Trapped In Carrabassett Valley
And now, another frantic first-person account of the terrors and deprivations experienced by an actual Mainer during Tropical Storm Irene.
Assuming, of course, that you’re willing to overlook the unfortunate fact that I didn’t experience any terrors. And my deprivations were comparatively trivial – no telephone, power, or water for one day, and all the newspapers were wicked late. My neighbor and I had to cut up a couple of trees that came down in the road, which took half an hour or so. My wife and I had to drive from Carrabassett Valley to Kingfield to get some sandwiches, since we couldn’t open the refrigerator (a lot of the food spoiled anyway, including a tub of – sob – crabmeat). And that was about it. I spent the day after the storm like I do most days: in an easy chair doing some writing and a little reading. The biggest disturbance came when the phone began working again, and people started calling to see if I was alive.
In the wake of this ordeal, I’m available for book and movie deals or even a reality-TV gig.
It wasn’t until several hours later that I learned my peaceful existence was about to be ripped apart like a defective highway bridge in a flash flood. Because the two bridges on Route 27 that connect most of Carrabassett to the entire world to our north had been destroyed by the storm waters.
My panic on learning this news wasn’t so much the result of finding out I couldn’t get to Stratton. Or Coburn Gore. Or that other place up there … what’s it called? Oh, yeah, Canada.
The origin of my dismay, an emotion that permeates my life even as I write these words, is that the most important place in my municipality had suddenly become inaccessible.
No, not the local bar.
I’m talking about the town dump.
Or, to be more politically correct, the transfer station.
Until two temporary bridges are installed next week, there’s no way to reach that facility except by a circuitous route through Rangeley that would taken longer to navigate than the path to congressional compromise.
Let me be clear. My complete emotional breakdown over the complete physical breakdown of the bridges has nothing to do with my overflowing garbage cans. I can ignore that mess for months. And even if I couldn’t, the town quickly made alternative arrangements for trash disposal.
The cause of my angst is this: I can’t get to the dump’s swap shop.
The little garage where usable items are left for anyone to pick up for free is affectionately known to locals as the Carrabassett Mall. It’s a treasure trove.
When we first bought a camp in Carrabassett more than a decade ago, the guy who ran the dump (they stilled called it that back then) asked us if we needed anything. We did. We needed all sorts of stuff, from kitchen utensils to furniture to tools. He set aside anything good that came in, and within a month, we had our new place nicely set up, right down to a mismatched set of silverware.
Those of you with cootie issues (hello, Elizabeth Peavey) might not appreciate dump goodies, but as far as I’m concerned, a good washing cleanses all concerns. I’m not passing up a nice pair of Carhartt workpants (with only a couple of stains), a selection of expensive insulated socks, three L.L. Bean counter stools and a coffee cup from Portland’s ritzy Cumberland Club just because some possibly diseased and/or unsanitary person once owned them. Those items all came from the dump and enhance my home and wardrobe to this day. I even got an Electrolux vacuum cleaner that was way better than anything I’d ever owned.
But the real value of the dump store isn’t in clothing or home furnishings. The reason I never miss an opportunity to visit is because of the books.
If it wasn’t for the Carrabassett Mall, I never would have discovered the works of the late Janwillem van de Wetering, a Dutch author of quirky police procedurals and essays on Zen, who spent many years living on the coast of Maine. While burrowing through a musty box of pulp fiction, I scored a signed copy of his “Just a Corpse at Twilight.” After reading it, I bought everything else of his I could find in print.
I – and whoever gets the royalties from his estate – have the dump to thank.
Over the years, I’ve taken home dozens of other mysteries, biographies, an old cook book (hey, here’s a recipe for passenger pigeon), a baseball trivia book, several political tomes, and a copy of Gore Vidal’s “Burr” (“We came upon Fort Western, now known as Augusta in the state of Maine, a small, depressing outpost”). Of course, I’ve grabbed more than a few awful novels, as well. Stuff by people who couldn’t write a coherent suicide note – although trying to compose one wouldn’t be a bad way for them to pass the time. But those pieces of cheaply bound crap didn’t cost me anything except the time it took to read a few pages. And the following week they were back on the dump-store shelves awaiting someone with lousy taste or a pressing need for compost.
Scavenging at the dump isn’t an obsession with me. It’s a lifestyle. Where else am I going to get a battered plaster bust of a Greek youth, which now decorates my office – with some of the damage to its head covered by a little Portland Sea Dogs batting helmet that once held ice cream?
Speaking of the Dogs, this year’s team still has a chance to set the record as the worst in franchise history. To do that, Portland will have to finish below the 60-81 mark set in its inaugural year of 1994. As of today, the team is 58-79, with one game left against league-leading Harrisburg and four with playoff-bound New Hampshire.
History is within their grasp.
Although, the way they’ve been fielding, it could easily squirt through their legs.
Still, watching the sad ending of this season will keep my mind off the even sadder state of being isolated from my beloved dump. Also, it’ll keep me from standing by the side of Route 27 shouting at every passing Department of Transportation truck, “Hurry up with that temporary bridge, you slackers.”
Speaking of Elizabeth Peavey, she’s staging the world premiere of her new play “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland on Sept. 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. The second show is already sold out, but good seats are still available for the first night. You can get them at Bull Moose stores or from the St. Lawrence website if it ever gets back online after being hacked. What kind of idiot hacks an arts center website? If you know, email me at email@example.com. I’ll bury them in bad books.