Written by Chris Shorr
There's no place in the world quite like Long Island, Maine. The town, which has a whittled down year-round population of about 200 residents, is probably best known for its tradition in the maritime industries, its beautiful sand beaches, and its secession from the city of Portland in 1993.
The measure to secede was passed with a citizen's vote amongst residents of the island, and it gave them a chance to truly embrace the idea of independence and self-sufficiency that had defined them for so long.
Twenty-one years later, that same spirit still exists as much as ever, and it's displayed in the stacks of wood that the residents chop for themselves to heat their homes for the winter, in the jalopy style cars that they drive around the island, or the piles of lobster traps in their yards.
To anyone that gives the island a passing glance — particularly in the winter time — it's easy to see how the hearty folks get their reputation for individualism, but if you take a closer look you'll see that for all the romantic postcard images of the lone lobsterman hauling his catch in the fog, the real spirit of island life includes the family that he goes home to at the end of the day.
Those piles of wood are for keeping little hands and feet warm, not just for drying smelly work boots. Those jalopies are for delivering groceries and medicine to elderly residents in need, not just for putting to and from the pier each day to get to work. Those lobster traps are bartered, gifted, and handed down from generation to generation — they aren't just part of the tapestry for tourists and postcards, they're part of the fabric of life out there.
On Wednesday morning, the body of a beloved lobsterman, Mike Hanson, was found in his driveway by two neighbors on their way to work. As investigators and media have swarmed the island in response, grief stricken and stunned residents have fallen silent, and are coming together for support.
Rumors are flying around the tiny, tight-knit community, and speculation is running wild. It'd be an easy time for a community of lesser chutzpah to come unraveled, but not Long Island.
Until his death in the mid-'90s, my grandfather owned a house on Long Island, so the place has always held a special place in my heart. There's nothing like watching a sunrise from South Beach on the island's southern side, or a trek around the island's rocky perimeter, or a picnic in the shade overlooking Casco Bay, but those are just the exterior qualities of the island.
I'm not sure, as someone who has never lived there, that I can truly understand the depth of love for the island that the year-round residents must have, but as someone who has always been inspired by the inner strength and determination that it takes to make a life out there, I'm certain that the community will find a way to overcome this terrible loss.
Because they've still got each other.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:33
Written by Telly Halkias
Since antiquity, the concept of time has baffled scientists and philosophers alike. One question surrounding time seemed to revolve around Plato's belief it existed as a result of the universe's creation, or in the words of Sir Isaac Newton, "flows equally without relation to anything external."
For some years, the author and art curator Tom Fels worked on this conundrum. These efforts produced a memoir in 2008, "Farm Friends: From the Late Sixties to the West Seventies and Beyond," which has to be the thinking person's book of the last decade.
Fels found enough time over the last 30 years of his art curating career to research and write what is the first in a series of contemplative works influenced by his four years (1969-1973) on a 60-acre farm commune in Montague, Mass., near Amherst.
As a curator, Fels makes his living by taking the visual, whether in history or in real time, and telling a story with it. It is this way that I came upon a copy of "Farm Friends" recently.
I immersed myself in the farm and its cast of characters. The individuals that made up the alternative cohort in Fels' day-to-day youth were as colorful as they were different. Fels knew this instinctively, even then.
So he put himself in the role of observer and analyst, but importantly, not of evaluator. His talent in profiling and portraying those friends in the context of the time steered his overarching purpose away from the sentimentality of nostalgia. Rather, he substituted it with intimate characters that defined his milieu.
That backdrop was significant. The Vietnam War, the 1968 Democratic Convention meltdown and the election of Richard Nixon all served to poise Fels and his comrades as young people seeking change, specifically toward a more idealistic view of what America could, and should be.
It's a scenario that rings familiar today. But today — Fels would probably agree — is another day. I was moved when reading his account of tracking down those farm friends years later, as their lives and views had evolved with time. Many things changed. Many remained the same. But time, while establishing Fels' story line, was working against everyone, including him.
There was a pensive nature to the search, a doggedness on Fels' part that seemed quixotic. Then it was tempered by fatigue, but not the weariness of travel and exploration, but rather the epiphany that while everyone might have been glad to see Tom, not everyone wanted to come out and play.
This is probably why, even though from different backgrounds and generations, I related to Fels' narrative. A former student of mine who reads this column regularly once referred to me as a "rememberer," a made-up term for someone who takes the past — sometimes not his own — and clings to it, all for the purpose of dusting it off years later to recreate something.
