Monday, May 30, 2011


Happy Memorial Day everyone, although I don't know that "happy" is the correct term for a holiday honoring people who have died serving our country. Maybe "Respectful" Memorial Day is more appropriate?
I went to a really nice memorial service at the Eastport High School. Normally, the service is held at the cemetery, but the ground was too wet since it had just stopped raining. It was moving to see all the vets from every war, and remember the sacrifice of those that didn't make it. A little girl sang a beautiful song about a couple separated by war, and there was the presentation of a flag that had flown in combat during WWII in the Pacific on the USS Cony, a destroyer named after an Eastport naval hero of the Civil War. The ceremony had all the quirks (good and bad) of a small town event. This is going to be my last day in Eastport for awhile, and I'm surprised at how attached I got to this little corner of Maine wedged between the Atlantic and Canada.
I'm moving to Bangor tomorrow, and while I'm not too thrilled about the town or the job prospects, it will be a fun adventure no matter what. When I was in Bangor on Sunday dropping most of my stuff off, I realized why Stephen King lives there and has set so many books there. Lots of people wander around the town like zombies! You see dirty, disheveled people in tattered clothes shuffling all around downtown like Dawn of the Dead. There is a high rate of homelessness (in fact, the Bangor Daily News runs the homeless tally every day in a little info graphic box on the front page like a sports score), and the town has somewhat of a ghost town feel to it. A once thriving industrial epicenter in the early part of the 20th Century, Bangor has fallen into semi-ruin after most of the industries that fueled it slowly died.
But perhaps I'm overselling it.
No matter where you go in life, there are great people to meet, and opportunities around every corner. I plan on participating in the renaissance of Bangor, and having fun doing it!
On another note, my friend Henri (who's previous visit I wrote about here) just won a charity poker event run by Nancy Cartwright (voice of Bart Simpson). First place award? He and a guest get to sit in on a Simpsons table read! I can't think of a cooler prize! Henri is the most knowledgable, die-hard Simpsons fanatic I know. In fact, I gave him an authentic Simpsons sailboat painting (*painting not authentic) as a gift once, and he called it the "most Henri appropriate gift ever."

He gets to bring one guest, but alas, he is bringing his friend from home. I'm second on the list, but it doesn't matter if you're second or 132nd on that list, because nobody in their right mind would turn it down. Any true fan of the show (like all good hearted people are) would quit their job and pawn their wedding ring to get to L.A. for that if they needed to! Well, here's hoping Henri's friend gets violently ill the week before the table read (nothing fatal of course, just incapacitating- I'm not a monster!).
Congrats again to Henri. When he won the poker tourney he was wearing a Ralph Wiggum t-shirt that appropriately said "I beat the smart kids!" On that note, here are the third and fourth Ralphies in my portrait series. I won't be painting for awhile, so the Ralph Project will be on hold indefinitely......

Ralph Seurat Seurat

Cross-stitch Ralph

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The town of Bangor, Maine is pronounced bang-gore, not bang-ger the way people assume, so instead of "Bangor? I hardly know her!" it's "Bangor? I hardly know whore!" which actually rhymes, and the joke is taken to a whole new.....ahhh screw it, let's just get to the story (which has nothing to do with whores anyway).

