Friday, January 27, 2023

Insight: Laughter worth remembering

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


Through the years, my relationship with my mother was somewhat confusing as she could be highly supportive yet also one of my fiercest critics. I could be on top of the world one minute, but a raised eyebrow or caustic remark from her could bring me crashing back to reality.

Harriett Pierce would have turned 100 on
Jan. 29, 2023. She died at age 95 in 2018.
COURTESY PHOTO
There’s a lot of ground to explore about my relationship with Harriett Pierce, but since she passed away at age 95 in August 2018, I am focusing on the more positive aspects of the time I spent with her and her quirky sense of humor.

One of her final remaining goals was to make it to her 100th birthday and she fell a bit short. Therefore, in remembrance of her big day on Jan. 29, 2023, here’s a few anecdotes about my mother that make me laugh to this day.

As my mother got older, her vision decreased significantly because of macular degeneration. She could no longer see to drive and surrendered her driver’s license at 84. Although saddled with declining vision, she remained in her own home and would spend her afternoons in her living room listening to Oprah Winfrey on a small 13-inch portable television set.

One day I stopped by her house on my way home from work. I wanted to see if she needed anything from the store or if there was a household chore that she wanted me to do for her. When I told her that, she told me she wanted me to scrub out her bathtub with bleach.

I had just spent the day at work and was still wearing what I normally wore to my job at the newspaper in the 1990s, which was a short-sleeve dress shirt and some nice dress pants. The shirt was an expensive Polo brand from Tommy Hilfiger that I had recently purchased.

Not wanting to get my work clothes dirty, I told her that I was going to go home and change and come right back to do what she wanted. She told me that I didn’t need to do that because my shirt already had a paint blotch on it and wasn’t worth saving.

The “paint blotch” she was referring to happened to be the Polo “Jockey” designer emblem imprinted on my shirt, which from the perspective of her blurred vision, had turned my dress shirt into attire suitable for cleaning her bathtub.

Then there was the time when a family friend was visiting Florida from our hometown in New York state. He had moved to the U.S. from England in the early 1960s and worked with my father as a mechanical engineer at Xerox Corporation.

This friend had brought my mother a book he wrote about his experiences as a child growing up in England during World War II. He had self-published the book, which was about 100 pages filled with stories about his life as a schoolboy in Great Britain.

My mother invited my wife Nancy and I over to dinner with the author and during the meal, she asked me to tell him about my work as a daily newspaper reporter. I shared with him how I had to develop and write typically three or four 750-word articles for each day’s edition as assigned by my editors and that included obtaining interviews with newsmakers and sports stars, researching topics and verifying facts, all within the span of my eight-hour workday.

I mentioned to him some of the important topics that I had covered during my career which included space launches, political campaigns, murders, tragic accidents, deadly fires, airplane crashes, and missing people. I also explained to him what was required to put some of those articles together and the steps I had to take to ensure the story was well-rounded and objective and featured varying viewpoints.

When I finished describing my duties as a daily newspaper reporter to the author, my mother turned to me and said to me that I should pay close attention to what our friend had to say.

“He’s a real writer,” she told everyone. “He’s written a book.”

As I did a slow burn, my wife pinched my arm, sensing my frustration with her remark. Years later, we still laugh about that one.

Her taste in men also was questionable. Once after my father died, she called me up, excited about a dentist who had asked her out for breakfast.

When I didn’t hear back from her later that week, I called and asked her how her date went. She told me she was disappointed.

“He asked me out for breakfast and picked me up and we drove and parked by the river,” she said. “Then he reached into the glove box and pulled out a brown paper bag that had two bagels in it. On the floor by the back seat, he had a thermos with coffee in it and two styrofoam cups. It was his idea of going out for breakfast.”

Trying to figure out my mother has always been a challenge for me, but to pay tribute to her on the occasion of her 100th birthday, I can say she was truly one of a kind. <

Andy Young: What’s your towel’s name?

