Sippican Cottage

A Maine Lobsterman, by E.B. White in 1954

If you’ve got 18 minutes or so, the time will be well spent.

E.B. White is known to most folks as the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web. Ink-stained wretches know him as the White in Strunk and White, authors of the bible of recipes for sentences, The Elements of Style. I know him as an essayist about Maine, where he is unexcelled — so far.

He lived in Down East Maine. He knew and respected the men and women he describes in blasts of interest like this one. Unlike today’s writers, he doesn’t rely solely on describing objects to achieve verisimilitude. He tries to understand the motive force behind the populations, traditions, and the landscape he’s surveying. Others skim over an ocean of meaning without dipping into it. E.B. dropped his traps, and hauled the good stuff up, just like Eugene Eaton.

This video is all before my time, of course, but I’ve met plenty of stalwart people like Eugene when they were a lot older, and I was a lot younger. They were taciturn fellows. Chatty guys don’t stand in a wheelhouse alone for very long before they find a job elsewhere. The laconic Maine lobsterman was the real deal. Calvin Coolidge was a gadfly compared to them. E.B. doesn’t have the right accent, but he’s close. He has Maine stapled over New York City. Eugene’s is the real deal.

I’m always sort of in awe of people like Eugene. If you watch him pull on his oars when commuting out to his working boat, you can see how much force he’s putting on each stroke, with how little effort. He could do it all day and not get tired. He’d wear out an Olympic oarsman, if he could be bothered to race, which he couldn’t. He rolls his wrists perfectly as the oars leave the water and again as they enter it, never showing a splash of water, coming or going. There’s no wasted effort in his whole day. Plenty of effort, mind you, just none wasted. When he pulls alongside his working boat, he ships his right oar effortlessly without looking at it. It’s a small thing, but his life is made from such small things. Just stuff I can’t help but notice, because I’ve thrashed oars and banged into boats and lost oars overboard and wrenched oarlocks out of the gunwhales and sprayed water on everyone and everything within hand-grenade distance while doing these things. And I dare you not to get seasick with the boat rolling in that chop, next to a barrel of reeking bait, with the stink of the diesel exhaust. I couldn’t.

I’ve knocked together lobster traps like Eugene is using. They’re fun to make. No one uses them anymore. They’re all brutish steel cages, pre-made now. Something lost, something gained, I guess. I love Eugene’s no-nonsense clothing, too. It was from back when LL Bean made more than men’s pinstriped button-down shirts for WASP ladies to vacuum the house in.

Out on that ocean in a 34′ boat with nothing but a hinky compass and tide chart. They should have left Michael Collins at home, and brought Eugene along instead. He’d get them back from the moon with a hand on Apollo’s tiller and an astrology column from the Bangor Daily News. No Tang for me, fellows. I brought my lunch with me.

I’m reminded of the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer. A snippet of it was on JFK’s desk, a present from Hyman Rickover, who could order battleships around and all, but I doubt he could row as well as Eugene.

Better Than Haggis

We had to import a guy from Scotland to make a decent lobster sandwich, apparently. The fellow knows his business. Both of them.

Maine has a love/hate relationship with lobsters. Lobstermen call them “bugs,” and many won’t eat them. They prefer to sell them, and eat hamburgers on the grill. Lobsters are their stock in trade, and you’re not supposed to get high on your own supply, dude. It’s the same in many walks of life, I assume. What’s a treat for others is the same old thing if you see it every day.

Like most traditional dishes that are considered delicacies, lobsters used to be poor person food. Back when New England was first settled, you could simply collect them from the shoreline. They were so cheap that in colonial times, they served them to prisoners every day, or at least until they rioted and demanded real food. But lobsters eventually got scarcer, and people began to associate them with upper crust folks, who were descended from the people who originally pestered the Indians away from the shoreline and kept all the bugs for themselves.

No one tell Gordon, but in Maine, lobster is almost always served as a lobster roll: diced up, overcooked lobster, buried in mayonnaise, and served on a flaccid hot dog roll. It’s usually accompanied with a plastic tub of runny cole slaw, in case you haven’t got enough mayonnaise in you yet. If Gordon finds out, he might disparage Maine, and I’d be forced to publish a recipe for haggis to fight back.

It Rained a Bit

That’s the famous Rumford Falls. It ain’t much to look at, really, although they have a rest stop nearby to gull tourists into lingering a while. The falls are in the background there. Most people mistake the weir, a concrete revetment that water passes over that you see in the foreground, for the falls. There’s a tall concrete bridge about a thousand yards downstream from the weir that actually has some interesting rocky rapids to gape at, but nobody ever looks at it. It’s got a hulking, reeking paper mill alongside it. It’s not picturesque, I guess.

