Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30, 3017--Lady of Forest Trace

Two days ago would have been my mother's 109th birthday. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of her death.

My emotions this week have been saturated with thoughts of her. And memories. Memories including  her days as an elementary school teacher. She was from that generation of great teachers, talented women for whom teaching was one of the few available professional paths. Those of us who were among their students were more than fortunate.

I know I am not objective, but she stood out even among her remarkable colleagues. Even today I am frequently asked by someone about my age who learns my unusual last name if I am, perhaps, related to Ray Zwerling. Ray Zwerling, who was their first grade teacher, they tell me, and who through her gifts and caring changed their lives.

Mine was affected as well. Daily. Even today.

And now, with her no longer here, in reflection and advancing age, I am reminded about one of her stories. How in her day, if a women became pregnant, she was required to reveal that to her principal (all men) and immediately go on maternity leave.

I have been rereading this week Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, a progressive alternative to the rosy history we all were taught in public school. In the 13th chapter, "The Socialist Challenge," he turns attention to the limited role of women as late as the early 20th century. To illustrate, he quotes from a year 1900 list of "Rules for Female Teachers" posted by a school district in Massachusetts. A list my mother likely still largely found to be enforced when she began to teach in Brooklyn in the early 1930s--
1. Do not get married. [She married shortly after she began to teach.]
2. Do not leave town without permission of the school board.
3. Do not keep company with men. [I know she ignored this one!]
4. Be home between the hours of 8 P.M. and 6 A.M. [Ditto.]
5. Do not loiter downtown in ice cream stores. [Another rule I am certain she ignored--ice cream was one of her passions.]
6. Do not smoke. [She smoked Chesterfields.]
7. Do not get into a carriage with any man except your father or brother.
8. Do not dress in bright clothes. [She loved bright clothes.]
9. Do not dye your hair. [She did so in the late 1940s when my brother asked, as her hair began to turn gray, if she was "going to die soon."]
10. Do not wear any dress more than two inches above the ankle.
The constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote was ratified in 1920 when she was 12 years old.

When I left the Ford Foundation, in my farewell comments, I said the reason I became an educator was so I could help all children have my mother for a teacher. If only that could be.

Mom at 102

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

June 29, 2017--The Woman Who Talks With Cows

Right adjacent to the Mobil station where in its convenience store lobsta rolls are a well-priced $10.99 is the Friendly Book Store of Deer Island, Maine. 
The window to the left of the door is full of children’s books, including the cleverly-titled Train in Maine; and the one on the right has a suite of books unexpecetedly set in and about Africa. There’s Dinesen’s Out of Africa, Michela Wrong’s In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz,  and Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost among others. Not uninteresting, I thought, my prejudices showing, for a small town book shop quite a ways from anything cosmopolitan. 
So to tell the truth, when we pushed through the door in search of the New York Times after having coffee at the Island Café I wasn’t expecting much. And when it came to books was not disappointed.  The shop seemed more set up to be a place where local women would gather to buy yarn for knitting and, if they had the time, could settle into one of the shop’s many overstuffed sofas or side chairs to trade tips and patterns. It’s a cozy place, but this one felt strangely devoid of books.
In fact it took just a moment to take them in since there are just a few bookshelves. There are also a couple of tables on which are stacked what I imagine are the proprietor’s recommendations. Not much unusual about that either.  But neither included an obligatory array of local writers, great or uninspired, except for Richard Russo who lives and works in nearby Camden. Though his recent Bridge of Sighs was not all that prominently featured. Almost hidden from view, it was tucked between O'Neill's Netherland and Alice Hoffman's Third Angel. Just right, I thought, because to me it is far from Russo's best work and not deserving of too much prominence except as a show of Penobscot Bay pride. I took this as a sign of good taste and integrity—not even neighborliness had motivated the owner to offer a false endorsement for something so formulaic.
But though it was quite early, not much past 9:00, for a small place in a still sleepy town there was quite a crowd drifting among the shop's nooks and crannies. Expect for a man of about 45, dressed almost in rural caricature fashion, in full denim shirt and overalls with, yes, a straw hat slung from a string and hanging on the back of his shoulders, all the other customers, if they in fact were that, were women at least in their late seventies.
Yet customers they clearly were because, grasping greeting cards and books, they soon shuffled into a irregular line before an elegant leather-topped writing table behind which was seated the owner, proprietor, and obvious doyen of The Friendly. And from how she was dressed and how she engaged each lady in conversation, I quickly realized that the shop was aptly named.
Jane, we learned later was her name, was radiant. She wore a sumptuous beige silk blouse, buttoned at the neck, with a rakishly knotted man’s red tie.
“Yes, I know your grandson is about to be married,” she smiled broadly at the women leaning on Jane’s table to support herself, “Will it be in Baltimore?  He was such a lovely boy.  I remember how much you loved when he visited during college vacations. He worked for the Millers, didn’t he?  Down at Waterman’s Beach. I recall that. And is he still in law school?  . . .  Nice, nice.  He’ll make such a wonderful lawyer.  Not like so many of the others who are only interested in the money.  Your daughter did such a good job raising him. You must be very proud. And they will so much like that card. I’m sure his wife-to-be comes from a fine family. Just like yours. So hard working.”
And to the woman who moved slowly to the table, clutching a small book to the handle of her walker, Jane, her face all smiles, said, “It has been such a time since you’ve been in. I heard you were in hospital. But I can see you’re doing very well now. Walking more securely. They do such wonderful things these days. Surgeons I mean. Why I bet you won’t need that silly thing too much longer. . . . Yes, yes. I’m not surprised to know you’re back in your garden. Not overdoing it, I hope. But I know, since Averill passed, you’ve done such a good job of taking care of everything. Though don’t I know you, tending to overdo it a bit. Am I right? But there’ll be no need for me to be worrying about you anymore. Though I admit that every time I go by your place I’m so envious of your roses. Aren’t they the most beautiful ones in all of Knox County?  So it’s so good to know you’re back tending to them. And of course you know, if you have any chores for me . . . Aren’t you sweet. And really, it would not be a problem for me. Not at all.”
Next to approach Jane was a woman in a blue housedress that barely cleared her laced-up shoes, bent with the hint of early-stage osteoporosis. Jane gestured for her to sit in the gilded chair next to her table.

