Friday, July 31, 2020

Insight: Families not defined by genes, rather by love

No family is perfect, some just seem to adapt to circumstances better than others.

Not long ago, my wife and I had dinner with visiting friends from New Hampshire who had recently gotten married. Each had been married previously and each had grown children from those marriages. One’s spouse had died and the other one was divorced, but this couple fell in love, and had decided to marry and spend their lives together as husband and wife.

Bill and Ida
End of story? Well no, it seems one of the newlyweds’ adult children objected to the marriage and will not allow her kids to visit with or talk to their grandparent on the phone. And all because an adult child resented the new spouse.

When I heard that story, it reminded me of a couple my own family knew when I was young and how those people changed my life for the better.

Ida was a real estate agent that my parents hired to sell their house in the 1950s. She became best of friends with my mother and soon our family met Ida’s husband, Bill, a World War I veteran with a heart of gold who enjoyed regaling us with stories about his job at Eastman Kodak.

Bill and Ida were in their late 60s and all alone except for a black cat they called “Blackie” and an all-white Spitz dog they called “Whitey.” Ida stayed single until she had married Bill late in life after a career as a newspaper reporter in Ohio. She was fun-loving, loved singing and once went on a date with former heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer in the 1930s.

By the time we were introduced to Bill and Ida, my brother and I had lost all of our grandparents. We listened to other kids talk about spending time with their grandparents and wondered what it would be like to have someone to be close to and do things with like that.

Knowing that we had no remaining grandparents that were alive, Bill and Ida informally stepped up and became our foster grandparents. I spent many Sunday afternoons with Bill watching baseball games on television or helping him cook popcorn. Ida showed me how to sew and how to pour a bottle of soda pop without it foaming over the top of a glass.

I could talk to them both about upcoming school projects, girls I was interested in or why my parents expected us to keep our rooms clean. They taught me to respect others, what calamari is made from and occasionally would take us in Bill’s 1963 Buick Riviera to Bob’s Big Boy for cheeseburgers, fries and root beer.

But the story behind this story is actually quite sad. Bill was married and raising a family with his first wife and he and his wife worked different shifts at Eastman Kodak. When one of them was arriving home on the afternoon bus, the other was just leaving for the Kodak plant on the departing bus.

One day only minutes after he had gotten off the arriving bus after a long shift at work, Bill watched and saw his first wife dashing across the busy city street to catch the departing bus as she was late. A speeding truck struck her in the middle of the crosswalk and she was killed instantly before Bill’s eyes.

He raised the couple’s three children alone and they all graduated from college and enjoyed successful careers and had families of their own. But after spending years as a widower, Bill met Ida and they fell in love and got married.

Bill’s kids would not accept that and disowned him, cutting him off from all access to his grandchildren. They didn’t call or visit him on Christmas or his birthday and he was profoundly saddened by that. He had so much love to share with them and it’s disturbing to me that he died a few years later without ever reconnecting with them.

But my brother and I came to love Bill and Ida and were so grateful that they chose to share their lives with us, even if their own grandchildren could not.

Time is too short to play hurtful games or to be offended by decisions you have no control over. The real strength of families is our love for one another no matter what and it’s a pity some people will never learn that. <

—Ed Pierce


Andy Young: Shouldn't today be lucky?

By Andy Young


I don’t know much about superstitions, horoscopes, or the zodiac, but simple logic suggests that the date on the newspaper you’re currently holding should be considered a serendipitous one. After all, if Friday the 13th is considered unlucky, shouldn’t Friday the 31st, its reverse, be seen as lucky?

The last day of July has plenty of unique history of its own. Christchurch, New Zealand was incorporated as a city on July 31, 1856. New York International Airport, which was later renamed for President John F. Kennedy after his 1963 assassination, was officially dedicated on July 31, 1948. More recently, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his brother Raul on July 31, 2006. Two recent Massachusetts governors were born on this date: William Weld (1945) and Deval Patrick (1956). So were Kmart founder S. S. Kresge (1867), actor Wesley Snipes (1962), and author J. K. Rowling (1965). Billy Hitchcock, who managed baseball’s Baltimore Orioles in 1962 and 1963, was born July 31, 1916; his successor, Hank Bauer, was born on the same date six years later! But both were born on a Monday, which makes that remarkable coincidence just as irrelevant to the question at hand as the rest of the above information, since none of these events took place on a Friday.

Fortuitous or not, Friday the 31st doesn’t come around very often. In the 21st century’s just-completed second decade (2010 to 2019), only nine such dates existed. There were none at all in 2011 or 2016, and in only one year was there more than one: January 31st and Halloween both fell on Friday in 2014.