It’s been raining every day for as long as I can remember. We can’t complain. Our back yard looks like Cambodia, but we skipped all the Canadian wildfire smoke altogether. Interestingly, Canadian Wildfire Smoke is the name of my Bachman-Turner Overdrive tribute band. But I digress.

Normally, the river isn’t running at all this time of year. The Androscoggin never stops, exactly, but the concrete weir would be showing, and the falls themselves would be bare granite. The nearby Swift River is usually just sort of shallow and disconnected, like a teenage girl with an iPhone riding in your car. But it’s raging, too.

We never really get weather here in western Maine. We get WEATHER. C’est la vie!

A Maine Barbecue

Back in the day, it would have been spelled barbeque, I think. Pretty soon the word will entirely pass through the alimentary canal of internet spelling and always be referred to as BBQ.

We’ll forgive the soprano for the caterwauling at the opening of the video. She’s performing in Monmouth, Maine, and in Maine, we’re all doing the best we can, and make allowances. She gets right back on track when she starts narrating the extravaganza of fun and frolic and painfully square activities. She’s got a great, subtle Katharine Hepburn twang. When she says “haff” at 3:18, I get a little thrill. It’s becoming rare in Maine, as the place gets increasingly populated with people “from away.” Southern Maine is increasingly northern Massachusetts.

The theater is still there in Monmouth, and banging away. They’re currently putting on a production of Richard II. It’s possible they wanted to put on Richard III, but didn’t have enough I’s for the marquee, and went with it. It’s Maine; we make do.

There Are Worse Places To Be Than Lost in Maine

Well, it’s a pretty good video, all in all. It sounds like it’s narrated by Edgar the farmer, who gets turned into a bug in Men in Black, but this is Maine, where everyone is just doing the best they can, so he kind of fits in.

The video is called “Coastal Maine.” For some reason it starts in Rumford. That’s a bit of a headscratcher, Edgar. Rumford is about as far away from the coast as you can get and still be in Maine, but rock on, dude. He graciously elided the part about the hulking, stinking paper mill smack dab in the middle of Rumford, so he’s obviously polite to a fault, which makes him a better man than me. Then he waxes poetic about the waterfall, while taking video of the weir in front of it instead.  Then he sets out on a solid five hour drive to Bar Harbor, the next stop. I’m not sure why he’s hanging out near the New Hampshire and Canadian border of Maine. Maybe he wanted to sneak up on Bar Harbor, went to Canada first, took two more right turns, and then invaded the coast from Quebec. Lots of Quebeckers descend to Old Orchard Beach, near Saco, in the summer, so he could just follow the caravan. Of course if he really wants to fit in with that crowd, he’ll have to wear a speedo and tip 5% in the restaurants.

So it’s Maine-ish enough for my tastes, and you can barely see the seams in the PRODUCT PLACEMENT, so let’s not quibble. Visit coastal Maine! Including the Pacific coast, just on the other side of 49 states from Rumford.

[Previously on Sippican Cottage: Maine Is Totally Like This, Totally.

By The Messalonskee

Great piece of film making. It’s as much a lost art as the work in the ax factory.

I’ve been through Oakland, Maine. It’s near Ogguster (the capital) and Waterville (a somewhat large but  somewhat downscale city). The Messalonskee Stream is pictured and mentioned in the video. It widens out after that and becomes a creditable lake. The population of Oakland has doubled since this video was made, but that’s not saying much. About 6,000 people live there. There are a lot of towns in Maine with about that many people bothering their neighbors in them.

These fellers all have Yankee-sounding names. Maine was like that back in the day. It’s not like 1965 is ancient history or anything. These guys are old enough to be my grandparents, or maybe an older uncle. I worked in construction with guys like these when I was young and they were looking forward to a gold watch, a two week-vacation in Florida, and their complimentary myocardial infarction. They’re hardly mysterious to me.

Of course axes used to matter more in the twentieth century than the twenty-first. Firewood for heating fuel is still a thing here, but it’s dying out now. In 1965, I’ll bet lots of Mainers felled and split their own. I’ll bet Earl and Elwood did.

If that factory was still open, I’m pretty certain they could be selling fancy axes for beaucoup bucks on the interwebs. Making axes is one of the intertunnel’s favorite things for cubicle dwellers who want to feel outdoorsy for a few minutes. They watch videos of people making fancy knives and axes and medieval armor, and then go back to working on their fluorescent light tans.