“Oh, Henrietta, you shouldn’t have been waiting so long. No one would mind, would they, if you came right up here. Let me take those books from you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. You do love those page-turners. Why I read that one just last week.  I can’t wait 'til you finish it so we can talk about it.  Just the other day, David Walker was in.  Didn’t we used to call him Skip when he was younger? He was the nicest boy. So sad how he lost his only son. Breaks one’s heart. They were so close. . . . But enough about that. It’s too nice a day for that. 
"How’s your Andy? I haven’t heard much about him lately. Are they still living in Atlanta? . . . Good, good. I’m so glad to know they’re well. . . . And you say he’ll be coming soon for a visit? In August. It must be so hot there. Well, you’ll be sure to bring the darling boy by, won’t you, so I can lay my eyes on him? And remember what the doctor told you. How you should be sure not to forget to take your medicine, and like he said be sure to keep up with your walking. You need to do that too. And yes I know how hard that is now, but still you have to try. We all need more of you.”
And then there was the man in the overalls. He didn’t have anything in his hands. I assumed there was something on Jane’s deck that he had lined up to purchase. But he didn’t pick anything up but rather stood there looking down at Jane, not saying anything, just smiling and smiling. 

“Well, well.  It’s so nice to see you again Herbert.” To him her voice was like music. “All smiles I see. What’ya been up to? Not getting into any trouble, are you? I hear things. Everything. You know that. So you need to behave yourself.  Though young people these days, I know, do need to have some fun their own way. . . .  Sorry, I can't hear what you’re whispering. You do tend to do that, you know. But don’t be shy with me Herbie. I’ve heard it all. . . .
“Oh that, yes my boy Robert and I went back to that farm to have a second look. Over there by Cushing.  And yes, you are remembering correctly. They have three striped cows down there.  I’ve never seen any like that before.  Black all over but with a wide band of white all around their middle.  . . . No, not like zebras, but just like I said—black in the front, white in the middle, and then black again in the rear. Striped. . . . And no I’m not making that up. And no we didn’t take any pictures. But if you don’t believe me you can go take a look for yourself.  It’s right along Pleasant Point Road right where Hathtorne Road breaks off. Toward the old Olson place where Andrew Wyeth painted Chistina’s World.  But to see them you have to be patient. It’s a big pasture and they don’t much like people.  If you stand off at a distance and don’t make too much of a racket, they get used to your being there; and maybe, like the other day with Robert and me, one of them will come up to where you’re standing.
“I don’t know what got into me, I had as I said never seen cows or anything quite like this, though to tell you the truth when we got home I looked up ‘Striped Cows’ on the Internet and, wouldn’t you know it, there were all sorts of pictures of cows just like these.  You could do it too if you wanted.  But as I was about to tell you, when the largest of them nuzzled close to us, I just looked her in the eye, this was before I Googled them, and said, can you believe it, right to her I said, ‘How did you get those stripes?’ All puzzled she looked back at me, eye-to-eye, and said, ‘Why I was born that way.’ Then I said, ‘Did your mother and father have stripes too?’ And she said, sort of indignant, 'Of course they did!  Didn’t your mother and father, like you, also walk on their hind legs?
“I must admit, she had me there. And with that she turned away from me and scampered back across the meadow to rejoin her sisters. It was quite an afternoon.”
And quite a morning. Though Jackie doesn’t carry the Times, I’m sure we’ll find a book or two to buy next time. Or a few greeting cards.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017--The Town Dump

We arrived for the season and at top of our list of things to do was finding the town dump and buying a resident's sticker since we planned to take charge of our own garbage.

This was our priority since we hauled quite a bit of stuff up here and knew before unpacking that we would have a lot to throw out. Both the bags and boxes in which we packed things and a great deal that the previous owners left behind which we either didn't need or like well enough to keep. We also want to live as green a life style as possible in Maine, so sorting things out the right way--their way--and recycling them as directed was something we wanted to get right on top of.

So where the dump is, its hours, and how we needed to behave and interact with them was something we have been thinking about.

You may be wondering why all this seeming angst about refuse. Why all this concern about how to behave and interact with it and those in charge of its disposal.

These concerns derive from our experiences some years ago with the East Hampton dump. As with much else in the Hamptons it was not always pleasant.

First, to control the amount of rubbish tossed into the landfill the town limited the number of dump stickers it sold to residences each year. So there was a rush at Town Hall to purchase them the first day they were available. If you were too late to acquire one, your only choices in regard to your trash were to arrange for expensive private carting (this is the South Fork after all and everything out there comes at premium); you could take your garbage back to the city with you Sunday evening (more than you might imagine did this); or you could skulk out in the middle of the night and dump your garbage either in the woods or stack it by the fence at the entrance to the dump.

This latter option disappeared one summer after the dump managers set up a closed-circuit TV monitoring system that caught the likes of Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart disposing of their refuse in this political incorrect manner. Among other things, those of us in the relatively low-rent district muttered, "This is how the rich get richer." It also for months gave us lots to gossip and chuckle about. “Can you imagine?  Martha?

