Nowhere to hide

Charity Robey

The great thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows you. The awful thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows you.

My bedtime, how long the television stays on, who is visiting me, all may as well be a matter of public record. If I fail to pick up after my dog during our morning walk my neighbors may not care, but they will certainly notice.

In the winter, when there are just over 2,000 people living here, the fish bowl really freezes over. At the IGA, I make note of other people’s grocery choices. Why is the guy browsing in aisle 4 looking at cans of Fancy Feast? Is he feeding his spaniel cat food?

The woman in the check-out line once told me her husband has a tick-borne meat allergy, so I raise my eyebrows when she places two pounds of ground round on the belt.

Why am I all up in their business? For starters, there’s no one else around.

Then warm weather arrives and thousands of people come to the Island, bringing with them the summer cloak of invisibility. Mostly, these are people I do not know, and who don’t know me. And there are so many of them, that they provide welcome cover.

For six weeks or so, I can blend in with the long line at the post office and the liquor store and no one will notice or care what I’m mailing and drinking.

A typical day on Bridge Street in the off-season.
A typical day on Bridge Street in the off-season.

Unless I’m an item in the police blotter published every week in the Reporter.

The blotter, also known as the Police Report, is a summary of the calls for aid and responses local police have logged in the past week. Most newspapers, whether online or print, run a police blotter, and reading it can tell you a lot about a place.

Read the blotter for Boston, and you’ll see shootings and armed robberies. For Shelter Island, you get “a caller reported that a small dog chased her and her husband at a Center location and scratched her husband” (July 22, 2018).

Some places have police blotters with a substantial readership outside their locale.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle has published selections from the Bozeman, Montana blotter in a book called “We Don’t Make This Stuff Up.”

An item from last week’s Chronicle: “An officer advised a vehicle full of lost people from Iowa,” is an example of the deadpan tone that has made it a must-read for blotter aficionados.

Teenagers in small towns especially hate making the police blotter, a hazard of growing up that is less onerous in places where the incidents that get reported in the local paper involve actual crime.

My sister Judith had just gotten her driver’s license in Virginia Beach when she side-swiped a parked motorcycle, taking off a mirror. Apparently unaware that she had hit anything, she failed to stop. The owner of the motorcycle was standing a few feet away at the time and so was a police officer. She had to go talk to a judge about it, but she didn’t have to read about it in the paper.

On Shelter Island, all you have to do is nudge someone’s car trying to park on Bridge Street to land on page four of the Reporter.

I love the restrained and factual style of the Shelter Island blotter, a style so distinctive, that I can’t help imagining entries about my own screw-ups. For example, yesterday I decided to squeeze a bike ride into the half-hour of twilight after sunset, and rode right into a near miss.

This time, I escaped unharmed and will not read in the blotter that I struck a deer while operating a bicycle on Midway Road and sustained over $1,000 worth of damage to my right knee.

One day I hope to read in the blotter about a Ram Island osprey being fined $50 for taking undersized porgies.

A recent item in the Reporter’s  blotter about a resident who called the police for help getting the head on a boat to function, made me realize that I could be the subject of a similar report if I made an impulse purchase at a yard sale: “Police responded to a Heights resident who had purchased a tuna tower, and requested assistance to learn how it functioned. The responding officer saw that it required installation on a boat to function properly and advised that it would be necessary to purchase a boat to go under the tuna tower for correct operation.”

Fortunately, I did not call for assistance with the tuna tower.

In October of 2017 a report in the blotter stated: “A caller expressed concern about his mother’s ability to drive.”

It humbles me to think how easily that caller could have been my son.

Small town life involves trade-offs, and I’ll trade some privacy for the knowledge that when I make fried chicken, set off the fire alarm, and the police come, it could make the paper, but people who read about it will probably laugh and be glad this time it wasn’t them.