The Best of Maine’s Humor and Music supporting the Salvation Army’s “Champions for Kids”
My last car
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been crazy about cars. And I might as well include trucks, motorcycles, dune buggies and anything else equipped with wheels and an engine. If it can be driven, just hand me those keys. I’ll take it out for a spin.
My obsession may have been stimulated at least in part by simple geography. I spent most of my childhood at the end of a peninsula on the Maine coast. And over time it seems reasonable that I would come to think of Route 27, the serpentine stretch of two-lane blacktop connecting my hometown to coastal Route 1, as my own personal on-ramp, a gateway to every other road on the planet.
Whatever the source, I definitely caught the “car bug” at an early age, regaling childhood friends, relatives and total strangers with random automotive statistics: 0-60 times, quarter mile speeds, comparative horsepower ratings and the like, the way other eight-year-old boys reeled off the batting averages of their favorite big league ball players.
When the original Ford Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April of 1964, the nationwide launch came as a complete surprise to most Americans. Not me. Although I was as smitten as anyone by the Mustang, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
By the time the hoi polloi caught onto Ford’s new “pony car” I’d been avidly following its development for months. Magazines like Motor Trend and Sports Car Graphic had been providing me with regular updates via fuzzy “spy photos” and debates over which name Ford would decide to bolt onto the new car’s sheet metal flanks (Cougar and Allegro were considered the front runners).
So when I finally slipped behind the wheel of my first car, a 1956 Chevy (previously driven by Boothbay Harbor’s version of the “Little Old Lady who only drove it on Sunday” my friend Doris Farnham), I was ready to hit the open road. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not but I certainly had tons of fun racking up the million plus miles I’ve driven since then. Over the years I’ve owned dozens of vehicles: a couple of AMC Hornets, a Dodge pick-up, a bunch of Fords and Hondas and even a few of the more exotic marques.
There were a couple of Fiats, an Opel, several Mercedes and a sinfully posh Jaguar XJ with Wilton carpets, Connolly hides and those oh-so-British, burled walnut picnic tables for my backseat passengers. Can you say “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”
I’ve also owned around 15 motorcycles ranging from 50 to 1100 cc. I was even briefly the proud owner of a metal flake orange 1975 Suzuki RE-5, the world’s only mass-produced rotary engine motorcycle!
Which brings me to my current dilemma. Given my age (let’s just say “early sixties” shall we?), and reasonably good health, I figure I’ve got maybe 20 good driving years left. Here’s the problem. I’ve recently test driven a selection of the latest models and found the whole experience deeply disturbing.
Apparently I’ve become a member of a newly endangered species: We’re the ones who prefer a clutch, manual gearshift and large, clearly marked knobs for the radio and heater so we can keep our eyes the road. That’s right. We actually look at the road while driving. Weird huh?
It gets even weirder. We also use mirrors and turn signals, dim our high beams for oncoming traffic, and obey the “Keep Right Except to Pass” law. Yes, Virginia, that really is a law.
For me, driving is never a passive experience. Yet modern cars are rapidly evolving into passive entertainment capsules where the fact that you’re hurtling down the road at lethal speeds serves as just one more irritating distraction from your critical “infotainment” priorities.
I have absolutely zero interest in a “self-parking” automobile with a jumbo, interactive “infotainment” screen, adaptive cruise control and (God forbid!) “hands free steering.” Unfortunately, pretty soon we won’t even have a choice in the matter. These and similarly inane examples of technology-run-amok are rapidly becoming standard equipment on every make and model on the lot.
Maybe I’ll follow Jay Leno’s example. Leno still owns the 1955 Buick he bought for $350 back in 1972. It looks the same except it’s been modified with disc brakes, radial tires and a contemporary drivetrain. Maybe I’ll find another ’56 Chevy. Even with similar modifications it wouldn’t cost much more than the pricey new models.
Besides, if I’m going to be driving off into the sunset, why not go there in a car featuring the best of both world’s: modern underpinnings and a steering wheel the size of a Domino’s pizza!
