Fleeting moment of joy
I am reminded of Lloyd Bridges’ character in the movie “Airplane!” when I tell myself three times a day that a cold February is a bad time to give anything up. Better to stick with our afflictions as long as they help us get to March. Not that we should expect March to be any better.
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Speaking of afflictions, I heard an odd tale last week. Apparently local grocery stores have noticed people loitering in the dairy aisle and borrowing cans of spray-on whipped cream to get a little chemical lift. The story is that people sniff the propellant from the whipped cream aerosols, which they do by not turning the can upside down when they hit the spray button, so they get gas and not a face full of cream. This temporary lift to the spirits is said to be worth the risk for some people, and I believe some sad sacks have even been caught on video tape while committing the offence. Dairy managers now check the cans each morning to see which ones weigh less than they should. These are the cans that have been abused, and they must be taken away and put out of their misery.
Other than being surprised to hear that whipped cream cans can be used this way, the element in this weird story that most puzzles me is that these chemical offenders do not simply buy the can and take it home. Maybe the possibility of being seen and caught is part of the fleeting moment of joy they hope to experience. Or maybe it’s simply because it’s February.
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When a notable member of the community dies after a good long life, it is common for local newspaper hacks to write about their experiences of the deceased and to pass on some anecdotes. But I only have one story about Meredith Dondis, and all it amounts to is that once upon a time he threw me out of his movie theater.
Back when I was more or less employed by the Courier, I loved to take photos of people at work and publish them in these hallowed pages. My belief was that newspapers too easily fall into the error of only describing the weird, the disastrous, the controversial, the illegal, the elected, the arrested, and many other perverse elements that make up the rich tapestry of life as we know it. (Think of our beloved school board for example, which involves almost all these things.) I felt it was important that we also report the normal stuff, and one thing I particularly liked to do was show how the people around us earn a living.
With this sort of thing in mind, I stepped into the Strand one sunny day and asked the woman selling popcorn there if I could take her photograph. At this point a small whirlwind appeared in the lobby, and within moments I was out the door and wondering what on earth had happened. I could remember the words “no pictures” and “you need to leave now” floating over my head.
Of course, it was Meredith Dondis. Later that week he and I bumped into each other again, this time at the Courier office where he was buying an ad for the Strand from Carolyn Flanagan. I ducked behind an oak desk, but he saw me and was somewhat apologetic and most polite. He explained that “I am a very private man” and added that he had meant no personal offense when he figuratively tossed me onto the street. I took him at his word.
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There were at least two other movie theaters downtown, as far as I have been told. I think there was one on Oak Street and certainly another on lower Park approximately where the Rite Aid drive through pharmacy window is now, but close to the sidewalk. I believe the Oak Street theater was called the Empire, and the Park Street theater was imaginatively called the Park. I think that is fairly accurate, although would not argue with anybody who says I have my facts a bit muddled. Except O’Meara of the Bangor Dreadful News, of course. I’d argue with him until the cows come home.
But this epoch of downtown theaters was all a very long time ago. The Strand is all that remains of its kind, and as we were reminded in last week’s paper it actually closed for a while after Meredith retired and sold it, and was only later restored to its present splendor. Now it is being handed over to a non-profit board, and normally I would say this sounds the death knell for the whole enterprise. But I know one or two of the people on the board, and in my experience they do not get involved in stuff like this on a whim. They are only interested in success, and I imagine they will achieve it one way or another.
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Now a letter from a devoted reader, which I hope all good people of the Lime City will heed: “Dear Mr. Grima, Will you please urge the people of Rockland to take down their tired, sad Christmas wreaths which are depressing me. Signed your loyal reader from Thomaston, Frances, Age 6. PS Merry Christmas.”
This heart-wrenching yet timely plea was delivered to me near the end of January, as the postman has a hard time getting my mail to me up here in these concrete towers I inhabit at the foot of Mechanic Street. I don’t blame him one bit.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.