Three western states showed up in July — a pretty good catch. New Mexico got in just under the wire: I spotted it at up-island Cronig’s yesterday. Earlier in the month, Nevada was just leaving downtown Vineyard Haven as I was driving in, and Montana was at the Merchants Mart next to the Black Dog Café. The Montana plate was one I’d never seen before, plain blue on white, but I’ve since learned that Montana has as many as 400 different plates so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
There’s generally very little action in the last five months of the year, but I’m not giving up.
I do love to walk. I walk a lot. I walk about four miles on an average day. (Read on and you’ll learn how I know this.)
Some people walk because they have a dog. Me, many years ago I got my first dog, the late great Rhodry Malamutt (1994–2008), because I liked to walk. Friends who worked conventional hours would ask me to take their dog with them when I went for a walk. Walks occasionally turned into overnights (“Hey, could you possibly look after . . . ?”), and eventually I realized that I was responsible enough to have a dog of my own. Rhodry, by the way, was the younger full sibling of two of my foster dogs.
So last fall a bunch of us activist Vineyard women took part in a Run/Walk for RBG challenge. (RBG, need I say, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had died a few months before and been replaced on the Supreme Court by — don’t get me started.) The idea was to run or walk 87 miles, 87 being RBG’s age when she died. You didn’t have to do it all at once: you could do it in increments. The organizers’ website provided a handy way to keep track of your miles.
This was a benefit for several worthy women’s organizations, and it came with some fun swag, like an RBG T-shirt and a medallion that says WE DISSENT on the ribbon.
It also meant that I had to log my miles, which meant taking my phone with me when I went for a walk. Danger danger danger . . .
For many years I was a cell-phone resister. Since I work from home, have a working landline, and spend at least half my day on my laptop, I didn’t need one. I’m also not, and never have been, a phone person. My medium (big surprise) is the written word. Email suits me just fine.
Also I was afraid a phone would take over my life. I would become one of those people who can’t shop for groceries without talking on the phone.
In January 2019, however, I got my first cell phone. A Samsung Galaxy J7, in case you’re wondering. It still works fine.
By the fall of 2020 I was pretty sure I’d be OK. If I was going to turn into a phone junkie, it would have happened by now, right? It had come in handy several times, like in May 2019, when I used GPS to successfully navigate my way through Boston for my 50th high school reunion. (It was less helpful on my way home from picking up puppy Tam Lin in Canandaigua, N.Y. If I hadn’t jettisoned GPS and started following the signs to I-95, I probably would have missed the last boat home.)
I did take to texting, and when I was editing on paper I used my phone for dictionary look-up and consulting the Chicago Manual of Style. (When I’m editing on screen, I invariably have Chicago and two or three dictionaries open in Firefox.)
Nevertheless, to take my phone when I went out walking meant venturing across another line. The signs didn’t say KEEP OUT but they did urge CAUTION.
I got the Map My Walk app, which did indeed map my route(s) and tell me how far I’d walked and how long it had taken me. It also gave me my average pace and my fastest pace. (I refused to let it tell me how many calories I had consumed. Enough is enough.) I learned that the shortest version of my usual morning walk was closer to 2 miles than the 3+ I’d been guesstimating. I learned that my fastest pace was about 4 miles an hour, which I expected from previous informal attempts to time myself, but my average pace when walking with Tam was less than 3 1/2. The discrepancy wasn’t hard to figure out: walking with a dog involves plenty of pauses to sniff or pee.
What prompted me to try jogging? (Keep in mind that I don’t jog and actively dislike jogging.) Those statistics, plus curiosity! Would jogging a few steps change my fastest pace?
It would, and it did: it raised my fastest pace to 5 mph. At first glance this doesn’t seem like much, but hey, it’s a 25% increase. Walking without Tam I could cover a mile in 15 minutes. If I jogged a mile, I could do it in 12.
No way could I jog a whole mile. This is what intrigued me: with good shoes I can walk for miles and miles, but jogging for a mere fraction of a mile was out of the question. Jogging was work. My legs, knees, feet, and lungs made that quite clear. What’s the difference?
A friend who both walks and runs thought it was the increased speed. When jogging I noticed that at one point in each stride both feet seemed to be off the ground, something that doesn’t seem to happen when walking. Could that be requiring more effort? It definitely added to the concussion of foot on ground, even when the ground was mostly dirt. This is one reason I don’t jog (much): when walking, I work out snags in whatever I’m writing or editing, or just mull things over. Jogging pushes all thoughts out of my head.
Aside: I just Googled “why is jogging different from walking” and OMG what a rabbit hole I almost fell down! This article is actually quite useful.
