Recently, our friend Lisa Ellsworth came for a visit. There ensued an effort to show her the best of our new Home Base, that “best” being limited to the very little we’ve learned about Portland in our short time here. We launched a tour that included lobster rolls, state fairs, picturesque early Autumn landscapes, moody old graveyards, junk shops, an indie rock show peopled with incredibly smelly hippies, Casco Bay island-hopping, and a visit to the, uh, 24-hour L.L. Bean store.
On a warm Saturday night, we ferried over to Peaks Island and checked in (in the non-digital sense) at the 8th of Maine Regiment Memorial. Built in 1891 with money the 8th’s regiment commander, Brigadier General William Miltmore McArthur, had won in the Louisiana State Lottery, it’s a grand old structure overlooking a rocky postcard-ready beach. The main floor is wide and open (perfect for the various dances and meetings held within), housing Civil War memorabilia, comfortable rocking chairs, and a 20th Century addition: a ping pong table. Embellished with aging Victorian accoutrement and weathered by the sea, the 8th of Maine seems to continue to stand out of habit rather than any sort of structural fortitude. It’s built with sturdy, old-growth timber that refuses to collapse–one of those places that the less you touch and try to improve, the better. Kind of like a fat old man on a couch, if you force him to stand up, he’ll probably have a heart attack, but if you let him be, he can probably sit there and wheeze for good long while. For our purposes, we’ll call this “graceful decrepitude,” which, more on that below.
Descendants of the 8th of Maine Regiment still run the joint. We met two of them–the manager and his elderly father, a spry old gentleman in a plaid shirt and baseball cap who seemed very pleased with the two “pretty ladies” I’d brought to his establishment. I sensed an air of retired menace in the old guy. Like maybe a few decades back he had been a real tough bastard, but age had mellowed him down into local color. Or he may be a perfectly nice old man, we didn’t get a chance to spend much time with him, having arrived too late in the evening to get the personal history tour he conducts. Regardless, the “pretty ladies” were a bit wary of his attentions. There’s an important life lesson for me here: some old men are total flirty charmers (See: Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin) and beloved harmless characters (See: Saint Nicholas and Mark Twain), while others just skeeve people out (See: Hugh Hefner and Kim Jong Il) . How will I measure out in the coming decades of decline and decay? What will I need to cultivate to ensure that I ensconce myself in graceful decrepitude rather than an unhappy slide into dirty/mean old man-dom?
Think about it this way: the most recent Indiana Jones film was atrocious for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that Harrison Ford just didn’t seem very likable–it was clear to the audience that he’s become a mean old man. Whereas, you go back to Sean Connery’s turn in the Last Crusade and you’ve got a man who aged with grace and charm. Of course, Connery is apparently a complete bastard in real life, so perhaps he’s just a better actor than Ford. The point is to end up more like the onscreen Connery, or the fictional Augustus McCrae than, say James Coburn in Affliction.
But so after a lobster dinner in town, we shared a bottle of wine with the manager in the basement dining room (each guest gets a propane range cast-iron griddle, fridge and cabinet space for provisions as well as a dining table (your table’s placement closer to the choice side of the dining hall purely dependent on your social standing in the 8th’s arcane hierarchy and your favor in the eyes of the aforementioned old man). As it was we didn’t have to worry, since it was both late in the evening and late in the season (we were one of two other guests that night). Our table, and the ping pong table above it, and the outdoor showers we took in the Indian Summer sunshine after a day of swimming and bike-riding were all pretty spectacular.