From an August, 1984 column by William Caldwell:
Attentive reading of the letters to the editors of your favorite semiweekly newspaper compels the conclusion that everybody is sore at everybody. Beware.
Vox populi, vox Dei. So the wisdom-smitten have been telling us for the thousand years since Alcuin first said it to Charlemagne, and, O.K., it is the philosophic underpinning of the democratic form of government.
But if is it is true that the voice of the people is the voice of God, it is herewith suggested nervously that we pack a picnic hamper and take to the hills. We’re in trouble. Vox populi is an angry snarl. It follows that somebody up there may be getting testy.
In last Friday’s Gazette one Vox Popper was accusing a village stateswoman of entanglement in a conflict of interest. The Editors were being horsewhipped for misspelling the name of a deceased legislator. Joggers and jogging were being denounced, and it must be acknowledged that they use up a lot of our increasingly scarce oxygen. An eminent senior citizen was being likened to the late Joseph McCarthy. Other contributors to the week’s merriment were raising hell over the ugliness of shopping malls that don’t exist, the rudeness of businessmen, price gouging, litter on the beaches, filth in the water, and this year’s scarcity of chicken in the Chicken Marengo.
Whew. For once, not a word of complaint about bicycles, the imbecility of the traffic patterns in the downtown business blocks, the gypsy moth, unspayed cats, or any of the other afflictions that impel Pro Bono Publico to take pen in hand. Perhaps we’ll find him bellyaching away in today’s issue. The Steamship Authority hasn’t been tarred and feathered in weeks.
Now, I’m tired of people’s coming to the Vineyard or staying on it to complain about the weather, which is no worse here than elsewhere, or the fishing, which is no better. Over the years I have done more than my share of whimpering over the Island’s imperfections, from ticks and mosquitoes and ragweed pollen to the social stratification, and I feel self-conscious to be coming to the defense of our little Paradise.
But I can’t help wondering why people come or stay. What is expected of the Island? Serve us right if it turned out that it’s because here, of all places, they can write a letter to the Editors and see it in print.
Again, however, why this outburst of midsummer anger? The Island does not change so much from that which it is in August to what it was last January and will be six months from now. Same beaches, same wooded hills, same ponds and twisting lanes, same pulse and murmur of the sea. It doesn’t occur to anyone off-season to belt out a critique of the newfangled architecture or the dogs’ habit of sleeping in the streets, and print that in your rag, if you dare. It is universally consented that the way things are is, well, the way things are. Why do we go off on emotional toots in the Dog Days?
You might want to stand back a pace or two. I am about to emit a theory.
I suspect the anger we’re encountering in the parking lot, on the ferry line, in the market aisles, in the letters to the Editors, is a function of the weather, not of existence on the Vineyard. Actually our confining ourselves to harmless hollering is evidence of steely self-control.
Stop brooding about the gridlock at Five Corners and the dung floating ashore from the gentry’s yachts, and consider the world around you. Race riots in Lawrence. Religious riots in Northern Ireland. Bombs in the cradle of civilization. When there’s nothing to do, the devil finds work for idle hands.
Each morning we try to catch up on the news by tuning in some reliable radio station like WCBS. Solid news is scanty at this time of year. My editor father told me this was the season for what he called dog-day stories, about three-legged calves and six-pound tomatoes. The dog-day stories these dog days are no such namby-pamby stuff. The fillers come right off the police blotter.
The Vineyard as is remains all it ever was and all we hoped it would be. Either let’s settle for that or stop and pick up that beer can off the sand.
At risk of seeming to suppress Vox Populi, I suggest we don’t whine out loud.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner