Friday, April 29, 2022

Insight: Expressing gratitude not always easy

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

While I’m always grateful when someone does something nice for me, a recent attempt at doing a good deed at our home was more than a little perplexing. 

With my wife at school during the day teaching and myself at the newspaper putting together a recent edition on a production day, my stepson dropped by our house after getting off work to let our dog out in the backyard.

Spending a few minutes there, he decided that the yard needed raking after the long winter months and so he found a rake in the garage and quickly amassed five large piles of leaves and branches.

I had been waiting for a warmer day to do that task myself, so when I got home from work that afternoon, I was surprised to see some piles of leaves and twigs sitting in the yard.

Entering the kitchen, my wife Nancy proceeded to tell me about the piles and that I probably wouldn’t be happy with what he had done while raking.

She led me to the window looking out on the backyard and beyond into the neighbor’s yard and pointed out a pile of leaves and sticks sitting on the other side of the fence.

Apparently, he had decided to rake up a large pile of leaves, twigs, and branches and then toss them over the fence to show his displeasure at having to perform the task. We do not have any trees in our yard, and he figured that the leaves that had fallen onto our property came from the neighbors’ trees near the fence and that they should be responsible for picking them up. 

I went out to survey the situation up close and was horrified to see the huge pile of leaves that he had thrown there. If there was one thing that I was grateful for though, it was that he had told his mother that he had done that, and she had brought it immediately to my attention.

In my opinion, we somehow had to make the situation right, and it had to be done sooner than later.

I sent my wife over to the neighbor’s home to knock on their door and to let them know what had happened. As I began to rake the leaves into a manageable pile to transport back to our property, both of our neighbors came outside into their yard to talk with us.

Despite our utter embarrassment, they told us that they had so many leaves themselves it was hard to keep up with them, and that they had noticed the large pile when they had arrived home a few hours earlier that afternoon. They told us it was no big deal and to just let the pile go and they then laughed about what had transpired.

We apologized to them and I proceeded to drag the pile through a gate and into our back yard. By this time, it was nearing suppertime and Nancy and I decided to let the piles of leaves go until we could find the time to put them into bags for transport to the transfer station for disposal.

Turns out we had to go out of state that weekend for a funeral and the piles of leaves and branches sat in the back yard for a week.

On Sunday evening, my wife and I were able to bag up six large bags of leaves and extract them from the yard.

She reminded me that no matter what had happened, being grateful is about something someone has done for you and then expressing thanks for it.

Although my stepson was wrong to throw a large quantity of leaves over the fence, I texted him to thank him for his work in collecting and raking up the leaves in the first place.

In reflecting back upon the entire incident, I determined that gratitude for me was more than just expressing thanks for his help in cleaning up our yard. And I thought that gratitude doesn’t always come easy for me, especially when people do things that I didn’t ask them to do.

Expressing gratitude about incidents like this and similar ones that have happened over the years is truly about something that leads to a more sustainable form of happiness. Because I did not dwell on my unhappiness and embarrassment at having to retrieve the leaves from my neighbors’ yard and apologize for something someone else had done and then not yelling at or chewing out the culprit, I let it go and discovered a tangible peace of mind.

When all was said and done, Nancy and I laughed about the entire disconcerting episode, and she told me that she was happy that I chose to be grateful about the work her son had done for us rather than share my unhappiness with him for throwing the leaves over the fence in the first place and then arguing with him about it.

In my opinion, practicing gratitude shifted my mindset to a better place, created an opportunity to meet neighbors, clean up our yard and bring us all closer together. What could be better than that? <

Andy Young: The Price of Driving

By Andy Young

Late last year the Maine Turnpike Authority announced it needed to collect more revenue (AKA money) on Interstate 95 (AKA the Maine Turnpike), and as a result the toll rate was going to be adjusted (AKA raised). 

While the reasons given for the escalation were understandable (continued cost of road maintenance and a COVID-related decline in toll revenue, among other things), the bottom line was that the increase was going to hit five-morning-per-week turnpike drivers right in our already-slender wallets.

It could have been worse. I travel south on the turnpike each day to my place of employment, but for those northbound folks who enter near where the York Toll Plaza used to be, the cost of getting on I-95 jumped to $4 dollars, a 33 percent boost. The hike for us southbounders wasn’t quite that steep, but still, an increase is an increase.

One of my north-in-the-AM co-workers began taking U. S. Route 1 (a toll-free path which runs parallel to the turnpike) each morning, and suggested I do the same. Ordinarily I’d have dismissed that proposal out of hand since the portion of the road I’d need to travel contains 39 traffic lights between Scarborough (where I’d get on) and Kennebunk (my destination). However, there’s not much traffic to compete with when I customarily hit the road. At that hour (around 5 a.m.) most of the signals are either blinking yellow or can be beaten by carefully slowing one’s approach to a red light, then prudently accelerating the moment it turns green.

