Once a smell-o-meter

By David Grima | Feb 20, 2021

So, congratulations to all readers who spotted last week’s factual blunder, but were far too polite to mention it.

The so-called nor’easter where I wrote on the Monday of the relevant week, not the next day; and the city took down the holiday lights first thing on the Monday. Sorry about that.

* * * * *

I suppose it’s up to me to save Rockland from the inevitable consequences of the civil war that threatens to erupt over that blasted cell phone tower somebody wants to build on Route 1, over which city council and the city planning board are presently at loggerheads.

Several decades ago, a cell phone company wanted to build a tower in downtown Camden where, naturally, the locals were up in arms at the very idea. The town didn’t say no outright, but rather got a committee together, a traditional Camden solution to everything in those days, which we seem to be getting into the habit of ourselves. Except in this case.

Those dedicated citizens came up with a bunch of suggestions, including disguising the tower as a tree. Not bad for a neighborhood in which, even back then, every building except two looked like a sweet little house but was actually a commercial business disguised as a residence.

But in the end, if I remember rightly, someone dreamed up the idea of installing the mechanics and electronics of the tower inside the spire of the Congregational Church. I just wish I could remember if they actually did this. Anyway, no tower was built anywhere else in the town, so I assume it did go inside the spire.

Say what you will about Camden, and I know plenty of you already have, but one would think that 20 years later we could have come up with some vaguely similar creative solution here in Rockland. But no.

* * * * *

The Beloved Lime City just placed fourth out of 10 in a list of the “hottest towns” in Maine for real estate sales in 2020. Or it placed first, according to how you read the facts as presented in the MaineBiz journal:

“Fourth Place — Rockland, a Knox County town with a population of 9,200 had a 25.9% increase in home sales in 2020, and took first place for the highest rise in median sale price, rising from $175,000 in 2019 to $212,700 in 2020 — nearly 22%. Some 131 units were sold, as opposed to 104 in 2019,” according to the journal.

“Rockland has long been synonymous with Maine's iconic sea urchin, lobster, and is also home to two influential downtown museums, the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Maine Museum of Contemporary Art.”

One could certainly quarrel with the bad grammar in the second paragraph, and with the indifferent description of our fair city as a mere town. Really, those people in Portland haven’t a clue about the facts of life up here on the coast, halfway toward Canada. One might also deeply regret that there is no mention of our impending civil war over some pesky cell phone tower, either.

Furthermore, I wonder what the people at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art think about their museum being misnamed in the article?

For what it’s worth, here is the list of so-called “hottest towns” given in terms of real estate sales for 2020:

1 Kennebunkport, 2 Kittery, 3 Falmouth, 4 Rockland, 5 Wells, 6 Brewer, 7 Auburn, 8 Gray, 9 Old Orchard Beach, 10 Lisbon.

* * * * *

My beloved and I broke down last weekend and twice dined out. It takes some effort to overcome the conditioning against going to public places which we have been subjected to these past 12 months, but we drew up our wills, appointed executors and accepted the risk.

Saturday evening, we were pierced through our hearts by Valentine’s true arrows, and ate in Rockland at a place on Main Street that cleared out perhaps one-third of its tables (and its earning potential) in order to allow socially-acceptable distancing between dinner guests.

Then, Monday afternoon, we succumbed to the enticements of Moody’s Diner in Waldoburg.

These are only the second and third times we have eaten inside a restaurant since we ate at Rebecca’s in Augusta last summer. Rebecca’s has now closed for good, so I hear, and let’s hope that feeding us is not some kind of curse or calamity.

* * * * *

Last August a drawing described as N.C. Wyeth’s last picture was sold at auction in Thomaston, for $108,000 according to wherever I read about it. The picture was an unfinished charcoal drawing depicting Geo. Washington on horseback, supervising operations on his farm.

Figured I better mention something presidential this week, on account of the federal holiday Monday.

I can’t be absolutely sure I did not already mention this picture being sold last summer. I might have, but if I did, I forgot to indicate so in my little notebook.

As I was thumbing through the same notebook in search of other stuff I possibly overlooked, I saw a note written Aug. 28 about Cushing resident Beth Bellmere, who apparently gave a sculpture by the late Blackie Langlais to the museum that now occupies his house on River Road in that same town.

According to the story which I read in a chamber of commerce newsletter, she bought the lion-faced image in Portland many years before.

* * * * *

Another note from last summer, which cannot safely be bracketed with the above items about artworks, suggests there was once a smell-o-meter at a store on the site of the current Walgreen’s pharmacy and liquor outlet on Park Street. Ted’s Sav-Mor?

This no-doubt improvised device would have been in operation before about 1988 or 1989, as this was when the odors of lifeless marine animals, which it was designed to indicate, ceased to be such a hazard to the real estate market in Rockland.

For I assure you, dearest newcomers and sinceborns, that if Rockland continued to smell as strongly of dead fish matter today as it did in those days, you wouldn’t find it on any list of places in Maine where property is now selling like hotcakes.

The other side of that coin is, of course, that neither would we be in the difficult position we are in today, where local-born people of relatively moderate incomes cannot even think of buying a home here in their ancestral community.

Take your pick, and don’t worry about getting it wrong, because there’s nothing you can really do. But if you could turn the clock back to the days of the smell-o-meter, but also of fairly affordable rents and real estate prices in Rockland, would you do it?

The truth is, that while it has now become fashionable (because it is also futile) to mourn the economic difficulties of the American middle class, I am often more worried about the greater difficulties faced daily by the American working class.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at davidgrima@ymail.com.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Feb 21, 2021 16:13

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Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Feb 21, 2021 11:16

Regarding the cellphone tower, I seem to remember suggesting, in a note like this one, that the tower be designed to look like a ship's mast and rigging, and to dispense with the 6-foot, razor-wire-topped perimeter fence in exchange for -if anything- a low, ornamental fence. That might entail hiring a sculptor and other investment of village resources to make it happen, and then it might make sense for the village operate the property like a public park. Maybe that idea itself is a dud. But cellphone and internet service are almost a basic human right at this point. And based on a white paper released this week by 5G Americas - the 5G industry association, mobile voice service over 5G is likely still years away for a small town like Camden (https://www.5gamericas.org/the-future-of-voice-in-mobile-wireless-communications/). So it seems like, as you say, one important approach should be figuring out, if possible, how to make it work.



Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Feb 20, 2021 09:41

I believe that Rockland's population is about 7,200 not 9,200. I'm concerned that city management and the department heads will read this and tack another million bucks onto each departmental budget if they think it is population 9,200 ... if they haven't already done so.



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