Lea Wait, reporting. I suspect I’ve watched as many movies and TV shows set in small towns as the next person, and I can’t help noticing that a lot of them have it wrong. Or at least out of date. Almost all movies have a least one scene in which the local folks gather to exchange information (= gossip) at a small store, usually located in the center of town.
Now, when I was growing up, a few decades ago, there were such places in Maine. But supermarkets have invaded, and in most towns I know today the current equivalent of that old country store is a convenience store connected to a gas station. Not the same atmosphere at all.
There are still gathering places, of course. The post office in my town is a prime location. A lot of folks rent post office boxes just to have an excuse to stop in, and the place is buzzing in late morning, about the time the postmistress hangs the “Box Mail is UP!” sign.
She keeps track of what’s happening, too. Once during a heavy snow storm I called her to ask if I’d received a thick envelope, since I was waiting for galleys, and their arrival would mean I’d have to go out in the storm.
Without checking, she immediately assured me that, “Yup. That envelope from Simon & Schuster came in this morning. And your husband got some pills you’d better pick up, and your granddaughter sent you a real nice postcard.” Good to know. I got myself up to the post office, just as she’d advised.
But the way to find out what’s really happening is to read the weekly police reports in the local newspapers.
Some weeks the officers are too busy to provide any details and just list their accomplishments. (“The Boothbay Harbor Police Department conducted 22 motor vehicle stops, 2 welfare checks, attempted to locate one person, responded to 10 burglar alarms, 1 burglary, 13 medical emergencies, one harassment report, one juvenile problem, two unwanted subjects, one loud noise, 63 property checks, and assisted citizens six times.”) This, of course, leaves the reader titillated and unfulfilled. Did any of the burglary alarms have to do with the actual burglary? Did they find the person? What kind of unwanted subjects? How loud does a noise have to be to qualify for inclusion in a police report? And one juvenile problem? A young problem? Will it age? Or, if there’s only one young person in the entire area of Boothbay Harbor with a problem – that’s a pretty quiet town. There was a time I had more just in my household.
Luckily, most weeks they give details. Of course, most of their emergencies are not quite ready for prime time. “Officer Alfred Simmons investigated suspicious activity on Birch Point Road. Citizen claimed they heard someone open the screen door.”
Clearly not a case for Law and Order. Since it’s also the end of the listing, we can assume all was well. Not so when “Office Kathy Williams investigated a complaint of criminal mischief on Old Dresden Road involving bullet holes in a mailbox.” Yup. That’s a problem. Better rent one of those boxes at the post office.
Then there are notices in which you hope perhaps words have been left out. “January 9. Kyle McKinney, 49, rolled backward into a school bus. No children on board were injured.” I don’t know Mr. McKinney, but I also wondered about his health.
Usually names are given, but sometimes, for security or privacy reasons, not, as in “Office Tyson Fait responded to a local business to remove a person who had been warned not to return there.” Clear enough?
Officer Fait was in Damariscotta (I read a few newspapers in my area) where there were several people with inter-personal issues that week. The next listing was, “Officer Aaron Beck escorted a citizen to retrieve personal belongings, and assisted another citizen with questions regarding the safety of his children.”
And, since it is Maine, there are sometimes local exigencies, as in this traffic report. “On December 17 Shirley Chamberlain was operating a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser south on Rt 96 when she went off the right side of the roadway and hit a utility pole. A snow squall passing through was a contributing factor.” Kind of poetic.
In one week Wiscasset officers “responded to a car versus deer accident,” “investigated suspicious activity near Wiscasset High School,” “conducted a welfare check of subjects living in a van,” (sad,) “dealt with unwanted subjects at a Gardiner Road residence,” and “investigated the reported theft of two end tables from a front lawn.” (No note on what valued end tables might have been doing on a front lawn in December in a snowstorm.)
But, by and large, as with all police departments, the majority of police tasks are motor vehicle stops, minor arrests, and calls for service. Embarrassing or helpful if they involve you or your neighbor, but not worthy of a major newspaper article.
In a recent copy of the Lincoln County News, however, the editor must have been smiling when he chose to place two 2-column articles side by side.
The first was headlined., “Round Pond Man Allegedly Assaults Girlfriend with ATV.” Seems Paul Hart and his girlfriend were staying in a tent at a friend’s house. The girlfriend left the property “to take a walk,” (sic) and Hart ran her down with his ATV, knocking her into a ditch. She returned to the tent. He then followed her, kicked her, and swore at her. Later that night he went into the house where they were staying and found her dancing with the homeowner. “The girlfriend attempted to escape through a bathroom window, but Hart allegedly pushed her into the shower, where she hit her head, then choked her and threatened her. She contacted the police.” At the time of the incident Hart was out on bail for a previous domestic assault on the women. (Hart is now in jail.)
That’s a horrible story. Clearly the question is: why did the girlfriend stay around?
But now for the story in the very next column, headed, “Bristol Woman Jailed For Ramming Husband With Car.” This case is much simpler. Seems Deidre Albert and her husband were having an argument. She told him that if he came any closer to her she’d hit him with her car. He did. She did. His leg was broken. (Albert is now out on bail and forbidden use of alcohol.)
Makes me wish the girlfriend in the first story had had access to a car.
I can hardly wait to read the Sixth District Court Report to find out what happens next ….