Taking the toll-free route was a good plan, until the very day it wasn’t. One morning while zipping through Saco I saw blue lights in my rearview mirror. Compliantly giving way so the officer could continue pursuing whatever dangerous menace to society was on the loose, I was stunned when, after obediently pulling over, I discovered I was his quarry! 

The uniformed public servant approached my car and asked if I knew how fast I was going. The truth: of course I did, since there had been a big “49” displayed on my digital dashboard when I first saw the blue lights. But my (apparently involuntary) response was, “Ummmm, I think I was going 48, sir.” 

Fortunately, it was too dark for the officer to see my almost-immediate shame. Not only had I fibbed, but I had done so by one (1) mile per hour. Who lies by one mile per hour? And what good does it do?

Then he asked if I knew I was in a 35 mph zone, and I truthfully responded I did not. He took my license and registration, leaving me stewing over the irony and stupidity of getting a $200 speeding ticket because of a flawed effort to dodge a two-dollar toll. 

But providence smiled on me; the officer returned, presumably after ascertaining no warrants for my arrest existed, and told me kindly but firmly to please drive safely, which I pledged sincerely to do.

Lesson learned. 

Or perhaps not.

Early in the a.m. less than two weeks later I was motoring through Saco on Route 1 at what seemed like a snail’s pace when once again I saw blue in my rearview mirror. This time I was clocked at 47 mph. But once again I wasn’t ticketed, just cautioned (by a different, though slightly less friendly officer) to please slow down.

Is the old saying about the third time being the charm true? I for one do not intend to find out. Since that second encounter with the police, I’ve taken the turnpike (and grudgingly paid the toll) every morning. <

Susan Collins: Preserving Maine veterans’ access to longterm care

By Senator Susan M. Collins

Earlier this year, Maine Veterans’ Homes, which provides compassionate, quality long-term care to the brave men and women who served our country, announced that it planned to close its facilities in Caribou and Machias, two of the six homes it operates.

Senator Susan Collins
Shuttering the Caribou and Machias homes, which employ more than 120 people, would have had a devastating impact on more than 80 veterans and spouses of veterans who reside there. There is already a severe shortage of nursing home beds in rural Maine, which would have forced many Aroostook and Washington county veterans served by MVH to seek placement far away from their communities. The next-closest MVH home in Bangor is nearly two hours from Machias and nearly three hours from Caribou, and it could not have accommodated all of the residents.

We simply could not abandon veterans in rural Maine who have served our country and who now need nursing home care. I heard from numerous families who were worried that these closures would make it nearly impossible for them to regularly see their loved ones. As one woman from the St. John Valley told me, if her father had to be relocated from Caribou to Augusta or Bangor, there is no way that she could visit him as often as she does now to check on him, keep him company, and make sure that he is doing as well as possible. My own father, a World War II combat veteran, spent the last months of his life at the veterans home in Caribou, where he received excellent care. I know how much he liked being with other veterans. I also know how important it was for him to be close to our family.

When MVH made its announcement in February, I immediately began working closely with the rest of Maine’s Congressional Delegation, the Governor, and legislators from Aroostook and Washington counties to find a way to prevent these vital facilities from closing. We met repeatedly with the MVH Board’s leadership to urge them to reverse their decision, and we pledged to provide whatever support was necessary. Following this united effort, MVH changed course and decided to keep both the Caribou and Machias veterans homes open.

I have long championed funding for MVH as a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Veterans Affairs. Over the years, I have worked with the MVH Board to increase the per diem that the VA pays to help offset the cost of caring for veterans. MVH also received nearly $2 million in emergency funding from the CARES Act to address increased costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, with my support, MVH has received numerous federal construction or renovation grants for its facilities, including $50 million in 2018 for its new Augusta home.

At the state level, the Maine House and Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill, which Gov. Janet Mills signed into law, to provide MVH with $3.5 million through the next fiscal year. This new law also mandates a public hearing and legislative proposal to close a facility to prevent a surprise announcement in the future.

Our debt to our veterans is one we can never fully repay. As the veteran population ages, there is going to be an increasing need for long-term care. That is just one reason that I felt so strongly that this decision had to be reversed to prevent what would have been a truly traumatic outcome for these veterans and their families.

In the land of the free, there must always be a home for the brave. Working with Maine Veterans’ Homes at the federal and state levels, we can continue to honor the courage and sacrifices of those who defend our freedom. <

Friday, April 22, 2022

Insight: A witness to history in the making

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

On the morning of April 22, 1970, I put on a dress shirt and a necktie, dress pants and a green sportcoat and made my way to meet my friend Ralph Harrison at the high school I attended in Henrietta, New York.

Ralph had graduated the spring before and was in college. I first met him when he volunteered to teach our class during Senior Administration Day when I was a sophomore. He had been an exceptional prep athlete and a star in both football and wrestling.

And as it just so happens, Ralph also was about one of the smartest fellows I’ve ever known and I was good friends with his brother, Bruce.

When word got out in mid-April that Ralph was looking for a student to accompany him and speak to classes at the junior high school about the importance of protecting our environment, I was enthusiastic about the opportunity. Although I didn’t know a lot about science, I was able to convince Ralph to let me be the student to go with him that day.