There were three Friday, Aug. 31sts during the just-completed 20-teens (2012, 2013, and 2018), but Fridays Jan. 31st (2014), March 31st (2017), May 31st (2019), July 31st (2015), Oct. 31st (2014), and Dec. 31st (2010) all occurred just once. Not a single Feb. 31st, April 31st, June 31st, Sept. 31st, or Nov. 31st fell on a Friday during the entire decade, but a review of Mother Goose’s “Thirty Days Hath September” confirms coincidence had nothing to do with that.

Now contrast those nine Friday the 31sts with the whopping 19 Friday the 13ths that occurred over those same 10 years. Maybe that’s why “Friday the 31st” never gets so much as a sniff from the motion picture industry, yet filmmakers roll out Friday the 13th sequels with the same regularity and reliability that brings the swallows back to Capistrano. How many movies starring a masked, psychotic, unkillable revenge-seeker does America need?

Unfortunately, overwhelming anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that Friday the 31st is anything but lucky. Mary Ann Nichols became Jack the Ripper’s first victim on Friday, Aug. 31, 1888. A catastrophic flood inundated Johnstown, Pennsylvania on Friday, May 31, 1889, killing over 2,200 people there. Over 100 American sailors were killed on Friday, Oct. 31, 1941 when a U-boat torpedoed their ship. A tornado that struck Edmonton, Alberta on Friday, July 31, 1987 killed 27 people and left $332 million worth of damage in its wake. Friday the 31st wasn’t fortuitous for either Selena, the Queen of Tejano Music, who was murdered by her fan club’s president on March 31, 1995, nor professional wrestler/actor (a classic redundancy) Rowdy Roddy Piper, who died on July 31, 2015.

Lucky or not, there are only nine Friday the 31sts left in the 2020’s. And we’d better make the most of them, since over the same period of time there are 15 more Friday the 13ths, which will inevitably lead to more graphic gutting, pulverizing and decapitating courtesy of Jason Voorhees.  

And there’s nothing lucky about that. <


Friday, July 24, 2020

Andy Young: Stream of Consciousness

By Andy Young


Someone told me recently that I was difficult to chat with, claiming I can’t stay focused on one subject long enough to have an intelligent conversation. I don’t know what she was talking about.

Baseball’s designated hitter rule is stupid. Claiming “pitchers can’t hit” is even more foolish. In youth baseball right up through high school the pitcher is generally one of the best batters on his team, if not THE best. But no one can hit without regular opportunities to do so, and that’s what happens to the pitcher when they start letting a DH (an abbreviation for a Latin term that roughly translates to “bad fielder”) take his place.

The chipmunk population has exploded this summer! Maybe my neighbor who feeds them is part of the reason, but still, you’d think they’d want to live in her yard, since that’s where the food is. But no; the second-biggest Chipmunk Condo in the neighborhood lies beneath my front steps. The largest one is under the front steps of the guy who lives across the street from the chipmunk nourisher. He’s got no more use for the furry scourges than I do.

I love bran muffins.

Yellow ultra-fine-point Sharpies are useless! The ink is virtually invisible. Writing a letter in yellow Sharpie would be like refereeing a basketball game with a dog whistle.

I’ve never been to the Ozarks, but I’d like to get there someday. I’ve also never been to North Korea. I’m okay with that, though.

I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 has bought a radio in the last decade.

I have never finished the Sudoku puzzle in the daily newspaper on a Friday. The Monday thru Thursday (and Saturday) ones are cake, and I can usually do the Sunday one. But Fridays are impossible. Maybe there’s a fiendish Sudoku Master somewhere who’s bent on achieving world domination by bewildering all his potential opposition with unsolvable logic conundrums.

Why does anyone care about the Kardashians, or similar celebrities who are famous for being famous?

Playing professional or college football during a pandemic is even dumber than playing it when there isn’t a pandemic. Greed, pure and simple, is why NFL team owners and collegiate athletic officials want games this fall, even if they’re played in empty stadiums.

Since social distancing began, I’ve been biking a lot more. So far I’ve pedaled a distance that would require more than two tanks of gas to travel via automobile. That’s $50 or so extra dollars in my pocket, plus a tiny amount of pollution I haven’t created.

But I’ve seen a lot of discarded cans and bottles on the side of the road.

Is anyone in favor of indiscriminately strewing trash out car windows, or in the woods? Littering is selfish, lazy and environmentally destructive. Being pro-littering is like being pro-cancer, pro-bullying, or pro-coronavirus. Making the deposit on bottles and cans a quarter (up from a nickel) per container might not solve the problem of littering, but I bet it wouldn’t make it worse.

I just discovered that if you watch the Three Stooges for more than thirty consecutive seconds, they stop being funny.

Of all the things Americans value, a television is probably the least essential.

By the time my children get to be my age, there probably won’t be newspapers anymore. Well, at least they’ll never be frustrated by the Friday Sudoku.

Someone told me recently that I was difficult to chat with, claiming I can’t stay focused on one subject long enough to have an intelligent conversation. I don’t know what she was talking about. <

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Insight: Is it mental floss or trivial understatement?

Those who know me best are keenly aware of my ultra-competitive nature and desire to win at whatever game I’m playing. Perhaps some of that stems from endless hours of watching game shows on television as a kid and trying to shout out the answer before the contestants did.

Yes, I was, and remain to this day, a sucker for contests pitting ordinary foes against each other in a showdown for a new fully furnished living room set or oodles of cold hard cash. No matter if it was “The Newlywed Game” or “Concentration” or “The Joker’s Wild” or “Jeopardy,” if it had a question-and-answer format, I was down with it and that led to a lifetime pursuit of useless trivial knowledge that has consumed hours upon end of my life.

Among the useless tidbits I have acquired and filed away for future reference through the years -- 1967 American League batting champion Carl Yastrzemski hit .326 in leading the Boston Red Sox to the AL title that year; Valletta is the capital of Malta; the King of Hearts is the only king in a deck of standard playing cards without a mustache; and that Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky served as U.S. vice president under the eighth U.S. president, Martin Van Buren.

From the realm of musical trivia, were you aware that singer Mac Davis’s lone Number One hit as a solo artist was “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” in 1972, but that also he wrote “In the Ghetto” for Elvis Presley’s 1968 Comeback Special? And my father used to chuckle because I knew that the one-hit wonder “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa” was recorded by Napoleon XIV.

I also can tell you that in terms of distance, Maine is the closest U.S. state to the continent of Africa, or that the real name of U2’s Bono is Paul David Hewson. How about that Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio in 1969? Or that because of their weight, elephants are unable to physically jump? 

One would assume that possessing all of this knowledge of trivia would lead to wild success in board games or a shot at a televised game show, but you’d be wrong.

When I was in elementary school, I dominated when playing classic board games such as Go To The Head of the Class; Password; Careers; Life; Uncle Wiggly; and Game of the States.

In taking the Jeopardy test online twice, my computer stalled each time and I ended up blowing my chance at meeting Alex Trebek. But I actually did get to interview Pat Sajak and Vanna White in Phoenix, Arizona when I tried out for Wheel of Fortune in the 1980s. I made it through the first round of contestant testing yet bombed miserably in the second and much harder elimination round.

In 1999, I nearly made it through the phone elimination for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? My phone answer was in the correct percentile on the first night, but I was .002 percent slower than my opponents across the nation in answering the question on the second night of elimination testing.

As a result, I missed a chance to go to New York City because of a slow finger. My longstanding dream of appearing on the same podium with Regis Philbin or any other hosts from vintage TV game shows such as Wink Martindale; Bill Cullen; Peter Tomarken; Allen Ludden; Bert Convy; Dennis James; or Art Fleming remains stalled.

At least at home I still am the undisputed master of trivia when playing the board game version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire that my wife and I picked up at a thrift store in New Hampshire a few years back.

Scrabble is another story though. My wife Nancy presents a significant challenge and I have to play her extremely cautiously to avoid setting her up for triple word scores in the outside corners and feeling humiliated until the next game.

But at least in playing Scrabble, I only have to come up with words, not recite facts like 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel was the shortest player to ever bat in a Major League Baseball game or that one dairy cow can produce up to 200,000 glasses of milk in a lifetime.

And lastly, if you were to ask me what country’s capital has the fastest growing population, my answer would be Ireland, because every day it’s Dublin. <

–Ed Pierce


Friday, July 17, 2020

Insight: Requiem for lost youth -- Food Edition

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a fascination with nostalgia. Having grown up in the 1960s, I can recall what it was like to view the introduction of new products advertised on television and then saddened to see them go when discontinued or replaced by another.

Recently during a discussion with a younger colleague, I tried to describe “Fizzies,” which were one of my favorite treats as a child. “Fizzies” were similar to Alka Seltzer, effervescent candylike tablets that bubbled when put in a glass of water.

Coming in a variety of flavors, “Fizzies” could be found near packages of Kool-Aid in the grocery store. My favorite flavor was root beer and it was an amazing sight to watch the tablet dissolve before my own eyes and turn into soda pop without the bottle or can.

Alas, “Fizzies” soon fizzled out and were gone by the time I completed junior high school before they were revived and discontinued several more times over the years.

