Island Time

It’s springtime and the air on Martha’s Vineyard is filled with prospects of renewal, growth, and the abundance of change. So I’m doing what a lot of Island residents are doing this time of year. I’m thinking, Where the hell is that guy who said he’d show up a week ago to do that work on our house?

It’s a full-time job on this Island. I don’t mean working on other people’s houses – I’m referring to waiting around for people to show up.

Whether your no-show is a handyman or the professional you’ve contracted to perform some essential task around your house, if you live on the Island you are no doubt familiar with the Vineyard’s less than obsessive attitude toward showing up on time – or at all.

What is it about Martha’s Vineyard that induces such a cavalier attitude toward punctuality? In part it’s the downside of the laid-back outlook on life we all like so much about the Island. A lot of people have moved here precisely because they don’t want to adhere to mainstream ideas of doing business. There’s also the fact that the Vineyard, with its fishing and farming heritage, has a strong tradition of working in barter – “Hey, Doc, take out my daughter’s appendix and I’ll give you a chicken” – and with that comes a less than assiduous emphasis on contracts and hence, deadlines.

Whatever the reason, the unspoken understanding is that they’ve got us over a barrel – or the kitchen sink, the kerosene tank, or whatever it is we’re desperately hoping someone will someday attend to.

When our missing person finally shows up, almost never does he or she mention a word about their tardiness. I heard a story the other night about a couple who waited three years for a fellow to install some light fixtures in their house. When he finally finished, he just kind of shrugged and said, “Okay, that’s that,” and wandered off. Even getting a bill can take an eternity. Your only guarantee is that the invoice will arrive in your post office box when you’ve forgotten about it and you can least afford it.

But hold on. I’ve figured out the ultimate revenge: I’ve learned how to do some things myself. This is no mean feat for a city boy like myself whose mechanical capabilities never extended further than being able to adjust the height on his office chair.

With our handyman missing in inaction, I’ve been working my way through the long list of things I was planning to have him do. Okay, so our trampoline isn’t quite level and I assembled an arbor back to front, but I’m getting the hang of things. I can now count among my accomplishments laying an only mildly treacherous flagstone path, building a retaining wall that has collapsed just a little bit, and planting lots of things that will at some point grow.

My significant other warns me: “You asked him to come over and fix the wood stove and if he shows up later today and finds out you’ve done it, boy, is he going to be ticked off.” My response: I called him six months ago about this; what’s he going to do if he gets mad at me – stop showing up when he’s supposed to?

What a feeling it is when someone does show up on time. In such cases it’s not unusual to witness homeowners dissolve into a puddle of coquettish flattery: Oh, my, that’s a lovely van. Wow, I didn’t know they made ladders that big. Heavens, have you been working out since we last saw you – or is it just the cut of those new Carhartts?

Ah, but usually we must resign ourselves to looking plaintively out the window, hoping against hope for a glimpse of our hero in his trusty white pickup, his tool box at his side, a Camel dangling jauntily from his lip.

Hark, I hear a sound in the distance. Could that be him? Alas, no, ’tis but the UPS man. I’ve heard the expression “Island time” – but on Martha’s Vineyard it often seems the clock is stopped.