One more thing--in the tony, status-seeking East End having a dump sticker affixed to your front bumper was another way of letting everyone know that you owned a house in the Hamptons. And if you were able to get in line at the Town Hall at 6:00 a.m. on the day they first went on sale three hours later, after filling out half-a-dozen forms, showing two pieces of photo ID, and either the deed and/or two local utility bills, not only would you secure one, you would also be assured of getting a bumper sticker with a low number.

Low numbers of all kinds were symbols of status--low-number beach parking permits were coveted (these were for gaudy display on your car’s side window) and especially low telephone numbers.

324-0002, for example, is the phone number for the legendary local paper, The East Hampton Star, which has been around for seemingly hundreds of years. For so long, in fact, that when they started publishing telephones hadn't even been invented.

Therefore, to have a number of your own in which the last four digits were less than 1,000 meant that you were in residence before the Wall Street bonus babies and the other nouveau riche descended on the place and plopped McMansions into million-dollar-per-acre potato fields. In fact, when we sold our modest house, the buyer paid us an extra $1,000 for our phone number. True, it was "only" 324 3026, but at least it had the coveted 324 (the population had grown so large that the telephone company ran out of 324s and instituted the prefix 329); and 324 with 3026 was thus worth literally more than, say, 329 5024. And thus a $1,000.

You get the picture. And therefore, considering our history with garbage, you might understand our dump anxiety as we were taking possession of our Maine cottage by the bay.

On Friday morning with our back seat and trunk almost as full of trash as it had been the day before with clothes and dishes and pots and glassware and food mills and knives and bathroom items and tagine pots, we found our way to the Bristol dump. Actually, the Bristol “Transfer Facility.”

To get to it, off the Bristol Road, you turn up Transfer Road and the first thing you notice it that there does not appear to be a guardhouse at the entrance. In East Hampton there was one that was a mini-mansion unto itself and ensconced in it at all times was an imperious, dour municipal worker who took great pleasure in scrutinized dump stickers and turning away anyone whose had expired or was affixed too far to the right or left or, better yet, any of the uninitiated who wandered in without any sticker at all. Actually, his greatest pleasure seemed to be to slow down and especially scrutinize anyone in a car costing more than $75,000. As if he suspected there was an illegal immigrant hidden in the trunk.

Into the Bristol Transfer Facility we trailed behind a couple of battered pickup trucks and a 25 year-old Volvo. We felt a bit out of place in our new Passat station wagon still shiny from the car wash back in New York, not yet coated with splatterings of the ubiquitous Maine mud. The car in that regard is still a work in progress.

At the facility there is no signage in easy sight, nothing to direct you to any of the huge bins into which others were purposefully transferring recyclables. But before wandering about among them, we though to go to the office to ask about purchasing a dump, I mean transfer permit and how to display it.

The office wasn't easy to locate and so we parked and wandered over. There was no one in it and so we turned toward an area where it appeared people were dropping off still useful items such as old pots and pans and bicycle parts and toaster ovens and floor lamps, the sorts of things we would subsequently be wanting to dispose of after sorting through what had been left behind by the pervious owners at the house.

At a makeshift counter, receiving these items, were three men who clearly were employees of the town.  With lots of bantering back and forth they seemed to know everyone lined up with still-good stuff that might be of interest to others in need of a second-hand Mixmaster.

“This here one is still working,” said a woman with an old electric fan.

One of the grizzled workers was holding it up close to him so he could scrutinize the wiring. “Bet better than Old Jeb back home,” he chuckled. “Workin’ I mean,” he said with a broad wink. She laughed along with him.

Someone else passed parts of a drum set across the counter. It too underwent close inspection to see if all the mechanisms were intact. They appeared to be. “So Junior’s finally given up on this I see,” a younger facility worker in a New York Yankee cap said to the middle-aged man, Junior’s apparent father, dressed all in flannel.

“Not exactly. I’m the one’s givin’ up. He’s still sleeping so I thought to scoop this damned thing up and bring it over to you. Let someone else take it home to his kid. Spread misery around I always say.”

It was then our turn. Expecting to be treated as an outsider, again from our East Hampton experiences, I turned to the Yankee fan, thinking at least as a fellow Bronx Bomber follower, he might look more favorably on me. I thus took the stranger’s risk to say, “Hey, I see you like the Yanks. Must be a rarity ‘round these parts.” Glancing toward one of his colleagues, I added, “They let you wear that here?”

Let me?” he said, “They insist on it. This is a dump after all. Fit place for those chumps. We're all Sox fans here. Serious ones.” He pulled at the beak of his cap to make sure I understood that he meant the Yankees were the ones fit for a dump. Worried that I had misstepped, I was pleased to see he was smiling.

“We just moved into a house up here. Down the road toward the Point and want to join the transfer facility. I mean, learn how to use it.”

“Well, good for you,” it was the grizzled worker, “Thanks for helping us out with your taxes.” At that he broke into full-throated laughter. Friendly laughter. I was beginning to feel the tension draining from me.

“I mean, can you tell us where we have to go to get, I mean buy a dump sticker.”

“Right here,” the Red Sox fan said now with a full smile, pointing at the office.

“Great,” I said. Thrilled that we didn’t have to find our way to the Bristol Town Hall and get on line next Thursday, or whenever, before dawn. “I pay you? Here? Or wherever?”

“Right here.”

“An how much does it cost?”


Nothin’? You mean, nothing? Really?” He nodded. “That’s great.” By the time we left East Hampton a sticker was costing about $100.

“Can I get one now?”