The occasion that we were planning for was a brand-new event called “Earth Day,” something I had never heard of before. But I took my cues from Ralph and in the space of a week’s time, I learned as much as I could through research at the town library about the effects of air and water pollution upon our planet and the devastating effects that aerosol-propelled spray cans were having on the ozone layer surrounding the Earth.

The concept of that first Earth Day was a product of the activism of the 1960s. It had been proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who had been concerned about a deterioration of the environment in America. Nelson had formulated a plan to raise student awareness of environmental issues after watching student protests across the nation on behalf of civil rights and those opposed to the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War.

After traveling to Santa Barbara, California where he witnessed a major oil spill offshore there that harmed aquatic life, Nelson led a bipartisan effort in Congress to get young people involved in safeguarding the environment for future generations of Americans.

A weekday was chosen that fell between spring break for students and final exams for the observance of “Earth Day 1970” to maximize student participation on both college campuses and schools throughout the country. That was April 22, 1970, a Wednesday as I recall.

I got to sit in and listen to Ralph as he spoke to his first class at the junior high school that day and they seemed to hang on his every word.

When it came my turn to speak to a seventh-grade class during the next period, I reached into a brown paper grocery bag and pulled out my father’s Right Guard deodorant spray can, and my mother’s Final Net hairspray can which I used as props for my speech. Many of the students weren’t aware that despite being widely popular and heavily advertised on television, aerosols were harmful to our ozone.

Ralph and I were among a group of about eight students from Henrietta who spoke to junior high classes that day and my confidence had been boosted when he assured me that my presentation was good and told me he wasn’t nervous speaking before students, and I shouldn’t be either.

I had never spoken before such a large group of people before, but I plunged right in and even took questions after my speech was finished. I came away from the event more socially conscious about protecting the environment and certainly more comfortable speaking before other students.

Through the years I have stayed in touch with Ralph Harrison. After retiring from a long and successful career in automobile sales and helping thousands of individuals drive away in their dream cars over the years, Ralph ran for a seat this spring on the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors in Wisconsin and was elected to the position.          

Since that very first Earth Day, significant progress has been made by ordinary people from all walks of life to keep our world healthy. As a result of increased public awareness of environment issues in America, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Occupational Safety and Health Act for workers was implemented, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. It also has led to the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act putting the EPA in charge of the safe disposal of hazardous waste.

In 1990, Earth Day became a global event and now protecting the planet has mobilized more than a billion people worldwide each April 22 to strive to make changes in the way we humans treat the environment.

Little did I know as a high school junior on April 22, 1970, that I would become a participant in such an important global event that would have such a profound and lasting change for the world we all live in. If I did, I would have spent more time shining my shoes that morning. <

Andy Young: The Color of Spring

By Andy Young

For Mainers whose schedules revolve around either working at a school or sending their offspring to one, April vacation is almost like being reborn.  

Even after nearly 20 years of teaching high school English, this week’s badly needed break hasn’t lost any of its luster for me. Its arrival means that the six-month slog of going to work in the dark (and more often than not returning home in it) is over, or at least it is until this coming October.

I’ve spent more than six hours in bed every night this week, which for me is the height of luxury. My alarm clock has been replaced, albeit temporarily, with chirping birds that sound nearly as happy about the recent rise in temperatures as I am. 

I’ve taken my bike out of the basement and gone out for enough rides to know where many of this year’s potentially rim-bending potholes are located. However, I haven’t put away the snow shovels yet, since I don’t want the neighbors holding me responsible for any freak blizzards that drop an unexpected foot of snow on the region sometime between now and Memorial Day. I have taken my lawn mower out of storage though, since numerous studies show no correlation between its premature appearance and any unpleasant climate-related phenomena like hailstones, dust storms or plagues of locusts.

But the best thing about spring’s onset is the color.

1970’s recording artist Kermit T. Frog once crooned “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” and as someone who once tried riding the Tilt-a-Whirl right after consuming a hamburger and some extra-buttery corn on the cob at a long-ago fireman’s carnival, I can empathize with those whose complexions are green, even briefly.

But given the hue it’s replacing at this time of year, well, green is solid gold. 

While some colors lend themselves to song (Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Prince’s “Purple Rain”, or the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” among others), the only recording artist associated with brown, the color nature has ordained to appear between winter’s white and spring’s green, is Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, an animated one-trick pony who warbled about excrement on an infantile TV show called South Park. I assume it can still be seen somewhere in reruns.

Bill Green is a Maine broadcasting legend. Greens named Jeff, Danny, Draymond, JaMychal, Javonte, and Josh are currently gearing up for the National Basketball Association playoffs, and Ted, Mike, Rick, Travis, and Josh (presumably not the same fellow who’s currently toiling for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks) have distinguished themselves in the past with various National Hockey League teams.

