Archive for August, 2011

Freedom

We all have our special ways to escape from our daily lives; music, exercise, movies, books. There are times when we feel as though we are having our freedoms infringed upon. Those are the times when we have to decide whether to capitulate or whether to fight for what little freedom we feel give us something to remain sane. Until recently, I have been willing to give up too much of my personal freedom in order to achieve financial stability. That time has passed, as I now value the former more than the later.

After losing nearly everything that I had in the world to a house fire, I felt the need to stay focused on regaining all that I had lost, working as hard as I could, for as long as the work was there. Unfortunately, the work was only seasonal and I tried to chase it down, taking my practice on the road. For all of the effort, I only managed to remain fluid, which was no small feat, given that so many others were unable to do that in the economic collapse. This season that is now coming to a close has given me a new perspective on the whole idea of success and personal fulfillment.

This was the season where I made less than any other season, possibly less than any other year of my adult life, including the year when I was unemployed for several months. I discovered something of more value than legal tender, however. The social aspects of community have been a growing part of my life and the rewards are measureable beyond the numbers on an accounting sheet. Living on an island that falls prey to those people of immeasurable wealth every summer, it can sometimes be dangerous to think that the playing field for freedom is truly level.

Recently, a couple I know has run into a wall regarding some property they planned on developing into a home for themselves and their future family. All told, their plans were less than modest. They wanted to have a simple structure that they could use as a campsite for seasonal living onMartha’s Vineyard. While they used due diligence for the purchase and subsequent establishment of their property, the site they chose happened to be in a place where the “seasonal residents” felt entitled to their own brand of freedom, unencumbered by the simple, working class residents.

The ensuing ruckus brought a few heavy hitters into the game, ones with wealth beyond what most of the working class could ever imagine earning in a lifetime, even if we won the lottery… twice. The court orders, appearances and subsequent rulings have yet to be settled, but there seems to be outside agents working against the couple, whom I consider the underdog, by a far margin. The local papers have chosen to side with a non-profit organization that has proven itself to have more self-serving motives than those for the good of the community. A tax-deductible donation of land to the non-profit ensures a buffer around the adjacent properties from further development. The land is usually a piece of property that is not suitable for development on its own, so the donation is not so much a loss to the donor, but rather a gain via the tax write off.

Back to my point, however; the dreams of freedom can be as simple as having a place to call your own. When people are determined to deny you that freedom, even when your best efforts and intentions have been to compromise while ensuring all parties involved would maintain their level of freedom, should you capitulate or should you fight for your freedom. Something to consider the next time you feel your own freedom being taken from you.

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August People

There’s a buzz phrase that you might hear on Martha’s Vineyard at this time every year. It has to do with a certain type of visitor that shows up and ruins the season for everyone else, like ants at a picnic. They are pushy, loud, demanding, and hardly ever crack a smile. It’s as if they are on a mission to spread misery and anger where ever they go. They are “the August people” of summer on Martha’s Vineyard.

Since I arrived on the vineyard in 1999, I began to understand that the locals and the workers have a distinct language that describes things, places, and people in a sort of code that is short, clear, and concise. Whether it is a beach like “Squibby”, a town like “VH”, or where they will be, like “off island”, there are people that get the terminology, and others that have become part of the terminology.

I was speaking to someone the other day that kept hearing the phrase “August people” in conversations and reading it on social media sites. She had been visiting Martha’s Vineyard for a few seasons, but had not heard the term until this year, when she made the acquaintance of a number of locals. Well, it being August and all, I was quite happy to discuss the vitriol that these visitors spread throughout the island. I described them as locusts, vermin, cretins, and other, less polite terms. Needless to say she said that she was surprised to hear such a thing. Of course, I said, you visit in July.

So how can you differentiate this class of visitor from others? Quite simply, they have no class. Allow me to elucidate. If there are four people waiting to be helped in a store in August on Martha’s Vineyard and a fifth person enters the store, begins complaining loudly, pushes their way to the poor soul working at the store and demands to be told why there is no parking in downtown Edgartown so that they can spend their good money in this crummy little store, you just might have found an “August person”.

But I digress, for the good of us all. The island of Martha’s Vineyard in August is a half gallon jug trying to handle a gallon’s worth of people. It is the end of the season, when employers are losing their help to school, housing issues, and young love, the locals have had more than their fill of answering the same questions about winter on the island, and just about everyone is still trying to get the last few days of summer in before the end of the fair weather. After all, this is New England.

Growing up in a farming community that was adjacent to the seasonal big city get-away of Mystic, Connecticut, I was used to the occasional summer snobbery from people sporting out-of-state plates on their fancy cars. However, living and working on Martha’s Vineyard year-round for all of these years, I have become part of the community that can identify an “August person” with just a glance. Sure, you can say that I’m passing judgment, but until you have been on the service side of the counter, don’t take the “holier than thou” attitude, lest you be classified as an “August person” yourself.