The short version is that from time to time when Tam and I are out walking, I jog a little bit, just for the hell of it. I count to 10 when I’m doing it, over and over again. Mostly I don’t pay attention to distance, but a few days ago on the bike path I wondered if I could jog from Neptune to Uranus. (See photo below if you’re wondering about this.)
Well, yes, I could, and I’ve done it several times since. I feel moderately accomplished about this. I’ve even wondered if I can make it as far as Saturn. But don’t worry: I’m not jogging.
The other day I came across a clever aphorism so of course I did it up pretty and posted it on my Facebook timeline as “Quote of the Day:
“Dance like nobody’s watching. Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”
To me this is common sense, cleverly put and topical too, given the number of emails, text messages, and photos that are winding up in courts and congressional hearings these days. But one FB friend thought it was “sad,” and another regretted that “privacy was a thing of the past.”
This prompted my (loaded) question: “What is this privacy of which you speak?” Which I of course then answered, more or less as follows:
I, like most of us, started off as a kid. Most kids have zero privacy. What privacy they have is at the discretion of adults.
As an antiwar activist (and undergrad at Georgetown University, which at the time was big into in loco parentis, especially for women), I learned to assume that anything I did, wrote, or said on the phone might be seen or overheard by someone who did not wish me well.
As a feminist, ditto, plus as a lesbian I was careful about what I wrote in a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.
Since 1985 I’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island of small towns. Long before social media, we had the grapevine. Before long I knew — or at least had heard — plenty of stuff about people I didn’t know, and (as an out lesbian who’d come from “away”) I was pretty sure that many people had me pegged without the benefit of firsthand information.
At the same time the grapevine helped me find “my people”, mainly through theater and music (surprise surprise — in every time and place “misfits” tend to congregate in these areas).
So I’m curious. Are some people not aware of this, or are they just leading such unexceptional lives that they don’t realize they’re being noticed, such solitary lives that they aren’t being noticed, or such privileged lives that they don’t have to worry?
I could have gone on. Working at D.C.’s feminist bookstore was a bit like living in a fishbowl, but I never had to worry about losing my job because of what someone overheard me say or because they noticed I was reading, say, Lesbian Fiction or, heaven forbid, Lesbian Sex. People in other places or with other jobs had to be continually vigilant, even, in some cases, at home.
Such vigilance isn’t unique to lesbians and gay men either. Not by a long shot. The phrase “in the closet” didn’t take long to move from lesbian and gay subcultures into the straight world because so many of us have things about ourselves that we have to keep quiet about for fear of repercussions from the outside world.
So back to the original aphorism, and why I don’t find it sad at all. The idea is to dance like nobody’s watching even when someone is watching, and to be able to stand by the words and images you send out into the world, whether by email or social media or blog post. For most of us, it’s highly unlikely they’ll end up in a deposition, or going viral on Twitter, but what if they did? Could you stand by them, or would you say “Oops” and start back-pedaling?
I don’t need a calendar to tell me what season it is. My laundry line makes it clear. Guess what? It’s summer!
Saturday’s laundry line included lots of T-shirts and no long pants. What prompted this particular laundry day wasn’t the usual, that I was out of clean underwear; the impending dearth was of shorts. Even though I bought two new pair last month. (Both “dry on the fly” shorts from Duluth Trading, in case you’re wondering. Took a chance on the first and liked it so much that I immediately ordered a second.)
Several of the Ts had long sleeves, reflecting some cool, April-like weather we had in late June and early July. Then it rained a lot. The rain left but humidity didn’t. We’ve been living in Sauna City for quite a few days now. Tam hates it, but manages to take good care of himself. I’m tempted to change T-shirts three times a day (which still doesn’t excuse the size of my T-shirt collection). Mushrooms are blooming all over the place.
In a possibly hopeless attempt to justify my T-shirt collection — it’s not a collection, it’s my wardrobe — earlier this year I started a blog devoted to them: The T-Shirt Chronicles. A week ago I blogged about Lammas Bookstore in D.C., where I was the book buyer from 1981 to 1985. I’m wearing the 10th anniversary shirt, from 1983, right now, by the way.
This reminded me of a story the owner-manager, Mary Farmer, told about doing her laundry in the neighborhood laundromat. An occasional customer came up to her and said she was surprised to see Mary doing her own laundry.
This story has stuck with me for almost 40 years now. It surfaces whenever someone writes or says something that suggests s/he doesn’t have a clue about the challenges of running a small business, especially a bookstore, which operates under constraints that may not be unique but certainly aren’t typical of retail.
There’s a Q&A I learned in horses that applies pretty well to bookselling and other business enterprises: Q: “How do you make a small fortune in horses?” A: “Start with a large one.”
Especially on Martha’s Vineyard. Some people are sure they’re being gouged by island businesses. They may complain bitterly that this or that retailer isn’t open year-round, and while we at it, Main Street doesn’t look the way it used to; now it’s all boutiques and T-shirt shops.
Well, yeah. If you factor in the cost of land, and the insane rents often charged for commercial retail space — how much merchandise at what markup do you have to turn over just to pay the rent, not to mention the staff? — and the short peak selling season, and while we’re at it competition from online behemoths who can get you anything you want faster! cheaper! than even driving into town . . .
It’s not all that hard to understand. But plenty of people just don’t want to think about it.
Short version: I do my own laundry. I rarely use a dryer. I can afford to wait for a good drying day, and I like hanging the wash out. I would, however, almost certainly feel differently about hanging things out if I were in charge of laundry for four, or six, or ten.
And do check out The T-Shirt Chronicles if you haven’t yet. I’m mostly hanging out in the early 1980s at the moment, when I was living in D.C., but the Vineyard has come up a few times already.
Hot, humid weather — which is to say “summer” — can be challenging for a bread baker. This bread baker uses sourdough almost exclusively. Most of the year, my loaves rise in a leisurely fashion. In winter they rise so leisurely that if I got started late in the day they may not go into the oven till two in the morning.
In summer, however, my starter acts like it’s on steroids. A couple of times I’ve thought I had time to run a couple of errands or go for a walk with Tam before the rising loaves are ready to go into the oven, only to come home to dough overflowing the loaf pans. Whereupon I throw the dough back in my big bowl, punch it down, knead it a little, and loaf it again.
Even when I catch it in time, dough that’s risen too fast bakes into bread with a coarse, uneven crumb. It tastes fine but looks ugly. I live in an un-air-conditioned studio apartment, and if there’s a way to slow the rising down, I haven’t figured it out yet. Any ideas? (I’ve tried setting the loaf pans in shallow baking sheets filled with cold water, which I replenish regularly, but this doesn’t seem to make a difference.)
This afternoon, instead of loafing the dough immediately after kneading it, I let it rise in the bowl. It doubled in barely an hour. I punched it down and let it rise again three times, hoping it would wear itself out, and you know what? It didn’t slow down, but I think it helped. My loaves rose briskly, but I kept an eye out and got them into the oven at just the right time. The texture is a lot better than that of my last couple of bakings.
In fact, I’m quite pleased with these loaves. They’ve got chopped walnuts and dried cranberries in them — I’m congenitally incapable of baking bread without putting stuff in it — and because I didn’t skimp on the cranberries, there’s a pleasant tartness in each bite.
The other challenge of hot, humid weather is mold. Ordinarily I finish off a two-pound loaf of bread in a week or 10 days. Three seasons of the year the bread will keep that long. Toward the end of its lifespan, it’s not exactly as chewy and wonderful as it was in the first few days, but it makes perfectly good toast or French toast. In summer, however, bread starts developing blue-green splotches after four or five days. In summer I also don’t eat as much bread.
But I wasn’t about to give up baking just because of summer. Kneading is good therapy, among other things, and a good time to catch up on podcasts (I can’t listen to spoken-word anything when I’m working). Instead, I cut the liquid (in this case orange juice and a little applesauce, which I count as liquid because it’s squishy) from two cups to one and a half, which means the dough will absorb less flour (about two and a half cups each of whole wheat and white and a scant cup of rye that I wanted to use up) and turn into less bread.
Then, instead of cutting the dough lump in two, I cut it in three: two one-pounders and one one-and-a-half. When they cool, one will stay out for eating, and the other two will go into the freezer.
I’m pretty sure I can finish off one of these smaller loaves before the blue-green splotches start taking over. And the other two are waiting for me in the freezer, where mold can’t get to them.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass declined to address a Fourth of July celebration. On July 5th he explained why, in one of the greatest speeches of all time: “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?”
That speech sparked a change in my relationship to the Fourth of July. Coming of political age during the Vietnam War, I did not love “America.” I saw little to celebrate on the Fourth besides hypocrisy. Then, in 2014, I was invited to participate in an annual group reading of Douglass’s speech, a tradition that already went back at least a decade. In preparation I read the speech all the way through for almost certainly the first time in my life.