Major League Baseball history is literally littered with Greens: Dallas, Dick, Zach, Chad, Shawn, Grant, Lenny, Pumpsie, David, Nick, Gene, Sean, Tyler, Taylor, Fred, Gary, Steve, Scarborough, Jason, Chris, Harvey, Joe, Jim, Ed, Curtis, Honey, Julius, Leslie, and Willie are or were major leaguers, as were Hank Greenberg, Mike Greenwell, and the owner of the best baseball player surname of all time, Jim Greengrass.

Sorry, football fans: the extra E at the end of Mean Joe Greene’s last name disqualifies him from making any all-time Green All-Star teams, but former Washington Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell is there.

Other notables associated with a forest-like tint include Yoda, the Incredible Hulk, Shrek, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Grinch, all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frankenstein, Oscar the Grouch, and the Green Hornet.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with black, white, yellow, red, blue or any other color. But spring’s gorgeous tint has doomed all those other pigments to be forever green with envy. <


Friday, April 15, 2022

Insight: Coming to grips with the inevitable

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Turns out there’s no manual for dealing with loss. There’s no shortcut to overcoming the sadness, the tears or the pain associated with the death of a friend, a family member or someone we’ve known and respected for a long time.

But somewhere in trying to reconcile that everyone sooner or later moves on from the earthly plain of existence, it’s comforting to know that others grieve, feel sorrow and try to make sense when death touches our lives.

Within the span of just under five months, I have lost a beloved neighbor, my favorite brother-in-law, and my trusted auto mechanic, and certainly all gone before their time.

My neighbor Andrew left us on Nov. 26 at the age of 37, done in by pneumonia. He had survived a severe traumatic brain injury in his early 30s after an accident that would have left others without hope of recovery.

Yet despite his disability, he fought hard to overcome significant physical challenges and was an inspiration to everyone he met. I’d watch him walking slowly down our street with his physical therapist and think to myself how he refused to give up.

Andrew loved the outdoors and would go camping at the lake with his family each summer and was adored by his nephews and family for his perseverance and his ability to live as normal a life as possible.

His death was another blow for his mother and his family, who were still coping with losing Andrew’s father suddenly in 2018.

Last summer, my brother-in-law Bobby informed us that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Bobby had always been someone I looked up to. I greatly admired his corny sense of humor and his hearty laugh and smile.

Whenever he talked to me on the telephone, Bobby always started the conversation that same way with a bad imitation of Lilly Tomlin portraying Ernestine, the snarky telephone operator.

“Is this the party to whom I am speaking,” he would ask and no matter how many times I had heard that silly joke, I always laughed and replied, “It is.”

Not to be outdone, when my wife Nancy and I called him on his birthday every December, I always started my conversations with him in a similar fashion over the span of the decades that I knew him.

“How old are you today,” I’d ask him. He would answer 64 or whatever age he was turning, and I’d say “Why Bobby, to me you don’t look a day over 63” or whatever age he was. It was a very poor joke, but he always at first would groan and then eventually laugh as the joke settled in.

I can’t recall ever visiting his home and not seeing the Music Choice on Demand 1960s channel playing on his television. He also played and sang at church services every week, something I thought took a lot of confidence to pull off successfully.

Bobby’s condition slowly deteriorated into last fall, and he could barely speak to us when we called to wish him a happy 73rd birthday on Dec. 16. He died in a hospice facility in North Carolina on Jan. 2 and in keeping with his wishes, the family will gather at a military cemetery in Vermont next week for a final sendoff.

Last weekend, I attended a visitation gathering at a funeral home and a church service to remember my friend Byron, who lost his life at age 39 to an aggressive form of cancer. It was especially poignant because Byron’s young daughter had been a student of my wife when she was in first grade several years ago.

Byron was a man of few words but was the best automobile mechanic I have ever known. He never overcharged or sold you anything you didn’t need and was known as a person of integrity and someone who tried to help others in the community.

His wife said that Byron loved to collect and restore old cars and he also had a soft spot in his heart for animals in distress, taking in dozens of dogs who needed rescuing.

Back in November when my vehicle wouldn’t start and an AAA-dispatched technician couldn’t diagnose the problem, I had my car towed to Byron’s shop. As the car was being lowered into the lot, the tow truck driver told me he thought being a newspaper editor made me famous and he asked if he could take a selfie photograph with me. I reluctantly agreed and then turned my car keys over to Byron.

“Hey Mr. Celebrity,” Byron said to me when he called later to tell me my car was ready. “Your battery needs replacing, and can I offer you some Grey Poupon?” Those were the final words that Byron said to me before he passed away on April 3.

All three of these men’s photographs are now displayed on the front of our refrigerator and I’m reminded of their untimely passing each time I open refrigerator door.

My wife says there’s surely a lesson to be learned from these unexpected brushes with the Grim Reaper. “Be prepared,” she said. “You just never know.” <

Andy Young: Stop government overreach! (Except sometimes)

By Andy Young

Like most Americans, I want minimal government involvement in my life, but there are rare occasions when I would welcome some meddling from the authorities, specifically when we the people have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that we require collective guidance.

