Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Something’s Gotta Give

Peter and I came to Maine because it was time. We were miserable where we were. We examined every other possibility and we decided, for a variety of perfectly sensible—and a few more intuitive—reasons that Maine was the place to be for now.

Our plan hinged on a few things, however. The most essential was the weather. Second to that: a job for Peter.

We have been here now for three weeks living in a small camper on my father’s lawn. Part one of the plan was to live rent-free in this manner, the upside of living in a tiny, awkward space was that we could enjoy a Maine summer while also getting Peter out of debt and saving toward a home of our own. We would barbecue on the deck and swim every afternoon. It would be great.

Those of you who live in mid-coast Maine are already laughing a rueful laugh. For those of you who don’t know: it’s raining. It doesn’t matter when you read this—today, tomorrow, next Thursday, September—it will still be raining. It’s rained almost every day since it stopped snowing and the forecast for the next ten days? Rain. In fact, the forecast for the foreseeable future? Rain. Having almost entirely given up any real hope of summer, I am now beginning to tiptoe toward the genuinely dreadful thought of what this precipitation will mean when the temperature drops. Do you have any idea how much snow ten inches of rain translates into? Or what life is like here if it snows day after day after day for months? Especially if you didn’t get a chance to regroup in the warmth of summer? It’s a thought so horrifying that I can’t even think about it. I start to…but when I get close, I turn and run away. That door must stay closed for now or I’ll never make it.

As though you hadn’t heard, the recession is also making it hard to find work, even here, where we thought old family and friend connections and the boom of a summer economy would mean at least temporary or part-time work for Peter.

We were wrong.

And, maybe worst of all: the camper smells. I have tried everything. Baking soda. Vacuuming. Spraying various potions both natural and chemical, which claim to remove odors of all sorts from fabric. Almost every inch of the interior of the damn thing is covered in this terrible, scratchy brownish/tan fabric from 1986. We don’t keep smelly trash, dirty dishes, recycling, or dirty laundry inside. I run a HEPA filter 24x7. Essential oils are diffused, windows are opened, and litter box deposits (and twice daily wet food leftovers) are whisked away so quickly our stunned Norman cat can only stand looking dazed as his whiskers blow back in my wake.

We’ve washed all our bedding and doused it in fabric softener. We keep shoes locked away. But nothing, I fear, nothing can save me from this smell. (Where is it coming from??)

What is truly problematic about this is that because I work from home (which makes this move possible—hurray!) I have to sit in that smell all day when it’s too wet or too cold to work outside (boo!).

I could go work inside at my dad’s—or impose on friends or family—but there are a couple of problems with this. One is that it’s inconvenient. The other is that, apart from foul odors, faithful friends and readers of my blog know that noise unsettles me. You might say it has the potential to destroy me. And even when my dad’s house is completely empty (which is rare given that a teenager, a teacher, and a retiree with a vicious, barky dog also live there), the house itself makes unbearable noises. Like today, I sought refuge in the empty house only to be driven back out again by a loud and creepy repetitive noise coming from the freezer. It sounded like the creaks a big ship makes. (Peter said that’s called “delisting,” so at least I learned a new word today.)

While this place is a huge improvement over the horror that was Hampton Terrace, locals know that the traffic on the Upper Falls Road is constant and fast-paced. The deceptively rural and unassuming road, green and lovely, bordered by blueberry fields, the tail end of a lake, forests, and a few quiet homes, is a pass-through for all manner of vehicle, from passenger cars to large delivery trucks to rumbling farm equipment, racing to or from Route 1 and Route 46. I was warned about the noise, but after the booming bass, shrieking hordes of unwelcome children, and the chainsaws—oh, gawd, the chainsaws!—at our previous address, I really thought…how bad could it be?

It turns out, it can be pretty bad. I know this because even Peter is bothered and he slept for four years on an aircraft carrier in a tiny metal “bed” beneath fighter jets taking off and landing. (Don’t even get me started on how bad the sleeping accommodations are…that’s probably a whole other blog, but suffice to say…we are both tired and sore.)