 

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The Summer Season That Wasn’t

The phrase “six weeks in, six weeks out” has been used by many people on Martha’s Vineyard as long as I arrived thirteen seasons ago. It refers to the mid-way point of the high season, when things should be in high gear, running on all cylinders, and the businesses have a pretty good idea of how the season will pan out overall. At that time in the season, those people making money will be separated from those that will merely get by or clear out, whatever the case may be.

After owning a business for all of these years, I have been here for the pinnacle in 1999 and 2000 as well as the gradual decline since that high water mark. In all honesty, I thought the low was last year, when the island as a whole seemed to have been caught in a general fiscal malaise. Judging by the numbers of my business for the July that just passed, I was terribly wrong.

Let me start by saying that I have noticed a few trends in businesses in general, not just mine; people are less impulsive when spending money, when people spend money they are spending less, when people spend money they want exactly what they want right then. Another trend I have noticed is that there are fewer people here, on the island, creating foot traffic. The cars are still creating traffic jams at Five Corners, the Blinker, the Triangle, etc., but the sidewalks just do not seem as crowded as years past. That means fewer customers, less revenue.

Back to this past July; fewer phone calls, fewer reservations, fewer clients, and fewer dollars coming in. I’ll spare you the ugly details; suffice to say that the July of 2011 made about half the revenue that was produced in July of 2010. A simple fact is just plain scary as a business owner. The fact that I somehow have to beat last Augusts’ numbers is even more daunting when I consider that last July about equaled August in both numbers and revenue when August traditionally trumps July in every way. I can only hope that the last few weeks of this season are some of the best of recent memory.

So there it is, a summer of unusually volatile weather, peculiar patterns of busy week days and deserted weekends. A season of economic woe for the nation, reflected in a microcosm on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, portrayed by a singular small business that is caught in a state of flux, unknowing which way the winds of fortune will blow in a summer season that just has not seemed to ever really get started. The other phrase that has always been so popular, “pray for September” has never had such an ironic ring to it.

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Paint It Black

As July slowly faded into the rearview mirror in my mind, I looked forward to a better month in August. However, August 1st fell on a Monday this year. While I am not particularly opposed to Mondays, this one proved to be a rather distasteful one, to say the least; personally, professionally, and otherwise.

For the past several weeks, I have not been sleeping more than a few hours at a time. I would like to say that I have had so much work that I have hardly had time to sleep, but that is just not the case. A lingering injury has had me taking more different pain killers in the past month than I have taken at any time previously in my life. The pain has not cooperated, making itself known only when I lay down to sleep. As a result, I have been in a constant state of sleep deprivation.

The July numbers for the business were beyond dismal, they were abysmal. Quite frankly, if I had somewhere else to go to work, I would. Unfortunately, this business is all I have to keep my head above water. To say that July’s numbers had lost 50% from last July, which was terrible, would be pretty accurate. Still, I must persevere and try to turn a profit that will carry me until next season.

The past thirteen summer seasons I have been working with seasonal residents that are considerably older than me. As each year passed, I have noticed that a number of my clients have declined in health, both mentally and physically, some more than others. I have also lost some clients as they passed away. A few clients, while physically strong, have experienced a significant loss of mental ability due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. It was on Monday that one of my clients that has always been rather ‘quirky’ showed up in a rather disconcerting manner.

“Bill” sort of wandered in and said his wife was interested in an appointment. Then he mentioned going to Alaska in a couple of days. After a few moments he sat down, only to jump up and dash out of the office to get his wife, leaving his wallet and several other items behind. Before I could say more than a few words to my office manager, Bill returned and said, “Okay, I’m ready!” Fortunately, I had an open slot and could see him right then. I told my office manager to phone his wife to come pick him up in an hour and went into session with Bill.

In a session that has always been filled with rather quirky conversation, even as late as a few weeks ago, this session was completely devoid of any conversation. When it was over, Bill had trouble finding a credit card that was neither “inactive” or “declined” until his wife breezed in to pick him up to go home. She acted as if everything was just fine. Needless to say, I was left a bit shaken. My grandmother had been “total care” for the last several years of her life with Alzheimer’s, so I know what a chore it can be to care for someone in such a state that is otherwise perfectly healthy. I just did not know what to make of the situation that had just unfolded before me.

Monday held one more surprise for me, however. Having had a malignant melanoma when I was 17, I am acutely aware of my friends that are survivors of cancer. One of them had just been informed that they were no longer “in remission”. I take such news hard. I’m a tough guy that can handle a lot, and over the last five years, I’ve had to deal with more than my fair share of bullshit and grief, but it seemed like this was the last thing I needed to hear.

So, I retreated into a routine that was anti-social for 4 or 5 days. It was a safe place that I needed to feel safe, if only for a few fleeting days. Sometimes I find that the solace of solitude has no equal for me; I can think, I can reflect, I can understand. While others may hide in the darkness, I embrace it. Without the dark of night, there can be no light of dawn. With that dawn begins another day, do with it what you will.

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