The most recent example of timely government intervention occurred in 2020. While nearly one million Americans have died due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic (982,809 thru April 10, according to the CDC), the toll would have been exponentially higher had it not been for federal, state and local masking requirements, not to mention the role government played in getting millions of people vaccinated against the virus as quickly as possible.

The only upside of the pandemic was that with no one going anywhere, gas prices plunged. Avaricious petroleum dealers were, for a time, forced to all but give away the gasoline they had on hand.

But COVID seems to be receding. Concerts and sports events are playing to full houses, mask mandates have been rolled back, and Big Oil is more than making up for the losses they absorbed in 2020 by hiking the prices of gas and home heating fuel to unprecedented levels.

There are, however, other issues that have nothing to do with any viruses.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute reported that the average sea surface temperature in the gulf during September, October, and November of 2021 was, at 59.9 degrees Fahrenheit, four degrees higher than the long-term average temperature. That makes it, according to Dave Reidmiller, director of the GMRI climate center, “among the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world.”

This past Sunday I observed nine vehicles waiting in line at the drive-up window at Starbucks in South Portland when I walked by at about 10 a.m. The ones at the back of the queue (and those who later followed them) all waited, engines running, for 10 or more minutes for their overpriced, elaborately named caffeine hits. Two weeks earlier when I went by the same place at the same time there were 13 vehicles (11 of which were small trucks or SUV’s) lingering there.

Rational people recognize the role hydrocarbon emissions play in climate change, and everyone (rational and otherwise) knows gas prices are skyrocketing these days. Furthermore, anyone who walks, runs, bikes or drives on well-traveled roads is likely repelled by the amount of litter that lines all too many of America’s not-so-scenic roadways, and a closer examination of all that detritus reveals that the vast majority of it comes from fast-food outlets.

So why are so many people willing to, at significant expense, let their idling engines further pollute the environment?

Addiction to caffeine and fast food is part of the answer. So is laziness, since nearly every product one acquires at Starbucks, McDonald’s and other fast-food emporiums can be made at home, and often at a fraction of the cost one pays at the drive-up window. Also, corporate fast-food purveyors have no intention of reducing their already stratospheric profits without a fight, and they’ve got countless elected officials whose campaigns they’ve contributed to that are all too eager to wage it for them.

But the biggest reason people continue to pollute and spend too much on products they don't need while waiting inside their idling motor vehicles is because they still can.

An America free of drive-up windows would be cleaner, healthier and significantly better off environmentally.

I wish our overreaching government would leave us alone.

Except for now, when I wish they’d exhibit some common sense, show some backbone and outlaw drive-up windows. <

Friday, April 8, 2022

Insight: And away we go to Candyland

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Did you ever hear the one about the kid in the candy store? Well, I’m certainly no longer a kid in terms of physical age (although some family members will disagree with that assessment in terms of mental maturity) but I did find myself last week in the Easter candy aisle of a big box store and my how things have changed. 

When I was small, the size of jellybeans was almost about as large as a prospector’s gold nuggets and the plastic bags they were sold in appeared to contain about 50 percent of black licorice-flavored ones. Now there are so many kinds, shapes and sizes of jellybeans that it makes it a difficult choice to select one specific kind or brand.

There are Starburst jellybeans in mini and regular sizes, Jelly Bellies in specific flavors, jellybeans the size of Chicklets chewing gum and even SourPatch Kids and Warheads jellybeans. Not to be outdone by the competition, apparently this year there are new marshmallow Peeps jellybeans, Lemonheads, Jolly Rancher, Lifesavers and Sweetarts jellybeans up for grabs.

And as an aside, can anyone answer why jellybeans are not affected by supply chain shortages and manufacturing delays like many other grocery products? This year it seems there is so much Easter candy available in a post-pandemic economy rife with inflation and rising food costs that it may leave you scratching your head.

Last year my Easter candy shopping excursion for our 2-year-old granddaughter Olivia in Connecticut was a major hit. Along with a few of the other treats that made it into the shopping cart was something called “Krabby Patties” which sent her into a sugar-rush Nirvana being an avid SpongeBob Square Pants fanatic.

I decided to see if any other Sponge Bob-related Easter candy is available this year and hit the proverbial jackpot at the store I visited.

This year Olivia and her new baby brother Leon (although at just five months old he’s much too young to appreciate Easter candy) will soon enjoy a multitude of Sponge Bob sugary delights when the package arrives in the mail.

For 2022, along with Olivia’s favorite Krabby Patties, I found her Sponge Bob peanut butter eggs, Sponge Bob milk chocolate eggs, Sponge Bob gummies and something called Sponge Bob gliders which resemble small cheeseburger sliders except made up of marshmallow and chocolate layers.