Another product I enjoyed in my youth was a cereal called “Crispy Critters.” It was sweetened oats made into the shape of animals like animal crackers and the cereal box featured “Linus the Lionhearted,” who was the star of a Saturday morning animated TV show.

Heavily promoted by Post Cereals, “Crispy Critters” initially sold well, but faced enormous competition and I stopped seeing it on supermarket shelves by the early 1970s.

And while I’m discussing cereal, when is the last time you could find Alpha Bits in the store? It seems to have disappeared for good like so many other brands from my childhood.

As I got into college and started working, and being on a limited budget and miniscule salary, fast food restaurants appealed to me because of economics. One of my favorites was Taco Bell and at the time they offered a tasty item called the “Bell Beefer” on its menu. It was seasoned hamburger meat on a bun served up with diced onions, shredded lettuce, taco sauce and optional grated cheese.

For me, the “Bell Beefer” was akin to a sloppy joe and often paired with nachos on late-night trips through the drive-through. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Taco Bell dropped the “Bell Beefer” and the world seems a much lonelier place without it.

As a young reporter for the Albuquerque Journal newspaper in the late 1980s, I worked evening shift from 2 to 11 p.m. and always ended up being sent to dinner about 8 p.m. by my editors. When I didn’t brown bag my lunch, the only place open near the newspaper plant was a Wendy’s less a half-mile from there.

I rapidly became a huge fan of Wendy’s “Build Your Own Salad Bar,” which included every salad item known to modern man and a “Build Your Own Taco Bar.” For just $2.99, I could satisfy my hunger and I’d be remiss to not mention the heaping bowls of chocolate pudding for dessert included at Wendy’s with the “Build Your Own Salad Bar.”

But alas, like many other food trends of years past, Wendy’s phased out the “Build Your Own Salad Bar” and by the time I became an editor myself in 2007, they were gone for good.

Lastly, those who know me well are also aware of my sweet tooth and inability to pass up candy.

Two personal favorites of mine from childhood, “Turkish Taffy” and “Chick-O-Sticks,” appear to have vanished from the candy selection in modern stores.

At a price of just 5 cents, “Turkish Taffy” was a slab of gooey chewy delight that defied eating all in one setting. Banana was my favorite flavor, but I challenge you to find “Turkish Taffy” anywhere today other than in the nostalgia candy offered in the gift shop at Cracker Barrel.

“Chick-O-Sticks” was a crunchy spear-shaped mixture that indulged my affinity for peanut butter and coconut and usually required me to brush my teeth afterward to remove crunchy after-bits that clung to my molars like there was no tomorrow. Like “Turkish Taffy,” I believe “Chick-O-Sticks” can only be found today in vintage candy sections.

And my wife frequently reminds me she thinks I’m the only human left alive who still buys candy “Circus Peanuts” when I see them at the store. 

Like they say, all good things eventually come to an end, but memories do indeed last a lifetime. Nostalgia sure isn’t what it used to be. <

—Ed Pierce

Jessica Fay: The importance of volunteering

By Representative Jessica Fay

Doing something for someone else improves your life. No matter what our age, we all feel better when we have a purpose and when we are helping others. Volunteering with a community, town or social service organization can provide an important outlet for that sense of personal fulfillment. This is not just me saying it, studies have shown that volunteering is good for our health, decreasing the risk of depression, reducing stress levels and keeping people who volunteer more physically and mentally active.

Over these last few months I have found that volunteering has been a lifeline for me and has helped me stay in touch with our community and its needs. Even as we are more physically distant, I have found that we can build community through volunteering.

I often hear from volunteers that they get more out of the experience than they put in, and they are the lifeblood of our communities and towns. Local governments couldn't function without good people giving of themselves to run for office or serve on boards and commissions. Our libraries and food pantries are staffed and run by those who give their time freely, allowing them to operate with a minimal paid staff.

In these troubled times, lots of people need help and there are many organizations both large and small that could use new volunteers. There are also a lot of people who find that they suddenly have more time on their hands and a need to interact safely with others. Volunteering can be a win-win all around.

No special talents are required, just a willingness to learn and the desire to help. Do you like to drive? Consider volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels. Do you like to garden? Participate in your local initiative to beautify the community. Like to hike? Offer to help a land trust to maintain trails. These are only a few of the many volunteer opportunities out there in our community.

Our elections couldn't be held without volunteers. Many of the people who work at the polls do so because they believe in our democracy, because making sure that every vote counts is a civic duty. 

Most people engaged in volunteerism don't do it for the recognition, but because they want to give back to their communities, their friends and their neighbors. These people deserve to be noticed, however. In Maine, "The Spirit of America Award" recognizes community volunteers who have gone above and beyond in service to their communities. In Raymond this year the honor goes to Richard and Cleo Sanborn for their lifetime of service on town boards and committees and for their strong sense of civic responsibility. Congratulation on the award and thank you Richard and Cleo for all you have done to make Raymond a better place!