By Andy Young

There are some really strange people out there these days, as I was discussing with Orphanzo recently on our morning commute.

Orphanzo (or one of his Textilian brethren) often accompanies me to the gym, traveling inside a duffel bag along with two socks, some fresh underwear, a reasonably respectable shirt, and occasionally some wristbands, in case I’m anticipating a more-strenuous-than-usual workout before hitting the showers.

Orphanzo got his name because he’s an orphan of sorts. Some time ago while I was out walking, I took a shortcut through the high school athletic fields near where I live. There’d been a game there the previous evening; I could tell by all the rubbish that had been strewn on the ground.

After filling the plastic bag I had stashed in my right pocket with litter (because who doesn’t carry a plastic bag when they go walking?), I headed over to a trash can. And that’s when I glimpsed a heart-wrenching sight: a soaking-wet, reasonably new-looking, dirt-stained blue-green towel on the front row of the bleachers, looking desperately lonely. With the possible exception of a deserted single glove or shoe, nothing’s sadder than an abandoned towel.

I immediately unfolded my other plastic bag, the one I had stashed in my left pocket (because who doesn’t carry two plastic bags when they go walking?), squeezed out the towel, gently placed it inside the bag, and brought it home. One laundering later it came out looking fresh as an aqua daisy. I subsequently did all the required paperwork, then legally adopted and christened him.

Most of my towels have names. Thick, yellow “Frenchy Lemieux” was acquired for a dollar at a yard sale run by the local French immersion school. “JDM” is a still-lush blue-and-white model with ducks on it; it was my daughter’s favorite when she was little. (The JDM stands for Joe “Ducky” Medwick, a Hall of Fame baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Boston Braves in the 1930’s and 40’s.) “Balls McGee” has baseballs, soccer balls, basketballs, and footballs printed on him; he’s named for an expression a college-era friend would exclaim from time to time when he needed to verbally register shock, delight, frustration, awe, or some combination of those things. Balls has a little brother, a washcloth I christened “Little Balls,” a name my immature children found (and in some cases continue to find) amusing for reasons I still struggle to understand.

Other towels in my closet have personal designations reflecting their appearance, including Brownie, Blue Boy, Whitey Ford (named for the former New York Yankee pitcher), and Mr. Green (one of the “Clue” suspects).

And I probably should mention “Bubbles Hawkins,” “Le Quebecois,” “Wally World,” and “Striper, no Striping” as well, although limited space prevents me from going into the derivations of their names.

Not every towel gets to come to the gym with me. The thin ones that are more like squeegees than bath towels, like “KHS Class of 2009” (so named because that’s what’s printed on it) and “Maple Leaf” (a thin terry cloth Canadian flag), stay home, where they perform mop-up duties from time to time.

I was once asked if I had a favorite towel, and of course I don’t. I’d no sooner declare a preference for a particular resident of my linen closet than I would designate a favorite child from amongst my trio of offspring.

I’ve also been asked if my shirts have names. What a dumb question. Obviously, they don’t.

Only a really strange person would name a shirt and then have conversations with it. <

Friday, January 20, 2023

Insight: Stuck in the 1960s

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


As a proud card-carrying member of the Baby Boomer Generation, I refuse to surrender to trends popular right now with members of subsequent populations of Generation X, Millennials and Generations Y, Z and Alpha.

These trends are on display every time I visit the grocery store or thumb through magazines in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

For the record, Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, while Generation X is classified as having been born between 1965 and 1980 and Millennials falling between 1981 and 1996.

Despite the fact Baby Boomers were surpassed in 2019 by Millennials as the largest living adult generation on earth, I refuse to purchase some products and services now embraced by that generation.

Take soap, for instance. I still prefer to purchase bars of soap for the shower instead of liquid body wash. Discounting the argument that bar soap is a breeding ground for bacteria and dehydrates the skin, bars of soap certainly last longer than bottles of body wash and are more economical in my opinion.

If you look at the label of a bar of soap compared to body wash or shower gel, there appears to be less ingredients in a bar of soap, and bar soap is priced much more inexpensively than body wash.

