Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vacation, Part II: Why I Love Maine

(Sign off Route 1 near Wiscasset)

Actually, I'm going to start with an analogy.

Back in college, my friend Paige made an observation to myself and a couple other Santa Cruzers (all women), about how San Francisco lesbians weren't fun because they lacked irony. Now, this was 1999, before a "post-ironic post-9/11 America," before "gay" became a ubiquitous pejorative for anything remotely embarrassing.

This was circa dyed blonde fringe crew cuts and homemade yogurt. Circa the induction of a lesbian chancellor to the UCSC; circa a lesbian attacked and killed by dobermans bred to do exactly that; circa a San Francisco without a WNBA team (which sadly still persists). It was no wonder SF lezes were ostensibly un-ironic.

Anyway, Paige's point was that these Bay Area lesbians were no fun. All seriousness. No sense of humor. Her gang of lady-lovers, by dint of proximity, was having a positive riot making fun of those oh so serious womyn-izers just north on PCH. By the end of that night's conversation, I was rolling on the floor laughing about shit I did not understand at all.

And that's exactly what Maine is like for me, as a proximate observer. Maine is un-ironic to the point where I am just gonna have to pull some easy punches here and make fun of them like so many poor San Francisco dykes. I hope you will understand these jokes better than I had those "Berkeley is an anagram for 'bad klitoris'" zingers. [Still not sure I get this one, but it's always fun to make fun of Berkeley.]

Let me start with the hair salons of Maine.

Coastal Maine, for some reason, is rich with hair salons. Not barber shops... Hair salons. But if I had a penny for every "A Cut Above" or "Maine-ly Cuts" or any other hackneyed play on tried and true tried expression, I could afford to get a bleached fringe crew cut once a week for the rest of my life.

This "play on words" pathology is a resonant theme throughout Maine downtowns. I guess it's hard to avoid. "Maine" is about as self-confident a state name as you can have, and the easiest to to dress up. Mainely Bagels. Mainely Yarn. Maine Manes. Et cetera, et ceterBAARF.

This brings me to advertising.

Now, if you've driven through New England, you know that 80% of advertising on billboards is for some kind of cancer treating hospital. I'm not trying to make light of cancer, but I swear to god that after 6 hours on Route 95 you will wish you had it.

Driving through Massachussets (I know I'm mis-spelling it. Leave me alone.) is a real test on your fortitude. Pictures of hairless children with gap-toothed smiles... advertising hospitals. Handsome older women, hands proudly planted into their hips, wearing shirts that say things like, "Fuck you, Breast Cancer. Suck on this!"

In Southern California the billboards advertise strip clubs and the Yellow Pages.

Well, in Maine, there is a "no billboard" law. That's right. No billboards. No obnoxious signage. That's why you get miniature blue traffic signs for places with names like "A Cut Above," "Maineiac Psychiatrics" and "God Damariscotta Methodist Church." The biggest "billboard" you'll see is a hand-painted sheet of plywood leaned up against an electric pole advertising heavy-duty tarp or firewood for sale, and the occasional birthday party down a dirt road.

I'm fairly convinced this is why graphic design in Maine categorically sucks. There's no native advertising tradition!

[Just so I'm not making Mainemies though, let me state that Maine has several things going for it that excel beyond the rest of THE WORLD. And in terms of design, that includes landscaping and interior architecture. I will need a whole other blog posting on just praising the garden and home designs.]

Lastly, there is the whole issue of Mainers being verbose.

Those who know me, know that my penchant for plays on words and verbosity are actually two of my greatest virtues/vices. This is where I invoke the Paige-amendment. My loquacity is more clever. Trust me. (I mean, you have to trust me unless you have the guts to drive through the hall of cancer-mirrors to Maine yourself.)

I'd mentioned advertising in New England, but in a billboard-less Maine, instead of pictures of post-leukemic children, you get radio advertising. Horrendously emotionally gut-wrenching advertising of children (always children. Exploitative!) saying how glad they are to see another Christmas or Red Sox game. It's really the only time I've thought radio advertising really works. I have no idea what St. Jerome's wants from me, but if I am ever an 8-year old with leukemia, goddammit I'm going there.

One of my favorite ads though, went something like this:

Not all superheroes wear costumes. Some of them wear T-shirts. Some of them wear jeans and sweaters. They wear sneakers and dresses and sometimes jackets. They will even wear duck shoes if they have to wade through mud. Sometimes they'll wear underwear more than two days in a row, but usually they freeball...

I'm exaggerating but you get the point. The ad finally continues after listing L.L. Bean's entire wardrobe.

The superheroes I'm talking about are the boys and girls who've survived leukemia. Their courage and tenacity beats leukemia with the help of (Insert name of saint) Hospital.

Then there's this gem. It's a free boating weekly. "The Boating Magazine for Coastal New England"... Free! And it's about the best thing I read during my whole trip.

I don't know what I was expecting when I picked this thing up, but each article is written like it was meant to stay in a catalog of congress. But again, Mainers are sometimes verbose to the point of missing the whole point of modern, CONCISE rhetoric:

I was not naive enough to believe that I could just show up at the border in a 32-foot recreational sailboat loaded with water-sample bottles, strange-looking instruments lashed in the cockpit, racks of chemicals on a small lab bench over the quarter-berth and not expect some problems.

Verbatim, folks. I love this. I love that I have no clue what the hell he's talking about but the way he uses "I wasn't naive enough to believe..." followed by a bevy of clear experts-only-information, just about made me laugh all my fried clams to a chowder.

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