Sadly, volunteerism has fallen off in the last years. The reasons why are many. People are living and working in different communities, they are working longer hours. Trying new things can also be hard. If you are wondering whether volunteering is for you, sign up to help out at an event or volunteer on a one time or trial basis, or offer to help on a project that you notice needs doing.  It will help your community and probably make you feel good in the process.

Representataive Jessica Fay is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents parts of Casco, Poland and Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. <

Andy Young: Bad things come in threes, but not for mice

By Andy Young

It's surprising how many generally accepted familiar expressions are demonstrably untrue.

For example, he (or she) who hesitates is NOT always lost; just ask the driver who paused an extra split second after the traffic light changed, only to see some behind-schedule, risk-averse knucklehead ignore the just-turned-red signal and hurtle through the very space they themselves would have occupied had they accelerated just a tiny bit sooner.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” depends, I’ve found, on exactly who it is that’s absent. Sometimes the heart grows more thankful with each passing day an entity in question remains missing. And do all things really come to those who wait? I for one am not convinced, since after nearly four decades of nominal adulthood I’m still waiting on some pretty significant things.

But despite the preponderance of false proverbs, there are still a few valid ones. For example, knowing for a fact that “Bad things come in threes” proved to be of great value not long ago.

On a recent Thursday I experienced an exceptionally bad day. I got up earlier than usual, perhaps because I was preoccupied with the knowledge that at 9 AM that morning I’d be sitting in a dentist’s chair getting poked, anesthetized, drilled and filled. At 8 AM the phone rang; the dentist’s office was calling to thoughtfully remind me that my meager insurance deductible was already maxed out for the year, so I’d be responsible for paying for the morning’s scheduled torture session out of my own pocket. 

And by the way, was I prepared to do so?

Taking some small consolation in the fact that whatever exotic summer vacation trip(s) I had been saving for aren’t going to happen anyway thanks to COVID-19,

I made it to my appointment on time, taking care to pause an extra split second at every stop sign and red light I encountered en route. Two hours later I left, as promised, $1,300 poorer.

Ignoring the still-lingering numbness in both my jaw and my wallet when I got home I retrieved the mail, which consisted of just one item: a bill for another $100 from my family’s Internet provider. 

But the worst was yet to come. Upon entering my humble abode, I flipped on the kitchen light and, out of the corner of my eye, detected some motion. 

And just in case I thought I had imagined it, a mouse emerged from under the refrigerator, briefly assessed the situation, then scurried back from whence he came.

Oddly, seeing the first physical evidence of vermin in the home I’ve occupied for nearly five years didn’t upset me. In fact, I felt a strange sense of calm. 

Ordinarily I’d have hesitated to take the actions I did, but the knowledge that all three allotted bad things had already occurred rendered me invincible. That allowed me to get on my bicycle, pedal through mid-day traffic on a heavily-traveled section of U.S. Route 1, and purchase a pair of mouse traps from a local merchant who carries such things. 

Knowing I was invulnerable, I cycled back through even more congestion without anything even close to a near-miss. In fact, I heard nary a curse from any driver(s) I may have cut off while on my mission.

Once home I set and baited the traps, and less than 10 minutes later I heard an eerie “snap.”

These days I’m grateful for many things, not the least of which is that I’m not a mouse. The one I encountered never did find out what the other two bad things in his day were going to be.  <

Friday, July 10, 2020

Andy Young: Dreaming of exotic staycation destinations

By Andy Young

Given the ongoing pandemic gripping both the nation and the world, journeying to faraway destinations is clearly not prudent right now. It’s been nearly six months since I last left the state of Maine, which for someone who works less than 25 miles from New Hampshire seems highly unusual.

Like many teachers and parents, I enjoy discovering new places and revisiting old haunts when school is out. But since traveling this summer involves a high level of risk, the only borders I’ll be crossing will be the ones between local towns. And while wandering around in locales more virus-afflicted locales than ours is currently inadvisable, there’s no harm in taking vicarious excursions by writing, dreaming, or reminiscing about them.

Late in the 1980’s my youngest sibling and I informally decided to see which of us could venture to all 50 of the United States first. We each had jobs involving frequent domestic travel and/or short-term relocation, and at the time neither of us was encumbered with children or a significant other. My sister insisted on some basic rules, one of which was that for a state to count you had to either stay overnight there or consume at least one meal within its borders. Her proposed requirements rendered my claims to both Utah (layover between airline flights) and Iowa (a drive across a bridge from Nebraska for a 30-second cameo appearance) null and void, but nothing tangible was at stake. We also mutually agreed that an actual prize might take the fun out of it, so after concurring on guidelines the competition began.