“Any time. Any time we’re open. That’s five days a week. We’re closed on Wednesdays and Sundays and on as many holidays as possible. Even Arbor Day.”

“That’s terrific,” I said. That sounded like a green thing to do—to close on Arbor Day. “Bet you spend the whole day plantin’ trees.” It was my turn to grin.

“More likely cuttin’ ‘em down. But I was just jokin' with you ‘bout that. We’re open that day, 'less it's a Sunday or Wednesday. But you should check the schedule before draggin’ yourself over here with a carload of trash. Nice car, by the way.” He pointed over toward our new VW. I was glad to see that it had acquired more mud from the pitted road that lead to the dump.

“Now about that sticker. Let me go inside and get you one. In the meantime just put your name and address down here. So we can have a record of you.” He passed a clipboard to us on which there was a crumpled sheet of paper that already was half full of names.

“Looks to me,” I said, “that the last name on the list is George Clooney. Does he have a place near here?”

“Not likely,” I received another smile, “Someone wrote it down as a joke. This ain’t one of those fancy kind of Maine towns. Like Kennebunkport. Though we do have the Kresges summering nearby. You know, the folks who own K Mart. Real nice folks. But no Hollywood types. Thank goodness.” He turned to the office, “Give me a moment and I’ll get right back with you.”

I asked Rona if she wanted to put her name on the list. “Only if it’s after George Clooney,” she said with a touch of irony, suggesting I was trying too hard to fit in. “You need to calm down a bit. This is not East Hampton. That’s in part why we want to be here. To get away from all that posturing, and here you are doing your version of it. Try to relax. Everyone thus far has been friendly and welcoming.”

“That’s true,” I admitted, “I am overdoing it.”

“Just a bit?”

I shrugged.

“Here you go. One transfer facility sticker. And the price is right.”

“Thanks. Much appreciated,” I said. It was slipped into a brochure that listed the hours of operation and the various recycling categories—tin cans; newspapers with inserts; clear, green, and brown glass; corrugated cardboard; brown paper bags; aluminum foil and trays, magazines and catalogs; and bulk waste such as shingles, brush, furniture, mattresses, and “demo wood.” I thought we’d have some of all of these and realized that being green in Maine looks like a full-time job.

As we walked to the car, I found the yellow facility sticker in the brochure and must admit hoped it would have a low number. Old habits die slowly. I noticed it did not have any number at all—not a high one, not a low one. None.

I showed this to Rona and she passed me a look that said, I told you so. But, she noticed, there were no instructions about where to affix it to one’s car. “Go back and ask them. I’ll begin to unload the trunk.”

I walked back to my new friend and asked where they required us to attach it.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you about that. Just put it in your glove compartment.”

“In the glove compartment? Not on the bumper or window or anything?”

“You can do anything you want with it, but around here everyone puts it where I told you.”

When I rejoined Rona, with a combination of confusion and delight, I said, “We’re not in the Hamptons anymore.”

She just smiled.

Bristol Transfer Facility

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June 27, 2017--Jack Again: Trump's Intelligence

OK. One more from Jack and then tomorrow, I promise, back to Midcoast stories--
Trump's Intelligence
Never previously, but this time, two days in a row, Jack showed up at the Bristol Diner.

I said, "Long time, no see." I admit that though he almost always manages to get under my skin, I was happy to see him. Maybe I was in a masochistic mood. Or confused about the state of our politics. Closer to the truth, how Democrats are faring these days. Not good.

"Did you see that piece in Friday's Washington Post, 'How Can You Still Doubt Trump's Intelligence?'"

"I did in fact see it. By one of their conservative opinion writers, Kathleen Parker, and so . . ."

"'And so' nothing. Just being a conservative doesn't mean you're always wrong. Even to people like you who claim to be interested in honest dialogue between those who disagree with each other. You always talk about the need to be open minded and civil."

"The Post piece was civil, I'll grant you that, but it dealt only with Trump allegedly outsmarting former FBI director, Jim Comey. Trump may or may not have won the day with him but that doesn't speak to his larger state of mind or ability to be an effective president. In fact, though he may be good at putting people down--ask Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb about that--but about the things that presidents need to know, I see very few signs of intelligence."

Ignoring me, Jack said, "The title of the Post piece says it all. My boy may be getting battered and even at times shows signs of unravelling, but there's no denying he's sly as a fox. Call it political intelligence if you will. My favorite current example is not how he helped four Republicans win four special congressional elections, but, as Parker said, how he managed to snooker Comey with that talk about how he had their conversations on tape. That dominated the headlines at the same time Comey was testifying to Congress and became as much the story as what Comey had to say. If nothing else, Trump knows how to change the subject and dominate what you guys call the 'narrative.'"

I repeated, "That doesn't prove he's particularly intelligent. Let's agree to disagree about that. I think Comey did pretty well, but for me that's not the meaning of life. What special counsel Robert Mueller eventually comes up with is much more important than how Comey did the other day."

"OK, let's disagree about that but how about what your Maureen Dowd wrote last Sunday in the New York Times, 'Trump Skunks the Democrats'? Let me read some of it to you--
The Democrats just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump. 
If Trump is the antichrist, as they believe, then Georgia was going to be a cakewalk, and Nancy Pelosi was going to be installed as speaker before the midterms by acclamation. But it turned into another soul-sucking disappointment. . . . 
Democrats cling to an idyllic version of a new, progressive America where everyone tools around in electric cars, serenely uses gender-neutral bathrooms and happily searches the web for the best Obamacare options. In the Democrats' vision, people are doing great and getting along. It is the opposite of Trump's dark diorama of carnage and dystopia--but just as false a picture of America.
"I saw that," I said, "and agree with most of it. Liberals, most Democrats have been out of touch with voters who should be, who have been their constituents. We have become isolated and smug. People feel this and hate it. And us. Of course not all of us," I added, "But enough to win national and local elections. Especially local elections. I've been writing about this for years."

