North by East
A chilly dunk for motivated Mainers, learning the value of Interlibrary Loan, and more.
BRRRR! THAT’S COLD
January first means a chilly dunk for hundreds of motivated Mainers.
When you hear the words lobster and dip together you probably think of dunking succulent chunks of claw into warm, melted butter.
But on January first, the phrase takes on a chillier, far less appetizing meaning.
That’s when hundreds of brave Maine souls dunk themselves (that’s right, no one is holding them over the pot) into the Atlantic’s freezing-cold water at Old Orchard Beach. “It’s beyond description,” says Rocco Frenzilli, the founder of the official Lobster Dip, a fundraiser for Maine Special Olympics.
In 1989, Frenzilli and his fellow Portland Rugby Club players wanted to give back to their community by starting a fundraiser. It just so happened that one team member’s sister was a Special Olympian. It was the beginning of “a great marriage,” between the two organizations, a partnership that has since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. That first year there were no more than twenty-five or thirty participants. Last year almost four hundred people “dipped.”
“You have to do it to experience it,” urges Frenzilli. On Dip Day you’ll spot him, the Head Lobster, dressed in full lobster garb. “The minute your body goes under, that’s when it hits you — you’re completely submerged at the mercy of that cold water.”
Cold is an understatement. The average water temperature in Portland for the month of January is thirty-four degrees. “And when you get out, the air doesn’t do much to warm you up,” adds Frenzilli. Again, he’s understating things: The air averages only twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit.
Linda Fredericks, the director of administrative and family services at the Maine Special Olympics, says the Lobster Dip is “Maine’s original dip.” But other organizations have followed in their frozen footprints. The Atlantic Ocean Plunge at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk benefits Caring Unlimited, York County’s domestic violence shelter. The Boothbay Harbor Penguin Plunge raises funds for the local YMCA. And Camp Sunshine in Casco has a large fundraiser, albeit in slightly warmer waters to our south, dubbed the Coney Island Polar Dip.
And if jumping into arctic waters isn’t your style you can still participate by giving money. There’s no shame in being a chicken lobster dipper.
POWER OF PRINT
Maine readers recently learned the value of Interlibrary Loan.
So many things we take for granted these days — plowed roads, Netflix, even a ready supply of clean drinking water — that it often takes losing them to realize how dependent we’ve become. Such was the case for two long months last summer when the state’s Interlibrary Loan Service suddenly shut down. “It’s one of those silent services, but when all of a sudden it ceases, you get all these people who come in and say, ‘You gotta get this back online!’” explains Dean Corner, director of public services at the Maine State Library, which manages the service. Each library pays a fixed fee for the service based on the frequency of deliveries, though Corner says the number of drivers needed has risen as library customers have become more enamored of the service.
Corner explains that Velocity Express, the delivery company that had previously served 135 libraries from Kittery to Fort Kent, failed to win the three-year contract in March, replaced instead by NCS Logistics, of Scarborough. That situation imploded in July, when NCS Logistics acknowledged that it couldn’t keep up with demand and suddenly backed out of its contract. Though librarians did a heroic job carting books around the state in their own cars, most readers were left in a lurch.
By September the state was able to secure a new contractor: Records Management Center, of Bangor, who proved that it could handle the up to 500,000 books a year that Maine readers request. “Interlibrary loan provides libraries with very few resources the opportunity to have access to materials all over the state,” Corner declares. “If you’re living in Brownfield, to be able to borrow books from Ellsworth or York is a terrific opportunity.” In addition to helping readers, the system prevents smaller libraries from having to purchase expensive, often very specialized books that might over-stress their budgets.
The brief shutdown, though painful for some readers, did make one impression in this age where the World Wide Web seems to rule an increasing amount of our lives. It proved, if nothing else, that people in Maine still recognize the power of a good book.
BIGFOOT IN PORTLAND
A new museum has made Portland even stranger.
Weird things have been happening in the arts district of Congress Street since early November. An eight-foot-tall Bigfoot has been spotted. FeeJee mermaid sightings have been documented. There have even been reports of a furred trout.
Yes, strange things indeed have been happening. But there’s no need to worry: It’s all part of Loren Coleman and Michelle Souliere’s plan.
Souliere, the founder of the blog and quarterly gazette Strange Maine, is no stranger to the supernatural and the curious. In fact, it’s her passion to research and unearth the legends and lore of the Pine Tree State and beyond.
So when the two thousand-square-foot space at 661 Congress Street opened up this fall, Souliere knew she wanted to share her passion with others in the form of a strange bookstore. The Green Hand Bookshop, which opened in November, carries an “eclectic inventory,” says Souliere, “with leanings toward the weird.”
Even weirder: Amidst the books you might also spot Bigfoot. That’s because the building, which is across from the Fun Box Monster Emporium, also houses Loren Coleman’s International Cryptozoology Museum.
Coleman, a lifelong cryptozoologist (that’s someone who studies hidden animals or those yet to be verified by the scientific community), has moved his collection, formerly housed in his own home, to a space in the back of the Green Hand. Here Coleman displays trinkets and fossils, paintings and sculptures relating to animals that — legend has it — exist. Many animals such as the giant squid, the okapi, the coelacanth “were reported to be rumors,” explains Coleman. “Then they all became found and discovered.” For Maine, that means that Cassie the Casco Bay Sea Serpent, the Down East Black Panther, and the Specter Moose may someday join the ranks of the rabbits and raccoons.
Until then, much information is to be garnered at this Maine Mecca of strangeness. After all, Souliere believes Maine is somewhat of an elusive legend in its own right. “There’s something about Maine. That something can’t be nailed down. It can’t be packaged by L.L. Bean and sold. It’s something else. It’s something you can’t really capture.”
But you can catch a curious glimpse at 661 Congress Street.
The oil-delivery man deserves some courtesy during the winter.
Let’s face it: The price of heating oil these days puts us all in a bit of a funk. But unlike cordwood that has to be hauled in piece-by-piece from the cold, our suffering ends once we’ve written that check, right?
Wrong, say Maine fuel delivery crews, who increasingly find themselves scaling Everest-sized snowdrifts just to reach a fill pipe or propane tank. “Even though our hoses are rubber, they’re full of fuel and they’re pretty heavy,” remarks Andrew Lee, service manager at Kalloch Fuel Service in Rockland. “It certainly makes it harder for the guys to deliver if there’s not a path cleared for them.” Lee says most delivery men are able to negotiate a couple of inches of powder, but if the route to the tank is too treacherous they might have to turn back, leaving a note asking the homeowner to do a bit of shoveling before they return.
He points out that there’s no law requiring homeowners to clear a path for them, but says it’s just a matter of courtesy that seems to be increasingly forgotten these days. “There are some older folks who recognize that [courtesy], and you’ll have seventy-year-old folks out there shoveling a path to the fill pipe even before the walk is shoveled,” he says. “We’re not looking for a salted and sanded walkway, just a way to get through.”
Which, in the end, is pretty much what we’re all trying to do during a Maine winter — and it’s a whole lot easier when we all work together.