By the mid-90’s each of us had legitimately checked off 48 states.

But then she got married and subsequently became a parent, and a couple of years later I went down that same winding road. It’s a quarter-century later, we’re still deadlocked at 48 states apiece, and today I’m waving the white flag. It’s time to admit, however reluctantly, that I am not going to win the contest.

These days travel is expensive, not to mention potentially hazardous to the health of older people, a demographic into which, by nearly everyone’s definition, I now fit. In addition, I have little things like a mortgage and some college educations to pay for that weren’t a factor back in the 20th century. That my nominal opponent still needs Alaska and Hawaii and isn’t any more likely to get to those places than I am to check off the two states remaining on my list is of little comfort. I’m still holding out hope that a trip to Oregon is in my future, but if I ever have the money necessary to go to Hawaii overnight (or at least eat a meal there), I’d undoubtedly opt to use it for something else.

But I can lay claim to a significant consolation prize: I’ve been to every Canadian province! I got my ninth and tenth when my three children and I motored out to Colorado and Montana eight summers ago and circled back through Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the way home.

It doesn’t look like I’ll make it to Canada this year. But while physically roaming far from home isn’t currently an option, few if any states are more attractive for “staycations” than Maine is. Thanks to our state’s unique geography, visits to Poland, Norway, and Denmark are all within easy driving distance. If I’m yearning for something more exotic (or less Nordic), Mexico and Peru are both doable. Maybe I’ll even try China, if they’re letting people from Cumberland County across the great wall that I imagine surrounds the place. <

Bill Diamond: Fighting for affordable prescriptions

By Senator Bill Diamond

There are very few people I know who aren’t concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs. Seniors, in particular, can find themselves spending massive sums out of their fixed income on medicine they need to stay alive and healthy. Studies show that about one in four Americans who take prescription medications struggle to pay for them.

About 8 percent don’t take their medicines as prescribed because they simply can’t afford them. 

While this isn’t a new problem, it has gotten markedly worse in recent years, as the cost of many life-saving and life-sustaining medications has skyrocketed. For example, in 1996 the price of a vial of insulin was $21. In 2019, that same vial, which contains the same product and doesn’t cost any more to produce, was about $275. That is a 1200 percent increase. Just this year, the price of Humira, a popular treatment for arthritis and other conditions, was raised by 7 percent, after being raised 19 percent over the previous two years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated these issues, too. Recent reports show that since January of this year, pharmaceutical companies have raised the price of 245 different drugs by an average of 23.8 percent. We also recently learned that Gilead Sciences, the maker of the FDA-approved COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir, intends to charge patients with private insurance $3,120 per treatment course. To make matters worse, while the treatment was invented by Gilead, almost $70 million in taxpayer funds was spent developing Remdesivir. 

The regulation of drug prices mostly falls to Congress, but unfortunately progress on that front has stalled due to partisan politics in Washington. However, in Maine the Legislature does have some ability to protect consumers and offer relief for Mainers dealing with expensive prescription drug prices. 

That’s why, in the past year the Legislature has taken bold, bipartisan action to help lower prescription drug costs for Mainers. We passed a law allowing the wholesale importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada; another that expanded prescription drug price transparency; and still another that established the prescription drug affordability board

We also expanded the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled program and capped out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month for many insurance plans. 

While some of these programs and policies are still being set up, some are starting to have an impact. Maine recently received an “A” grade on prescription drug price transparency from the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition at the University of California Hastings College of Law. But there’s still a lot of work to do. 

We need to make sure Mainers don’t get nickel-and-dimed for medicine that they need. No person should have to choose between their medications and putting food on their table or paying their mortgage. I will keep pushing to make sure the state is doing everything in our power to protect Maine consumers and lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. You can call my office at 207-287-1515 or send me an email at I’m here to help.<

Insight: To cliché or not to idiom

As a child, I recall my father saying something unusual during the presidential election of 1964 and now, more than 50 years later, I think I finally get what he meant by it.

While listening to a supporter of Barry Goldwater use the slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right” on television, my father turned to my mother and said, “One man’s cliché is another man’s idiom.”

I didn’t understand what he meant by that at the time, but now after having spent decades in journalism and being subjected to covering countless campaigns and elections, I believe I do grasp the meaning of my father’s words so long ago at last.

And as the summer kicks into high gear, we are all about to be inundated with a barrage of the most striking and expressive clichés and idioms in the history of political mankind. They will be used in television advertising, campaign speeches, newspaper and magazine ads, on social media posts and uttered endlessly from the mouths of candidates and supporters alike.

