Maine’s Kangaroo Court
I try to be a law-abiding citizen. I don’t litter. I don’t spray-paint graffiti on buildings. I pick up my dogs’ poop (mostly). And I haven’t murdered anybody in forever.
But the legal system is a harsh mistress, and she keeps coming up with new rules, often without bothering to warn me in advance that activities I’ve been engaged in for years (enriching uranium, buying all my booze in New Hampshire, voting without proper photo identification) have suddenly become the subject of statutes with complex wording involving jargon such as “terms of incarceration” and “public flogging.” I mean, who knew you aren’t allowed to sell fireworks on elementary school playgrounds?
It’s not as if I can’t tell right from wrong. Take, for instance the news story about how somebody stole a bunch of bees in Skowhegan. No question that’s antisocial behavior, particularly because bees are social insects.
But I don’t see how anyone could be expected to know that Maine has strict regulations against keeping wallabies as pets without a permit. Apparently nobody in Augusta is aware of the slogan of the National Wallaby Association: “If Wallabies Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Wallabies.”
For those of you not familiar with marsupials, a wallaby is an Australian mammal from the family of macropods, a term coming from the Latin “macro,” meaning “illegal” and the Greek “opod,” meaning “in Maine." Wallabies are related to kangaroos, only smaller, and unlike the gentle ‘roos, they mostly eat people. Also, they prefer their prey to be alive when they devour it.
Oops, sorry, those are vampires. Wallabies only eat dead people.
Anyway, these folks from Island Falls (motto: Not Really An Island – And The Falls Aren’t Working This Week) bought a baby wallaby (technical name: a little snuggums) in New Jersey (motto: It May Be Illegal Here, Too, But We Just Don’t Care) and brought it back to a relative in Maine as a gift. (A wallaby makes an excellent gift because you can be pretty sure the person you’re giving it to doesn’t already have one.) The recipient was delighted and took her new pet to a local Little League game to show it off. The wallaby had two base hits, walked once, and stole a base. Unfortunately, after being called out on a marginal pitch, it grabbed the umpire and dragged him into the woods, where his dismembered body was later discovered.
The wallaby’s owner argued that such behavior is readily accepted in Australia, so this was simply a case of culture clash and not of criminal behavior. But somebody filed a complaint with the state Department of Illegal Stuff, and the wallaby’s family was hauled into a hearing.
As the proceeding unfolded, it became obvious the court wasn’t all that bothered by the mauling of the ump, but was more concerned about rabies. The wallaby hadn’t been inoculated against the disease, mostly because the last reported case of a rabid wallaby in Maine occurred in 1992 in Portland’s Old Port on a Saturday night. Police eventually determined the animal in question was not actually a wallaby, but a young wallaroo that had eaten a bar of soap. The investigating officer concluded that the erroneous identification was the result of “the complainant having had several Slippery Nipples followed by a Sex on the Beach for a nightcap.”
But back to the wallaby case, which recessed without a decision. The owner has since applied for a permit to keep the creature and has attempted to locate a vet that will vaccinate it for rabies. It remains unclear whether that will be sufficient to meet the exacting standards of Maine law or whether the wallaby and his family will be forced to disappear into the shadowy world of the Wallaby Underground, which operates in the Australian émigré community in major American cities.
While we await the verdict, perhaps we’ll have time to consider the case of another unwelcome visitor to this state: the tourist from Massachusetts. According to the Maine Forest Service, this pest is responsible for devastation of hardwood and fruit trees, as well as blackberry bushes.
My mistake. That’s not caused by tourists, although they are responsible for the devastation of Mainers inherent good taste and – with their insistence on wearing Bermuda shorts and black thigh-high stockings with sandals – are probably to blame for Portland being named by Travel & Leisure magazine as the eighth worst-dressed city in the United States.
The threat to our trees and bushes comes from something called the winter moth, an invasive species every bit as dangerous as wallabies on a baseball diamond. Entomologists (scientists who study macropods or something) discovered that four hundred acres in Harpswell and vicinity has been infected by the moths, which get their seasonal name from the fact that, unlike most moths, they enjoy cold weather and often build snowmen and engage in snowball fights.
Destroying all the moth larvae is expected to take several years, because their only natural enemy is wallabies, and Maine would rather see its forest stripped as naked as topless doughnut shop waitresses than give those beasts free rein.
Which brings us to a bit of positive news. Maine may have over-regulated the wallaby population. It may have infestations of voracious moths and badly dressed summer visitors. It may even be directly responsible for the Boston Bruins early exit from the playoffs. (Although, on further reflection, probably not.) But this state can take pride in leading the world in one area:
University of Maine at Machias Professor Brian Beal has come up with a way to grow larger lobsters in captivity, so that when they’re released into the ocean they aren’t promptly eaten by such creatures as sea wallabies, winter sea moths and tourists. Beal discovered how to shelter the lobsters in little huts until they’re big enough to survive the rigors of life in the wild.
The huts were built with financing from the Maine State Housing Authority at a cost of $460,000 each, so, to date, Beal has only been able to raise two lobsters. But he’s hopeful he can increase the number next year by using general assistance housing vouchers. That should bring the cost down by enough that his aquacultured lobsters can be sold to visitors from Massachusetts in fancy restaurants for about $125,000 apiece (which also includes butter, steamers, bibs and napkins) or about half the price they currently pay.
Unless there’s a law against that.
Al Diamon plans to plead not guilty. If you’d like to contribute to his defense fund, email your credit card number to firstname.lastname@example.org.