The courage to hang on to our hats
The other week I mentioned some of the history of these grain towers that I apparently inhabit in the South End of town, and mentioned their brief role in the declining local poultry industry.
I have since received a note on this subject from the honorable Art Jura, as follows:
"I accidentally read your manifesto touching upon the chicken feed silos in Rockland. There is a ‘The Rest of the Story...’ aspect to all this, which you are far too young to recall! The reason why the silos failed to save the local poultry farmers, was that the railroads had some type of legal monopoly on transporting chicken feed. This was discovered after UCF had built the silos. Chickens soon went South, where the business has been ever since.
"Incidentally, my grandfather was one of the first to pioneer poultry farming in Maine. In 1917, he had a flock of 500 laying hens, and was selling ungraded eggs for $1 per dozen. He used to truck eggs (and live chickens) to Rockland with his Ford Model-T pickup truck."
I certainly appreciate hearing from Art. I love the bit where he says he was "accidentally" reading this column. Possibly that is the best way to do it. As I have mentioned before, it is no longer chickens I have to think of in connection with these 50-year-old concrete towers, it is pigeons and seagulls.
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In his book "The Courage to Be," theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) briefly describes the fear and anxiety that underlie the human awareness that we are alive yet fated to die. In some cases, he says, some people respond to this tension by developing a neurosis, creating a less than real idea of the world in order to avoid real meaning and the courage that is necessary to face it.
(If I do him any injustice in this tiny summary, please tell me.)
His remarks drove me to speculate that the recent nonsensical behavior by two members of Rockland City Council might be evidence of incipient neurosis.
Only the dead and the terminally lost can possibly be unaware that the council had twice voted to refuse a license for a local restaurant to serve customers on the public square adjoining its property, after several years of routinely voting in favor. As I explained, the vote to deny a license was quite in error on just about any basis you can imagine, and for a while the majority of councilors were in the position of having to defend their mistake and having to pretend they didn't make one.
This mental conflict between the knowledge of what they did and the overwhelming idea of what they knew they should have done clearly created some of the conditions necessary for neurosis, and the first physical evidence of the condition was apparently captured on City Council TV (Nielsen Rating currently about negative 10,000) when Mayor Harden (who clearly needs to Soften) threw his hat at a councilor.
Since then the council has abandoned its neurosis-inducing position on this matter, and has done the right thing. Certainly this is a good way to avoid the anxiety that arises from making public errors — and we all make errors, city council having no monopoly on this problem. But one also hopes we will not be faced next year with a revival of this annual on-again off-again pantomime.
The licensing of private parties to use public spaces in Rockland for the general benefit of the community has a long and decent history, e.g. the lobster and blues festivals, the farmers' markets, etc. And given the effects of the recent downtown construction, I should think it is clear that the community — commercial and private — does indeed benefit in a number of ways from restaurants being able to serve the local and visiting public in the open air.
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Adieu to Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) who died June 6. Hanging near my bookshelves are a number of framed images I have shamelessly pirated via the Internet over the years, each one an author whose work I have enjoyed. Bradbury is among them.
His devotion to the Gothic idea in literature has been largely overlooked by reviewers and obituarists, largely I think because they confuse the Gothic ideal with mere Fantasy. There is a specific quality in the Gothic that, while it might contain elements of fantastical effort, is actually quite something else.
Bradbury's book "From the Dust Returned" was published in 2002 but contains many shorter tales that he wrote over the years, all linked together as the tale of Timothy, an orphan human. It describes a family of classic monsters (the vampire, the mummy, etc.) who live in a lonely house in Illinois, who have adopted Timothy and love him very much, and who return to the house each Halloween for a reunion. The book's cover is by Charles Addams, whose own monsters lived first in the New Yorker. Rockland Public Library has a copy if you're interested.
It is a more gentle book than Bradbury's 1962 novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes," which, despite its title, is not about Rockland City Council. It too delves into Gothic themes — the terror behind the human facade, the existence of the monstrous capacity in the human soul — and blends these things with a longing for childhood in an age before the War, and therefore a nostalgia for a pre-monstrous human innocence, for Eden. Likewise, “The Martian Chronicles” from 1950 is also about the lost innocent quality in humans, who impose their disease upon the guiltless Martian world.
Well, as Paul Tillich might tell us, we are here to confront that disease by finding the courage to be, or at least the courage to hang on to our hats. Many are the attempts being made in that direction these days, yet few are the successes. Instead we plunge ever deeper into a self-righteously hollow form of public life, in which the highest aspiration apparently is to have as much for oneself as possible, and to tell those who do not have enough to go hang themselves.
It rather makes the monsters who love Timothy seem preferable to many of our kind, for if a monster can love is it a monster at all?
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Driving up Limerock last week to the esteemed dump, (motto: dust to dust and ashes to ashes) I glanced briefly at a political sign stuck in the long grass beside the way. The grass hid half the letters and part of the middle letter, and what remained legible was a gruesome declaration — Polio.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. Monsters, humans, and even city councilors, can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.