Fels, too, is a "rememberer." He made sense of a seminal period in history not by a scholarly events analysis — of which he is very capable — but rather by resurrecting the many human frailties and talents surrounding him at the farm.
The best historical writing draws upon time as a fulcrum on which the lever of change turns between the past and the present. In this light, Fels' temporal meditation on his friends since the farm days is didactic without being dogmatic. In searching for them, Fels discovered far more; this is an odyssey that each one of us will have to endure.
As with most memoirs, somewhere within "Farm Friends" lurks a stab at redemption; not for past ills, but rather to make sense of one's own role in the grand scheme. Tom Fels should be commended for taking on time, even if time eludes him. It's a puzzle as baffling as anything Newton calculated, or Plato ever dreamed.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:34
Written by Ray Richardson
"We are ready to roll up our sleeves and reach across the aisle."
"We heard the message, and we are ready to work together."
You probably have heard these three statements or some version of them a lot since Nov. 4. Political leaders all over Maine and America are touting this mantra, "We will stop the bickering and work together."
Let us all be honest with each other right here and right now. "Let's work together," is a load of hogwash, just another nonsensical throw-away line from yet another politician that means nothing to anyone, including the person saying it.
"We want you to work together," was not and is not the take-away from the last election. In fact, no one who is actually serious about politics in America, deep down, believes such folly.
The real, clear message from the last election is very simple. We the people of Maine and America are sick to death of grown men and women running around raising oodles of money to run for election and then once elected, acting like children on the playground.
I do NOT care if you work together. I want you to solve problems. I want you to fix things that are broken. I want you to be worthy of the trust placed in you by the people who supported your candidacy.
Don Janney who runs Don's Automotive in Westbrook is my auto mechanic. When I call Don, which has been far too often lately (through no fault of Don's), I do so because I expect him to fix whatever is wrong with my vehicle. My family depends on our automobiles to go to work, run errands, get our groceries and attend our kids' events. I know when I call Don Janney, he will tell me what is wrong. He will tell me what has to be done to fix it. He will tell me how much it will cost. Finally, he will fix it and the issue will be solved.
When I call Don, I do not care that he works with someone else to solve my problem. I don't care who he calls, where he buys the parts, if he seeks advice on how to solve the issue. Heck, he could call Mr. Good Wrench for all I care. Collaboration is not my issue. Fixing the problem is my issue.
That is what Don Janney does when I call him about a repair to my car ... he fixes the problem.
That is what the people of Maine and America want. They want Don Janneys in the halls of Augusta and Washington, D.C. They want serious people they can depend upon who will solve the problem we are facing. They do not care if they work together. They do not care who they collaborate with. They simply want the problems we face to be fixed ... PERIOD!
Look, I have no problem with people working together. In fact, I believe when you have serious people sitting across the table from each other with a diverse view of the world who are committed to getting results, you will likely get the best solution because critically constructive eyes will be viewing the issue and seeing it from many different angles and perspectives.
That said, bipartisan compromises mean absolutely nothing to me. One of our U.S. Senators cannot seem to send out a press release without the word "bipartisan" in it as though being bipartisan will take a bad idea and make it a good one simply because Democrats and Republicans agreed on it.
The message to those who have just been elected is very simple. Solve problems ... we don't care how you do it ... work together ... don't work together ... we don't care.
If a road has a big pothole that needs filling, fill it. Solve the problem.
If we need real and meaningful tax reform (we do) then reform our tax system. Solve the problem.
If we need to pass a budget (we do) then pass a budget WITHOUT gimmicks, state employee furloughs and markers put in place for future cuts or more revenue that have not yet been identified. Pass a budget that is actually balanced, not like the budgets we have seen in Augusta for years. Solve the problem.
You were elected to run our government and solve the problems that our government faces, PERIOD.
You were NOT elected to act like children, play political games that posture for the next election, send out press releases and hold press conferences that give you a platform to chastise the elected folks on the other side of the aisle.
Personally, I have had it with your childish games. Most of us average folks do not care about your future political ambitions. We care about our families, our communities, our state and our country.
That is what we expect YOU to care about, to work to make better.
Work together ... Work separately ... Do what the rest of us do.
We show up every day and do our jobs. We solve problems. We work together when we can, but at the end of the day, we do what it takes to get the job done.
That is what ALL of us expect you, as our elected representatives, to do.
