Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Serve and Protect: Maine style

Tonight I went to vote on the school budget. When I gave my name, one of the poll workers said, "Mike Peterson, from the Franklin Journal?" I acknowledged that, and he said, "We were trying to get hold of you the other night, and we didn't have a phone number for you."

Turns out he was an off-duty Farmington police officer. About 10 days ago, the alarm at the office went off. The security company tried to call me, but I was covering a meeting. I discovered the message on my phone after I got home. I called the alarm company back, then called Dispatch. They told me a police officer had been sent to the office but found everything secure. I still went down to the office to have a look around, but life went on. We never did figure out what had set off the alarm.

When I told this to the guy at the polls, he said he'd been on duty at the meeting I was covering (it was a public hearing on the school budget) and had been called out to respond to the alarm. "You should have come back and gotten me," I said, and we laughed. But I gave him my cell number and he wrote it on a piece of paper.

Now Dispatch will know how to get hold of me in an emergency.

As we were talking, I remembered that I needed to talk to a sheriff's deputy I had failed to connect with during the day. We do a weekly summary of the department's activities, and one of the calls was a report of an intoxicated man who was arrested for firing a rifle "in the direction of a neighbor."

I was pretty sure they meant "a neighbor's house" but wanted to distinguish it from actually drawing a bead on the person. So, after I left the polling place, I called Dispatch and they connected me with one of the deputies who had gone on the call. Yes, he said, it was the house, not the individual. "Well, I didn't want to make it sound any more exciting than it was," I said, and he chuckled and observed that a drunk guy with a gun is pretty exciting to begin with.

But he also told me that the female deputy on the call, Heidi, had done a really good job of cooling things down. It turned out that she knew the family, she knew the young guy with the gun, and she was able to talk to them on a personal level and persuade him to come out and let her get things cooled out.

"She's, like, the queen of community policing, isn't she?" I asked with a laugh, because two months ago, she made an arrest of a burglar on her own (very rural) street. There was a guy who was a fugitive from Florida who was living in his pickup truck and burglarizing camps out in the boonies. Well, in a small town it doesn't take long to pick up on this stuff and so everyone knew to watch for a red Ford truck with Florida plates.

The police get a call one morning that the truck is in a driveway on a particular rural road. As it happens, Heidi lived a few houses down on the same road, and was home sick that day. A few houses the other direction was another deputy, David, who just happened to be home because it was his day off. Dispatch called the two of them at home, and Heidi and David just walked out their front doors, one turned left, one turned right, and they walked down the street and arrested the guy.

Now, obviously, there was some coincidence involved in this, and the police got a huge laugh out of the master criminal who chose to rob a house on that particular street. But the fact is, our police live among us. This is community policing.

I grew up with some of that: The state trooper in our town was married to the daughter of my second grade teacher. He was part of the community as a cop, but also as Mrs. Nolan's son-in-law. There's a bond there you can't get in a larger place, and it's the kind of bond that means that, when Heidi shows up on a call and finds a drunk guy firing off a gun, she can talk to him as a friend of the family.

So, now, about the picture at the top of this blog.

We have a couple of pretty sizable paper mills in the area. A truck from one of them was heading for Montreal a few weeks ago with a load of paper when he went off the shoulder, hit some soft dirt and rolled. The rolls of paper weigh about 700 pounds each, and they smashed through the side of the truck when it went over.

A wrecker came and got the 18-wheeler and hauled it off. The trucker was fine; he was standing across the road waiting for a ride home to Canada. But here were two dozen very heavy rolls of paper in the ditch. What to do?

What you're seeing in the picture is called a pulp loader, and it's an arm that is designed to pick up logs, three or four at a time, and load them into the truck. I suspect that the Canadians who designed that robotic arm for the shuttle had spent a little time in the woods, because it's very much the same thing.

