Eva Murray

Matinicus life: 2020 with a view, or a month of Sundays?

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 9:45pm

Well, it has happened: after two decades of writing about this place, and seeing people still react as though life on an unbridged, offshore island is indeed peculiar, and that full-time island residents are some sort of oddball societal enigma, some psychological aberration or cute anachronism—insert heavy use by other journalists of the inaccurate term “unique lifestyle” here—and after endless lame comments from mainland friends about how “they couldn’t live without” this or that convenience or comfort, the muck boot, as it were, is on the other foot. Everybody understands a little better now. 

The rest of the country is discovering what we’ve always known. For those fortunate enough to be neither ill nor evicted, but merely annoyed and fatigued by this year of upheaval, let me suggest that a few of us have first-hand experience. We can offer some slight reassurance that all is not lost.

Danger and illness aside, one might argue that wintertime island life is something like 2020 with a scenic view. For those at the moment safe from the big problems — wildfire and hurricane, racism and hunger, depression and fear, and forgive me for making light in a time of crisis—we might compare notes. 

You may have noticed that there is a lot less bothering with deodorant and hair coloring, and a lot more commitment to having surplus ice cream in the freezer. Yep, we know. You call the company which promised warranty service on your equipment but it turns out the technician is afraid to come to your house. We have seen that before, and nothing to do with a pandemic. 

Many of the better-off sorts are coming to understand what we’ve known all along, which is that nice clothes, stylish clothes, new clothes — even clothes different from yesterday’s clothes — and makeup and a well-maintained professional haircut do not matter. Nope, not one little bit.

Your spouse, the kid next door, more or less any random citizen can cut your hair; you just park on a kitchen chair in the dooryard. It’ll take five minutes. You can still paint your nails, if you wish, for something to do. While you’re at it you can also paint the dog’s nails. 

There is nowhere to wear those “cute shoes.” High heels are a complete waste of money; you’ll never use them. You’ll break your neck (well, you certainly would on this island, where there are only dirt roads).

Nobody notices that your teeth are two shades whiter, either. Designer handbags are not useful, and neither are sport jackets, ties, panty hose, or any of that complicated architectural underwear they try to sell women to make us look other than how nature intends. Or dry-cleaning.

In past columns I have remarked once or twice that people who have something to say about an island not being part of “the real world” have a strange idea of “the real world,” as in, the real world is where you have to pick up your dry cleaning. Hah; welcome to the real world. There is no dry cleaning. I don’t even have to brush my hair every day (talk about “a month of Sundays!”)

Of course rubber boots, work gloves, oilskins, hoodie sweatshirts, Stabilicers, and Smartwools are always in style as are hand-knit socks, ridiculous multi-colored reading glasses, and flannel anything. We’re probably not going anywhere except the airstrip to collect the milk order anyway. Maybe the post office, where we wait our turn outdoors, and gossip from a distance with some guy idling in his truck.

Maybe we go for a walk alone, or out to cut firewood, or we hang clothes on the line. Nowhere shall we be judged for lack of sartorial splendor. 

I am happy to note that telemedicine is becoming much more mainstream. This is not just a learning curve for the patient, by the way. Physicians are also being forced to adjust to a reality where not every hangnail “must be seen” in the office.

I do understand that an office visit is the standard of care, and ought to be, so no disrespect intended.

I know as an EMT that the best patient care generally means close contact and the human touch. I know that for every 1000 cases of some obvious and common sniffle or boo-boo, there could be one instance of a rare and insidious malady. Still, after years of islanders begging, “Doc, really---can’t I just describe it to you over the telephone?” because a trip to the mainland physician’s office would run over $500 in transportation, hotel, and lost work—not including the doctor’s bill—finally the doc is in agreement that yeah, that probably would be a good idea.

Nowadays you can even text in a photo of that hangnail.

After living through 2020, everybody grasps how whether we can more or less stay on the rails may have something to do with whether we have a hobby (other than rum, I mean). Never in this so-called modern era has there been so much bread baking and chicken-keeping. The DIY appliance repair (with the indispensable tutelage of You-Tube) is a bit trickier, but you will get it.

There have been so many changes to school. Most are aggravating, to be sure, but a few really are for the better. For example, the rest of the country is realizing that siblings learning side-by-side is just not that weird.

We share with everybody the exasperation of delayed gratification. Welcome to our world. We’re used to waiting for the oil boat, for the fog to clear, for the mud to freeze up, for the groceries to get here. Now, the whole country is waiting for a package from Amazon, waiting for tests and vaccines, waiting to find out if the kids’ hockey is going to start back up.

Back last spring everybody in America was waiting for butter and flour and toilet paper. But islanders know that no matter how important you are, how rich you are, how loud you are, how much you stomp around the flying service office yelling, “Do you know who I am?” there is nothing anybody can do about the delay.

With island life, the issue is usually the weather. With everything else about 2020, it ain’t the weather.

As we have done for years, loads of people now order what they want for delivery. Forget about ambling around with a little basket over your arm, scrutinizing the obscure tropical delicacies in the produce section and picking out the very plumpest tomato. Everything you need or desire comes in a cardboard box. Damn, we have a lot of cardboard here. 

The mail will be late. It will not come every day. Expedited delivery doesn’t exist. Deal with it. 

The rest of the world is learning, as we have always understood, that holidays are adjustable, celebrations flexible, no exceptions. Birthdays, anniversaries, national holidays, religious observances, and scheduled hooliganism are routinely postponed on islands to work around storms, fog, FedEx, visiting grandparents, and possibly the Coast Guard. Oh, and we already know all about Skype dates.

The people who are really necessary in civilization are the folks who deal with logistics and freight and utilities and emergencies and human care, not the men in three-piece suits. We don’t have any of those here. Not even one. We manage just fine. Anybody who still believes that the CEO is by definition more important than the delivery boy is thinking like it’s, well, 2019. 

Anyway, here’s wishing us all peace in the New Year—and a month of Sundays, and the plumpest tomato, and maybe just a little scheduled hooliganism.

Eva Murray lives on Matinicus