People might snicker when the narrator mentions that Elwood makes $1.25 an hour making axes. Not many would bother to do the arithmetic to figure out what kind of travesty that might be. The narrator certainly seemed to think it was some kind. He mentions that Elwood will leave to get a buck bump in his wage just by pushing a broom in a Connecticut factory. I’ll bet he’s obliquely referring to the Collins Ax factory in Connecticut. I’ve been in the Collins Ax factory building. It’s offices for interior decorators and dentists and stuff now. I also own a machete made in the Collins Ax factory, that I bought in Guatemala, but that’s a story for another day. Stanley Tools bought Collins, I think, and closed it down in 1966, so Elwood would have been out in the cold anyway, and far away from home to boot.

The median wage for an individual in 1965 was $3,360 per year. If you worked 2,000 hours per year, that’s about $1.68 an hour. I’ll bet everyone at the ax factory worked more than 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, so while they weren’t getting rich, they weren’t starving compared to everyone else or anything. And it was cheaper to live in Oakland, Maine than most of the rest of the country. Still is.

So if Elwood worked 2,000 hours a year at that rate, he’d make $24,360, if we adjusted for inflation. The median income in Oakland Maine a year or two ago was $34,934, although it’s lower for women, at $24,286 per year. That’s probably because there are only two types of jobs in Oakland. Construction, usually heavy, and being clerks in schools, hospitals, and the government. I’ll leave it to you to decide who does what.

So work like the Pioneer Ax factory had to be shipped overseas. It would have been fairly simple to update the processes shown in the video to increase production, increase wages, and make life somewhat easier for the workers. How hard would it have been to bump Elwood’s wages to match today’s median in Oakland? Not hard. But it was more profitable for a few people who farm mahogany in skyscrapers to ship all the factories overseas, to make axes in conditions far worse than shown by the banks of the Messalonskee, for slave wages, and then sell very shitty axes in Home Depots nationwide. The payoff for this creative destruction was the creation of lots of paper-shuffling jobs that pay less than the crummy wages mentioned in the video, but that anyone can do, because they’re not doing any real work.

We didn’t choose, but whoever chose for us chose very, very wrong.

Meanwhile, In Maine

I live in Maine. Maine is, how does one say it — different.

I don’t pretend to understand Maine. I just live here and get along as best I can. As far as I’m concerned, Maine lets me sleep on the state’s couch, so it would be impolitic of me to start complaining about the accommodations. It’s like being Maine’s indie-rock drummer. Anyway, I just look on in wonder, and wonder.

Last week, a guy that I don’t know, but know people who know him, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Three times. With a flare gun. While parked by the side of the road. In his truck. Which runs on propane, for some reason. He didn’t die, because two passing motorists saw him and pulled him out of his burning truck. Because Maine.

Every single person in Maine owns a gun, but no one ever shoots anyone else. They won’t even shoot themselves with a gun. They generally commit suicide by texting and driving.

The classified ads are a little different around here:

That’s a real Craigslist ad. The fellow is selling his “tank.” Needs cash. Don’t we all?

It’s from far-southern Maine, at least compared to where I live. You can tell it’s not from real Maine, because the ad is on Cragislist, not Uncle Henry’s. Real Mainahs use Henry’s. No one actually sells anything, though. You can put anything in Uncle Henry’s, but it will never sell. You’ll just be swamped with calls offering to trade things for what you’ve got. I put a drum set in Uncle Henry’s, and was offered everything in trade from firearms to boat motors. Everyone has everything but money in Maine.

The syntax in the ad is pure Maine:

This is a rare demilitarized 114 tank runs and drives awesome 283 small-block Chevy engine has rubber inserts to drive on the street on the tracks make it any kind of tank you want will carry a 10000 pound pay load an right now the total weighs 7000 pounds all aluminium drive it right on a over the tire trailer an take it home u won’t find one of theses last one I saw on ebay sold for 25k

Of course it’s not a tank. It’s an armored personnel carrier, the M114. It was popular during the Vietnam war. Of course it was popular with the Viet Cong, not Americans, which is why a guy in Maine was able to buy one. It’s made of aluminum. If you’ve ever gotten the urge to go to war with an overturned bass boat over your head and tank tracks under your feet, this is just the ticket. Some M114s were fitted with a Red Ryder-grade turret that made it nearly a tank, almost, kinda, sorta, but for the most part, you just shot back with whatever you had handy. Like a flare gun or something.