In this case, one of the firefighters who responded to the accident was also a logger. That's him, sitting in the seat operating the pulp loader and, instead of wearing a conventional hard hat, wearing his firefighter's helmet. That's his truck and he just went home and got it, picked up the rolls, loaded them on his truck and hauled them away.

Saved the clean-up crew a tremendous amount of work, and it was a perfectly logical solution, though it was the first time that loader was used to haul the stuff after it was processed, instead of well before.

I ran the picture on the front page with the slug "Maine problem, Maine solution." People thought it was pretty funny. But, hey, it's just part of how people solve problems around here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The persistence of memory

I'm not at all a fan of Hillary Clinton, but I know what she meant about Bobby Kennedy and June. It was easy to remember that Bobby wrapped up the California Primary in June, because his assassination is indelibly etched in our minds, and it was June.

It was early June, because I was home, in that niche between the end of classes and the beginning of, in my case, summer school. Another student might have been taking a little time before reporting to a summer job, or might remember being new on the job when the news came.

For my part, I was up early to do some fishing. I'd brought a transistor radio down to the dock, because you could get radio back in the woods that early in the morning. The dock was across the road and down a hill from our house. I got down there and got set up and then turned on the radio and heard the news. It was probably 6 a.m., so it was 3 a.m. in California and not so many hours after the shooting. I fished for a little while, listening to the coverage, but then I wrapped it up and went back up the hill. My parents were up and had also heard the news.

I wasn't a big Bobby Kennedy fan. I had done a little work for McCarthy, working the phones downtown one afternoon, but politics wasn't really my thing. My opinion about Bobby was that he was an opportunist and that he wasn't likely to bring the war to the kind of immediate end that a lot of people felt he would. On the other hand, I realized he was more electable than McCarthy, and so, however imperfect, he was the chance to turn the machine around.

That is, he had been.

Which is to say, I was not a fanatical follower; barely a follower at all. And yet if you asked me when the California Primary was held in 1968, I would say "June" without hesitation. In May, I was still in school. In July, I was back in summer school. In August, I was home again, and the streets of Chicago were in chaos.

Bobby died in June, of course. We all remember that, where "we all" is the set of people who were in college during the presidential campaign of 1968. I kind of doubt that the editorial board of the Argus-Leader consists entirely of people who were in college in 1968; I suspect that it contains at least a couple of people who weren't anywhere at all in 1968.

But I'm part of Hillary's "we all." I was just through with my freshman year at Notre Dame; Hillary had just wrapped up her junior year at Wellesley and was bound for the "Wellesley in Washington" summer program, and from there to the Republican Convention as a Rockefeller supporter. She would turn voting age less than two weeks before the election.

So I understand what she meant, and it wasn't about assassination. It was nonsensical, but it wasn't about assassination. It was simply a claim that primaries have gone into June before. Well, yes, they have, but Bobby had only entered the race March 16, two weeks before LBJ announced that he would not seek a second term.

I had to look that up.

I remember when LBJ made his speech, though, because it was the night before April Fool's Day, and some jokes were made about that.

And I remember when Martin Luther King was shot, because it was less than a week after LBJ's speech. So it was early April.

If LBJ hadn't spoken just before April Fool's Day, however, I wouldn't be able to pin it down like that. If, for instance, he had spoken just before Easter, I might remember that he spoke before Easter and MLK died a few days later, but then I'd have to look up when Easter fell in 1968.

But now comes the interesting part about memories and dates and chronologies and timelines:

The picture above is of Bobby speaking at Notre Dame. He came through town as part of his campaign in the Indiana Primary, and he attracted quite a crowd, more, I think, because he was a Kennedy than for his politics.

My memory of the day was that I was towards the back of the crowd as Bobby spoke, but when he started taking questions, a familiar hand popped up at the front. Familiar because it was black and because it was well above the rest of the hands.

It was Sid Catlett, a friend of mine who played on the basketball team and was gaining a reputation as a character. When Bobby had a chance to call on an African-American student, he took it, and so Sid unfolded his gangly frame like a carpenter's rule, stood up to his full six-eight height and asked, in an innocent tone, if it were true that they were planning to raise the maximum height for the draft.