"Which brings us back to Trump," Jack said.

"Yes and no," I said, "He won, that's true, and it showed a certain kind of intelligence. But he's done nothing but stumble when it comes to the being-president part of the equation. For politics I give him an A-, for the rest of it, straight Ds."

"And," Jack said, winking, "I thought the old professor in you would give him Fs."

"OK," I agreed, "All Fs." This time I did the winking.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

June 26, 2017--Jack: Love the Shove

I will return tomorrow to the reprieve of a few of my Midcoast stories because today I can't resist passing along a report about my latest conversation with Jack--

Love the Shove

"I know you're going crazy trying to figure out why Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls." Jack was in the Bristol Diner, sounding full of himself.

I confessed that was true, that I was going a little crazy, but said, "You call a 36 percent approval rating in the polls doing well? To me that sounds like trouble."

"The latest one has him at 40 percent. This after firing Comey and the naming of a special counsel."

"Which poll is that?"

"The Harvard-Harris."

"Like the Rasmussen," I said, "this one is a Republican-oriented poll. But, you're right--40 percent, 36 percent, however you slice and dice it, I would think he'd be in the low 30s. So I'm still trying to figure out why he's doing as well as he seems to be. In the polls, I mean."

"That's why I stopped by--to help you out."

"I'm listening."

"Do you like Jeanne Moose on CNN? She does those funky, offbeat stories."

"It's Jeanne Moos, and to tell you the truth she's not my cup of tea. She's a little too full of herself for my taste."

"Did you see the one she did last week with that pollster Frank Luntz?"

"I missed it."

"Maybe I can find it on my smart phone. YouTube probably has it." He began to fiddle with his phone, "Luntz  has this group of 20 Republicans he uses as a focus group to gather opinions about politics and other things. This time, among other issues, he asked his people what they thought about Trump shoving past the prime minister of Montenegro during the NATO summit in Brussels. You probably saw videos of that. How Trump literally pushed him aside. All the media people and the diplomatic types, of course, presented this as an example of Trump's boorish behavior and his bullying. I'm sure you viewed it that way too."

"Indeed, I did," I said, "It was outrageous."

"Well, take a look at the reactions of the Luntz people. It will tell you everything you need to know." He slid the phone across the table. "When you're ready, just click on this."

He showed me what to do, knowing I have no idea how to use a smart phone.

Luntz told Moos he was surprised by the group's reaction. He expected them to be divided in their responses. But they have a meter that they use to project on the screen the aggregate of the focus group's opinions, favorable or unfavorable, and when the group was shown the video of Trump pushing himself to the front of the line, their collective reaction literally went off the chart.

One woman said, "We love it! We're America! We weren't rude. We're dominant!"

Noting this was a NATO meeting and since we pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of NATO, one man said, "It's our party. We paid for this party. After eight years, he's made America great again."

Animated, another woman said, "He was just going to the front of the line where he belongs." The rest of them murmured their agreement.

Jack said, "So there you have it. Trump is making his people feel good about themselves."

"By his boorish behavior?"

"Now you're getting the point. People like you are repelled by his behavior, thinking it's inappropriate for a president."

"Indeed we do. Indeed I do. Worse than inappropriate."

"But it's this very kind of behavior that excites his people. It makes them feel, well, great again."

"Sad to say." I took a deep breath.

"You're repulsed, they're energized. They see him to be authentic. They see you to be tangled up in political correctness. He sums up for them how they feel about the elites. He says things to and about them that they have always felt but didn't have the audacity or self confidence to express. In other words, he represents them. Warts and all. Especially the warts part."

"What a country. How can it be that 40 percent of Americans think he's doing a good job."

I wasn't asking Jack, but muttering to myself.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23, 2017--Hunting & Gathering

We’ve been here a month and Rona already has a theory—life in this town, not among the summer visitors and occasional visitors, but among the real Mainers is more necessarily interdependent than what we experience in the city.  And it thus teaches residents a form of tolerance that is quite different than what urban sophisticates claim to be true of small-town life.  They see, rather, narrow-mindedness, conformity, and the pressure to stay in line that the threat of back-fence gossip and its resulting stigma impose. 
Rona, though, sees more community, more comity, more mutuality.  As the ever-effervescent owner of the Bristol Diner, Crystal McClain, put it the other morning over coffee, “The same person who cuts your grass during the summer could be the one to fix your car during the winter.  The one who looks after your house while you’re away visiting out-of-town relatives runs the radiology lab at the local hospital.”  