Lately though I’ve noticed that the display space in stores for bar soap appears to be shrinking while the available selection of body wash and shower gels is expanding. There’s an abundant offering of body washes in fragrant scents of orange blossom, jasmine, coconut, eucalyptus, Moroccan sunflower, peony, and rose oil and seemingly include every body lotion known to modern man.

Meanwhile, packs of Irish Spring, Safeguard, Dial, Coast, Lever and Dove are relegated to lowly positions on the bottom shelf.

Being traditionalists and Baby Boomers, members of my household remain solidly in the camp of bar soap and to this point have avoided alternative choices.

Then there’s the question of condensed soup versus the so-called regular soup. Once again, being a Baby Boomer and somewhat nostalgic for life growing up in the 1960s, I prefer to purchase condensed soup cans while shopping as opposed to some of the newer, lavish types of soups available.

When I was young, my mother would fix my brother and I some bowls of Campbell’s Tomato Soup during the colder winter months for lunch and it was usually paired with one of her grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes she would let me help her open the cans of condensed soup with a hand-cranked can opener, or if she had already opened the cans, she’d let me fill the can with water to add to the condensed soup mix inside.

When she went shopping, she happened to choose Campbell’s products and our pantry was always filled with cans of Campbell’s Tomato, Bean and Bacon, Chicken Noodle, Vegetable Beef and Vegetable condensed soups. As an adult setting up my own home in the 1970s, I followed suit and would choose Campbell’s condensed soups when shopping.

About the same time that I was finishing up college in the 1970s, Campbell’s introduced a new “Chunky” line of soups, and the product line steadily grew in popularity among shoppers.

The new “Chunky” soup was not condensed and was advertised for shoppers as “the soup that eats like a meal” and featured the simple instruction of “heat and serve” with no water needing to be added.

“Chunky” flavors originally included Chunky Beef, Chunky Turkey, Chunky Chicken and Chunky Vegetable, but the brand really took off when it became the “Official Soup of the NFL” and included favorites such as Sirloin Burger and Creamy Clam Chowder.

Other non-condensed soup brands, such as Progresso, followed suit and began selling a complete line of “heat and eat” soups, making condensed soups less relevant. Today many store shelves are loaded with numerous “heat and eat” soups and I confess I enjoy them from time to time, but I continue to purchase Campbell’s condensed soups most of time when I’m shopping.

I’ve also noticed that shelf space is declining for jars of chunky peanut butter lately. My wife and I greatly prefer chunky style peanut butter to smooth, but newer brands of “natural” smooth peanut butter seem to be selling.

I grew up by spreading Peter Pan, Skippy, or Jif brands of chunky peanut butter on slices of bread, but in the 21st century, millennials are opting for more organic, honey sweetened, unsalted, or preservative-free types of peanut butter.

There’s always going to be a difference in preference when it comes to foods, but a couple of months ago, I read an article online that detailed how some millennials and increasing members of Generations Y, Z and Alpha greatly prefer adding other substances to basic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The article revealed how preferences for PBJ sandwiches in school lunchboxes suggest adding thick slabs of bacon, cherry tomatoes or buffalo mozzarella cheese are now par for the course for younger generations over just a plain combination of bread, peanut butter and jelly.

My personal preferences have developed over a lifetime of eating and shopping and I’m sticking to them.<



Andy Young: Buy local (but read the label)

By Andy Young

Like most currently breathing people who wish to stay alive for the foreseeable future, I consume food on a regular basis. But since not everything I like to eat grows on literal or figurative trees, periodically I sojourn down to the grocery store to purchase edible items for my family and myself.

Several factors need consideration before I visit the supermarket, and one is price. Like everyone else who doesn’t have a trust fund, or who isn’t a successful counterfeiter, I have a limited budget, so if name-brand Rice Chex are $4 a box and the generic variety goes for $2.50, well, we’ll be breakfasting on Toasted Rice (or possibly Rice Squares, depending on which store I’m in) for a while.