There was a momentary, stunned pause while Bobby looked back at Sid, and then the place erupted in laughter and Bobby said, "I don't think you need to worry about it." The rest of the speech, as best I recall, was kind of wonkish, but he was a good public speaker and, as speeches go, he did all right.

So Bobby finished his speech and took off and that was my memory of Bobby Kennedy on campus. And I was going to say that I remember him coming to campus but all I remember was that we were all on campus -- I had no memory of the date or even the month. I'd have to find out when the Indiana Primary was if I were going to pin it down.

When I went digging around for a photo for this blog, however, I came across the specific date: April 4.

He appeared at Notre Dame in the late morning, then went down to Muncie for an appearance at Ball State, and then flew to Indianapolis. On his way to the airport, he was told of Martin Luther King's assassination; on his arrival, he was told Dr. King was dead, and he gave a memorable speech that night to the crowd that is credited with keeping Indianapolis from burning when the rest of the nation was in chaos.

Until this evening, I did not realize I had seen him that day. I remember very well being in an auditorium that night: It was the Sophomore Literary Festival and I was sitting in the balcony when, just before the speaker was introduced, the announcement was made. If you ask me about the day Dr. King was shot, that's what I remember. Nothing about what I did that morning, just where I was when I heard the news.

However, Hillary is right: Because I was a college kid and had the touchstone of hearing the news at home rather than on campus, I remember that Bobby died in June.

After a tough 10 weeks of campaigning. If he'd entered the New Hampshire Primary, it would have been 12 tough weeks. Hillary forgot that part.

See, none of us have perfect memories.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No doubt there is such a thing as love at first sight, but love alone is a very uncertain foundation upon which to base marriage. There should be thorough acquaintanceship and a certain knowledge of harmony of tastes and temperaments before matrimony is ventured upon.

A gentleman whose thoughts are not upon marriage should not pay too exclusive attentions to any one lady. He may call upon all and extend invitations to any or all to attend public places of amusement with him, or may act as their escort on occasions, and no one of the many has any right to feel herself injured. But as soon as he neglects others to devote himself to a single lady he gives that lady reason to suppose he is particularly attracted to her, and there is danger of her feelings becoming engaged.

Neither should a young lady allow marked attention from any one to whom she is not especially attracted, for several reasons; one, that she may not do an injury to the gentleman in seeming to give his suit encouragement, another that she may not harm herself in keeping aloof from her those whom she might like better, but who will not approach her under the mistaken idea that her feelings are already engaged.

Some young ladies pride themselves upon the conquests which they make, and would not scruple to sacrifice the happiness of an estimable person to their reprehensible vanity. Let this be far from you. If you see clearly that you have become an object of especial regard to a gentleman and do not wish to encourage his addresses, treat him honorably and humanely, as you hope to be used with generosity by the person who may engage your own heart. Do not let him linger in suspense; but take the earliest opportunity of carefully making known your feelings on the subject. ... Let it never be said of you that you permit the attentions of an honorable man when you have no heart to give him; or that you have trifled with the affections of one whom perhaps you esteem, although you resolve never to marry him. It may be that his preference gratifies and his companionship interests you; that you are flattered by the attentions of a man whom some of your companions admire; and that, in truth, you hardly know your own mind on the subject. This will not excuse you. Every young woman ought to know the state of her own heart; and yet the happiness and future prospects of many an excellent man have been sacrificed by such unprincipled conduct.

It is a poor triumph for a young lady to say, or to feel, that she has refused five, ten or twenty offers of marriage; it is about the same as acknowledging herself a trifler and a coquette, who, from motives of personal vanity, tempts and induces hopes and expectations which she has predetermined shall be disappointed. Such a course is, to a certain degree, both unprincipled and

It is a still greater crime when a man conveys the impression that he is in love, by actions, gallantries, looks, attentions, all -- except that he never commits himself -- and finally withdraws his devotions, exulting in the thought that he has said or written nothing which can legally bind him.