Anyway, the advertisement buries the lede, as they say in the newspaper industry. I call it saving the best for last:

will take vintage Star Wars in partial trade 

So. Very. Maine.

Beech Hill, Rockport, Maine

I don’t live anywhere near Beech Hill in Rockport, Maine. I know you flatlanders think all Mainers must know each other, so everyone must have been everywhere else, but Maine is the same size as Ireland, and twice as likely to urge you to drunkenness, so there’s plenty of places I haven’t been.

A “flatlander” is someone that doesn’t live in Maine, if you’re wondering. If it makes you feel any better, Mainahs still call me a flatlander, too, because I’ve only lived here for six years or so. As far as Mainahs are concerned, I’m not frum round heah, and never will be. They try that flatlander shite on my wife, who casually mentions she looked everywhere for them in Maine in 1970 when she first lived here, but didn’t notice them about, and they leave her be. At least they don’t call us Massholes anymore. We’re not half bad for flatlanders, I tell you what, they’ll at least allow.

It would be worse if they called us straphangers. A straphanger is way, way down the totem pole of disrepute from a simple flatlander. A straphanger is an urban flatlander. They’re the worst. The last person from New Yawk City that Mainers could stand was E.B. White, I think. If you’re ever in Maine on a cold, dreary winter’s night, which you can enjoy in either early June or late September, and you’re huddled around the campfire while the locals wear flip-flops and jorts, ask them what they think about straphangers. Wait until they have four or five Lewiston Martinis in them. A Lewiston Martini is Allen’s Coffee Brandy mixed with milk. I think it’s called a Trailer Park Love Potion in some zip codes, but can’t testify to that with any surety, your honor. Of course more discerning palates imbibe Burnt Trailers, which is Moxie and Coffee Brandy. Moxie is Maine’s own brand of soda, which tastes like Socrates’ backwash. Don’t confuse a Burnt Trailer with a Welfare Mom, which is coffee brandy and Diet Moxie. It’s an entirely different vibe.

Anyway, if you were going to hunt straphangers anywhere in Maine, you’d drizzle Hoboken hobo urine on traps in and around Rockport. That’s the sort of Downeast place where whales on your pants won’t get you into any scrapes. Out west where I am, it’s all cowboy hats and feed caps, and everyone listens to country music. I’ve seen more stars and bars flags here in western Maine than I saw when I drove from South Carolina to Arizona. Western Mainahs like doin’ what they’re not supposeta. They don’t mean anything by it. They don’t really mean anything by anything as far as I can tell.

I can tell the video is from a part of Maine where the flatlanders haven’t been overfished yet. Beech Hill in Rockport is a Land Trust. Flatlanders and straphangers love that shite. There’s nothing and nobody in Maine. It’s completely empty and filled with trees, but you never know, I guess. The state is the size of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire put together, and about a million and a quarter souls live here, but somehow a patch of grass and a house with a lawn on the roof needs a Land Trust to protect it from becoming a trailer park overnight.

Watching the video, I know the land trust straphangers are losing ground to the hicks without knowing it. The background music is banjos.

My Interview in Hovels and Shovels Magazine

Knowing that my regular readers are curious about my current circumstances, and probably eager to finally get a glimpse of ol’ Sippican, it occurred to me to save time for everyone by reprinting a copy of my recent interview in Hovels and Shovels magazine. The publisher has graciously agreed to let me reprint it here by not returning my emails, texts, phone calls, and one registered letter; and by turning off the lights when he saw me pull into his dooryard last night. 

A subscription to Hovels and Shovels comes free with every fill-up at the West Paris McDonald’s recycled grease tractor-fuel depot, or you can find it at news stands everywhere in the New Sweden area. Besides this stunning 3 x 5 glossy print of me relaxing between tantric stump grinding sessions, there’s a centerfold picture of June Lockhart in her Reynold’s Wrap jumpsuit from Lost In Space in there, too. Hubba hubba. Enjoy:

