Down East 2013 ©
To tell you the dog’s honest truth, I’ve always been kind of up and down the mast about Down East humor. Even more so about Marshall Dodge III, that stone cold handsome fellow from New York City who put on a sou’wester and a Maine accent and started it all up. I mean he was wicked sharp, but a little dry wit goes a long way in a wet place, and I never really knew who he was funning, the literal-minded locals or clueless folks from away.
Marshall Dodge himself was from away. As I understand it, he first picked up his Maine accent and repertoire of Down East stories at swanky St. Paul’s School in not-so-swanky Concord, New Hampshire, where a school chum who summered in Maine came back each fall with wry tales of the quaint locals and their battles of wit with the flatlanders and summerfolk. At Yale, young master Dodge, who was studying up on philosophy, teamed up with Robert Bryan, a divinity student, to perform what they called Bert and I tales. Bert was a fisherman numb as a hake and I was the narrator, who most often was Marshall Dodge.
Misters Dodge and Bryan first recorded Bert and I back in 1958 when cars still had fins and they didn’t have to bleep every other word a comic spoke. For those of you who missed all the good clean fun back in the fifties, we now have the golden anniversary edition, The Best of Bert and I: Celebrating 50 years of Stories from Down East (Islandport Press, Pownal, ME, $16.95), a CD of thirty-four vintage Bert and I routines, the most famous of which is probably “Which Way to Millinocket?”
Asked by a motorist how to get to Millinocket, a native Mainer muddles through a confusion of improbable routes before arriving at the classic conclusion, “Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.”
The Best of Bert and I is thick a junk o’ pork full of old chestnuts like that, dry roasted and dead in the pan. You’re less likely to laugh out loud when you hear them than you are to remark, “Oh, that’s where that came from.”
“Where does this road go?”
“Don’t go nowhere, Mister. Stays right here.”
“Can I take this road to Portland?”
“Sure, but they got all the roads up to Portland they need.”
“You don’t know much, do you?”
“No. Then again, I’m not lost.”
“You lived here all your life?”
It’s hard to believe that dear old Bert and I turns fifty this year. Makes a fella feel old. Strange to think that Marshall Dodge has been gone for half that time. He was run over by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle in Hawaii back in 1982. How he managed to ride that bike all the way across the Pacific Ocean I’ll never understand, but I’m guessing it’s something they teach you at Yale.