But there are expenses involved with food shopping that go well beyond dollars and cents.

Buying local is important, since money spent in one’s own backyard goes into the pockets of those who run nearby farms, dairies, and orchards, and ultimately ends up back in the local economy.

The alternative, while sometimes nominally cheaper, comes with hidden costs, like contributing to the planet’s warming thanks to all the noxious substances emitted by the trucks, planes, and boats necessary to move products across the country and/or ocean.

Besides, who wants to subsidize ski villas, tropical island paradises, and the luxury yachts and aircraft necessary to commute between them for already obscenely overcompensated CEOs? Or, for that matter, who wants to bankroll their less fortunate corporate brethren, those who can afford several ski villas or multiple island homes, but not both?

That said, it’s not always easy to buy local. Try as I might, I can't find any Maine-grown pineapple, or any delicious New England-grown bananas, for that matter.

Something else I do before purchasing anything edible is to read the product’s label, a task that gets more challenging with each passing year. I hope that’s because manufacturers are making the print on the labels smaller but fear it’s due to a less desirable scenario: my own declining eyesight. One rule of thumb I religiously adhere to: if there are more than three unpronounceable ingredients listed on a product’s label, I’m not buying it.

Some labels contain information too intriguing to ignore. A good example of this is Trader Joe’s Harvest Hodgepodge, a 16-ounce bag of frozen vegetables. The ingredients (listed here, verbatim, in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS because that’s how Trader Joe prints them) are: BROCCOLI FLORETS, JULIENNE SLICED CARROTS, RED PEPPER STRIPS, ONION STRIPS, SUGAR SNAP PEAS, SLICED MUSHROOMS, BABY CUT COB CORN, SLICED WATER CHESTNUTS.

Also on the label is the following information: Product of USA, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Vietnam, and Thailand.

It doesn’t specify which vegetable(s) come from which country, though, which leads educated consumers like myself to wonder exactly what it is we’re getting. Are these Vietnamese water chestnuts, Belgian snap peas, Canadian carrots, and American onions? And if so, what came from Thailand and Mexico? Or are these Mexican onions, Belgian mushrooms, and Thai red pepper strips? What if America’s only contribution is those lousy julienne sliced carrots? And most mystifying of all, how can eight vegetables from six different countries get flash-frozen, bunched together, and still cost less than a box of Toasted Rice cereal?

So, did I buy a bag of Trader Joe’s Harvest Hodgepodge? You better believe I did! Getting a nutritious mixture of eight different frozen vegetables from a trio of continents for under $2 is the sort of bargain one doesn’t find every day.

Besides, since one of the vegetable-providing countries is the USA, I can honestly say I’m buying local. <

Friday, January 13, 2023

Insight: An epiphany of sorts

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


I’m marking down Jan. 6, 2023 as a momentous day when I had an epiphany regarding personal frustration and my emotions. A light bulb came on for me that day that I’m going to try and use going forward when dealing with stressful situations.

That afternoon, my wife informed me that she had apparently purged her resume from her iMac and that she might need to create a new one if she chooses to apply for a job in the future.

Being the problem-solver that I am, I was confident that her resume wasn’t lost and could be found hiding somewhere on her computer, either in the Documents folder or possibly located in her email. She told me that in purging files from her computer, she must have also gotten rid of her resume too and if I couldn’t find it for her, it was no big deal.

She’s not as experienced on the computer as I am, and it has sometimes created a little bit of friction between us when I have tried to explain to her how to perform simple functions such as cut and paste into a document or how to bookmark a topic she might want to save to revisit in the future.

In the past, I’ve been apprehensive to look at her computer because she’s keenly aware that I get flustered when trying to help and can feel myself raising my voice and am easily irritated by computer issues.

My first step was examining her Documents folder, but to find out how to get there, I had to overlook her computer screen which contained about 40 downloaded articles and many saved photographs and other items. It was so packed with icons I had a hard time navigating there.

