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Maine Is Not Part of America and America Is Not Part of the World

Politics / US Politics Oct 10, 2008 - 01:46 AM GMT

By: Michael_T_Bucci

Politics You won't find too many people who understand that bad economic times have arrived in Mid-Coast Maine for the simple reason that they haven't arrived. In this town of 2,000 the last summer was as "normal" as normal could be. I asked local merchants - who outnumber chains in this semi-affluent mix of locals and "Transplants" - how business was this summer? Business was good, everyone says. Busy, busy! Yet, I spot a few vacant storefronts here and there that no one but the town office and me notice. The GM dealer disappeared last year leaving a giant space that the Health Store plans to fill next spring.

Apparently the "credit crunch" has yet to arrive in Mid-Coast Maine. Says one mother: "My daughter (the bank manager) is busy taking home mortgage applications." Another mother explained: "My daughter (who owns a home furnishing store) will start expansion work soon; she didn't have a problem getting a loan, why do you ask?" But my bank manager was grim when I poked in and asked how the DOW was doing that morning three weeks ago. "I'm a cynic," he cautioned me while hardly concealing his fears, anxiety, and anger too. I told him what he couldn't afford to tell himself but knew already: "It's going to get worse!" I drove away seeing him broom sweeping the bank's front pavement despite his executive position and three-piece suit. Wham! (Was it intended for me or for his former employers on Wall Street where he once worked?)

The Banker may be the only person I've met here that isn't renovating their home, buying a new computer, redoing their kitchen, looking to buy a more "fuel efficient" car, and leading the nonchalant lifestyle called normal. But Mr Banker once worked on Wall Street and is, like me, from New Jersey. Later in the day, feeling badly about my approach with him, I sent him a Bloomberg story about nervous up-scale landlords in Jersey City fearing the losses to come from unemployed "Knowledge Workers" set into drifting by the failing, merging and collapsing Wall Street infrastructure. As if to say, "Lucky it isn't you, heh?" But he didn't reply.

"Are you saving your money?" I ask the young beautician. "Yes, I try," she admits showing a failure to do so. But she didn't understand the import of my question thinking it reminded her of the prosaic advice every good prudent parent tells a child, so I advised her to take enough cash out of the bank that would cover her expenses for a month. "Ummm," she responded with an empty look on her face, and so has ever y soul here that has heard me preach. I am the Martian in the strange land to them, especially since I don't come from Maine. Yet, this is to be expected for when I first arrived I was told that a Mainer is born here and preferably can trace an ancestor to the Mayflower. This means I am from New Jersey and always will be from New Jersey, even though I could be a "New Yorker" in a minute. "No," I gladly reply to Mainers, "my family didn't come on the Mayflower, they came on a flying saucer." They believe me.

But Maine is not a part of America and America is not a part of the world, as I insist, so the economy elsewhere to locals is something that is somewhere else and next summer will bring the same tourists and their money as every summer did before. Technically, Maine is rated "in recession", but pocketed affluent coastal communities like Damariscotta and Bar Harbor remain immune. One need only visit neighboring states like New Hampshire or Vermont to chill any false reality, but no one leaves Maine, and many haven't ventured into other parts of the state. Transplants - relocated immigrants from other states - with dreams of rustic retirement-living come here from New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. As I told one lady-Transplant from Connecticut who was spending to renovate her kitchen, "you don't know the real Maine, you are insulated by your money." I avoided speaking to her in February about the coming economic times for I did so with another lady-Transplant from California who is sending a child into a $48,000 per year Ivy College and whose business is nationally franchised. "We've gone through recessions before," she shrugged, "it didn't affect things much".

"Have you saved to heat your home this winter?" I've asked locals who scrape for minimum wage. "Oh, I thought about it." The Federal Housing inspector who visited me in July more than thought about it for he entered telling me of Mainers "up North" who won't be able to afford propane or K2 this winter. "Vincent," I replied, "you, I can tell." From there I began an outline that only a veteran police officer could swallow and consider. "I want you to study how people survived Maine 120 years ago," I began. "How did they eat? How did they cook and heat their homes? What did they grow?" Officer Vincent, like others in distant northern states far from Maine, listened, but most look askance to hide their reaction of this Martian who speaks in polysyllabic tongues. In truth, and tragically, I now speak to no one in Maine about the economy.