Catching Up With Sippican: The Man, The Myth, The Man Some More

By: Edna St. Vincent Malaise
Photos by: Paco Manraybanne 

Hovels and Shovels: Thanks for taking time out from your grueling schedule to speak with us. We’re curious. Why the compression bandage on your right knee?
Sippican: It’s an old candlepin bowling injury. It acts up on me when I genuflect. It also signals the coming of winter and tax bills. 
H&S: Taxes and winter. Are those two things related somehow?
Sippican: Well, the tax bills last all year. Winter is only eleven months long, so I don’t see the connection. 
H&S: I see. On to another topic, your neighbors say you’re a very spiritual man. 
Sippican: It’s a damn lie. I drink as much Allen’s Coffee Brandy as the next fellow, but I haven’t been up in front of a judge in almost a fortnight. 
H&S: I see. Do you have a favorite Allen’s Coffee Brandy cocktail?
Sippican: Well, there’s the Lewiston Martini. That’s coffee brandy and milk. I’m partial to the Burnt Trailer, myself. 
H&S: What’s that?
Sippican: Coffee brandy and Moxie. 
H&S: What’s it taste like?
Sippican: I don’t know. No one can ever remember. I imagine it tastes like a Welfare Mom. 
H&S: What’s that?
Sippican: Coffee brandy and Diet Moxie. 
H&S: Let’s move on. 
Sippican: Last time I was told to move on, I ended up in Maine.
H&S: Change the subject, I mean.
Sippican: You’re the doctor. 
H&S: It’s currently four below zero. You’re wearing shorts.
Sippican: Yes, but not to worry; they’re lined. 
H&S: With what?
Sippican: Me.
H&S: Is that an LL Bean hammock?
Sippican: Never heard of him.
H&S: You never heard of LL Bean?
Sippican: I don’t care for your tone, young lady. Ask him if he’s heard of me. If he says yes, you can call me a liar, but not before.
H&S: Are those tribal tattoos?
Sippican: I get that question a lot, especially when I’m being frisked. No, my mom used to buy all my clothes at Marden’s, and I accidentally put on one of my shirts when it was still a little wet. It’s been fourteen years, but it’s starting to fade a bit, I think.
H&S: That’s an interesting book you’re reading. Translating the Word of God
Sippican: Well, I used to guest-post on God’s blog, and I wanted to make sure this Beekman fellow didn’t take any liberties.
H&S: God has a blog?
Sippican: Yeah, but it’s on Weebly, so pretty much no one reads it.
H&S: What’s on God’s blog?
Sippican: Recipes, mostly. 
H&S: Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to us. 
Sippican: You got any jumper cables?      

Top Ten Recent Headlines From The Rumford Meteor

Do you read the Rumford Meteor? There’s no information highway in Maine yet, or the Meteor would certainly qualify as a sketchy rest area on it. For now, it’s more like a vital cog in the cog railway of Maine information.

Maine doesn’t have the infrastructure for an information highway yet. I don’t even know what infrastructure is, truth be told. I’m pretty sure those are infrared lamps hanging over the stainless steel structure they erect between the greasy kitchen and the corral where they keep the greasy teenagers in ill-fitting uniforms at the McDonalds. Maybe it has something to do with that. I have found that the stalwart clerks in paper hats aren’t really fonts of information, and are unable to make change, so I’m not sure the correlation holds water. It’s something to ponder while you scald your wedding vegetables with their coffee, though. 

At any rate, Jeezum Crow, you can’t develop a feeling for the flavor of life in Maine without referring to the Meteor, probably because it’s winter ten months out of twelve, and all frozen things taste pretty much the same. You need the Meteor to Mainesplain it to you. Here are my Top Ten recent headlines from The Rumford Meteor:

  1. Livermore Falls Teacher Feels He’s Achieved The Perfect Blend Of Chaotic Visual Distractions And Incomprehensible Seating Arrangements (link)
  2. Center For Maine Contemporary Art Worried That Their New Gallery Might Not Be Ugly Enough (link)
  3. Local Theremin Player Has Reasonable Backstage Demands (link)
  4. Fourth-Generation Trombonist Stood Out Early On The Playground, Because He Couldn’t Swing And Got Stuck On The Slide (link)
  5. Town Planner Didn’t See Calls For His Resignation Coming, Which Explains A Lot (link)
  6. Selectman Can Totally Tell Man With Arms Crossed Ain’t Buying It (link)
  7. York Marijuana Activists Promise To Deliver Petition To Town Clerk Or The First Convenient Store On The Way That Sells Funyuns (link)
  8. Explorers Discover Primitive And Superstitious Tribespeople Who Believe That Dousing Themselves With Water Will Cure Diseases (link)
  9. South Portland Votes To Ban Tar Sands Oil Unless It’s Distributed For Free In Clean Syringes (link)
  10. Jenny McCarthy Reportedly Worried That Ebola Might Give Her Kids More Autism (link)

So remember people, if you want news straight from the seat of Oxford County, read the Rumford Meteor.

Tag: Maine

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