Even if there are disagreements about politics and town affairs (and for sure there are—strong ones), like views about the presidencies of George W. Bush or Barack Obama or whether or not the town should make it comfortable for a big-box store to open nearby, the next morning, after vigorous disagreement, finding themselves inevitably again sitting side-by-side at the Bristol breakfast counter, they must and generally do find words and body language to keep them connected so that they can get through another round of seasons together.  Those who can’t may decide to move into the backwoods.  Or to the city!
With this is mind, and from my own observations, Rona’s theory was beginning to make good sense to me; and then I came across two things, from very different sources that were confirming—a couple of paragraphs about hunting-gathering societies from Robert Wright’s recent book, The Evolution of God, and an obituary from the local paper, The Lincoln County News.
Wright writes:
Hunter-gatherers live . . . in intimate, essentially transparent groups.  A village may consist of thirty, forty, fifty people, so many kinds of wrongdoing are hard to conceal.  If you stole a man’s digging stick, where would you hide it?  And what would be the point of having it if you couldn’t use it?  And, anyway, is it worth the risk of getting caught—incurring the wrath of the owner, his family, and closest friends, and incurring the ongoing suspicion of everyone else?  The fact that you have to live with them people for the rest of your life is by itself a pretty strong incentive to treat them decently.  If you want them to help you out when you need help, you’d better help them out when they need help.  Hunter-gatherers aren’t paragons of honesty and probity, but departures from these ideals are detected often enough that they don’t become a rampant problem. . . .
One reason for this is that the . . . village is the environment we’re built for, the environment natural selection “designed” the human mind for.  Evolutionary psychologists tell us that human nature includes at least two basic innate mechanisms inclining us to treat people nicely.  [Emphasis added.] One, the product of a . . . dynamic known as kin selection, leads us to sacrifice for close relatives.  Another, reciprocal altruism, leads us to be considerate of friends—nonkin with whom we have enduringly cooperative relationships.  If you live in a . . . village, most of the people you encounter fit into one of these to categories and so fall naturally within the compass of your decency.
Of course this is not to say we are living here as anything resembling hunters and gatherers (though at the cultural and economic core of this community remain the lobstermen who work these waters), but there may be some lessons from deep history.  If Wright is right and time has designed us to live in small communities and to survive there, then altruism and shared-responsibility are necessary and innate characteristics.  And Rona is also right when she says that she can both see and feel this hard-wired, essential human reality on wonderful display among the people with whom we are privileged to share at least this summer.
To underscore this, I next share a sad but inspiring obituary from The Lincoln News about a local resident who died last week and the obscene age of only 19.  I quote it in its entirety:

Ian Cody Sanborn, 19, of Waldoboro, died July 25 in Waldoboro.  He was born April 22, 1990 in Damariscotta, a son of Paul Griffin, Jr. and Laura Sanborn.  He grew up in Waldoboro and attended Medomak Valley High School.  He was a fisherman all his life.  [Emphasis added.]  He worked on scalloping boats in Massachusetts, lobstering on Vinalhaven and clamming.
He was an avid sportsman.  He enjoyed bow hunting for deer, and four-wheeling.
He was predeceased by a grandmother, Jean Winslow and grandfather, Maynard Sanborn.
He is survived by his parents, Paul griffin, Jr. and Laura Sanborn of Waldoboro; brother Jed Harris and wife Holly of Waldoboro; sister Jericho Sanborn and companion Nathan Addy of Nobleboro; special friends who were like brothers, Dustin Day, Timmy Feltis, Brandon Feltis, Roger Feltis, and Timmy Gaudette, all of Waldoboro; grandmother, Gayle Griffin of Waldoboro; uncles David Sanborn of Waldoboro, and Sheldon Sanborn of Waldoboro; aunts, Debbie Sanborn of Waldoboro, Lynn Gross and husband Carl of Vinalhaven, and Cathy Gilbert and husband Leroy of Waldoboro; special aunt, Minnie Harvey of Waldoboro; nephew, Marshall Addy of Nobleboro; nieces, Rayanne and Emily Harris; and cousins, Lawrence Sanborn of Vinalhaven, Hannah White of Portland, Sonya Winchenbach of Waldoboro, Crystal Goss of Newcastle, Joel Winchenbach of Waldoboro, Carl Gross of Vinalhaven, Justin Woods of San Diego, Cal., Jason Winchenbach of Round Pond, Ciera Gross of Waldoboro, Mina Sanborn of Waldoboro, David Sanborn, Jr. of Waldoboro, Owen Gilbert of Waldoboro, and Savannah Gilbert of Waldoboro.
Visitation for family and friends 11 a.m-1 p.m., Fri., July 31 at the Broad Bay Congregational UCC Church in Waldoboro followed by the funeral at 1 p.m.  Pastor Nancy Duncan and Robert Candage will officiate.  Burial will follow in Brookland Cemetery in Waldoboro.
In lieu of flowers, contributions to help with funeral expenses can be sent to Laura Sanborn, 432 Gross Neck Rd., Waldoboro, ME 04572.
Arrangements are entrusted to Hall Funeral Home, 949 Main Street, Waldoboro.
I have friends back in New York City who wonder about what will be said about them in their obituaries in, of course, the New York Times.  Mainly they worry about their résumés and list of accomplishments—the colleges and universities they went to, the jobs they had, their titles, their homes, their travels, the schools their children attended, their careers, the families into which they married.  Things of that sort.

If Rona is right, and Crystal McClain who goes back generations here confirms, maybe they and I should be more concerned about our list of cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles, and especially our special friends.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22, 2107--Search Dog