Original Appeared in the Boothbay Register
Be it hereby resolved
Goodness, where has the time gotten to? It hardly seems possible that enough of those old black and white calendar pages have already flipped across the flickering screen of our lives to prompt another list of New Year’s resolutions.
Yet, here we are, once again watching the last traces of sand slip through the hourglass; with the old year fast fading and the new one waving enthusiastically from the bus stop, we’ve not a moment to lose.
Regular readers of this column may recall that, for some years now I’ve chosen to exempt myself from the whole New Year’s resolution rigmarole. That said, after quietly revisiting the subject in recent months, I’ve decided to reverse my long held position. Yes, friends, hoisting high the age-old banner of self-improvement I will once again be compiling my annual list of New Year’s resolutions.
This time around however, things are going to be different. This year, I’m approaching “the list” from a radically new perspective; a critical format change if you will, which (if I do say so myself and frankly if I don’t who will?) I actually consider rather brilliant.
I am so confident in the transformative power of my new system that I predict many of you will soon be scrambling to adopt it. If that should be the case, by all means, feel free; adopt away! In the magnanimous spirit of 21st century “open sourcing,” consider the sharing of this simple, yet revolutionary insight as my New Year’s gift to you. Ready? Steady? Here goes:
Be it hereby resolved that henceforth each and every item on my annual resolutions list shall, prior to inclusion on said list, be “Certified Reality Based” by the Internal Department of Interesting Original Thoughts (IDIOT).
Ayuh, you heard it here first chummy! I’m actually proposing a strictly reality based approach to the ritual of annual New Year’s resolutions. Is that revolutionary or what? Come on, admit it.
After wrestling for decades with a series of ever more wildly optimistic, totally unrealistic pie-in-the-sky New Year’s resolutions, followed inevitably by the all-too-familiar train wreck of dashed dreams, hijacked hopes and sucker-punched self-esteem, I’ve stumbled upon a foolproof solution. Foolproof? Yes foolproof!
For the first time ever, my new system addresses the underlying problem, the core issue at the heart of this annual dilemma; the inescapable fact that every list I’ve ever compiled has been hopelessly and irreparably unrealistic!
I’m amazed it’s taken me so long to see the truth. In every resolution I’ve ever made, going back to earliest childhood, all of my naïve hopes, dreams and aspirations for self-improvement were doomed to failure right out of the gate, destined to be devoured by the lurking chimera of impossibility, dashed on the rocks of ludicrously high expectation!
It’s just that simple folks. The scales have dropped from my eyes and it’s become clear that the only rational way forward is to follow the marvelously stress free path of drastically lowered expectations.
With that in mind allow me to share with you my first-ever, extremely brief, yet highly achievable, list of “Certified Reality Based” New Year’s resolutions:
Physical Fitness: I begin this New Year totally confident that I will (for the first time ever) achieve all of my physical fitness goals. Having completely abandoned the absurd late night infomercial driven ambition of developing “rock hard abs,” I’ve set my sights a whole lot lower: I hereby resolve that at some point in the course of the next 12 months I will develop a set of abdominal muscles that can be accurately and definitively located in the course of a routine, half hour office visit by an appropriately trained and licensed medical professional.”
Diet: I hereby resolve to consume at least one serving of “vegetables” (i.e.; one medium sized bag of corn chips, one large box of wheat thins, etc.) per month and limit my daily intake of “between meal snacks” to not more than three servings (i.e.; one pint of Ben and Jerry’s, one and a half whoopie pies or two bowls of Cap’n Crunch with milk, etc.).
Financial: In the coming year I hereby resolve to reduce the crippling effects of financial stress via the time-honored method of Fiscal Quarantine: placing all credit card bills, unopened and unexamined, directly into the bottom drawer of my desk for a two-month “cooling off period” prior to opening.
Well, there you have it. Feel free to improvise to suit your individual circumstances and aspirations. I’m confident that with a little effort (very little in fact) my approach will transform the traditional, “I’ll do better next year,” into a triumphant “Mission Accomplished!”
