Making Stories

A year ago in August, I was contacted about writing an article. The woman who emailed me read my Biddeford article for the “big city paper,” The Boston Globe. She liked it and thought I had what it took to tell her story. It was about a town that had stopped making paper.

In 2016, I was in a funk. I told Mark that “maybe I should quit” the writing game.

Part of this was self-pity. But part of it was also feeling like my writing was going nowhere. At the time, it wasn’t.

Mark’s response was, “keep doing what you’re doing, dad.”

I told the woman that I couldn’t do it.

Then, Mark was killed.

In January (and February, March, and April), writing didn’t seem to matter. Yes, I was blogging. This was more about simply pouring out my pain associated with loss and grief. I was shocked that people actually read my posts.

A decision was made to reconnect with the woman who reached out to me in 2016. She was pleased to hear from me. She was also sorry about Mark.

One year after she first contacted me, I made my first trip down the coast. I’d make several more.

I talked to people in the town. The town had lost a mill. A mill that had been making paper since 1930. I also met a man with big ideas about logs not needed for making paper. Continue reading

Save Yourself (But maybe not)

Today is Day 04 following the Great Windstorm of 2017. Have they officially dubbed it a hurricane? To be honest, I have not been consuming much news this week, so if there’s a name for the storm that landed Sunday night, wreaking havoc across Northern New England, please clue me in.

We’re fortunate. I say “fortunate” because we didn’t have any trees land on our house or garage. We had a partial window shatter (the outer pane in a two-paned weather-resistant window facing the water), but no water invaded our domestic confines. Poor Lucy, our cat, slept about as well as I did Sunday night and early Monday morning, which means hardly at all. She’s been in recovery mode all week, sleeping during the day, rather than watching birds and squirrels from her usual perch in a window. Oh to be a cat like Lucy!

We have several trees lying on the ground. We had some water coming in around a vent above the garage and it’s leaking through the ceiling. This isn’t related to this storm, as we’ve had issues with this during prior heavy rains. Given that the summer and early fall have been bone dry, this hasn’t presented itself until re-surfacing a week ago. The property manager is dispensing his handyman to the house on Friday. Based on past practice, he’ll figure out what needs to be done while making an assessment about our window situation. I think the tree crew will be out next week, but that’s conjecture at this point.

We got electricity back Tuesday night. We were fortunate. Many CMP customers are still in the dark. Others are freaking out about their website. Perhaps technology can’t save us? It sure as hell can’t restore downed power lines. Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice

Everyone’s looking for a tribe to run with. Sometimes, people find it when they embrace a certain way of seeing the world—religion and politics being two of these.

Turning on the Tee Vee is always fraught with the potential that it could ruin one’s day. I was reminded of this again on Sunday.

After standing in the rain for 5 ½ hour, umpiring two AAU tournament games, I got home late on Saturday, cold, hungry, and exhausted. If you were out in the elements on Saturday, you’ll remember it was unseasonably cold, with precipitation alternating between light drizzle and downpours.

With yet another game on the books for Sunday afternoon, I was looking for a weather forecast, while also wanting to see if the local news puppets bothered to cover the Moxie Festival parade from Saturday, I flicked on the television after pouring my first coffee of the morning.

Oddly, I was treated to a series of social justice warrior gatherings in the first 10 minutes of the newscast. Maine, like the rest of the country, seems to be in the midst of some kind of collective meltdown.

The second story, about a group of white people, mainly women, caught my attention. They had gathered on Saturday in Belfast, Maine, and held a Black Lives Matter rally, or so I was told by the newscaster, reading from his teleprompter. Have there been a rash of racially-motivated shootings in Maine that I missed?

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

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Dream Sequences and Baseball Fields

Dreams get referenced often, yet I contend that they’re one of the least understood elements of our brains and subconscious.

All of us dream. Researchers tell us that people can spend two hours of their sleep in some stage of dreaming.

Sometimes reality impersonates the dream fugue. Visiting former haunts and places that once occupied significance in our lives can unleash memories that we’d stored away.

