The blastedly cold weather this month, interrupted only by a demoralizing and muddy thaw of a mere couple of days, is being handled in various ways by various affected humans.

Mr. Limerock raised up a public marker of the weather that is unique to his way of doing things, by flying the flag of the British Antarctic Territory from his porch. It is hard to argue with how appropriate that is.

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I overheard gossip on Main Street the other day, to the effect that the Rite-Aid pharmacy and emporium of many doodads is expected to become a Walgreens store in the next year or two.

This prediction is so beautifully vague that, if it happens, one or two of us might recall I said so; and if it does not happen nobody will remember I said it would. This is how a cunning writer avoids hanging himself on the hook of readers’ expectations. Defer it to such a distant future that nobody will remember if I am wrong.

This way I can appear clever without having to prove it.

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Likewise, I heard that a certain beer brewed on North Haven is not currently available at one of its popular outlets downtown, due to the season.

I had hoped the reason would be because the underwater pipeline that sends the island’s beer to Rockland is frozen solid, but unfortunately there is no such pipeline, so it is not frozen.

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The death of former city Police Chief Al Ockenfels last weekend touches my ever-decreasing circle rather closely, because he was one of us. Defrocked reporters, retired public officials – you would be surprised how much we used to paddle around in the same fish tank of life, openly poaching upon each other’s territory for useful information.

In fact, the poaching was often more symbolic than real, as neither side was willing to spill beans of much value to the other. Still, it was fun to try. Naturally, public officials such as Al, and the gutter press that we lowlifes represented, got along much better together once we had escaped or been booted out of the fish tank.

The risk of anyone's accidentally printing a joke instead of a fact was so much reduced in this circle of our afterlives that it was no longer a statistical probability. Instead, we were free to enjoy each other’s company mostly without fear of burning or being burned.

We had a way of dealing with our affections as though they were evidence of a much tougher and more resilient outlook on life. This toughness was mostly an illusion, but it was an illusion of our own deliberate choosing.

For example, our dear friend Terrible O’Meara, late of the Bangor Dreadful News, still has in his sticky hands a large sign that Al had made when he was running for county sheriff after he retired from the city.

“Ockenfels for Sheriff,” was its brilliantly conceived message.

Each summer when Al joined us at O’Meara’s party on Lobster Festival Saturday, our thoughtful host would drag out the campaign sign and place it where we could all be reminded that Al had lost the election.

Consequently, Al was never quite allowed to forget his defeat, and in the end he appeared to be reconciled to it. I suspect he would have been offended if the campaign sign had been lost and his defeat never again mentioned each August by his friends, which is what other humans might consider to be common politeness.

After retirement, and possibly finding life in Knox County a tad too peaceful, he signed up for a stint in Iraq as a civilian law-enforcement adviser. He would send us his photos of daily life in Baghdad from time to time.

Two I remember in particular. One was an interior view of the bakery where Al used to buy his daily bread; the other showed three scorched but identifiable parts of a suicide bomber that somebody had arranged tidily on the Baghdad sidewalk, in a possibly unwitting parody of the way a soldier might stack helmet and boots at the foot of his cot.

This was the real world Al was working in, not some make-believe fairyland of the kind many politicians and their obedient followers so desperately desire to inhabit today.

I knew this picture would never be printed in any U.S. paper, even though at the time I had the power to try to print it on page one of The Camden Herald. To have done so would have been to ignore the many conventions in journalism that, for better or worse, discourage us from showing readers too much of what happens in the real world.

Sometimes I wonder if we do not contribute to infantilizing our readers by protecting them from such occasional awkward realities.

As an example of this, I once read that it was not until several years into World War II that the government allowed press photos of dead GIs to be published. The article said such pictures were banned to protect U.S. civilians from seeing the effects of genuine combat, and that the decision to allow pictures of our dead into the press was taken later in the war, when the government felt the American people were losing interest in the struggle, and that their support for it was beginning to fade.

Press images of U.S. military coffins returning from Iraq were likewise banned by our ever-thoughtful government.

Al was as reliable and as contradictory as you, me, or anyone else we might think of. But he served this city and he served his country, and he was one of our ever-decreasing circle of friends where affection, even if heavily disguised, was shared as evenly between us as we could manage.

As for his more routine police work in Rockland, I cannot omit to tell you how another friend used to enjoy repeating the tale of when Al arrested him outside a city bar, years ago. As he pulled over, and as he wound down his truck window for the uncomfortable conversation, he realized he had been stopped by a cop on foot.

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be in a cruiser?” was all he could think to say.