Rule number one: An islander does not ask another islander over for dinner. We already know far too much about each other to open ourselves up to the possibility of revealing what few mysteries there might be left. So aside from the occasional potluck supper, there isn’t much social life. The suppers tend to be pretty quiet, with one faction on one side of the hall and the other faction on the other side. If you like casseroles, Rice Krispy treats and a knot in your stomach, you’re in for something special. Conversation is kept at a pretty low burn . . . unless there’s something in the air, which usually means that somebody, probably Bung, has planted a rumor about one side or the other. (We think it’s Bung because if there isn’t much eating going on, Bung gets all the leftovers.) I tried to remember a specific rumor that might have caused problems and even asked Dottie to help out. All she said was, “What rumors? They’re all true.” When that happens, you know everybody has been at their cocktail party (I mean planning session) in their respective corners, bracing for a possible attack and sipping strategy in the event that there is one, which there never is. What happens instead is that epithets and snatches of nasty little comments drift to the top of the conversation, making everybody even more nervous and killing what appetites are left. To a stranger arriving late, it might sound a little like an aspergers conference gone horribly wrong. Town meeting brings the planning session to a whole new level. It starts at about six in the morning. The longstanding no smoking rule has nothing to do with state law but rather the alcohol content of the breathable air in the hall. Crazy combustible! The exception is Elsie Gower, chain smoking Camels and telling people to go to hell whether they’re asking her not to smoke or wishing her a good day. We don’t know if it’s deafness or a little touch of dementia. Town meeting is an edge-of-the-seat kind of experience. You never know what’s going to happen next. Oftentimes a small group of the more organized types (mostly the “that’s not the way we do it in Falmouth” seasonal people who choose to vote here) try to push motions that would require a person who intends to run for office to make that intention known at least two weeks before the meeting and attend a question-and-answer session a week before the meeting. They’d also like a heads-up on any other motion that might pop up so committees might be appointed to study said motions and information might be disseminated to help the voters to make an informed decision. That’s crazy of course; there would be fighting in the streets.
Nothing doing, always resoundingly defeated. It would only serve to take the fun out of it anyway, since we already know everything there is to know about everybody, opinions included. It all happens on the town meeting floor, education spending, too, beer-fueled as it is, is just another point to argue (I mean discuss). We’ll deal with the consequences later. It’s part of the fun. Cam Bergeron can personally attest to having gone to a town meeting with no intention at all other than attending, and getting so ticked off at something so not important he can’t even remember what it was five minutes before the vote for selectman. The result was that he ruined the next 12 years of his life. Given even 10 more minutes of thought, he never would have done it, but instead he turned to his friend Asa Lombard and said: “Nominate me, Ace.” And that was it. He beat the police chief, Biggy Roche, by one vote. He and Ace had attended a planning session of their own down at the dock, never mentioning town politics. Cam ran three more times unopposed and won. That’s 12 years of self-inflicted hell just out of spite. After the first election, the New Bedford paper ran an anonymous story reporting that the town of Gosnold was so desperate for a selectman they elected the town drunk. Not far from the truth but just about anybody could have fit that description. Town drunk or not, it was a big improvement. The town had become so dysfunctional that the town mail hadn’t been opened in six months and property taxes had to be cancelled that year because the selectmen refused to sit in the same room together. The town’s trust fund was nearly broke.
Actually it was two of the selectmen who refused to sit in the same room together: Rummy Porter and Dave Bennet. The third, Alden Branch, a recent washashore, wouldn’t come out of his house for fear of being hung by vigilantes from either side. He had run as an impartial when A.P. retired to try to break the deadlock, but all he cared about now was staying alive and had chosen not to run for a second term. After that first election Cam went to the town hall every morning at five before work to open mail. Pretty soon Rummy started showing up and that made a majority. Selectmen’s meetings were being held again. People had a place to complain again. Real business was still down the road a bit but the town was moving. Why would anyone want to change any of that?
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.