As I wrote in this blog at the time: “So this year, after decades of not flying, saluting, or pledging allegiance to the flag; of sticking flag stamps on my envelopes upside down; of trying to live with, understand, and shape my undeniable Americanness, I finally got seduced into celebrating the 4th of July.”
I’ve participated every year since, except for the one year it didn’t happen, in what is fondly known as “the Speech on the Beach” because it usually happens at the Inkwell beach in Oak Bluffs. Last year, thanks to Covid-19, it was virtual: each reader taped his or her own segment and they were stitched painstakingly into a whole. It was a little ragged, but it worked. The power of the words came through.
This year it was again virtual, but with a couple of big differences. Most of the video was handled by a pro, Michelle Vivian-Jemison, and so was the editing. This version is shorter then in previous years — it runs about 25 minutes — but it captures much of the original’s power. (Nevertheless, please read or reread, listen or relisten to, the whole thing at your earliest possible convenience.) The cast was larger than in previous years, but once again producers Abby McGrath and Makani Themba pulled it off: Out of Many, One.
What started with participating in the reading of Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” has continued in the years since November 2016. The Fourth of July has come to mean more than a celebration of off-the-rack patriotism. The vision of the founders was limited by the world they were grounded in, but at the same time that vision was expansive and expandable. What it’s taken me a few decades to get is that it’s up to us in every generation to do the expanding.
Douglass himself got it. After staring slavery in the face for an hour — for his whole life — he says this:
Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.
“Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other as they did ages ago” — and neither do individuals. I too am “cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age,” some of them, even while I’m infuriated and disheartened by others. And I too manage most of the time to draw “encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions.” Seeing them under attack by forces that Douglass would surely recognize has made me — almost — patriotic.
Here’s the 2021 Vineyard rendition of Douglass’s speech (abridged):
In Massachusetts, non-commercial motor vehicles get inspected once a year. When I learned to drive, in the mid/late 1960s, it was twice, spring and fall. Now it’s once, and the year is, sensibly enough, broken into months; probably some effort is made to divide all registered vehicles into 12 semi-equal parts.
Since you have a whole month to get inspected, theoretically this avoids long lines at inspection stations that don’t require appointments. In practice — well, you know what happens: procrastinators all crowd in during the month’s last few days.
This would include me. Getting inspected provokes some anxiety, mostly about the possibility of doing something stupid like not noticing that one brake light is burned out, so I invariably put it off. These days Malvina Forester gets inspected in May. Around mid-month I realized that the hand brake wasn’t holding as well as it should, so I scheduled a visit to my mechanic for the Monday of the last full week in May. That would give me plenty of time to get inspected before the end of the month — which was actually the end of that week, because the last three days of the month were Memorial Day weekend.
Hand brake fixed, oil changed, everything in good working order, that Wednesday afternoon I headed off to my regular inspection station, Mid-Island Repair in beautiful downtown West Tisbury, better known as Kenny Belain’s. To my astonishment Malvina flunked the emissions test. WTF?
When you flunk the emissions test, you get a four-color brochure from the commonwealth about what this means and your Vehicle Inspection Report includes a list of “local registered emissions repair shops.” “Local” notwithstanding, only two of the 10 were on the Vineyard and Courtesy Motors, which has taken great care of my vehicles as long as I’ve been on the Vineyard, was not one of them.
So at the next opportunity I headed up there to consult with Larry, who now runs the shop with his son Jesse, who might not have been born when I made my first visit and if he was he would have been very young. Courtesy Motors is very well named: Larry is a soft-spoken, unfailingly polite guy who has never treated me like a car-clueless female even though on some occasions I have been known to act like one. He called my attention to the small print on page 2 of the inspection report: “Your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system is not ready to be tested. As a result, your vehicle cannot receive a complete emissions test at this time. This is often caused by a disconnected battery or recent repair work.”
Aha. Larry explained that mechanics may disconnect and reconnect the battery in the course of doing repairs, that this causes the car’s on-board computer to reset, and that the car has to be driven a while before it’s functioning normally again. I hadn’t driven much between between the repair work on Monday and inspection on Wednesday. This had to be it — I hoped. At least the specter of major repairs in my future receded somewhat. Larry said if I wanted to bring the car by before I took it to be re-inspected, they’d test the emissions to make sure I’d pass on the second try. The flunk report said that “if your vehicle does not pass a re-test within 60 days of its initial inspection, RMV [Registry of Motor Vehicles] may suspend your registration,” so this was reassuring.
In Massachusetts at least, all inspection flunks are not created equal. If you flunk any of the safety tests, you have only 7 days to fix them and get re-inspected. If you flunk the emissions test, you have 60 days. Clearly an emissions flunk is a higher class of flunk, and the two have different color Rs on the sticker so vigilant police officers can tell them apart.