We were in town and, after morning coffee, wandered from store to store tracking down items we had on our shopping list.  The weather was cooler than I had anticipated and since I didn’t have enough warm clothing I wanted to stop in Renys to see if they had any fleece vests on sale or maybe a couple of long sleeve pullovers. 
Then Rona planned to make buttermilk biscuits; but since we didn’t have a baking sheet she thought maybe we’d find one, also at Renys.  And tucked away back of the parking lot on the east side of Main Street there was Yellowbird, a small, very personal shop that among other gourmet items and local fresh herbs carries crusty sourdough bread that we had tried last week and since it went well with the fish dishes we had been preparing, we thought we’d buy another loaf. 
And we needed to pick up the New York Times and the weekly county paper.  They were available in the Maine Coast Book Shop and while Rona was paying I could rummage among books that were remaindered.  Up here one can never have enough to read.
We then crossed back to the parking lot by the harbor where we had parked because I was concerned that we might be in danger of getting a ticket.  We were in a two-hour zone and I had been warned that the police had stepped up their enforcement, chalking tires with abandon because, in the current economic climate, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for dwindling town services they were raising money by pouncing on any car that was parked for even a few minutes beyond the limit.
But Rona said relax, we still have lots of time so why rush when there were a few other things we needed.  She had spotted a gift shop and wanted to look for birthday cards to send to friends and family members who have upcoming birthdays.  Cards appropriate for the occasion but maybe with a Midcoast theme.  She wasn’t thinking about anything with lobsters embossed on them but maybe there were some nice note cards with starfish or sailboats.  “Don’t worry so much about the car.  It’ll still be there when we’re done.  This isn’t Manhattan.  They won’t tow it away.  We’re here to unwind after a rough May and June.”
It had been a difficult time.  We were struggling along with a few people close to us who have serious illnesses.  They were thankfully doing much better now, but it had been harrowing earlier.  In spite of this, clearly Maine was not as yet working its wonders on me.  Nonetheless I said, at least half-meaning it, that I was in fact determined to seek inner peace, “I am getting there.  But, you’re right.  I do need to relax more.”  I caught myself acknowledging that and quickly added, “But I am.  I am becoming calm.  Really.”  Rona looked at me with understandable skepticism.  And to demonstrate how I was more laid back I said, “Why don’t you look at the cards and I’ll hang out here on the street and look through the paper in the sun.  The sun is good.”
“That’s fine,” Rona said, “but I don’t call reading the Times exactly being relaxed.  Even in the sun.  All you’ll find there is bad news about the economy, the Middle East, healthcare, the economy, and everything else.  Of course,  do what you want.”
“But,” I protested, “I’ve got the local paper and it’s full of all sorts of good community news.  Like book talks and farmers’ markets.”  I didn’t tell her that the lead story was about a 72 year-old man who had been killed on U.S. 1 when he crashed his motorcycle into the back of a pickup.
“Whatever,” she said and disappeared into the shop. 
I hung out there, facing the sun, thinking more about what a 72 year-old was doing riding a motorcycle on Route 1 than about tomorrow’s farmer’s market, where there was hope that the first local corn would finally be available.  Should someone that age be out on a Harley?  Then again, I thought, maybe that’s the way to go. 
While lost in these less-than-calming thoughts I noticed, coming down the street toward me, a man with what looked like a seeing-eye dog.  But as he got closer it was clear that the man was not blind—I could tell that by how he was checking out things on the street and in the stores that they were passing.  Perhaps he’s training him, I then thought.  Though that seemed unusual for here.  I had only seen dogs of this kind being trained in big cities.  But that’s in part why we are here—to have some new experiences.  Relaxing ones, I reminded myself.
As they drew closer I could see that the dog was wearing a bright yellow plastic vest; and when they were just a few yards away I could read printed on it, on both sides--Search Dog.  The New Yorker in me was immediately drawn back to 9/11 when police departments from up and down the east coast had sent dogs of this kind to help find survivors buried in the rubble and then later, after things turned even more hopeless, body parts. 
But since I was trying not to allow myself to continue to be mired in thoughts of this kind, to the man who I assumed was his handler, with some awkwardness, avoiding even a hint of anything disturbing or grim, I said as brightly as I could, “Is he looking for me?”
With barely a glance and without a word of response to my silliness, they passed right by me and I was left to watch them work their way up the street.  I noticed that they both had the same deliberate gate, as if practicing stepping over dangerous piles of rubble from a bombing or a . . . 
But quickly, just as was instructed to do by Rona, I cut that thought short and leafed through the paper to see what would be available at this week’s farmer’s market.  The first black currents, I noticed.  Maybe Rona would turn them into a compote that I could then use as a marinade for some nice broiled loin lamb chops with . . .”
When I looked up again, still straining to stay in sunlight, I saw the policeman and the dog working their way back in my direction.  Clearly training was going on, I was relieved to realize, and that they were not searching for a lost or kidnapped child, or anything more tragic.  And this time the trainer allowed the dog to come up to me and give me a good sniffing.  Not in my crotch, which most non-search-dog dogs would do, but more my trouser cuffs, socks, and shoes.
“You asked if he was looking for you.  Right?”  I nodded.  “Well, if it’s all right with you I thought I would have him search for you.”
I was confused, “But he’s found me, no?”  I pointed down at him where he was giving me a good going over.  “How would he search for me since he’s already found me?”
“You see how he’s sniffing at your pants leg?  He’ll now remember that.  From that he’ll remember you.  And, again if you’re willing, we’ll head back that way,” he pointed way up the street, “and then when you’re done with that paper—nothing much good in there to tell you the truth—you can go wherever you want in town, you can even hide if you want to.  Actually, that’d be good.  And then in about 15 minutes or so, I’ll have him search for you.  To see how well he’s doing at that.  We just got him and are training him.  To tell you the truth, he’s not coming along all that well.  So this would be good for him.  How does that sound to you?”
I very much liked the idea and said, “Sure.  Sounds like fun and maybe it will be helpful.  He looks like quite a nice fella.” 
