We're Poor and Put-Upon But We're Cute
Puppies are cute. Babies are cute (or so I’m told). Disney movies ooze cuteness from every pixel.
But I’ve never heard a state fair described as cute. Until now.
James Kopel, a retired college professor from Moline, Ill., thinks the Fryeburg Fair is “one of the cutest state fairs you’ve ever seen.”
Kopel has spent the past 11 years traveling to 41 official and 11 unofficial state fairs. He liked the old-fashioned atmosphere in Fryeburg, with its oxen in barns and women in period costume serving desserts. That, apparently, is his idea of cute.
Kopel rates the Iowa State Fair as the nation’s best, proving cute will only take you so far.
On to the non-cute news of the week.
Maine is in no danger of being overrun with cuteness. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s population increased just 0.1 percent between July 2007 and July 2008.
That’s only 1,058 people, and you’ve got to figure that a significant percentage of them aren’t cute (the Census Bureau doesn’t seem to have the exact number, which makes me wonder what it is they’re counting).
Maine tied Vermont for the smallest population increase in New England, and New England trailed the growth of the rest of the country. Based on those figures, experts (me) say it’s only a matter of time before we lose out on the cuteness quotient, too.
What probably hurts more than being less adorable than other parts of the nation is being poorer. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that incomes in Maine increased 4.1 percent between 2006 and 2007, compared to a national average of 5.2 percent.
Sagadahoc (7.5 percent) and Cumberland (5.1 percent) counties did the best in the ratings. Franklin County (1.5 percent) did the worst, although it’s not clear if that figure includes profits from the pot crop.
What is clear is that the local economy isn’t as cute as it used to be. The state’s iconic retailer, L.L. Bean, told employees last week that, in spite of aggressive marketing efforts, it expects to miss its holiday sales projections – basically flat from last year – by as much as 10 percent.
In a memo to employees, the company said it was cutting back on opening new stores, offering voluntary retirement packages and restructuring, but will still have to lay off some workers in 2009.
The sales slump is being blamed in part on the company’s new advertising slogan: “L.L. Bean – be as cute as any ox at the Fryeburg Fair.”
Some high-end eateries are offering mid-week deals. Others are redesigning their décor and menus to appear less uppity. And several popular Portland dining spots are banding together to hold some kind of restaurant week in March. No word yet on whether they’ll be serving ox.
Gasoline prices in Maine have dropped faster than restaurant revenues – the current statewide average is just $1.74 a gallon – but it still costs more to fill up here than it does in New Hampshire and lots of other states.
The reason Maine is nowhere near the national average of $1.49 a gallon is because of local taxes, which add 47.5 cents a gallon to the cost, the 16th highest amount in the country.
It’s a good thing we’re cute.
Well, actually, we’re not all that cute, as anyone who’s ever witnessed one of those events where people wearing far too few clothes plunge into the ocean in mid-winter to raise funds for worthy causes. Along with all the skin, there’s usually lots of flab, blubber and cellulite on display.
At least nine such plunges are scheduled this winter, leading organizers of some of the older icy dips to complain they’re getting less cold cash.
Not everything that swims in the ocean in the winter is a financial bust. A scientist at the University of Maine has discovered how sea slugs (did you know Maine has the cutest sea slugs?) steal genes from algae (cuddly algae, too) they eat to become capable of photosynthesis.
This is good news for … well, it must be good news for somebody. Like people who don’t mind having their genes altered to give them green skin, eyes on the ends of tentacles and a tendency to leave a trail of slime on the carpet.
Adopting the appearance of a sea slug may have one other advantage (wait, what was the first advantage?). It might allow you to avoid a new federal saltwater fishing license fee. Starting in January 2010, anyone incapable of photosynthesis who wants to cast a line for stripers or mackerel will have to register with the feds.
For the first year, the licenses will be free, but in 2011, you’ll have to pay $15 to $25 annually for the privilege of surf casting. Maine officials are considering instituting the state’s own license, which would allow locals to avoid the federal requirement and net Augusta some extra dough.
The decision on whether the city will get a minor league franchise, possibly associated with the Boston Celtics, will be made early in 2009.
Suggested team names: the Sluggish Economy, the Frozen Oxen, the Cutie Pies. Feel free to use any of them.
And finally, news comes to us from Rockwood – which is a little to the north of Misery Township, which is a little further to the north than you probably ought to have gone – that scientists have somehow merged two common foodstuffs: lasagna and sea slugs. The result is a product marketed as Slugagna, which is being served in school cafeterias across the country.
Unless I’ve mixed up the recipe. Let’s see. Lasagna, yes. Sea slug … uh, sorry, no. It’s so easy to get experiments confused. Like that time I was trying to genetically engineer a super toad and accidentally created Adam Sandler.
It really was invented in by a woman in Rockwood, although now that national demand has skyrocketed, it’s being made in Bangor. It even has a logo that shows a pizza groom marrying a lasagna bride. It’s kinda …
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.