In Maine there are two absolutes. You will root for your favorite basketball team at tourney time and you will sit through a town meeting in March.

Every year I find myself back in that uncomfortable folding metal chair in a gymnasium or town hall, thumbing through a town report so new the ink’s barely dry.

Most town meetings take place in a former school that has been turned over to the town. Some are in dusty grange halls or community centers. The turnout is usually surprisingly high, 25 to 30 people in small towns, 50-plus in the bigger ones.

There’s always an American flag somewhere in the room, and this is appropriate since the town meeting is what we like to call “Democracy in its purest form.” Town officials can’t spend a stinking dime without the people’s say-so!

Town officials (“graybeards” I’ve heard them called) usually find themselves lined up in a row behind a folding table. There’s generally one or two that can’t wait to stand up and answer a question. There’s usually one or two who don’t say a word throughout the proceedings.

You’ve got your big boys in work boots and dog-chewed hats standing up against the back wall. These are the guys who will ignore the Robert’s Rules of Order, which were so carefully explained by the moderator at the beginning of the meeting, and they will shout out their thoughts at intervals without coming down to the podium or stating their names. They will also laugh to themselves bitterly when someone says something they disagree with.

There’s often a lady knitting while she listens to what’s going on. She gets a little more famous each year because the reporter from the local paper likes to take her picture. The same can be said of the few children dragged into the meeting. They either sit and quietly do homework or fall asleep most of the time.

People vote by saying “Aye” or “Nay.” Or they raise their hands. Or they have little pink or green cards they hold up. I’ve always wondered, if there’s one standard of order, why is it done differently from town to town?

At least once during most town meetings, the moderator can’t decide whether the “ayes” have it or not, or whether more cards went up for yes or for no. Sometimes this means getting people up front to count the hands. Other times everyone in the town gets in line to cast their secret ballot votes.

Debate will rage until the end of democracy on whether a town meeting is better than voting at the polls. Some argue there are people who can’t make it out to the meeting at a specific time, and these people have an easier time making it out to the polls at some point. Others speak of the sanctity of the anonymous nature of the voting booth.

You have to have courage to raise your hand and be counted when others who disagree with you can see your vote. I’ve seen brothers on select boards offer to take a dispute outside because they disagreed on a vote. I’ve seen people up in each other’s faces passionately debating their positions. More often, I’ve seen people just go with the flow. The guy who was just arguing so eloquently against the cemetery trust fund increase doesn’t even bother to raise his hand as a no vote. He saw the ocean of hands vote yes and knows he’s already lost.

In other cases, I’ve seen a fellow vote no just so an item won’t pass unanimously, even though he’s not really against it. It’s just a matter of principle that there should be some debate. I can respect that.

Meetings sometimes get hot. More than once I’ve seen the color rise in a citizen’s cheeks. I’ve seen the small and the tall, the young and the old quivering with rage or nerves.

No matter how mad people get at each other at town meeting, when they meet again at the post office it’s all smiles and handshakes. At least it better be. The great Mainer expression is “they’ll get over it.”

There are people who, when they get up to speak, always say their address. “Elmer Winchenbach, 1433 Atlantic Highway. I want to know when we’re going to do something about these ever increasing taxes?”

There are usually a couple of obviously “from away” people who like to participate.

At some town meetings, people don’t say who they are. I have to write down little notes to myself next to their quotes. “Bald guy, gray sweater wants to know why we’re just hearing about this.” “Elvis Sideburns says there’s nothing for young people to do.” Sometimes I nickname them after famous people they look like. “Kenny Rogers says we need to cut the recreation department.”

Then I have to go around at the end of the meeting asking them what their names are. I’m always concerned a citizen will see “Wiry dude” next to his comment in my notebook.

A $400,000 public works budget will pass without a comment.

Residents will debate $25 for a social service for more than an hour.

As a reporter, I always look at the warrant and try to figure out how long I’ll be there. This is so I can be crushed by reality later. I say something to myself like, “There are only 25 articles.”

And the townspeople always try their best to trick me. They slam through the first 23 items without a question or comment. Hope blooms in my mind like a rare and colorful flower. Then, we hit the big one buried there in the back, the item everyone has been talking about behind the scenes for the past few weeks. First a half hour goes by as we hear from those involved. The people who want the money will plead their case. The people who feel it is frivolous will poke holes in the arguments. People are gaveled down for not talking one at a time. Amendments are proposed and voted down. The question is called. Multiple counts are needed to discern the will of the people.

One way or the other, I’m going to be there three hours.

And if it’s one of these Saturday morning meetings, forget it. The day is shot. At night, people get tired. During the day, they settle in.

Over the years, I have come to believe that sadists designed folding metal chairs. If the meeting goes long enough my butt will fall asleep. But where would democracy be without folding metal chairs?

If you’ve never been to town meeting, you should really check it out. And while you’re there, would you mind taking some notes?

Daniel Dunkle is a Rockland resident and the associate editor of The Herald Gazette. His column appears in the Friday edition.