The other day word went round that a friend’s sign had been stolen from its accustomed place at the end of his road. This wasn’t just any sign: it’s unique, hand-crafted and -painted, and big enough to be legible from several hundred feet off.
As it turned out, the report resulted from a miscommunication. The sign hadn’t budged from its accustomed place at the end of the road. Whew.
Between the first report and the second, we of course speculated busily over who might have done such a thing, and why: the sign’s monetary value would make its theft a felony, and the sign itself is so instantly recognizable that any attempt to sell it would probably bite the thief-seller in the butt, later if not sooner.
But art thieves make off with paintings that are even more recognizable and valued at hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. Presumably there’s a market for such high-end swag: individuals who will pay big bucks for the satisfaction of having private access to a masterpiece, and perhaps of having put one over on the authorities.
Besides — in our speculations we reminisced about artistic roadside signs that had been stolen for real and never recovered. Travvy’s vet lost hers that way. Hell, never mind “artistic”: When Fred Fisher Jr. was still alive, Nip N Tuck Farm had to stop selling its raw milk in returnable glass bottles, because some customers wanted to keep them as souvenirs or sell them as “collectibles” for considerably more than the $2.50 deposit. (Need I add that we law-abiding year-round customers were absolutely 100% sure that the miscreants weren’t from here.)
So I was thinking about all this when Travvy and I headed up to Waskosims Rock late yesterday afternoon, to take the walk we couldn’t take during shotgun season, when we went to Great Rock Bight instead. What I was thinking was that many people would have been surprised at our surprise that the beautiful sign had been stolen: What kind of idiot leaves something so valuable out in plain sight anyway?
To which question I replied: The kind of idiot who wants to live in a place where you can leave something so valuable out in plain sight and not have it disappear unexpectedly.
As it turned out, we idiots do still live in such a place. In summer, gardeners still leave vegetables and cut flowers unattended at roadside stands, along with a posted price and a coffee can to put money in. Yes, signs do get stolen, and money sometimes gets swiped, and I’m sure the occasional customer helps him/herself without paying. My car keys are nearly always in the ignition, and I don’t know where my house keys are. My car could get stolen or my apartment broken into — well, not literally: the door’s unlocked so you don’t have to break anything — but it hasn’t happened (yet).
I want to live in a place where I can leave the car keys in the ignition and my front door unlocked, so I leave the keys in the ignition and the front door unlocked. Be the change you want to see in the world, so the saying goes. It’s like that.
In my first months on Martha’s Vineyard, going keyless was such a wonder that I wrote “The Key Sestina” about it. I did indeed lock my doors in my D.C. days, but since I didn’t own a car, I walked, biked, and took public transportation all over the place, often by myself. I wasn’t stupid — there were some places I wouldn’t go, especially at night — and I was indeed luckier than some of my friends. When I worked in the suburbs, though, my co-workers were continually amazed that those of us who lived “in the District” made it to work alive every morning. They thought we lived 24/7 in the bad-news clips they saw on TV.
I’ve got this hunch that part of what’s fueling the so-called “blue state/red state” divide is that so much of what we know about people we don’t know comes from TV and social media. If I hadn’t lived in D.C. all those years, I’d probably think it was one big 24-hour-a-day crime wave. I’d probably think it was all about the federal government and nothing but the federal government. Yeah, right: like Martha’s Vineyard is all about celebrities and summer people.
We live where we live, and we live the way we want that place to be; the way we live is what that place becomes. And — to steal Grace Paley’s great line one more time: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you’d better watch where your mouth is.”