Remember that if a gentleman makes a lady an offer, she has no right to speak of it. If she possesses either generosity or gratitude for offered affection, she will not betray a secret that does not belong to her. It is sufficiently painful to be refused, without incurring the additional mortification of being pointed out as a rejected lover.

Rejected suitors sometimes act as if they had received injuries they were bound to avenge, and so take every opportunity of annoying or slighting the helpless victims of their former attentions. Such conduct is cowardly and unmanly, to say nothing of its utter violation of good breeding.

It may be well to hint that a lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection during the days of her engagement. There is always the chance of a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip; and overt demonstrations of love are not pleasant to remember by a young lady if the man to whom they are given by any chance fails to become her husband. An honorable man will never tempt his future bride to any such demonstration. He will always maintain a respectful and decorous demeanor toward her.

No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be still more domineering as a husband; and from all such the prayer of the wise woman is "Good Lord, deliver us!"

"Social Culture: A Treatise on Etiquette, Self-Culture, Dress, Physical Beauty and Domestic Relations," 1902, the King-Richardson Co., Springfield, Mass. This post was inspired by the continuing disintegration of the comic strip "For Better or For Worse."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Remembering a first flame

When I heard on Maine Public Radio that the Olympic Torch had made it to the top of Mount Everest, it immediately occurred to me that the idea of someone climbing up Mount Everest one-handed with a flaming torch held aloft in the other was kind of ludicrous.

The news reader explained, however, that the Olympic flame was being carried in a special lantern so the torch could be lit from it once they reached the summit.

Ah, I see. Well, excuse my cynicism for suspecting that somewhere on that “special lantern” was inscribed the word “BIC.”

I started bailing out on the Olympics back when Peter Uberoff saved them by turning them from a gathering of amateur athletes into a money-making machine, but I bailed out on eternal flames well before that.

I may go to hell for what I’m about to tell you. There are deep secrets altar boys know that they should probably not disclose to the laity.

I was an altar boy back in the pre-Vatican days when the Mass was said in Latin and only by those of us privileged to be on the altar, where we kept our backs to the congregation and mumbled a lot.

But that also means I grew up in a time of medieval awe, and one Sunday when I was a very young lad, I noticed during Mass that the sacristy candle, the big one in red glass, was burning down to the end.

The nuns had explained to us that this candle meant God was in the church and that it must never, ever go out. But Father hadn’t gotten to the Last Gospel yet and the sacristy candle was already just an anchored wick in about an inch of clear, molten wax.

We finally finished Mass, got off the altar, knelt for the Jube Domine Benedicere and then I hurried back out with a new candle and a taper.

I guess my hand shook as I tried to light the taper from the flame, because the wick was jostled down into the molten wax.

It went out.

I was horrified. I hoped they could get a light from St. Anthony’s, which was about five miles away, but would they then have to have some kind of special ceremony to re-consecrate the church? Would the bishop have to come? How much trouble was I in, in this world and the next?

Though I feared he would tell God and also my parents, I approached the priest and confessed: “The sacristy candle went out.”

He looked at me for a moment, puzzled. “Well, light another one.”

So I struck a match, lit another one, and life went on, a little less mysterious, a little more cynical, a little more inclined to suspect that, if their “special lantern” had failed, the Chinese weren’t going to climb back down the mountain and head to Athens for a relight.

(An editor's note from the Franklin Journal, 5/09/08. I don't normally repost these,
but thought people here might get a kick out of this one.)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

1000 Spring Peepers and 1 ad libber
(Apologizing in advance for the quality of the video, which was unplanned.)

It is spring in Western Maine. I was out walking the dogs and the spring peepers were making such a racket that I thought I'd see if my little point-and-shoot would record it.

However, there wasn't much action, and Ziwa, who thinks all nature documentaries should be like "Big Cat Diary," decided to improve the film.