IT'S as if a very rare bird has been cited on this very small island. And the truth is that the island has been turned upside down since genus Presidentus Clintonus was first seen five days ago at the airport in stuffy, dark plummage.
He is now known to be dressed casually, relaxing daily at remote Oyster Pond with his family in a summer house a few miles from Edgartown.
Hundreds of subsequent sightings of him all over the island have been as reliable as reports of Elvis teeing off at the first hole of the nearby Farm Neck Golf Club. Each day the Cape Cod Times imploringly publishes an 800 phone number asking island residents to "report first family sightings or other news about the Clinton visit."
"The president has the right to do nothing, and be as lazy and late as he wants to be here," says David McCullough, a year-round island resident and the Pulitzer Prize winning author of a biography about former President Truman. "The most important person in the world has chosen to come here," he says, "and he couldn't be more welcome."
True. Welcoming flags, banners, and colorful signs are everywhere on this pork-chop-shaped, 30-mile-long island crowded now with an estimated 80,000 visitors, up from a winter population of 14,000. In the mood and humor of small town America, everyone wants to greet the president before or after his golf or jogging and somehow be included on his social agenda at dinner parties. But few people have actually seen him. Rumors abound about where he will be and when he will be there.
Standing near the front of the 132nd Agricultural Society Fair and Livestock Show in West Tisbury, a lifelong islander explains that natives always have the advantage. "Tourists hear rumors about Clinton," he says. "We hear gossip and facts."
With Mr. Clinton's visit giving a boost to the local economy, few of the dozens of pricey retail shops and art galleries are not acknowledging the President's visit. In a Vineyard Haven clothing store a sign says, "Welcome Socks," referring to the Clinton family cat. Gremlin Fog Pest Control, an island termite and pest control company, ran an ad in the Martha's Vineyard Times saying, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President. It was an honor to de-bug your quarters." The company "de-bugged" the home where Clinton is staying.
Because island life is really centered around six small towns for nine months of the year, Mr. McCullough and other islanders reject the popular and persistent image that Martha's Vineyard is only an exclusive summer resort for the wealthy and famous. "I would say that much less than 1 percent of the people here fit those categories," he says. "This has always been a very American place with a small town atmosphere." In fact, to a great degree, what draws the celebrated and famous, and keeps them here, i n addition to the rugged beauty, sailing, and tranquillity of the island, is the casualness with which they are regarded by islanders.
"Beverly Sills speaks to everybody," says Les Starbard, a retiree who has lived on the island for 25 years, "and if Mike Wallace walks down the street of Vineyard Haven to get the New York Times, nobody bothers him. Frankly, I don't care one way or the other if the president comes here, although I voted for him."
In the presidential election, Clinton won the island with 55 percent of the vote. Bush gained 23 percent; Ross Perot was a close third with 22 percent.
Other well-known people who have homes here such as Jacqueline Onassis, columnist Art Buchwald, singer Carly Simon, former publisher of the Washington Post Katherine Graham, retired anchorman Walter Cronkite, singer James Taylor, movie director Spike Lee, and cartoonist Jules Feiffer, are known to be supportive of island causes. Singer Carly Simon, for instance, raised $162,000 for the island's community services when she agreed to do two private singing concerts during the annual action to raise money f or the island.
John Alley, a selectman from West Tisbury and a fourth generation islander, says that during the winter months the year-round residents tackle the local political issues. "We talk and argue about zoning, water rights, recycling, and environmental issues until nobody wants to talk about them anymore," he says.
A serious local issue is the Edgartown waste-water treatment plant located on West Tisbury Road. This is the road used by President Clinton whenever he is driven away from his house. "I hope he holds his nose when he drives by the treatment plant," said Bill Brine, a Boston businessman with a house on the island. Built in 1971 to treat a flow of 250,000 gallons a day, the waste plant is now heavily overused. "We're up to over 400,000 gallons a day on summer weekends," says Stephen Vancour, superintendent
of the facility. The plant serves all businesses and 360 homes out of about 2,000 in Edgartown.
"The problem now is that we can't retain the waste here long enough to process it," says Mr. Vancour. "We have to run it through more quickly and can't remove all the waste from the water." Behind the facility is a huge pond where the partly treated water collects. A planned $10 million plant may be several years away, even though funding of around $6 million has been approved by the town to be borrowed, and another $2.1 million approved by voters for the first phase of the construction.
"The big issue on the island is singular, but widespread," says Laurence Michie, editor of the Martha's Vineyard Magazine. "It is the infrastructure of the island, from wastewater treament to sewers to improved roads." In the summer months, with or without presidential visits, the island's infrastructure groans under the influx of tourists.
But few islanders complain too loudly, because it is the very profitable summer months that carry them through the long winter months when most businesses are closed.