When The Rain Falls Mainely on the Plane

Lobstah rolls. Fiddleheads. Bean suppahs. Seadog games. More pine trees, rocks, and lighthouses than you can shake a stick at. We're back from assignment in Portland, Maine, so your long wait for more pithy installments ends.

It's good to visit a place that has such a distinctively different character than Omnipotent Poobah Omnimedia's Galactic HQ here in Kahlifornia. It gives us the chance to remember lost memories and see how we are both the same and different than those good folks on the right coast.

Maine is a place where quirks run deep and everyday life is deeply fascinating. One need only think of Edmund Muskie tearing up in the snow so long ago or a crusty lobsterman with a peg leg and eye patch supplementing his income by singing sea shanties around Perry's Nut House. It's a place where the first glance more often than not reflects a studied sense of homogeneity, but a closer look reveals Twilight Zone garnishes that keep the place interesting.

For example, the Poobah is certain that Portland has grown over the years. We see evidence of it with each visit. There are more people. There is more traffic. New stores and schools and roads sprout up like seaweed on the photogenic coastal rocks. Hell, Starbucks has even reached the place. Yet, it looks like there hasn't been a new house built in all of New England since 1863. "Why?" you might ask. Because they all look exactly the same. Rod Serling would be proud.

Each house is a 1150 sq. ft. salt box, painted white or light gray with black, gray - or for the very adventurous - rust trim. It must be a state zoning regulation or something. Those crafty Mainiacs don't just create the illusion of quaint ye olde gentility with similar designs and colors. Nope! They also age each house so that it takes on the carefully cultivated patina of decay that would be present if the house had been built in 1863 instead of 2003. Here, a picturesquely missing shingle. There, a loose drain pipe or cracked pane of glass. Over behind the house a barn always rots slowly in the damp air and an old - though possibly recently manufactured - carriage wheel acts as a planter containing DNA-replicant red flowers and mammoth weeds. In the trendier neighborhoods they park ancient steam tractors in the front yard and hang a mailbox from them. In the less-trendier places, there are rusting Hudsons on blocks in the side yard.

There are other little twists to the place as well. Geographical names run from unpronounceable Iriquoisian consonant fests like, "Ogunquitanasumpscotabecahegan", to the just plain obvious, "Dead Moose Creek". From the whimsical, "Cat Mousam Road", to the wry, "Keepa Way". There is a Poland, Rome, Paris, Lisbon, and Bremen, though oddly, no Marakesh. Every town's name is properly oriented north, south, east, west, new, old, upper, lower, inner, outer, or simply "down theyah".

It's a place where a large portion of the female population dresses like lesbians in a San Francisco lumberjack bar (short dark hair, wire-rim glasses, lots of plaid and fleece lined denim, and big boots...for a trip to the beach). Every church, fire department, school, and charity raises money by holding bean suppers, yet the streets remain remarkably methane-free. It's a place where dented pickup trucks in the employee lot at Cap'n Newick's sport, "If they call it tourist season why can't we shoot 'em" bumpah stickahs. But, it's also a place where people will happily exchange greetings with strangers on the street, then refer to people who have lived next door for 47 years as, "those new folks next doah". It's a little known fact that there are more dead people in Maine than live ones. There must be, there's an aging cemetery - with an obligatory black wrought-iron fence and crumbling white granite tombtones - on every corner. Oddly, none of the tombstones are new. See Architecture above.

Mainers also have a way with the culinary arts. They've managed to merge two of the world's blandest cuisines - British and Canadian - into one where fresh seafood and seasonal fruits and vegetables are rendered utterly without flavor. It is a place where salt and pepper are doled out like $165 an ounce saffron and garlic is a rare herb from another planetary system. They've even managed to create fish dishes that are beautiful to the eye, aromatic to the nose, and as absolutely tasteless as ceramic Japanese sushi samples.

But now we must confess one more thing - especially since we are acutely aware that our many Poobah-in-Laws are reading this. We love the place and we love them. It was once the home of Mrs. Poobah and we have very fond memories of our intermittent courtship there. Though the residents may have their quirks, they actually are very nice, level-headed, and caring people. Our rather large, extended family lives there, and though they could write more often, they always welcome us with loving and open arms whenever we visit and cry when we leave. They forgive us our touristic trespasses and smilingly accept our quite rude commentaries. They take quite a licking and keep on ticking, a testament to their hardiness.

So thanks for a new crop of memories dear Mainiacs. We love you. We think of you often. Oh, and we'll see if we can scare up a salt and pepper CARE package for you.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, August 14, 2005

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