What’s the difference between a cliché and an idiom, you may ask? A cliché is defined as a phrase that once seemed interesting, but through overuse has lost its impact. An idiom, though, is an expression that is metaphorical and not taken literally. Both are freely and commonly used by politicians and campaign strategists during elections and are highly cringe-worthy to the ears of the general populace in my humble opinion.

What speechwriter or media guru doesn’t relish having a laundry list of idioms such as these in their collective arsenal: lame duck; spin doctors; politically incorrect; fishing expedition; red tape; flip-flopper; lash out; kicking the can down the road; presumptive nominee; fiscal cliff; media firestorm; margin of error; or bring to the table?

And how many times have you heard candidates use this list of worn-out political clichés during the course of the election cycle such as: I’m running a positive campaign; I have a plan; This is the most important election of our lifetime; It’s all about the optics; I deal with facts, not fiction; I do not deal in hypotheticals; America is at a crossroads; I categorically deny; Throw under the bus; It’s all a big nothingburger; Winning at any cost; or Enough is enough.

Sometimes the lines blur between idioms and clichés in politics such as: A song and dance show; Intellectual curiosity; A zebra doesn’t change his stripes; Cook one’s own goose; Sacred cows; Putting the cart before the horse; A flash in the pan; Shifting the paradigm; or There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Collectively, I’d like to see all political advisors, marketing and public relations firms and anyone weighing a bid for an elected office to stop and think carefully before speaking aloud in public.

During the 2020 campaign to this point, we’ve heard this so far: Bury your head in the sand; Crunch the numbers; Drink the Kool-Aid; Half-baked; Think outside the box; Ducks in a row; Put the final nail in the coffin; Dot the I’s, Cross the T’s; Believe Me; Once again, it all comes down to turnout; Keep your powder dry; The new normal; and my new personal favorite, the chips are starting to crumble.

If only we could revert to the days of such colorful expressions such as: Where’s the beef: Fuzzy math; Drain the Swamp; It’s the economy, stupid; The buck stops here; See the forest for the trees; The elephant in the room; or how about Speak softly and carry a big stick?”

I’m afraid that we are all locked into another never-ending cycle of trite, hackneyed, stale, unimaginative, vapid, predictable and old-hat phrases until Nov. 3.

And at the end of the day, there’s a lot to unpack here. For some, it will be a deep dive and an uphill battle with the grass always being greener on the other side and ignorance being bliss until we all play our cards right and our decision about who to vote for becomes as plain as the nose on our faces and oh so crystal clear as we venture into the voting booth on Election Day.<

—Ed Pierce

Friday, July 3, 2020

Andy Young: When shopping for facemasks, listen to people you trust implicitly

By Andy Young

In the past high school teachers like me and our students all eagerly anticipated summer vacation. However, given current conditions, spending ten weeks at home in semi-quarantine after spending three months at home in semi-quarantine seems like a mixed blessing. People who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) say that depending on the attitude of the individual(s) involved, what was once seen as unlimited freedom is now viewed by many as continued social exile, or, even more grimly, perpetual solitary confinement.

It’s nice that some businesses are beginning to re-open. Wearing facemasks in public places is still considered prudent, and I have no problem with that. I do wish they wouldn’t make my glasses wouldn’t fog up so much, though. Last week I was desperately trying to purchase frozen meatballs that did NOT contain stinky Parmesan cheese, which two of my children detest nearly as much as I do. The print is hard enough to read on those boxes as it is, but when my breath (which behind a mask is always nasty, no matter how often I brush my teeth) escapes from the top of my facial covering and fogs up my cheaters, it's even tougher.

Since travel this summer appears unlikely, I was considering getting a job stocking shelves at the local grocery store, but as it seems I'm going to be spending a great deal of time preparing for more "distance teaching" this fall, summer employment may not be the best idea. Also, as I found out recently when I received an unexpected gift card from a friend, maybe it’s better if I leave that job for someone else who truly needs it. It turns out there’s nothing in Amazon’s warehouse I need or want that I don’t already have.

But every responsible citizen ought to be doing their part to strengthen the economy, so ultimately I bought an item (or several items, actually) that I had never heard of until recently.

A balaclava is one of those cylindrical cloth things you can wear around your neck, and then pull up over your mouth and/or nose when it suits your purpose, like when you’re skiing down a mountain in sub-zero conditions, trying not to swallow flying insects or diesel fumes while riding your motorcycle, or preparing to hold up a convenience store. They can also be used as face masks. Thanks to that gift card I now own balaclavas sporting the Guatemalan flag, the Canadian flag, Yosemite Sam, the Three Stooges, and Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

I was sorely tempted to get one with The Great Cornholio on it, but since I’m still clinging to the faint hope of getting a date someday if and when social distancing regulations subside, I decided to pass. People who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) tell me that sporting Beavis and Butthead-themed clothing in 2020 is not the best way to impress the chicks in my particular demographic.