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s, it used to be such a treat to find my Easter basket included a Cadbury cream egg. Now Cadbury has been joined in the Easter candy extravaganza by Reese’s, who are offering white and dark chocolate peanut butter-filled eggs in various sizes and Snickers, Almond Joy and York Peppermint Patties who are also selling candy shaped like Easter eggs. At the store I visited, the intricate and detailed box that “Star Wars, The Mandalorian” Easter eggs comes in caught my attention and surely will be a collector’s item someday.

As a kid the best part of my Easter basket always turned out to be the solid chocolate bunny but on this shopping trip solid chocolate bunnies were impossible to locate. I did see a plentiful assortment of hollow milk chocolate bunnies including such monikers as “Bunny Big Ears,” an “EB Hopsalot” or “Binks” and even “Peter Rabbit.” I did find it curious to see a Fred Flintstone Fruity Pebbles cereal bunny and wondered if the Easter Bunny existed way back in Stone Age Bedrock.

Among the most unusual Easter candy I looked at this year were Dunkin’ coffee-flavored jellybeans; Kit Kat and Chunky’s soft caramel popcorn flavored eggs (also comes in cookie dough flavor); something called Whoppers’ Bunny Tails; Jelly Belly’s Sparkling Bunny corn (rainbow-colored easter candies shaped like Halloween candy corn); and Pancakes and Syrup Marshmallow Peeps.

For fans of the music of Prince, Brach’s is selling bags of Tiny Purple Jellybeans, and Brach’s also has bags containing nothing but red jellybeans. Butterfinger, Tootsie Roll, Skittles and Swedish Fish and Oreos also had egg-shaped products in plentiful supply in the Easter candy aisle for sale on the day I made my visit.

After some concerns about potential pollution and a nationwide shortage during the pandemic, plastic Easter basket grass is back in an assortment of colors in 2022 much to the dislike of environmentalists. They recommend using colored shredded paper as Easter basket lining instead of the plastic variety that they say ends up polluting the ocean.

I picked up and looked at a package of pink-colored paper Easter basket grass and was unaware until I read the label that it could also be used as confetti for birthday, anniversary and graduation celebrations.

Of course, there were baskets of Easter candy ready made for those who find it challenging to select individual candy items from the vast variety available. I like to pick and choose what goes in the grandkids’ Easter basket and prefer doing it that way.

My mother had a tradition every year where she would buy a Paas Easter Egg coloring kit and our family would dip hardboiled eggs in colored dyes at the kitchen the night before Easter. Ah, those were the days. <

Bill Diamond: Supporting sexual assault victims

Senator Bill Diamond
By Senator Bill Diamond

It's no secret that sexual assault is a big problem in our society, with 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experiencing some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. With a problem so widespread and so serious, it’s everyone’s responsibility to step up and stop sexual assault wherever it occurs.

In the Legislature, my colleagues and I are focusing on two settings where sexual assault is pervasive and, sadly, under-addressed: Maine’s college campuses and the Maine National Guard.

Sexual assault on college campuses has received a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, college-aged adults are at high risk for sexual violence, but they are also very unlikely to report their experiences to law enforcement.

There’s a variety of reasons one might choose not to report, including fear of reprisal and the belief that they won’t be taken seriously. College-aged young adults are in a vulnerable time of their lives, having just left home and figuring out who they are and how to relate to each other. It’s a time full of opportunities and risks, meaning that colleges and universities hold a big responsibility to support their students.

A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson would help combat on-campus assault and better support students by stepping up the requirements for Maine colleges and universities. LD 1727 would require colleges to offer evidence-based prevention and trauma-response training for college students and employees. 

Colleges would also need to designate confidential resource advisors to support students who have experienced sexual or domestic violence. The bill would also create a commission to track how well Maine postsecondary schools are handling these issues and to increase transparency and improve policies in the long-term.

This bill would give us more tools to support survivors and to ensure that fewer students are assaulted in the first place.

Another setting where sexual assault is rampant is the military. The Department of Defense estimated that 6.2 percent of active-duty women and 0.7 percent of active-duty men experienced sexual assault in 2018, but the Department also estimates that less than 30 percent of those who were assaulted reported it.

Sadly, Maine’s National Guard has not been immune from this problem. Recent reporting in the Bangor Daily News shed light on what several survivors of assault have gone through as they sought justice and support from their leadership. Sadly, in many instances survivors were let down by Guard leadership, which reportedly prioritized the reputations and careers of the perpetrators over the wellbeing of survivors.

Those in the National Guard step up and volunteer to protect and serve all of us. The fact that anyone would experience assault within its ranks and then be ignored, or even punished, when they reported it is beyond unacceptable.

In late March, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order to establish the Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma, a permanent council that must make recommendations by Dec. 1 of this year about how the National Guard can improve its response to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee also worked hard on a bill to investigate how the National Guard has been handling sexual abuse. The bill directs the Maine Attorney General’s Office to investigate how the Maine National Guard and local law enforcement have conducted their investigations of sexual assault and to determine if any criminal charges need to be filed.

The bill also better defines harassment, requires the Adjutant General to report to the Legislature annually, and takes other steps to ensure that survivors in the Guard are better supported.