It was a cool and foggy morning as I left Eastport to drive to Bangor. You could barely see the ocean from the causeway leading to the mainland. It was good driving weather, and I had about a two hour trip ahead of me. Route 9, also known as the Airline Road, cuts from the far Northeast corner of Maine, where it meets Canada and the Atlantic, and heads towards the center of the state. It runs along a ridge of blueberry barrens and valleys for almost 100 miles.
As I cruised along at 80 mph, The Final Countdown by Europe came on the radio. I can't hear that song without picturing Gob Bluth (aka Wil Arnett) doing his magic routine on Arrested Development. The first minute of The Final Countdown is probably one of the best (read: funniest) beginnings of any song. The rest of it.........meh. Either way, the song made me laugh and put me in a good mood as I headed to Bangor to look for jobs and check out a place to move.
I rolled into Bangor around 1:30pm, too late to eat at the Friar's Bakehouse. It's one of the best sandwich shops I've ever been to, and yes, it's run by a couple friars who have a small chapel upstairs from the dining room. They bake their own incredible bread, and list the daily sandwich specials on a board with a big handwritten sign under it that says "No bread substitutions." A sign like that always makes a grouchy old cook smile and warms his heart. No substitutions. Beautiful.
While I was fantasizing about a lunch I couldn't have, I headed to a few stores to drop off some resumes. Silly me. Everything is done online now. I felt like Grandpa Simpson with my outdated dead tree technology in my hand , trying to get a job. The times, they aren't a-changing........they've already changed.
I gave up on my pavement pounding (that's sooo last millennium), and cruised around checking out the town. Bangor is a dreary little town on the banks of the Kenduskeag River. Thoreau visited the "Queen City" as it's called (I don't know why it's called that, but there must be about 300 jokes that I'm just going to skip) back when trains and steamships were the only transportation. There is a monument honoring the underground railroad named for Joshua Chamberlain, the Maine college professor, hero of Gettysburg, and medal of honor recipient (read The Killer Angels- one of the best war books ever written and a gripping account of Gettysburg). Bangor is also home to Stephen King and his predictably Gothic mansion. Across the river is a town called Brewer, and together they are the "Twin Cities." Having grown up in the real Twin Cities in Minnesota, maybe that's why I have a strange affinity for Bangor. There is also a giant statue of Paul Bunyan, another thing that would make any Minnesotan feel right at home. Across from the giant Paul Bunyan is Hollywood Slots. That's where I found myself killing a couple hours before my appointment.
If it's possible to call a casino "quaint" then that's exactly what Hollywood Slots is. The entire gaming floor is about the size of a Denny's. No table games, no fancy sculptures, no fountains, no nothing but a few rows of penny slots. There is a high roller area in the corner with $5 slots. It's been empty both times I've been there. I settled on a bank of Hee Haw slot machines. I guess you could say I'm a niche slots player. I specialize in redneck TV show slots. I did well at the Green Acres machine last time I was there, and at Foxwoods I always play the Dukes of Hazard game (when there isn't a three-deep line to play). At 20 cents a spin, I could kill a couple hours on Hee Haw.
I blew through my first $20 in about 16 minutes.
I got up and wandered over to an Airplane: The Movie machine and lost $10 without even inflating the auto pilot for the bonus round once. Enough of that. I headed for the video poker. Time to cut to the chase. I've been missing poker so much since Black Friday that I'll take whatever I can get. After 30 minutes of exactly break even play, I went back for another crack at Hee Haw. I had $10 to go before I hit the $40 loss limit that I had set for myself. I was a couple spins away from walking out $40 poorer, when I hit eight corn cobs on one spin. Now, for those of you who are not Hee Haw slots aficionados, corn= good. The machine lit up and starting making a loud pleasant chiming sound as it rang up my 20,000 credits.
I sat there staring at the flashing yellow border as the machine slowly tallied up my $200 jackpot. If I had been playing "max bet" ($2 per spin instead of 20 cents), the jackpot would have been $2,200. All the noise had attracted a small crowd, and I knew what was coming next. The ubiquitous lady in every casino with the gigantic "Tootsie" glasses on a chain, and her frequent player card dangling from a curly elastic bungee cord on her hip, came over and asked if I had been playing "max bet." Of course I wasn't, I replied. If you had, it would have been $2,200, she said. After I explained that I was just killing time, not executing a master gambling scheme, she said "Well, you've got to play "max bet" because you don't know when it's going to hit. You just don't know when it's going to hit....." her voice trailed off as she headed into the slots maze with that crazy glazed expression on her face to find the next machine.
You just don't know when it's going to hit.
Truer words were never spoken. I'm beginning to see how these casino places stay in business. I know it would have fallen on deaf ears to explain the simple math that if the bet is 10x bigger, then the jackpot is 10x bigger. Sure, it would've been nice to win the $2,200, but I was really happy with my $200 windfall on a 20 cent bet.
After the machine was done totalling up all of my credits, the weirdest thing of all happened. I saw my hand slowly reach out and deliberately press the "cash out" button. What the hell was I doing?!? The machine was hot! I was playing with house money! I still had an hour to kill before my appointment! Surely, you have to play a little longer and see what happens! I know exactly what happens next, and stop calling me Shirley. I would sit there playing a couple more credits, a couple more credits, a couple more credits, until I had given all the money back. I've done that, and I don't like that feeling. It's way worse than just walking in and losing some money and walking out. Giving back money you've won haunts you something brutal. I decided to stop that pattern, so I cashed my ticket and walked out of the little casino (well, I did drop $10 in a video poker machine on the way out. I'm not totally insane!).
I went to see the room for rent, it looked good, it was dirt cheap, furnished, and everything was included. I told the owners of the house I was interested, and they said they would get back to me soon. I hit the road and drove over the highest point of the Airline Road right at sunset. I could see all the surrounding hills and lakes clearly in the pink dusk. When I got home, there was an email saying I could have the room. Felt like a pretty lucky day all around. Then I remembered that I had a couple scratch tickets I bought at a gas station on my way home. I pulled them out and carefully scratched all the silver off to reveal that I had won............absolutely nothing. Ahhhhh, that's more like it. Sometimes winning too often gives a gambler an ominous feeling.
Time to start the final countdown for my move to Bangor (cue the music).

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I would make a terrible junkie.
Not because I don't like to get loaded. Not because I don't have a Herculean tolerance. Not because I don't like to associate with the fringe elements of society. No, I have all those things in spades.
I'd be a bad junkie because it's impossible to find my veins.
I just spent all morning having four different women in two different locations jab a total of six different needles into me searching for a vein. And they were just trying to draw blood, not even inject sweet sweet Morpheus into me. I used to joke that my fear of needles is the only reason I survived the 90's, but little did I know that even if I had conquered that fear, I still would have had another hurdle to clear on the path to potential junkiedom.
Nurses have always had trouble drawing blood from me, but usually after one or two tries, they hit it. Not today. Today I spent an hour at the doctor's office while a medical student, a nurse, and a nurse's aid fished around in my arms and hands with sharp needles to no avail. They told me I was going to have to go to the hospital so they could try there. When I left the room I had more band aids and cotton balls taped to me than an epileptic after shaving. When I was at the reception desk getting my paperwork, one of the nurses walked by and I pointed to my arm and said "You missed a spot." That killed. The receptionists and even the doc couldn't help cracking up at that one.
I drove over to the hospital and the phlebotomist pro nailed it on the first try. She had a trick involving two tourniquets and a "butterfly" needle. She and her colleague scoffed at the incompetence of the nurses from my doctor's office. I think that was pretty catty though. My veins are tough to find.
I have a new found respect for the junkies I see on the shows Intervention, Relapse, and the movie Dope Sick Love. Once they've abused their bodies long enough, their veins start to collapse, and they have to search forever and end up shooting in their feet, neck, and genitals. No thanks. It was bad enough spending one morning with a needle poking and prodding under my skin searching for pay dirt, let alone doing it every waking hour, every day, for the rest of my life. Ugh. That is a brutal and tough existence.
Besides, it's like my drinking buddy Sean used to say: "If you can't get fucked up enough on booze and weed....then you've got a problem."