Happy New Year!
Original Appeared in the Boothbay Register
Let there be light
While I enjoy all the merriment the winter holidays offer, I’m also prone to the occasional stretch of “SAD-ness” around this time of year. It’s not the sort of sadness where you find yourself pacing around an old railroad trestle with a life insurance policy tucked in the vest pocket of your suit jacket, or the kind where you spontaneously burst into tears in the Reny’s checkout line.
OK, so I’m neither emulating George Bailey nor auditioning for a show on The Oprah Network. Still, there is something oddly challenging about this time of year. With sunset arriving at mid-afternoon and the winter solstice drawing nigh, I find myself staving off another annual bout of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
And I’m not alone. In fact, SAD is an increasingly well-documented phenomenon particularly among folks like me who, some by choice, others out of sheer necessity, spend a lifetime “wintering over” in Maine, which in case you hadn’t noticed, is situated smack dab in the dark-as-pocket north-easternmost corner of the country.
Even “southerners” in balmy Portsmouth, N.H., are 8-10 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of SAD than “snowbirds” who’ve packed up their Holiday Ramblers and joined the traditional New Englander’s winter migration to Florida.
My SAD symptoms show up at pretty much the same time the last of Thanksgiving turkey is being polished off. They’re easy to spot too. The first tip off is when I start sleeping straight through both the “snooze” and the “snooze a few more minutes” alarms, on my smartphone.
Upon awakening, I stumble into the kitchen, crank up my custom made Mr. Coffee I.V. unit (patent pending) and head haltingly down the hall to my office. By the time I reach my desk, I feel certain that I’ve already gained a deeper appreciation of the professional challenges Boris Karloff must have encountered whilst lurching about a Hollywood sound stage in heavy platform shoes, sporting 50 pounds of prosthetic monster make-up. Clearly, it is occasionally necessary to suffer such indignities in the service of great art.
By noon my internal “batteries” lack the power to suppress an attack of sequential yawning. A half-hour later I’m staring blankly out my office window, vaguely aware that the last of my somnambulant brain cells have thrown in the towel. One by one, they quietly slip away, donning their tiny mufflers and overcoats, pausing only to douse the lights before simply walking off the job.
Thus relieved of all cognitive responsibilities I commence the languorous drift into familiar fantasy; meandering though a snowy, moonlit forest. Wandering ever further into its dark interior, I stumble upon a warm dry cave and am suddenly overwhelmed by the powerful urge to curl up next to a massive mama bear snoozing peacefully in the corner.
“Yes” I hear myself say, “Of course, I’ll just lay down here next to this she-bear and hibernate until spring.”
Bang, bang, bang! My delicious reverie is abruptly shattered by a series of sharp, repetitive concussions! Jolted out of my stupor, I cast about for clues. Have hunters invaded the cave? Are the neighbor kids setting off firecrackers again? My neurons rush to man their abandoned workstations and clarity begins to return.
OK, calm down now. It’s just the UPS man knocking at the front door. He needs my signature for that package he just delivered. I scrawl my name and slump back in my chair thinking, “I simply can’t go on like this.”
You know how cartoonists draw a light bulb hovering over some character’s head to indicate the birth of a “bright idea”? Well, that’s almost literally what happened to me. The light (or more to the point a whole bunch of lights) finally dawned.
Bolting down the cellar stairs at full gallop, I rummaged around, returning moments later with the first of several large, musty, cardboard boxes labeled “Xmas Stuff!”
Fired with fresh purpose, my lethargy vanished and the ensuing hours blended into a bright, dazzling blur of luminescence. Boxes were ripped open, revealing a tangled trove of twinkling Christmas lights; little ones, big ones, fat ones, thin ones, long strands, short strands, indoor and outdoor strands, lights that flashed and bulbs that glowed. I even located my favorite string of antique miniature illuminated plastic 1958 Nash Metropolitans! By midnight my home shone brilliantly enough to be seen from space.