The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach was built in 1983, principally fueled by the vision and dream of a successful Bangor lawyer, Jordan Kobritz, who didn’t want to practice law anymore. Kobritz believed that OOB’s summer influx of tourists and vacationers would provide the population necessary to support a minor league baseball team, one played at the AAA-level.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

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Leaning West

Maine’s western border abuts New Hampshire, known as The Granite State. When pine trees meet mountain rock, it speaks to something rugged and permanent.

Granted, some men never meet a mountaintop or a swath of timber without thinking in terms of dollar signs, but so far, western Maine and New Hampshire’s White Mountains still offer natural beauty and views that are hard to beat anywhere in the East. And while development hustlers and water extractors have made their presence known, just like everywhere else, there is less blight once you get away from the tourist corridors, with plenty of opportunities to appreciate nature.

I’ve mentioned being an umpire. This is a gig that takes you wherever your assignor sends you. Since the board I’m a member of doesn’t have much of a presence in far western Maine, sometimes you’re assigned to cover places like Fryeburg, not far from having entrée into the White Mountain National Forest.

Yesterday, I made my second trip in a week to cover an 8th grade middle school game. Logistics and school budgets being what they are, many at that level opt for paying only one umpire. That means for traveling to Fryeburg, I receive a fee and a half, along with mileage. It’s likely I got picked to make two trips this year because I have a fairly flexible schedule. If you work in Portland and don’t get out of work ‘til 3:00 or even with a sympathetic boss who will let you out at 2:30, you’ll never be able to make the trip in time to get there for the 3:30 game time. Plus, rushing like a mad man is never the mindset you want to show up with, then spend 7 innings focused on being professional and capable of doing a job you’ll be proud of.

Fryeburg takes about an hour and 30 minutes from my doorstep (give or take 5 minutes, depending on the route) to Indian Acres Camp for Boys, where Molly Ockett Middle School is playing their games this spring. Apparently Fryeburg is experiencing an economic windfall of sorts, or perhaps it’s MSAD 72’s turn to receive state school funding—whatever the reason, there’s a major school expansion taking place at the middle school site on Route 302 and their former ball field is a big patch dirt and construction debris. Hence the trip to Indian Acres, a place I’d never heard of ‘til a week ago. If you know the area, or you’ve been to Fryeburg from attending their magnificent fall fair, then Indian Acres is just north of the fairgrounds on Route 5.

Sweden the town, not the country.

Sweden the town, not the country.

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No Reason

Driving home through yesterday’s midday deluge, I decided to tune in MPBN’s Maine Calling program. The topic was “The consequence of paying our teachers poverty-level wages,” at least that’s what their Facebook page indicates. I joined at some point, about 20 minutes into the program.

One of the guests on the show was Tayla Edlund, who was chosen as Maine’s Teacher-of-the-Year for 2015. She teaches third grade in Cape Elizabeth.

The show’s host, veteran journalist Keith Shortall, posed a question that basically captured an idea that well-to-do places like Cape Elizabeth—the top-ranking Maine community by income—are likely to have greater parental involvement. Anyone that knows anything about socio-economic data and education wouldn’t have had any problems with Shortall’s premise. Here is but one study on the subject.

Socio-economics affects educational attainment.

Socio-economics affects educational attainment.

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Amazon Was Here

Retail is a mixed bag across the country. Malls in smaller cities are struggling, as former anchor tenants like Sears and J.C. Penney have closed stores, and many smaller shops have shuttered. Larger retail has shifted to shopping complexes anchored by a Walmart or other big-box store. Drive through any community other than Portland and notice the abundance of unfilled retail space.

The late, great Bookland Store sits vacant at Cook's Corner, in Brunswick.

The late, great Bookland Store sits vacant at Cook’s Corner, in Brunswick.

Smaller malls and shopping centers were popping up all over the place in Maine three decades ago. This pretty much sealed the deal for Mom and Pop small hardware stores and other locally-owned shopping options. Now, many of those same strip malls and retail havens have multiple vacant storefronts. Continue reading

When Maine Was Country

New England is the oldest region in the U.S. The six states that make up the amalgamated group known as the Northeast are foundational in the American story. Outside of Boston, the region’s largest city, and New Hampshire—which garners national political interest once every four years—our patch of geography is pretty much ignored by the elites in New York and Washington.