I was able to locate the Documents folder eventually and her resume was not there. A search of her incoming and outgoing email revealed it wasn’t there either. Nothing I attempted worked and I finally decided her resume had been purged permanently from that computer.

However, I had another idea. About five years ago when my wife started using the iMac, I had moved her old PC to the basement where it sat gathering dust. I brought it upstairs, hooked up the tower, the monitor, the mouse, and the keyboard and plugged it in. It still worked and as we sat and started scrolling through old files, I remained calm and assured her we would find it. I didn’t lose my cool or let having to search the PC upset me. I told her that if it was on the PC, I would find it for her.

Before long, I did find a copy of her resume from 2017 on the PC. I downloaded the resume file onto a thumb drive, disconnected the PC and returned it to the basement.

She told me over dinner that my demeanor and calm approach to finding the resume file made her feel much better. That evening, she sat with me at her iMac desktop, and I showed her how to create folders for some of the information on her desktop and how to organize it to locate items much quicker.

By now you may be asking where is the epiphany in this story? In short, I had a self-realization that computer problems inherently provoke feelings of frustration in me and that’s not something I want to experience.

Computers are simply nothing more than inanimate objects and tools of technology to be used to help us in our daily lives. As much as AI engineers and help desk technicians like to think of them as full of life, they are machines and human interactions are far more valuable to me.

I recognize that becoming frustrated by a machine is not worthy of an emotional response and I’d rather steer clear of situations that make me frustrated. I’ve gone back and come up with a list of things that irritate me and when those things come up again, I can recognize them and remain calm and positive.

The bottom line is we all encounter situations each day that ramp up our stress and make us uncomfortable. Whether it be sitting in a traffic jam on our way home from work, the dishwasher breaking down, the price of gasoline jumping 29 cents overnight, a politician spreading misinformation, or someone in a restaurant chewing their food with their mouth wide open, I’m going to smile and not let it bother me and realize that there are plenty of potential irritations that I encounter all the time.

Watching endless television pharmaceutical commercials for psoriasis, eczema, lowering A1C for diabetes, blood clots, and other ailments tend to make me insane, especially if the same commercial repeats three times in a row or airs eight times within a half-hour. Tailgating is dangerous and it bothers me when I wonder if the guy driving behind me is going to slow down when I’m stopped with my signal on to make a left turn in heavy approaching traffic.

I’m going to remain calm and not freak out about the little things that frustrate me. It’s a much more appealing alternative. <

Andy Young: No need to fear the Ides

By Andy Young

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address to a tense, frightened nation in the throes of the Depression included the reassuring words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

America has, for the most part, been mercifully free of fear for the first 246 years of its existence. But several monumentally horrific events have inspired at least temporary national anxiety. Three recent examples: Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed; Nov. 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated; and Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists launched attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Other nations have their own cataclysmic dates. Aug. 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is every bit as infamous in Japan as 9/11 is here in America. The same goes for Jan. 12, 2010 in Haiti, when an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter Scale all but destroyed the already-impoverished Caribbean nation that occupies the western portion of the Island of Hispaniola. And April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic went to the ocean floor, remains memorably traumatic for people in nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, the granddaddy of all notorious dates is the Ides of March. It’s had a bad name ever since 44 B.C., when some scheming, knife-wielding Roman senators simultaneously performed a non-medical acupuncture procedure on Julius Caesar. That history changing event might have been avoided if, according to Plutarch (the foremost Greek historian of his day), Caesar had heeded the warning of a Roman soothsayer who had advised him to “Beware the Ides of March.”

That quote, which William Shakespeare shamelessly lifted and used in the play he wrote about the slain Roman emperor some 16-ish centuries later, elicits a question that has perpetually confounded people like me: what exactly is an Ides?

I for one always assumed it simply referred to more than one Ide. The reality, though, is that the “Ides” was a date on the Roman calendar that fell approximately in the middle of the month. The Ides of March, May, July, and October fall on each month’s 15th day. However, for reasons far too complicated to explain here, the Ides are on the 13th day of the other eight months.