I know, I know, it’s considered bad form to leave Christmas lights up more than a week or two past New Year’s Day. Sorry, but there’s too much at stake here to take that chance.
You’ll find my Christmas lights blazing like a bonfire straight through till the end of mud season!
Original Appeared in the Boothbay Register
A bump on the head
When I was a kid, the basic curriculum at our local elementary school included an inspirational tale of scientific synchronicity in which the young Isaac Newton, innocently snoozing in an apple orchard, is rudely awakened by a lumpy McIntosh caroming off his pate.
The story goes on to suggest that being hit on the noggin by a falling apple helped kickstart a line of scientific inquiry that eventually led Newton directly to his famous discovery of the law of gravity.
I’m not sure I ever figured out exactly what “moral” the Newton’s Apple story was supposed to convey to a bunch of 20th century Maine students (falling asleep in class will lead to the next big scientific breakthrough?).
But I know why I liked it.
In some weird way, I can see how Newton’s epiphany may have represented the hope that somehow, my own rather shocking, “bump on the head” experience might one day yield something of lasting value.
Bump on the head? Oh yeah. It all started innocently enough, when at age 10, I decided to stay after school and play on the playground swings instead of going directly home when school was dismissed.
I can dimly recall exiting the school building, hopping onto an empty swing, pushing myself off and “pumping” my legs to pick up speed. Yep, I remember that part pretty well. It’s the next several weeks that are a complete blank.
Apparently the swing came a cropper just at the right moment to send me hurtling skyward, at which point Newton’s gravity intervened, returning me abruptly and jarringly to terra firma. The instant my head hit the pavement my consciousness left the premises without even pausing to report the accident.
In audio and film editing there’s something called a “butt edit,” where you slice into the track, cut out a chunk, then jump in again a bit further down the line. It’s also known as a “jump cut” as in, one moment you’re here and the next you’ve “jumped” to someplace over there.
That’s basically what happened to me in that schoolyard, only in my case, the “jump cut” wasn’t happening on film. It was happening in real life.
One minute I was flying high on the playground swing. The next minute (in “regular time” that would be several weeks) I was sitting in a hospital room at Maine Medical Center in Portland, listening to a friendly nurse explaining that I would be going “home” today.
As she spoke it gradually dawned on me that, aside from having no idea what or where “home” might be, I hadn’t the slightest idea who I was! If there’s a more startling thought than that I’d like to know what it is.
The feeling of awakening from total amnesia is, of course impossible to describe. It’s something like a 3D version of the sensation you have when trying to recall a name that’s right on the tip of your tongue. The information you’re looking for is right there — except that it’s not. It’s hovering just beyond your grasp.
Over the next several days I managed to recall my name, where I lived and most of the other details of my pre-head-injury life. I say “most” because while virtually everything else came back, those missing weeks simply disappeared. Spooky? You bet.
Oh yeah, there is one more thing. It now appears likely that I emerged from that harrowing experience with something the doctors say I most likely didn’t have going in. When my memory returned, along with it came a neurological “glitch” which, back in 1961 when the accident happened, nobody had ever heard of.
In exchange for a few weeks of my memory I’d apparently gained something called non-verbal learning disorder, NLD for short.
Like most kids grappling with undiagnosed, untreated cognitive issues, I took my lumps (both literally and figuratively). But over the years I’ve come to view my “disorder” as far more of a gift than a curse. Why not? The fact is that a list of “classic NLD symptoms” reads more or less like my personal Facebook profile.
Early reader? Check. Excellent grammar? Check. Strong verbal communication skills? Hey, why do you think I’ve spent most of my life behind a microphone?
Of course not all the NLD news is good. When it comes to math you can count me out. The average 6-year-old has more refined mechanical skills than I’ll ever have.
On the other hand, when it comes to creativity, I’m your guy. In an age when Fortune 500 companies spend millions teaching executives how to “think outside the box,” I can’t begin to figure out what “box” they’re talking about.
Original Appeared in the Boothbay Register
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