I bent to pat his head but his handler stepped in to stop me.  “One thing—no one who isn’t working him should ever touch him.  It only confuses things.  Understood?”
“Yes.  Sure.  Sorry.  My wife’s in the store and as soon as she comes out we’ll go and hide somewhere.  Is that OK?  I mean hiding?”
“Like I said, whatever you want.  If he gets trained proper I can’t tell you the kinds of things we’ll be having him doing.” 
I very much wanted to know but Rona later will be proud of me for again restraining myself from asking.  I was under orders to stay away from these kinds of disturbing matters. To try to stay calm.
“You know,” I added, half-kidding, “I’ve been trying to find myself for years.  Maybe this will help with that.”
Clearly he either didn’t understand my pseudo-existentialist comment or in fact did and thought it not worthy of consideration.  And thus, for whatever reason, without another word they headed back up the street and I folded up the paper, very eager now for Rona to finish her shopping.  I thought the only things remaining on our list were the cards and that as soon as she came out we could spend the full 15 minutes hiding ourselves. 
My first thought was to find a place down by the dock where they bring in all the fish.  It would be full of conflicting smells and thus would be a good test for the dog.  But as I thought about this I realized maybe Rona wouldn’t like what I had agreed to do, feeling that I, with my pushy big-city ways, had imposed myself on the policeman.  Her style was more to fit in by not making us too obvious, too seemingly eager to meet and befriend people.  Especially local people who were welcoming to outsiders but also were clear about wanting to maintain a separation between themselves and us.  At least on initial encounter.  And if she felt this way about what I had agreed to, she would be more than half right. 
So maybe, I thought, I wouldn’t tell Rona what happened.  That I would say, “You know we never walked along the docks.  Since it’s a nice morning, maybe we should do that.”  And then whatever happened or didn’t happen with the dog I would deal with.  After the fact. 
I felt it was at best fifty-fifty that they would find us, I mean me--that the handler had said the dog wasn’t doing very well--and that if they didn’t, as I expected they wouldn’t—especially if I could find us a good hiding place--I would have nothing to explain to Rona.  If they did, I would hem and haw and then eventually say wasn’t it fun to agree to this.  I felt sure she would come around to that.  After all, she likes dogs, though she would be frustrated that she wouldn’t be allowed to pat him.
And with that Rona bounced out of the shop and rejoined me on the street, excitedly showing me a box of note cards she had bought with tasteful pictures on them of various seascapes.  Very nice.  Not at all tacky.  Since she was in such a good mood, I suggested a walk down by the boats.  She said that sounded nice and off we went.
It was midmorning and there was very little activity.  The fishing and lobster boats had set out much earlier and wouldn’t return for some hours.  As we passed through the parking lot to get to the moorings, I had some fleeting anxiety again about how long our car had been parked but quickly put that aside since I was now on a mission to help with searches and rescues.
After a few minutes, Rona stated the obvious, “There’s not much going on here.  Maybe we should come back one afternoon when the boats come in and we could perhaps even buy some fresh fish or lobsters.”
“That sounds like a good idea to me.  But let’s walk a little further.  There’s a pile of nets I wouldn’t mind checking out.”  I was stalling for time and also thought that behind the smelly nets would be a good place to hide.
“I don’t know what it is with you and fishing nets,” Rona said, reminding me that whenever we are anywhere in a port I seem to have this fascination with nets.
Again, seeking to buy time, I ruminated out loud about this peculiar interest of mine.  “I don’t know why.  I think it may be because when I was a kid my father used to like to take us to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, down by the fishing piers, and we would wander around among the boats and stalls.  I remember fantasizing about working on one of those boats.  Hauling nets or something.  For some reason this always . . .”
“You know, it’s getting late.  We have some things in the car that we should be putting into the refrigerator.  We can come back here another time.  And you can visit your nets.”
“You know how most kids like me back then dreamed about being firemen and . . .”
“You mean boys.”
“Yes, boys, and . . .” 
I interrupted myself because, as Rona and I were going back and forth about my fascination with fishing nets, just beginning to turn down toward the docks I spotted a glint of yellow—the sun’s reflection off the search dog’s vest.  He was clearly sniffing his way along, leading his handler right toward us.
I grabbed hold of Rona’s jacket and began to pull her toward the mountain of fishing nets.  “What are you doing?” Rona squealed.  “You’re tugging on my sleeve.”
“I know.  Sorry.  I just want to get a closer look at those nets.  I’ve never seen any like them.”
“I think you’re crazy.  I thought Maine would have a good effect on you, a calming one; but now look at  . . .”
“Please, just this once, let’s take a look at these.  Trust me they’re really special.”  Rolling her eyes up in her head Rona relented and followed me behind the pile.  I pretended to scrutinize them while she stood aloof with her arms folded, impatiently tapping her foot.
Even though I was bent low, out of the tops of my eyes I could see her waiting, aggravated but indulgent, while I pretended to examine the floats on the nets, crouching ever lower and lower.  I was trying to curl up into a ball to better hide myself. 
But huddling as I was against the nets, thinking I had successfully made myself virtually invisible, as they drew even closer, I could also not fail to see the search dog and his handler. 
They came to a stop a few yards from me and the dog promptly sat on his haunches.  I had expected he would leap at me, growl, and then bite at my trouser cuffs.  But he and the policeman remained where they were, totally still, without moving closer. 
What I was really up to was about to be exposed to Rona and thus I began fumbling in my mind to concoct an explanation and also what I was certain would need to be a seemingly-sincere apology.
“Did you find yourself yet?” the dog’s handler asked.
“What was that?” Rona said, more confused than I.  After all I at least knew what they and I had been up to.
“Oh, nothing,” I said with as much matter-of-factness as I could muster.
Nothing?  Rona exclaimed, “Didn’t you hear what he said?”
“Not really,” I lied. 
She turned to them for conformation about what she had clearly heard, but they had already retraced most of their steps back up toward the street.
“Well, I never,” Rona said, exasperated, but calm.
I didn’t right then try to explain anything or look directly at her, but promised myself that when we were back at the house and all the groceries were safely away, I would tell her the whole story. 

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