Archive for the 'What it means to be from Maine' Category


Right now, I can see the way I’m going to die. My torso will be crushed into the linoleum; my head will shatter beneath the three hundred pound man presently trying to reach the ceiling of the utility room. He puts his foot on the dryer and it rocks backwards. Here we go, I think. His hand grips the top of the partition wall; a shower of old sheetrock smashes on the floor around me. I cringe. His grip holds. The dryer rocks back to level with a metallic boom. We’re safe. For now.

Meet the Boss. We’ll call him “Boss” to preserve his anonymity, though not because I have anything disrespectful to say about him. The Boss is awesome. He runs the town: he’s the fire chief; he’s the road commissioner; he’s the solid-waste manager; he’s the oil delivery man. He also repairs furnaces—that’s why he’s standing on the dryer.

The furnace, you see, hangs from the ceiling. It’s a relic from the days when this house was a fire station, installed in the late 70s. It ran fine until a couple of nights ago, when the characteristic, roof-shaking roar of its blower gave way to a droning hum and some clicking.

“See the problem Inmate?” the Boss asks. He’s referred to me as “inmate” since before I moved here. The house I rent from the town serves as its police station in the summer; I therefore, am its inmate.

“I don’t,” I said.

“I do,” says the Boss. “I do. That’s why they pay me sixty bucks an hour.”

He reaches into the blower enclosure and pulls out a belt. Not a whole belt, but a cracked, dried-out, broken belt. Hence, apparently, my lack of blower.

“I’ll be back,” he says. “You’re not going anywhere.”

I hear his diesel truck roar away into the night and then, a few minutes later, roar back. The Boss returns holding a new belt, and proceeds to climb the dryer once again. I step back.

“You’re not scared are you?” he says monotonously. “I’d be pretty scared if I was you.”

After a few minutes of fiddling, he flicks the kill-switch and the burner fires. Moments later, the blower shudders to life. Warm air starts whooshing into the rest of the house. The Boss closes everything up and returns to the floor. But he isn’t satisfied.

“Didn’t do that before,” he says. The blower now emits a repetitive clunking sound. Up he climbs onto the dryer. He re-opens the shaking furnace and peers inside.

“Oh yes,” he says. “You’re going to need a new heating system.”

He closes up again and climbs down. Over the roar, we talk for a minute about where a new furnace would go. He points out possible locations. I notice that the tip of his index finger is missing.

“The best place for it,” he says, “would be right on the ceiling where this one is. All the pipes and everything are right there.”

“Yup,” I agree.

“But,” he says. “See those struts? God knows what they’re into. Looks like they’ve pulled out a little.”

“Oh,” I say. He means the metal rods that hold the furnace to the ceiling.

“You aren’t scared are you?” he asks again. “I think it’s pretty scary.”

political stiff

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I have to return to the blogosphere with such a depressing topic. Maine politics, like incest, is one of those backwoods phenomena that’s better left unmentioned. Or it would be, except that, like incest, it produces some terrifying freaks.

Many in Maine have a provincial view of their state—an inferiority complex. Culture skips us and touches down in New York, arriving here second-hand. Our economy is a travesty; our taxes are absurd. Our poor and unfortunate wallow in squalor, deep in the backwoods. We focus on our failings and frequently blow them out of proportion. In reality, Maine is not that different from the rest of the country, just farther east.

But our worst self-loathing is justified when it comes to politicians. Take for example our Republican gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock.

Let’s start with the name. All by itself—not attached to any human being, good or bad—all by itself, that name automatically disqualifies its referent from public life. I’m sorry but that’s the way it is. I’m even sorrier that he was a high school teacher before descending into politics. Imagine lining up the young people he sent to the office for succumbing to the humorous potential of his name. Fishermen, farmers, salesmen, engineers now—many middle aged—united by the punishment they received for taking Mr. Woodcock’s name less seriously than he.

As if that weren’t enough, look at the TV ads. The most recent one: Chandler Woodcock—mercifully not wearing his trademark bow-tie—standing in front of Maine’s iconic Mt. Katahdin on a resplendent day, declaiming on some rubbishy scheme to cut taxes, create jobs, and do all those other things we know are impossible. Chandler Woodcock, declaring it finally “morning in the state of Maine.”

It takes about 0.3 seconds for the normal American to get the reference. We conclude that a.) Chandler Woodcock is hailing himself as Maine’s Ronald Reagan (“morning in America”), a singularly modest activity; b.) he can’t come up with an original line of his own and doesn’t think anyone will notice; or c.) he doesn’t notice himself.

I’m honestly not sure which is worse. And I don’t think I care. If there’s one thing we Mainers do well, it’s apathy; it’s the simple act of not giving a shit—about Woodcock’s name, in this case, his ad, or his cookie-cutter right-wing agenda. From the above, I hope you can see that it’s not a regressive social trend, but a survival mechanism—a safe path through the hopelessness of our public discourse.

I should note in the interest of nonpartisanship that I mock Chandler Woodcock because he deserves it, not because I oppose his party. The incumbent Democrat, who will defeat him, is at least as incompetent and possibly more bland. And the a la cart options on the ticket are their usual outlandish selves. It’s another year when I’m not just proud to be a registered independent: I’m relieved. And it’s another year to vote for myself for governor.

a la cart

The local family-owned grocery store in my town now makes its home in a small shopping plaza about half a mile from the downtown area. Formerly, it lived right on Main street, which was awesome, but it moved to better compete with Hannaford's (c.f. Stop & Shop).

The shopping plaza is about fifteen years old. Fifteen year-old humans exhibit a wide range of characteristics. Some are still childlike, fresh-faced, and innocent. Others are pudgy little grease-balls, gorging themselves on tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, goth clothes, and fast food.

You could use the latter as a crass analogy for the Coastal Marketplace Shopping Plaza at its present age. You'd just have to be careful not to confuse the analogy with the clientele.

Although it seems like they just built it a few years ago (in a swamp), the floor of the place already sags. A lot. In one direction. This leads to some interesting potential scenarios.

1. "Honey, where do you suppose they keep the pickles? I can't seem to find…HEY where's the cart?"

2. "Oh I…I'm sorry Mr. Man-a-ger. I…I was just stopping to look at the…at the a-dult hy-gine products but…but I must have for-gotten to set the…to set the brake on my wheel-chair. Oh I'm so sorry. Oh I'm…I do ho…I do hope it wasn't ex…ex-pen-sive."

3. "Dude, why is that coke bottle running away?"

Not all of these are as funny as you think. I'm a firm believer in supporting local businesses. In fact, I think all local people should buy their art locally, since local art dealers desperately need their support. And I would ordinarily love to support my local grocery store too.

But when the soda is flatter than the floor—when the ground tuna at the fish counter looks more colorful and more alive than the lady selling it—when the Red Sox get a clean sweep more frequently than the floors—you know that it's time—that perhaps local-family ownership has stopped caring (or never cared to begin with), and that maybe you don't have to care anymore either. Maybe it's now OK to patronize Supermarketus maximus down the road, which has, conveniently, just added two additional square miles of floorspace and an atrium that could swallow trees.

Perhaps at fifteen, the local store is just the tatty, pockmarked younger sister of the shiny new supermarket with which it tries to compete. Perhaps the glassy new atrium is a sign of the future—a physical premonition of the way the local store will—someday—look. After, of course, it kicks the butts and the booze, scrubs the grease, and, more importantly, finds some more flattering fish.

I hope it hurries up. Boosterism is tough.