The 60-day deadline gave me more time to procrastinate and worry from time to time about what-ifs. So at the tail end of June I finally got myself back to Kenny Belain’s. There were 9 or 10 cars in line: clearly I’m not the only one who leaves inspection to the last minute. July was coming right up, like on Thursday, so I turned around and went home.
When I returned, on Thursday, July 1, there was no line at all. Malvina passed her emissions test, we’re legal again, and I know better than to go for inspection soon after having repair work done. My inspection month is still May. Fine with me, because there are a lot more cars on the island in July.
Maybe next time I’ll know better than to leave it all to the end of the month?
Just Tennessee — I didn’t get out much in June. Too much work!
Adding things up at the end of the month, I had a minor crisis: Tennessee was #40, and there are 10 states yet to be spotted: Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, West Virginia, and that upper West/Midwest cluster of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. 40 + 10 = 50. Yes, there are 50 states, but I count D.C. (51st state!), so the total should be 51.
After much counting and re-counting, backwards and forwards, matching numbers with states, I realized that I’d colored Vermont in but hadn’t given it a number or written it on the list. Vermont always shows up in January, usually in the top 10, and I’ve seen a bunch of them since then — most recently yesterday. Sticking it in at #41 didn’t seem right, and no way was I going to renumber the whole map.
So — as you’ll see on the July map — I added it on the same line as New Hampshire, #9, and called it #9A. Sorry about that, Vermont!
For years the back parking lot at the West Tisbury School was used by off-duty school buses. Teachers were having to park on the grass (apart from field trips, school buses are off-duty during the school day), so the decision was find the buses another home. On school days the back lot is now about three-quarters full with teachers’ cars. No buses in sight.
Now that school is out for the summer, a white tent has taken up residence in the middle of the lot: TestMV, the community Covid-19 testing station, offers free, drive-through testing there during the week. (Appointments are required: more info here.)
Because Tam and I walk across the parking lot several times a week, I discovered another change that drivers passing the school on Old County Road are likely to miss: student artwork. Several of the parking spaces have become frames for original paintings. They’re hard to photograph at ground level — I’m seriously thinking of driving over there and retaking these pics while standing on top of my car — but here are a few of them.
I live at close quarters in a studio apartment. Sometimes I forget how close things are, like how close the milk pitcher (from which I pour milk into my morning tea) was to the edge of the bread board. It didn’t fall far; in fact, it didn’t fall at all, it only tipped over onto the counter on which the bread board sits..
It was, however, nearly full. So —
The counter is crowded, so the milk puddle spread under the three-tier carousel on which my herbs and spices sit, and under the holder on which my places are stacked.
Hence the cussing, which is to say the percussive string of four-letter words that alarmed Tam enough that he came over to check things out. He might already have realized that we were going to head out for our morning walk a little later than usual.
Because there was no way to clean up the milk without moving the plates, the spice carousel, the bread board (on which were teapot, two mugs, butter dish, and the three knives I use most often), and all the tea containers behind it.
And because the spice carousel hadn’t been cleaned in a while, because cleaning it means taking everything off it and putting it all somewhere else. When you live at close quarters, somewhere else is rather limited. In this case it turned out to be the floor.
Readers, I did it, rearranging some spices so the most frequently used were easier to reach and tossing a few surplus empty jars into the recycle bin.
I have to say, I’m rather pleased with the orderly, cleaned-up corner of my kitchen counter.
History repeated itself later in the day, this time with spilt [sic] orange juice. The orange juice was in the fridge, and it didn’t actually spill: it dripped. It dripped because it was lying on its side (the top was on, but it had been opened), and it was lying on its side because there wasn’t enough room on the top shelf for it to stand upright. I’d forgotten to prop it up enough that the juice level was below the mouth of the bottle. (Screw-on tops don’t do well under pressure.)
After sponging up the spilt juice, I decided the time had come to adjust the top shelf. In a big kitchen this would be easy, but — close quarters, remember? Thanks to the adjacent counter and cupboard, the refrigerator door can’t open more than 90 degrees, and that’s not enough to slide the shelf out. So I wriggled the fridge out of its almost form-fitting enclosure and turned it far enough to the left that the door swung wide enough open to let me move the shelf to the next-lower slot. Then I wriggled the fridge back into place. The orange juice bottle now stands upright. No more spilling.
I’m no one’s idea of a clean freak, but I’m rather pleased with the result. Tam and I did get our morning walk in, by the way. That’s non-negotiable.
Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.