Today, despite the gray skies and high humidity, it wasn’t actually raining when I got up, so when I just couldn’t take the stink of the camper any more, I carted all my work junk out to the picnic table, dried it off, and went to work. But the rush of wheels on pavement recurred just often enough and just loud enough that I couldn’t get my work done. I was trying to watch an informative video about a product I’m reviewing, but whenever a car passed, it drowned out my audio, even on the loudest setting.

I finally packed up and went into the house. But then the delisting freezer—and the arrival back home of grandpa and dog—drove me back outside.

Which is how I’ve come to be here, on the back porch, listening to the soothing hum of the hot tub and the gentle swish of the breeze through the trees—and trying to ignore the dog that’s been barking for the last hour and, of course, the traffic.

I haven’t mentioned that for most of these three weeks, I’ve also been starving. Finding dairy-free, gluten-free, semi-vegetarian food in this burg is a project. Take out is an impossibility. I drove all the way to Bangor just to get some microwaveable Amy’s meals—at Target. And the cat throws up at least twice a week, sometimes twice a day. And for a while he had a diarrhea so pungent it brought tears to my eyes and woke me several nights from a rare and precious deep sleep.

Like the icing on our cake, for several days, the septic system was also blocked up—turns out it was a tree branch, not Peter (phew!)—so we had to commute three miles each way to my brother’s whenever we needed to poo or bathe. (Good thing we have our own house key!)

On the up-side, our expenses are minimal. I can hug my niece and my nephew whenever I want. There’s a weird little yoga class on what used to be the stage at my elementary school twice a week. And Peter’s not being at work means that today, when I was absolutely on the brink, he washed the stinky cat dishes, took out the trash, found our missing plate and bowl, hugged me, got the mail, and drove to the grocery store for two different kinds of air freshener—keep hope alive!—and the ingredients for my favorite meal, which he is now cooking.

I will finish this review, dammit, despite the traffic noise and my hunger and fatigue (you’ll be able to read it later at<==plug). I will eat a delicious lunch, which will improve things greatly. Later, we will look at houses with our realtor (who is the first boy I ever spent a Valentine’s Day with) and then we will return home, to spray the air with our new cans of Fabreeze and settle in for the next installment of Torchwood on our tiny, satellite-equipped TV (god bless my father for making that happen). We may even take a dip in the hot tub.

That is, of course, if I don’t just refuse to leave whatever house we look at last…

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to Tom, Excerpt


...perhaps I am a few years behind you in a parallel cycle? having cast
off the burdens of an address and stowed essentials in a storage unit,
I am living now in an RV, with cat and boy. in Maine. on the same land
I first lived on with my parents in the early 70s. i stood at the end
of this driveway and waited for the bus to kindergarten. I walked in
these blueberry fields and thought I was Sal. I lost my favorite kite
in this sky to this wind. and at the age of five I ran away from home
and sought my fortune down this steep and dangerous road (resentfully
returned by my mother's best friend's teenage son, Johnny, who found
me in the woods--and killed himself a few years ago).

i write you a long e-mail because I cannot help it. It feels good. I
know you haven't time to respond, barely time to read, but I expect
you won't mind if I pour some thoughts into your glass anyway.

with loving love and some curiosity about what happens next. and many
good wishes for burning man, and the hope that you will not stay away
so long this time, i am yours,

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: You Can't Get There From Here

Peter and I have a joke that he doesn't pay attention to his surroundings. When I say "joke," what I really mean is that he doesn't pay attention to his surroundings--and this drives me crazy because he never knows where anything is, including himself--but since it is, I have come to accept, an irrevocable truth of his personality, we have decided that we can laugh about it rather than fight about it.

Today, we were starving and didn't feel like cooking, and he was going out to pick up our mail at my Dad's anyway (we're housesitting this week), so we decided he'd pick up a pizza for a late lunch/early dinner kind of thing. Given the aforementioned lack of awareness, you can imagine that I had some trepidation about sending him the three miles to Snowman's alone, but he said he could do it.

I had him recite to me the directions from Dad's place on the Upper Falls Road over to Snowman's.

"You just go out to that main road and then when it gets to the place where it bends, you go that way and then it'll come up on the right next to that fried food place," he said.


"Okay, well. Yes. Although, like I said, it's across the street from Crosby's. And..." (And I can't believe you still call Route 1 "that main road there) "And..."