I can always tell when someone is not a Mainer because they can pronounce my last name. Not one Mainer has in my over eight years here been able to pronounce it. I help them, "It is pronounced like G-U-C-C-I or P-U-C-C-I," I explain. Not a one hasn't replied, "Who?" And it is so true of the retired dairy farmer. "Well, they can't hide it any longer," he boasted to me last week on the phone. I could barely distinguish his voice from the voices blasting behind him from a TV. "I remember what you said to me in January." What he means is that CNN and CBS News finally have given major time to covering the "financial meltdown" - this in October, nine months after our conversation. Like many Mainers, he knows best and wouldn't believe it wasn't the work of the Devil until a news anchor says it wasn't. On the other hand, he also would wait to see live TV Action Cam shots of his neighbor's adjoining apartment on fire before thinking it might threaten him. "Did you tell your friend to cash out and put his money in Treasuries?" I queried. "He says he has an accountant take care of things." "Well, then there's nothing you can do," I replied.

My question has become one of physical survival too in a state that is most northern and most cold, and intensely energy dependent. The delivery days of Meals-On-Wheels has been reduced to two days a week because of "the price of gas", said the memo. But for well to do volunteers driving Volvos and Hybrids, the added cost of $1 would not be noticed, I argued. Nevertheless, services have been drastically reduced leaving many homebound people hungry. A Meals-On-Wheels meal in Maine is offered for a $3.50 donation, while in New Jersey it remains $1.25. A Democratic Governor and Legislature sliced Home Care services for the elderly and disabled to six hours a month, as well as medical transport services in a state that has no public transportation. These came when the DOW was nearing 15,000. Historically, Maine and Vermont were the only two states to withdraw support for the New Deal in 1933. This time around, no doubt Maine will do so again, but Vermont clearly not. Is it safe to remain in Maine?

"Where have you been?" I asked the cashier at a small local market, "I haven't seen you". Small talk in a small town in Maine is short but not without human meaning. "Well, my husband pulled a surprise," she gleamed. "For our twenty-fifth Anniversary, he took us to Disneyland!" She caught me off guard as I held my breath and tongue while my mind added the costs of airfare, hotel room, meals, entertainment and gifts for family and friends. They spent thousands and thousands when the DOW is threatening to dip into the 9000s? They spent thousands when I just withdrew enough cash for two months and probably was the first Transplant to start a "silent bank run" in this community? Doesn't she even read the newspaper or watch Katie Couric interviews? That's the least she could do, I insisted (under my breath). Disneyland? My God, she lives in Disneyland! Instead, having been trained in public relations, I smiled back and replied, "Very nice".

"That's because of Congress, they won't give the President what he needs," scolded my upstairs eighty year old neighbor the night the House rejected the bail-out bill. I don't own a television to witness propaganda first-hand, so I figured the networks were doing Washington's dirty work again of targeting blame. Together with a blue-blood Republican I know, "Congress" again has become their whipping boy since both Houses have Democrat majorities. But if I ask either of them the simplest explanation of the bail-out bill, who they think is being bailed-out, and who is going to pay for it, there is not a glimmer. In short, they respect "authority". So too Americans; they have become "stand in line, keep your mouth shut, and do what you're told" people.

Come next summer I will ask the retailers again, "How is business?" I might hear the same reply, "Busy! Good! Why do you ask?" At that, I will have confirmed that Maine is not part of America, that the locals who keep to themselves and towns, together with the Transplants who are here to escape other Northeastern states had the right notion of things all along. It is just this dumb Martian who thinks things are really bad.

On the one hand, if it is true that seeing-is-believing and what is seen is normalcy, why not believe it to be normal? It is! On the other hand, if it is also true that believing-is-seeing, then if I really, really, really try as hard as I possibly can, maybe, just maybe, I can make it all better and see it all better by believing it is all better. Which is it, Mainers? Is it really normal here? Or did everyone just make it normal by make believe? Or is it both?

As I said, Maine is not part of America and America is not part of the world. And after eight-plus years in Maine, I ask: Where am I? And after sixty-one years in America, I ask: Where am I?

And this is how things should be. Perfect.

By Michael T Bucci

Michael T Bucci is a retired public relations executive from New Jersey now residing in Maine. He has authored nine books on practical spirituality including "White Book: Cerithous"

    © 2008 Copyright Michael T Bucci - All Rights Reserved
    Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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