It takes tremendous bravery to come forward and report sexual assault, whether one is reporting that to their college, their commanding officer, the police or even family and friends. If you or someone you know is looking for support after experiencing an assault or domestic violence, there are organizations in our area that can help. You can learn more about Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine by visiting, and their free, private, 24-hour crisis and support helpline is available at 1-800-871-7741. Through These Doors, Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, can be reached at or on their 24-hour helpline, 1-800-537-6066.

As always, I’m here to help however I can. <

Andy Young: Night riding with an old friend

By Andy Young

My friend Jeff came by for a visit last Friday night. He arrived unannounced, as he always does, but that’s never bothered me, and it never will. 

Every time Jeff visits, I’m filled with gratitude and wonder. I’m reasonably sure he is too, although he rarely verbalizes his feelings.

The two of us decided to go for a late evening drive the night he dropped by. Jeff was at the wheel, which was perfectly understandable since it was his car. But there’s a significant backstory behind why he was piloting the vehicle while I contentedly rode shotgun.

When the two of us took a memorable camping vacation to see our mutual friend Stan in Wisconsin nearly four decades ago, Jeff and I unanimously agreed he’d serve as lead driver. He was infinitely more mechanically inclined than I was, plus I had never driven anything nearly as big as his massive Buick. I was unsure of my ability to pilot something that to me looked more like an ocean liner than a motor vehicle, but Jeff calmly assured me that I was more than capable of doing so.

On Day One of our odyssey Jeff drove the first four hours, then asked me to take over. Less than 30 minutes later, in perfect weather and without any extenuating circumstances, I sideswiped a guard rail. The sparks caused by the friction of the car screeching against heavy gauge ribbed steel while traveling at around 60 mph were spectacular, but even more impressive was that Jeff remained levelheaded, even though I had, through utter carelessness and incompetence, tattooed his forest green, previously undented pride and joy with a permanent white racing stripe.

On last week’s ride the two of us reminisced about old times while heading for my new apartment in Norwalk. I wanted to show him the photo-covered cork board in my kitchen that featured not only a decades-old photo of the two of us camping out on a 42-degree July morning in northern Michigan, but another one, taken the next day, of Jeff, Stan and I posing outside our tent somewhere in the Wisconsin woods. Shaking our heads, we realized those two long-ago snapshots pictured the three of us at approximately the same age Jeff’s two adult daughters are today.

As we drove through a surprisingly snowy night, I suddenly realized I was going to be late for school. We both laughed about that, since I confessed to him long ago that, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I have recurring, vaguely troubling dreams of being tardy for something important. And while the precise scenario is always different, I generally awaken from such nightmares feeling vaguely uneasy. On those occasions it always takes a few extra moments to fully regain consciousness and have my palpable anxiety dissipate.

Since neither Jeff nor Stan ever alerts me ahead of time about when they might stop by, I have no idea when I’ll see either of them again. Sadly, there’s no reliable way to know when two friends, one who died in a car accident more than three decades ago and the other who succumbed prematurely to a horrific and incurable neurological disease, will next show up in another one of my nocturnal illusions.

I know this, though: I’m eagerly looking forward to our next get-together. And after that sweet but too-brief dream inevitably evaporates into the ether, I’ll be even more determined to positively impact the people around me the same way Jeff and Stan undoubtedly would have, had each of them only been given a lengthier opportunity to do so. < 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Insight: There's no 'I' in meme

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I must admit that I’m not much of one for social media memes. It’s hard for me to fathom that someone collects and saves a file of snappy comebacks for social media posts, ready and waiting for the just the precise moment to unleash it upon the world.

You’ve all seen them, the clapping hands after a witty social media post or comment: the crying baby after a sad event, a clip of Austin Powers saying over and over “Yeah Baby” for something you agree with, or the “Keep Calm and (fill in the blank)” retort for a post alerting the public about a massive snowstorm headed in your direction.

Whether it be the smiling face of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka dispensing some condescending advice, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sitting in the cold while wearing his mittens at the 2021 presidential inauguration or Jim Carey as “The Grinch” it boggles the mind how pervasive meme-use has become as a way of communicating feelings and emotions with a simple upload.

For those living under a rock, what exactly is a meme? As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s 2022 edition, a meme is “an amusing or interesting item such as a captioned picture or video or genre of items that is spread widely online, especially through social media.”

Research shows that long before the inception of the internet, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins of England coined the term “meme” in a 1976 book called “The Selfish Gene.” Dawkins described a meme as a future “unit of cultural transmission” and over the decades since, the term “meme” has evolved into the social media phenomenon we all know today.

I also lump large colored text-filled blocks or questions I see on social media as “memes.” These would include such items as “Date Yourself By Listing a Concert You’ve Attended” or “How Many Times Have You Sneezed In Your Lifetime.”