Maine’s closest thing to a city, Portland, gets written up incessantly about its amazing food scene, i.e. overpriced and pretentious dining for hipsters—but I’ll save that one for another day.

The New England region is one of the richest in the U.S. in terms of heritage and culture. This history dates back to our founding, and before. Yet history’s value is set pretty low these days. The category is just not sexy enough and doesn’t play well when considering Twitter’s truncation and Facebook’s emoting. Some, like Santayana and others, recognized history’s value.

I’ve been known to mine some of the history of the region, like baseball played in small towns, or distinctly-different soft drinks. There’s still plenty of it to discover and develop stories about.

Take country music.

Now I’m not talking the Nashville brand, or whatever’s being programmed on so-called country radio right now. Blake Shelton isn’t the kind of country music I’m talking about. Not to pick on Blake in this matter either, as the debate about “what’s country, and what’s not” has been bandied about for decades. Continue reading

Fluff it Up

It’s Friday and time for another post. It seems that a pile of jeremiads are stacking up, on a variety of topics germane to the news cycle at the moment. First and foremost in my ever-growing slush pile of things to blog about is the lying mainstream media. I also jotted down a bunch of stuff the other day about the mayoral run-off that happened Tuesday, one town over.

Again, the media’s misinformation was central to some of my concerns—not the least being national reporters meddling around where they have no business treading, and even less understanding of local matters. Hacks like this one—elitists really—love to belittle places like Lewiston (aka, Trumpland, Maine) and the people that live there. Voters voting for a candidate she can’t understand from her urban zip code? Call them stupid, ignorant, or wracked with fear. But anyone keeping score knows journalism now equals propaganda, at least coming from the driveby set.

But since we are in the midst of the holiday season—even though it doesn’t feel like Christmas to me—I’m going to defer writing about topics that divide and keep it light. Maybe I’ll start a tradition of easier-on-the-eyes and lower stress blogging on Friday—call it something like Fluffernutter Friday. Apparently the sandwich of the same name has a New England backstory.

Fridays are for Fluffernutters.

Fridays are for Fluffernutters.

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On the Base

The closure of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) was a long, drawn-out affair.  Like most impending events that you eventually find out were inevitable, this was another one that elicited hand-wringing, predictions of doom and gloom—not to mention—certain economic devastation. Brunswick was likely to dry up and blow away without Uncle Sam and the Pentagon sending shekels, keeping it afloat—at least that’s the version the media sold us.

The perspective is always different through the lens of hindsight. Looking back also provides perspective on how news stories get spun. I find it especially enlightening when political icons are judged by history. George Mitchell, everyone’s favorite Maine Democrat (if you’re a Maine Democrat) had this to say back in 1993, when he was Senate Majority Leader, in a news brief I located from the Boston Globe. [via ProQuest]

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said yesterday that he is optimistic Maine’s Navy bases will be spared when the Defense Department’s list of recommended bases for closure s released. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the Brunswick Naval Air Station could potentially be on the list Secretary of Defense Les Aspin will present to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. [The Boston Globe, March 6, 1993]

BNAS was on the list, and it wasn’t spared. So much for the wisdom of ole’ George, Mr. Maine Democrat.  Actually, there’s more political wrangling to this story, as Mitchell ended up leaving the Senate and as a result, Maine lost some clout in Washington. That might actually have had more to do with the closure than Mitchell being a lousy prognosticator.

When BNAS closed in 2011, it affected 2,687 active duty personnel and 583 full-time civilian personnel. That was a significant loss of jobs along with the economic ripple effect that accompanied the closure.

Fast forward four years and the former Naval Air Station is in the process of redevelopment under the care of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA). Since redevelopment began, there are more than 70 businesses occupying the former base, and according to various news sources, more than 700 new jobs have been created.

Being that the JBE wants to be your go-to source for local news, at least local in terms of drawing a 30-mile ring around the JBE compound, I was able to dig a bit deeper for my readers. According the MRRA’s very own Redevelopment News newsletter that number is actually 730 jobs—which they cite as being “60 percent more than projected four years into this project. The newsletter goes on to report that they “expect to have more than 800 employees here in high-paying, quality positions by the end of the year.”

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

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