(Ray Richardson is the host of the Ray Richardson show, heard weekday mornings from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the flagship station 1310AM News/Talk WLOB in greater Portland and the LOB Statewide Lobster Radio Network. He can also be found at wlobradio.com and rayrichardson.net.)
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:34
Written by John McDonald
Unlike my radio talk show on WGAN where we talk a lot about politics and listeners call with all kinds of insightful comments, we try not to get too political here at Storyteller Central. Here, we try to be just profound.
Lately, though, we've gotten a lot of e-mails from people who want to know things that might be borderline between the world of politics and the realm of storytelling.
"What are you talking about John," I hear some of you mumble to yourself as you read this. "Just where is that borderline?"
I will ignore such questions at this time and instead press on with what I intended to write about in the first place.
After the recent election, several readers — who admitted up front to being new arrivals from away — wanted to know if any famous Maine politicians ever ran for president. In a somewhat related matter, more than one reader wrote to ask how Maine's Governor's Mansion — the Blaine House — got its name.
I say "somewhat related" because the Blaine House was once owned and occupied by one of Maine most successful politicians — James G. Blaine — who ran unsuccessfully for president more than almost anyone else in the 19th century.
Who was he?
Well, first of all, although he hated to admit it in public here in Maine, James G. Blaine was from away. He was born in 1830 in the sleepy little town of West Brownsville, Penn. If you know anything about West Brownsville you know why Blaine decided to leave as soon as he could arrange it.
Blaine came to Maine in 1854 when he was hired as editor of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. Later, in what some would consider a step up and others would consider a step down, he moved to Portland to become editor of the Portland Advertiser.
In 1859, Blaine got himself elected to the Maine House of Representatives where he served three years, the last year as Speaker. Then he moved on to Congress as a representative from Maine. He had done so well as Speaker of the Maine House that his colleagues in Congress elected him Speaker there as well.
In 1876, he resigned from Congress and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President. He ran for the same nomination four years later and lost once again. Third time being the charm — at least for the nomination — Blaine became the Republican candidate for president in 1884, but he managed to lose the election, anyway, to Grover Cleveland. He came SO close.
Well, he lost New York state, and thereby the election, by 1,000 votes. Many people, including Blaine, thought he lost because of remarks made in New York on the eve of the election by the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, supposedly on Blaine's behalf. In an emotional speech, the teetotaling, anti-Catholic Burchard referred to the opposing party – the Democrats — as the party of "...Rum, Romanism (Catholic) and Rebellion (confederates)."
Such a speech may not ruffle many feathers today, but back in the 1880s it got lots of people all riled up. Despite the fact that this occurred well before talk radio and social media, the reverend's words spread like wildfire throughout New York's immigrant population offending many Catholics in the process.
In the remaining hours of the campaign Blaine reminded New York voters that his own mother was a Catholic but it was not enough.
If you're a political junkie into stats I'll just add that by losing the election of 1884 Blaine became the only non-incumbent Republican between 1856-1912 to lose a race for the presidency.
Blaine died in Washington in 1893 and his body was later brought back to Augusta where he was buried in Blaine Memorial Park.
(Maine humorist and best-selling author John McDonald is a professional storyteller who has been performing and entertaining audiences in the small towns and big cities of New England for decades. He is an author whose books include “Maine Trivia, A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar” and “Down the Road a Piece: A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine.” He writes a weekly humor column that is published in many Maine newspapers. John is also the founder of the Maine Storyteller Festival and his talk show can be heard each weekend on WGAN in Portland. For details, visit http://mainestoryteller.com.)
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:35
Written by Cliff Gallant
Ah, for the good ol' days. When ice cream cones were a nickel, kids played stickball in the streets, and every neighborhood had its own bar. Yes, the neighborhood bar, where they knew your name, what you drank, and when to shut you off. People took care of each other.
You belonged. At least that was the warm and fuzzy of it. The truth, we learned over time, is that neighborhood bars come with a bunch of problems. Too many people become regular drinkers and do things like lose their jobs and their families. Not to mention the late-night fights in the street and the police sirens that go on forever. So now there's just a handful of neighborhood bars left in town, and the people in them are usually sitting alone staring up at one of the four wide-screen TV's on the wall.
You won't spot anyone sitting alone watching TV at Mama's CrowBar, though. Neither do the problems usually associated with neighborhood bars reside there. The owner, Tricia Henley, is well aware of the downside of bars and takes a responsible and, well, imaginative, approach to running hers. This is not a place for people who don't have a life. Sorry to put it that way, but there you go. "I don't ever want my bar to be the sad answer to the question "Where's Daddy?", she says.