Nor, now that I think of it, is referring to women (of any demographic) as "chicks."

But there’s a potential silver lining to the likelihood that face coverings will still be required when and if we return to school this fall. Having a wide variety of them could, for the first time in my life, make me a contender for the title of “best-dressed” faculty member. And people who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) tell me that since 95 percent of my wardrobe was purchased prior to the end of the 20th century, this is indeed cause to raise the flag.

Even a Guatemalan or Canadian one. <

Editor’s note: Andy Young has been writing a column for many years and most recently was a columnist for the Journal Tribune newspaper in Biddeford. His columns will now appear on a regular basis in The Windham Eagle.

Insight: Remembering some memorable characters

In 45 years of working in the profession of journalism, I’ve interviewed thousands of people while gathering information for articles and have had the great privilege of meeting some of the most colorful characters you’ve probably never heard of.

Here are just a few tales and a sampling of unusual, resilient and offbeat individuals that I’ve covered during the course of my career:

** In November 1981, I reported on the annual Veterans Day ceremony in Indianapolis with a special guest speaker, Jesse A. Jackson, the last remaining veteran from Indiana of the Spanish-American War. (And no, not the more famous presidential candidate Jesse Jackson with the same name.) Jackson was 99 and a resident of the Lutheran Community Home. He told me that he had joined the Army after an argument with his father and stepmother. His speech to the crowd that afternoon consisted of exactly eight words, “Enjoy your supper and have a good evening.” When I asked him the secret of his longevity, Jackson told me he drank a bottle of peach schnapps every night and ate a bowl of persimmon pudding each day for lunch. Jackson died in 1987 at age 105.

** Long before actor Mykelti Williamson portrayed Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue and extolled the many ways to serve and enjoy shrimp in the film “Forrest Gump,” I had interviewed “The Singing Airman,” also known as James “Mississippi” Burch. While working the graveyard shift at The Pentagon in 1980, Burch supervised the facility’s pneumatic tube system of delivering teletype messages to the offices of military leaders prior to the invention of email. Having grown up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Burch was a loyal and devoted fan of Elvis Presley. He knew the words to all of his songs by heart and would rattle off a laundry list of facts about the life of Elvis to everyone he met, similar to Bubba’s character in “Forrest Gump.” In an effort to keep his co-workers awake throughout the graveyard shift, Burch also would commandeer the department’s public-address system and croon out “Burning Love,” or “Hound Dog” when he felt it was needed. Burch also shared with me an obscure fact about Elvis that I had never heard before. He said Elvis actually had blonde hair and dyed it black to conform with his “look.” And he told me that everyone in his family had memorized all the lyrics to every Elvis Presley “Number One” hit songs and they all gathered on vacation every year in August at Graceland in Tennessee to remember Elvis on the anniversary of his death. The last I heard, ‘Sip’ Burch as he liked to be called, was entertaining Air Force personnel stationed in the Middle East as a member of the U.S. Air Force’s “Singing Sergeants” in 1995.

** When I covered community sports in Brevard County, Florida in 2005, I kept hearing about the exploits of a masters’ division swimmer by the name of Bunny Cederlund and I eagerly accepted an assignment to interview her for a story. She was a longtime member of the Florida Aquatic Combine Swim Team and had set numerous swimming records for people in her age bracket. As a world-class swimmer in her late teens and early 20s, Cederlund had lost out on an opportunity to compete for the United States in the 1940 Summer Olympics because of World War II. She gave up swimming, married an Air Force officer, raised a family in New Jersey and then moved to Florida when she turned 65. By the time she was 70, Cederlund was once again swimming competitively and turning in record-breaking performances. During her 19-year career in master’s swimming, she racked up 234 individual Top 10 swims and 14 Top-10 finishes in relay events. Now nine years after her death in 2011 at age 89, Cederlund still holds 15 individual United States Masters Swimmer records in three different age groups and dominated the USMS backstroke records from the 50 Short Course Yards to the 200 Long Course Meters in the 80 to 84 and 85 to 89 age groups. And she also still holds four FINA (the international governing body of swimming) Masters’ World Records in the 80 to 84 50-meter backstroke, and the 85 to 89 50-meter backstroke, the 50-meter backstroke, and the 100-meter backstroke. There’s a lesson to be learned from her about persistence, for sure. <
—Ed Pierce