Lobster on the Roof
Living in a very small town -- ours has a population of 2,133, according to the ever-vigilant town office — your life tends to fall into a certain dependable rhythm. This is not the same as a rut, or even a groove. Such images are altogether too flat.
Small-town life is more like one of those computer games where you drive a car around in a complicated circle, passing through varied terrain that the designers have made as tricky and interesting as possible, given the obvious limitations. You take the turns and bumps and dangerous drop-offs and sudden splits in the road as gracefully as possible. Over and over and over again.
After a while — in real life, if not in that strained metaphor — you realize that certain high points of this annual journey have become enshrined as honest-to-God traditions. They take on a ritual quality, a resonance that deepens from year to year. You look forward to them; in a way, you count on them. And even though to outsiders some of these things may seem trivial or comical or downright nonsensical, from the inside they make sense.
Traditions of this kind are normally collective affairs, involving at least all the members of a family, usually a circle of close friends, occasionally the whole darn town. Here -- for what interest it may hold — are some of the highlights of our race around the calendar in bustling Lincolnville.
• The Super Bowl Party. This began as a joke during our first winter in Maine. Neither my ex nor I had the slightest interest in football. We thought it might be funny to invite some friends who, we suspected, shared our disaffection. I immediately thought of a gay couple who’d just moved up from New Jersey. (As it turned out, one of those guys was an avid Giants fan.) As the years went by, the festivities became increasingly elaborate. Guests were randomly assigned Major Commercial Sponsors, and fabulous prizes (99 cents apiece at Reny’s) were awarded essentially by whim. We take this very seriously.
• The Memorial Day Disaster. Another carry-over from our first year in Maine. Naively, I believed the end of May marked the beginning of summer, and accordingly bought a croquet set, stocked up on ground beef, and invited everyone we knew for a season-opening barbeque. Naturally it was 45 degrees that day with spitting rain and gale-force winds. We keep at it. Any year now, the weather will be nice.
• The Takayuki Tatsumi Memorial Lobster Bake. One summer we had these writer friends visiting from Japan. They were big Wyeth fans. They wanted the whole Maine experience. It was all just a little bit surreal, so we try to repeat it every year with whatever colorful literary sorts happen to be in town. Some of these gatherings get pretty big, and at least one has involved tiki torches, Les Baxter, and large prancing mammals.
• The Trip to Islesboro. Strictly a family thing. There’s a ferry terminal just down the road, and Islesboro is a quirky and lovely place to visit, though there’s not really much to do over there. Still, what there is, we do. On the couple of years when we’ve skipped this outing, there’s been a definite sense of having failed in some big way.
• The Blot. I’m cheating a bit here because technically this happens in another town. A group of old friends mark the coming of autumn with an indescribable event modeled (loosely) on an ancient Nordic pastime that, I suspect, involved a tad more blood and drunkenness. A tad, I say.
• Thanksgiving. This seems to get bigger every year. We join with a number of local families and single friends in an epic holiday gorge-fest. My own annual contribution consists of three bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau and a nap on Bill & Nancy’s couch.
• Christmas-by-the-Sea. The Lincolnville version of this Chamber-of-Commerce-inspired gala retains its funky, non-commercial village charm, chiefly owing to the fact that by December we are all broke. The Boy Scouts build a bonfire on the beach. I’ve led the carol-singing for the past few years. The Real Santa Claus stops here and here only. Local kids make decorations and their moms make yummy food for the annual town party at the Old Schoolhouse Museum up the road. It is corny, genuine, sweet, and fun.
• New Year’s Eve. I go to bed early.