Mama's CrowBar is about half way up Munjoy Hill on the left, where George's Tavern was for years. In the summer they'd leave the door open at George's and you could see a line of guys through the smoky haze leaning over the bar watching the game on the small TV up in the corner. Hey, you could do worse on a Saturday afternoon. A small neighborhood bar where everyone's friends, no drunks, no rowdiness. The owner, George Piacentini, was a highly respected man with deep Portland roots who genuinely cared about his customers. George passed away not long ago, but Tricia takes great comfort in knowing that Mama's CrowBar has the Piacentini family's blessing.
Mama's CrowBar is very different from any other bar you're familiar with and there are some rules that go with the territory.
To begin with, Mama's CrowBar is openly announced and proudly maintained as a safe space. No hate speech. Not tolerated, no way, no how. Any ethnic, racial, religious or sexual orientation attack words and you're gone. Reasonable discussion on any subject, by all means, but no violent posturing, by word or deed. You will definitely be asked to leave if you're in violation. That said, Mama's CrowBar, Tricia says, is a place where people can use their voice. Many a revolution started in a tavern, after all, she adds.
True enough, but here's one for the ages. It's been a long time coming, it's radical, it's the way it is, and it's enforced: Men aren't allowed to come to Mama's CrowBar to pick up women. Make a sexual advance to a woman and you're gone. Leave her alone, meet, talk, share, laugh, cry, play, whatever, but don't hit on her. Women have a right to go to a public place without being a target. They have a right to autonomous space when they're in public.
Tricia estimates that on a given night about 60 percent of the clientele is female, and there's a reason for that. They feel safe and they're respected as people. If you're a male and your ears, or whatever, perked up at that 60 percent women clientele, forget it. Come in with a soupy mind and you'll be shamed and out the door lickity split.
That's not to say that relationships don't form at Mama's CrowBar. They do, but in a respectful way, with neither party sporting an agenda. People have met and fallen in love at the little bar on Munjoy Hill, they have indeed, but neither went there looking for it to happen.
Oh yeah, this is a bar, so what do they have for drinks? Beer, that's it. No hard stuff. The place isn't for serious drinkers.
Beer's beer, right? No way. Mama's CrowBar features American-made craft beers and nothing is served that's made with genetically modified corn syrup. Once you grow genetically modified corn in a field you can't grow anything else there. When farmers in Africa and India grow it they have no way to feed their families from then on.
Obviously Tricia gives a great deal of thought to which beers to serve. There's a few offered, but Allagash Black is the house beer. She says their business practices and concern for the environment are truly exceptional. Other exceptional Maine breweries that are always on tap are Oxbow, Bissell and Rising Tide. Narragansett made the cut, too, and, in fact, Mama's CrowBar was the first bar in the city to serve it.
There's also a cash only policy. No plastic. "Every time a merchant processes a credit card a bank makes money, and I don't want banks making money on me and my customers," Tricia says.
Then there's the entertainment. A lot happens in not a lot of space, and more often than not it involves the clientele.
Sunday is Open Mic Comedy Night. The action starts at 9:30 and goes for as long as people can stand it. Monday is Poetry on Tap Night and poets from Munjoy Hill and from all over the country have appeared. Tuesday is Juke Box Piano Night with Jimmy Dority. Jimmy's majoring in music composition at USM, he plays fifteen different instruments, and some amazin' amazin' tunes get put together with the help of the people gathered 'round. Wednesday is Weird Wednesday Night, hosted by Ian Stuart. The format is open mic, giving people space to tell their stories, both true and fictional, having to do with hauntings and UFO abductions and sightings. Creepy things of all sorts rule, and conspiracy theories, a favorite subject at Mama's CrowBar, abound. Thursday is Appalachian Bluegrass Night, with Willie McElroy. The soul of American music brought to Munjoy Hill. Saturday is Brewery Night, when the offerings of local microbreweries are highlighted, Portland being the microbrewery capital of the known world, no question.
Okay, here's the unhappy news. Mama's CrowBar has to be out of their space by next September. The landlord has other plans for the building. Not what anyone wanted to hear, but that's the way it is.
So-o-o, if there's anyone out there with some material resources and a desire to keep the spirit of Mama's CrowBar alive in another location, now's the time to step up.
There's a lot of heart in the place and it's just got to keep going somewhere. It's just got to.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:35