Assessing Maine’s Current Currant Crisis
I’m sure regular readers of this feature have no idea as to the lengths to which I go in researching the material I include here. Each week, I spend countless hours scouring dozens of Web sites, broadcast news stories, comic books, and other important publications to locate the proper mix of serious news and frivolity that has become a mainstay of “Maine: The Week In Review.”
I do this because I care about the quality of the product we offer here at Down East.com. Also, because if I didn’t steal other people’s material, I’d have to do some actual reporting of my own.
Fortunately, this past week, I was presented with some back issues of Modern Drunkard Magazine, which seems to be devoted entirely to long diatribes on excessive consumption of alcohol, getting thrown out of dive bars, and insulting anyone who doesn’t drink.
I immediately sent off a resume.
But that’s not my point. Which I’m pretty sure is around here somewhere … ah, there’s the little bugger, hiding behind a half-empty six-pack. My point is that in the December 2004 issue of Modern Drunkard, a Maine institution received prominent notice. It came in a column called “Wino Wisdom,” which is mostly composed of interesting tidbits of conversations with drunks, most of which cannot be quoted on a family Web site such as this one.
One exception: a bit of wisdom from the men’s room wall at Gritty McDuff’s in Portland. It read, “Things are a lot more like they used to be than they are now.”
Unfortunately, the original version of this intellectual gem was destroyed when Gritty’s renovated its bathrooms a couple of years later. Which just goes to show how true that saying is.
Or how flexible. Because, really, I could write about virtually anything now, and if you weren’t paying close attention (and the fact that you’re wasting time reading this drivel seems to argue you aren’t), you’d be fooled into thinking I’d made some sort of profound connection between what are actually random pieces of information.
Nevertheless, I can now legally deduct the cost of a subscription to Modern Drunkard as a business expense on my income tax. There’s tax reform we can all support.
Anyway, last Sunday, I noticed something in the “Home & Garden” section of the Maine Sunday Telegram in a column called “Maine Gardener.”
I confess I’m not a regular reader of this feature by Tom Atwell (who, in one of the most astounding coincidences in the history of journalism, also writes a column on beer for the “Go” entertainment supplement in the Portland Press Herald, although Atwell’s drinking experiences are about as far removed from those of Modern Drunkard as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is from the final night of Mardi Gras). Living as I do on a rocky protrusion covered only with a thin layer of pine needles and dog poop, I don’t do much gardening. In fact, I do none at all, preferring to allow whatever hardy weeds manage to take root in my yard to fulfill their destinies unimpeded by hoe, rake, or scythe. No lawn. No flower beds. No vegetable garden.
I’m told by an environmentalist of my acquaintance that this is a very eco-friendly approach to landscaping. Which sounds a lot better than admitting I’m just lazy.
A point, I’m sure there was a point to all this blather.
Ah, yes, Atwell’s latest column.
He discovered it’s against the law in Maine to grow currants.
I know this state has a lot of stupid statutes banning things like throwing beer bottles at innocent school children and opening a restaurant that specializes in cannibal cuisine. But I never imagined this penchant for over-regulation extended to those little blobs of fruit that come in hot-cross buns and currant jelly and current juice and … well, those are the only things I’ve ever heard of that contain currants. Although a quick Google search shows there’s some kind of sci-fi book called “Currant Events.”
I suppose being caught with a copy will get you arrested in Maine.
Anyway, it’s not just currants that are illegal. So are gooseberries, jostaberries (a diabolical mutant made by crossing gooseberries and black currants), and all other members of the Ribes family of plants. The reason for this ban goes back to colonial times, when the settlers of the Popham Beach colony were driven from their homes by Native Americans wielding currants and jostaberries. Also, it was later discovered that a disease called white pine blister rust, which can be fatal to white pines, can only survive in areas where there are both white pines and Ribes plants.
The logical step would have been to outlaw white pines, since they taste terrible, but for some reason that didn’t happen. Instead, Maine has for decades been prevented by this archaic legislation from taking its rightful place among the great currant-producing states. Now, some gardening activists want to change that and have introduced a bill to lift the ban.
Atwell quotes one such activist as saying there’s already an underground network of currant growers in Maine, cleverly concealing their crops from the ever-watchful eyes of the Ribes regulators by disguising them as Skittles. To date, no cases of blister rust have resulted, calling into question whether the whole disease wasn’t made up by disgruntled Native Americans still sore about the settlers returning to make Popham Beach a state park.
Speaking of clandestine agricultural operations, one of spectacular technological sophistication was recently discovered in Waterville. According to news reports, a woman called police to report two men were pushing a big box down the street. This activity has been illegal in Waterville since shortly after Paul LePage was elected mayor, as large boxes can easily be used to conceal gooseberry plants or copies of Modern Drunkard Magazine. When officers arrived on the scene, they followed tracks in the snow to a nearby shed, where the men were eager to show off the big white box that contained grow lights, fans, irrigation equipment, and leftover marijuana residue. Also, what appeared to be counterfeit packages of Skittles.
Those last two made the cops suspicious, so they arrested the owner on an outstanding warrant that charged him with writing incoherent graffiti on the bathroom walls at Gritty McDuff’s back in 2004.
The chief investigator in the case summed up the astonishing changes in methods of growing pot by saying, “Things are a lot more like they used to be than they are now.”
Al Diamon favors legalization of currants or marijuana, but not both, as the combination has been known to cause painful outbreaks of blister rust in areas of the body that really hurt. Medical advice may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.