time I’ve been writing this, the aroma has grown stronger. I’m not sure where the culprit is: my backyard, across the street, maybe in the village. Like the sounds of the waves, the scent can carry.

I’ve actually only seen a few live ones. Once while I was on a restaurant patio a big one casually waddled past as if he were one of the waitstaff. Another time I was walking to my car and, apparently, so was Pepe.

I hold no grudge against the skunks, and feel a little sad to learn that their lifespan is a mere two to three years. Which is probably a sign that I’ve adapted to my environment, and that, like them, I like it here.

I think I’ll make more tea now; maybe play another game. And I really should close the window. Maybe that will help.

1,000 Clams

1,000 clamsI blame too many years in advertising for the fact I am a cynic. But as a diehard copywriter, I admit there’s one thing I still admire: great ad copy.

“Why didn’t I write that?” I’ve moaned more than once when I’ve seen or heard or read a fabulous, on-target headline attached to a great concept: Just do it. Maybe she’s born with it. Guess what day it is? You know the ones: They call up an instant image, evoke an instant feeling, spark an instant interest in the product.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a great one. Until the other day.

Subscribe to the VINEYARD GAZETTE and we’ll give 1,000 CLAMS . . .

It turns out that for each new subscription or renewal, the Gazette will donate 1,000 clams to help preserve the island’s coastal ponds. Fabulous, indeed.

Oh, sure, some folks might be disappointed not to get a mug or another tote bag. (My favorite has always been the free calendar with a one-year renewal.) But I think idea of the clams is brilliant, not only as a marketing hook, but also for its environmental effort.

The ad piqued my interest. I researched old Gazette articles and learned that quahogs (pronounced co-hogs, for those not in the know) are now thought to be the “longest-lived animals on the planet” since, a few years back, one was found off the coast of Iceland and determined to be 405 years old. Hmm. Not sure I’d want to pop that one into the chowder.

I can’t find any reference as to how “clams” began to connote “money,” but I suspect it’s connected to “wampum,” the supposed form of currency in 17th century America that was crafted from the purple and white shards of clamshell remnants scattered across the island beaches after seagulls have jack-hammered them for lunch. (Yes, I’ve mentioned that before.)

But I digress.

I don’t know the name of the copywriter who came up with the ad or which actually came first: the idea to donate clams or the clever headline as a marketing tool. But I’d like to send a big Hooray! for a job well done.

I also renewed my subscription for another year. (Good marketing, like good writing, deserves positive results.) When I finished, I clicked “Submit.” Then I shut down my computer, drove to the bookstore, and bought my own calendar.

On the way home, I stopped at the seafood market.