For me personally, I always try to stay away from responding on social media from memes that ask questions, fearful that some identity thief may be lurking out there on social media and prepared to pounce on the fact that I was a student in the fifth-grade class of Mrs. Wahl at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Brighton, New York in 1963 or that I went to the Edgar Winter Group concert featuring opening act Bad Company at the Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the evening of Aug. 8, 1974. The only reason I can recall that exact date was because while I was standing and waiting in line to get into the concert with my friends, it was announced that U.S. President Richard M. Nixon had said he would resign from office the next day.

Don’t get me wrong, I do admire the ingenuity and creativity that some meme posters exhibit. I’ve been dazzled by how many different situations that the “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis beer commercials can show up in a meme and how adaptable or humorous that grumpy cats or Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs can be when individuals are commenting on a Twitter post about rising energy costs for Americans.

Everything from the grandma that fell down the stairs carrying a basket of laundry from those annoying Life Alert television commercials to Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, and Flavor Flav have been turned into popular memes. There are dancing babies, Keanu Reeves, Jack Nicholson, Tom Brady, the Broadway cast of “Hamilton” and I’ve seen singer Chris Daughtry compared to Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester in the remake of “The Addams Family” film.

The world of memes only seems to be limited by imagination. You’ll find Yoda from “Star Wars,” Homer Simpson from “The Simpsons” television show or Kim Kardashian cajoling each of us to work harder. There are memes about the post office, babysitting, grocery shopping or birthday celebrations and a new one began circulating in the moments following the televised 2022 Academy Awards infamous Will Smith slap of Chris Rock.

I wouldn’t even begin to guess where to stash a supply of witty memes on my iPhone to quickly respond to an interesting Instagram post and I certainly don’t keep any prepared memes handy for those who may post satirical comments when I post this column on social media each week.

I am clueless as to how to make a meme and at my age, I can’t remember what I may have had for dinner two nights ago, let alone recalling where I keep the file for a particular meme to fit a comment about an outrageous statement a friend may make and post on Facebook three weeks from now.

My appreciation for memes is minimal, except when I notice that someone has used a Mr. T from the “A-Team” one or created one with anything related to Ted Lasso. Memes using characters from “The Muppet Show” and Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy are sure to grab my attention.

Any of my friends reading this column on social media may suppose my thoughts on memes are a bit surprising. I do read their memes, but for me, there’s no “I” in meme. <

Andy Young: Whatever the level, it's baseball season

By Andy Young

One of the most irritating trends ever to infect adolescents was the infuriating habit of, while walking away, haughtily dismissing someone older with a backhanded wave and a single word: “Whatever.” (Historical note: on occasion this phrase consisted of two words, as in, “What ever!”) I recall it being pervasive during the 1990’s, and maybe the first few years of the 21st century, but whenever it was, the sheer impudence of this brazenly contemptuous act made my blood boil.

That particular habit didn’t exist during my childhood, since addressing any adult in such a disrespectful manner back then would have had quick and dire consequences. As a parent myself I was fortunate that this scornful, one-word phrase went out of fashion before my own children reached their teens. But I observed it all too often during my early years of teaching at a local high school, and on those occasions when some young person directed it at me or one of my colleagues my blood pressure would jump to…well, whatever blood pressure reading is off the high end of the charts.

Fortunately there’s no reason for stratospheric blood pressure readings at this time of year, since a new season has begun. I refer, of course, to baseball season. Which is, for those of us who grew up with the game, a reliable blood pressure lowerer. Like many people of my generation, I’ve been fascinated with the national pastime since the first time some adult I looked up to brought it to my attention, even though I was probably shorter than one of Willie Mays’s Louisville Sluggers at the time.

College baseball’s season has been underway for over a month now for teams representing Maine institutions of higher learning including UMaine-Orono, UMaine-Farmington, USM, Husson University, and St. Joseph’s, Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and Thomas Colleges.

Local high school baseball teams are eager to start their seasons as well, and after some indoor practices (and outdoor scrimmages, when weather permits), the games that count will begin this week. This spring’s contests will be particularly intense and meaningful for high school seniors, since for most of them these are the last organized baseball games in which they’ll ever play.

But while some players’ careers are nearing their conclusion, others are just beginning. Youth baseball is gearing up as well, with play slated to start late this month. I’m particularly looking forward to Little League baseball; it’s where my own involvement with the game began more than five decades ago. I still umpire at that level from time to time and enjoy being a small part of something that will, for some lucky young people, be the beginning of their own lifetime love affair with the game.

And for those who enjoy seeing the pros, the Portland Sea Dogs open their home season on Friday, April 8. Youth, high school and collegiate games can all be enjoyable, but the fact is the level of play on display from the aspiring major leaguers at Hadlock Field is light years ahead of even the most skilled collegians.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any Major League Baseball this year. The billionaires who own the 32 MLB baseball teams have, in an effort to maximize their already-excessive profits, locked out their youthful, handsomely paid athletic chattel. And since neither the powerful Major League Baseball Players Association nor the owners appear willing to compromise, there isn’t going to be a 2022 season.


Wait a minute.

I’ve just been informed that the labor impasse has been resolved, and that there’s going to be Major League Baseball this summer after all.


Whatever. <