I hesitated to mention it, but I just hated that he was going to go that way when there was a way I thought was shorter. And easier. And would take him past the golf course, which he had just that day asked about.

So, I said, "...And there's actually a faster way? You could, instead of going out to Route 1, just come back this way. And, instead of turning sharp right at that house we like, to go up to the Russell Hill Road, you just keep going straight. You'll pass the golf course and then Snowman's will come up on your left."

"Really...?" He seemed skeptical, but willing.

"Yes!" I was excited that he wanted to branch out, learn a new way. He's usually resistant. "Yes. You just don't take that turn and you'll come to a stop sign and bear left and just stay on it 'til you come to Snowman's."

"Okay!" he said. And left.

An hour later I was half worried he'd had car trouble and didn't have a phone--and was also about ready to eat my own fist--when he rolled in the door with a cold pizza and a story about going to Holden.

"HOLDEN?" I said, flabbergasted. "You went to Holden?"

"I took a few wrong turns."

"I should say so."

He explained that he had gone the way he knew to get to Snowman's from my Dad's (out to "that main road"), but that he tried to follow my directions to get home.

"But, honey, I gave you directions TO Snowman's from Dad's, not FROM Snowman's to here...You were practically in Brewer."

"I know..." he said. "I realized I'd gone the wrong way when I saw the sign that said 'Brewer 8 miles."

We laughed. How could we not?

"I can't believe you drove to Holden. From Snowman's."

He's such a sweetheart, though, he didn't eat the pizza while he was driving all that way.

"At least it was a nice, scenic drive," he said. "Until you get to Holden. No one's fixed the roads there since the seventies."

"I know! That's because no one goes to Holden," I said.

The rest of our big plan for the evening was to go see The Proposal at the Alamo. We've been looking forward to it all week. We thought we'd outsmart the crowds by seeing it on a Wednesday night. But, I called ahead to confirm the showtime only to learn that it appears to have only shown over the weekend. No shows during the week. Sigh.

The pre-recorded voice that told me the show times I'd missed was my friend Jane's. We went to high school together and she runs the theater or something now. (Jane once convinced me to jump out of a moving vehicle because it was a standard and she didn't know how to start again once she stopped. Tip: 5 mph is actually a faster rate at which to hit the ground than you might think.)

It was so delightful to hear her sweet Mainer voice, even though I just saw her last week, that I actually listened to her dash my evening plans, then went back to the main menu and listened to her do it again.

So, it turns out that my dinner was cold, Peter still doesn't know how to get to Snowman's from here--or more importantly, back--but he does know how to get to Holden, should the need ever arise. We can't go see a movie without driving to Bangor or Ellsworth tonight, which Peter already practically did, and oh--P.S.--a large is a medium at Snowman's. If you want a large, you have to order a "Family."

So, we're still hungry. But we are, each in our own way, learning (or relearning) the ropes around here. And he did manage to get the mail, so, even as comparatively remote as our life is here, two new Netflix discs found their way to us, quite rapidly, in fact. So, we'll add The Proposal to our Netflix queue when it comes out and tonight we enjoy...Paul Blart: Mall Cop instead.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Extra! Extra!

I love reading our local weekly paper, The Enterprise. A few days after arriving, I actually found myself sitting on the couch experiencing tears of joy after reading a front page news story about how the (only) stop light in town was listing to the south. Orange safety cones were reported as being imminent.

While I may quickly tire of small town life, for now, there is something so unbelievably sweet to me about the fact that when the stop light leans one way or the other, it is undeniably front page news.

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Tales from Rural Maine: Run!

On the down side, I walked down to check the mail and not only had it not come yet, but I got attacked by one of those large and unreasonably aggressive horseflies; on the up side, I sprinted for the first time since I severed my ACL two years ago and it turns out, I can still do it--and for a fair distance. My top speed is just slightly more than a horsefly's. Take that you freaking horsenightmare!

As the horsefly launched its attack and I began waiving my arms wildly around my head, an old lady nearby stood inside her screen door and held a flyswatter menacingly. "You want a piece of that?!" she yelled.

I would have, actually, but it turned out she was talking to her four barking dachshunds.

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