So, are any of the 11 other Ideses dread-inspiring?

Forays down several internet rabbit holes, one or two of which may contain mostly accurate information, reveal that March’s isn’t the only Ides which possesses a checkered past.

On May 15, 1932, for instance, Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated.

The world’s tallest man, 8-foot-11-inch Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illinois, died at the premature age of 22 on the Ides of July in 1940. (Of no particular significance: “The Alton Giant” wore a size 37AA shoe.)

And on Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel wreaked havoc on North America’s eastern seaboard, causing 95 deaths, and massive flooding as far north as the Canadian province of Ontario.

But maybe the Ides shouldn’t be so dreaded. Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889. Mahatma Gandhi was shot to death on Jan. 30, 1948, and Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and vicinity from Aug. 23 through the 31st in 2005. It’s worth noting that not one of those egregious events took place on an Ides.

No evidence exists suggesting that there’s anything inherently diabolical or foreboding about any particular Ides so there’s no need for even the most easily spooked amongst us to beware the Ides of January, which occurs this week.

Rational people like me don’t fear the Ides of any month.

We are, however, a little skittish around Roman soothsayers. <

Tim Nangle: Emergency energy relief is on the way

By State Senator Tim Nangle

In challenging times, it is more important than ever that we come together as a community to support one another. Mainers help Mainers; that’s just what we do. And in the harsh Maine winters, there is nothing more crucial than ensuring that our neighbors have a warm and safe place to call home. That is why I was honored to vote LD 3, “An Act to Establish the Winter Energy Relief Payment Program to Aid Residents with High Heating Costs and to Finalize the COVID Pandemic Relief Payment Program.”

State Sen. Tim Nangle
This bill, now law, will provide much-needed emergency energy relief payments to those struggling to afford heating costs or at risk of becoming unhoused. First, it allocates $40 million for heating assistance for households eligible for the federal Home Energy Assistance Program, as well as $10 million for emergency fuel deliveries. It also includes $21 million for emergency housing to help prevent Mainers from becoming unhoused or unsheltered during the frigid winter months.

This law also establishes the Winter Energy Relief Payment Program, which provides one-time payments of $450 to eligible Maine residents to help cover the rising costs of energy and heat. People who filed a Maine State income tax return by Oct. 31, 2022 and had an income less than $200,000 if filing a married joint return, $150,000 if filing as a head of household, or $100,000 if filing as a single individual or married individual filing a separate return.

These checks are expected to start rolling out at the end of this month and should be finished by the end of March.

Before I became your state senator, I knocked on hundreds of doors and listened to the concerns of my neighbors. I have heard firsthand the struggles many folks in our community face to heat their homes. It is clear that this is a real and pressing concern for many Mainers.

After a vote on the emergency energy relief plan initially failed, many of you reached out to tell me just how vital this assistance would be for you and your families. The people I’ve spoken with, who were concerned about staying warm this winter, did not care about the technicalities of how the emergency energy relief payment will be distributed – they wanted the peace of mind that they wouldn’t be thrown out on the streets or left to freeze inside their own homes.

It is a no-brainer to me that we should do everything we can to help our neighbors stay warm and safe during the winter. That is why I am glad that this plan could pass and take effect immediately after the Legislature overwhelmingly approved it and Gov. Janet Mills signed it on Jan. 4.

Overall, I am grateful that LD 3 will give much-needed relief to many Maine families. It's clear that this legislation was necessary to provide crucial support to those in need, and I am proud to have played a part in its passage. Mainers cannot afford any more delays to this life-saving support, and I am glad that we got LD 3 to the chambers and it was signed into law as quickly as possible.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, wants to discuss legislation, or needs help connecting with a state agency, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

My email is Timothy.Nangle@legislature.maine.gov, and my office phone number is 207-287-1515. Also, you can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/SenatorTimNangle. To receive regular updates, sign up for my e-newsletter at mainesenate.org. <