Maine has it all. Or a lot of stuff anyway.
Ayuh. It’s time for summer vacation.
Living as I do here in the metropolis, I seldom encounter many of my fellow Mainers. When I do, there are the usual formalities — Where’re you from? Do you know so and so? When’d you get out? — as each of us tries to suss out what caliber trailer park the other sprang from, whether we might be related and which details of our personal/family history need to be glossed over. Having established one another’s bona fides, a good natured conversation usually ensues, more often than not with both of us lapsing into the native dialect, which almost invariably leads to general hilarity, and eventually, plans to hit the local watering hole for a couple of pops as soon as schedules permit.
There’s always a certain camaraderie in shared origins, and this is especially true if the family homestead happens to be in a place as weird as Maine. The particular language, common references, mutual food preferences and suchlike provide a solid foundation upon which many lifelong friendships are based, often much to the bemusement of outsiders, or as we tend to call them, flatlanders.
So as I contemplate my annual pilgrimage back to the land of my ancestors, I find that once again I’m looking forward to a little immersion in the cultural
sesspit pool from which I emerged, mostly because Maine people are really, really funny. There’s a certain dryness of delivery that is difficult to convey in print, so I won’t even try. And then, there’s the accent. After a few cocktails, I have been known to offer a reasonable interpretation, but even without the accent, Maine humor is pretty SHAHP in large part because of its unique linguistic quirks.(If you’re one of my sensitive, caring readers — though I’m pretty sure I scared the last one away months ago — you might want to stop reading here. It gets fairly offensive fairly quickly.)
Beans: As I have already chronicled, Saturday night beans are a tradition in Maine, and much of northern New England for that matter. Besides feeding the soul, the baked bean supper provides ample fodder for standard flatulence jokes and many more. For example:
Question: What do you get when twelve locals gather in Jonesport for a bean supper?
Answer: A full set of teeth!
Log skidders: Everyone born in Maine enters this world knowing two things: where to get a steamed hot dog at any hour of the day or night and what a log skidder is. Now, lest you think the state is one giant logging camp, let me tell you that there are in fact thickly-settled, cosmopolitan areas of the state where Bean boots are worn only after Labor Day and plaids are mixed exclusively on formal occasions. But even in the swankiest corner of Downeast, everyone knows what you’re talking about when you refer to skidders, which together with their accoutrements can figure in a variety of contexts; for example, in discussions of the BMW (Big Maine Woman), as in “Jesus H. Christ, Merton, if the old lady’s arse gets any bigger I’ll have to use my skidder to drag her out of bed in the morning.” Or, “By the Jesus, Vinal, one more beer and I’ll need my grapple and choke chain just to get off this barstool.”
Fat/Crazy/Ugly: Though Maine is the home of LL Bean, Acadia National Park and the Allagash Wilderness, most of its people are not exactly the outdoor fitness loving let’s-take-a-hike-and-paddle-that-kayak cover models you might imagine. As noted previously, there is a preponderance of largeness, madness and just plain ugly (much of it with a direct bloodline to yours truly), and sad though that is, Mainers find colorful ways of describing the aforementioned afflications.
My friend Janet once reported hearing the following description of a particularly wide backside: “Looks just like two pigs fighting in a sack.” As an image it’s quite vivid, isn’t it?
The craziness, in my opinion, stems largely from the endless, frigid soul-destroying winters. After about three days of sitting around the trailer, walking in straight lines and waiting for the power to come back on people begin to come unhinged, and it sticks. They do, however, come up with some entertaining descriptors. My personal favorite is crazier than a rat in a tin can, with crazy as a shithouse rat running a close second.
Equally colorful are the terms for the less splendid among us, the guys and gals least likely to be crowned at the prom or featured on the cover of Field & Stream. I recall one of these unfortunates referred to as a “double bagger — you put a bag over her head then one over yours in case hers rips.” Not very nice, really, but if you’d ever passed an evening at a bar in Millinocket, you’d know what I’m talking about.
Of course none of this really interferes with the basic human need for companionship. I once heard a youngish fellow sum up his dating standards thusly: “Eight or eighty, blind, crippled or crazy, it don’t matter. If they can’t walk I’ll drag ‘em.” At the time I thought he was kidding.
- Wicked means extremely, as in wicked good (see above). In this, we once again see the pervasive influence of those crazy-ass early Puritans who clearly felt that anything good had to be sinful.
- Honkin‘ means extremely, as in “That’s one big honkin’ log skidder. You could probly haul at least three BMWs with it.”
- A skrid is a small piece or amount, or the opposite of big honkin’, as in “You already ate half of the pie; another little skrid won’t make no difference.”
- Rack of pounders (pronounced rackapoundiz): A six pack of sixteen ounce cans of beer, or as we call it in my family, breakfast. See also rack of beer, pronounced rackabeeah.
- Stove up/stove in: Crushed, bashed, ruined, broken, bent or all of the above. To wit: “Junior Varney’s truck got all stove up when he run into that barn yestiddy. Christ almighty, he’d drunk up about a rack of pounders before he even got out of bed.”
- Spleeny: Cross, cranky, a childish pain in the ass, as in “My kids was so spleeny today I hadta crack a rackapoundiz before lunch just to stay in the trailer with ‘em.”
- Puckerbrush (pronounced pukkabrush): Wild, thorny scrub, of the sort small boys love to run through so as to achieve optimal scarring and scabbing.
- Redundancy is a good thing, as in “I wouldn’t eat at that clam shack. It’s filthy dirty.” Not merely filthy, or dirty, but filthy dirty, as in wicked gross.
- Metaphors are embraced: As in “He ain’t even smart enough to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written right there on the heel.” Though what the urine filled boot symbolizes I cannot say.
- Similes can be confusing, but use them anyway: “Shee-it, he’s number than a pounded thumb.” Last time I whacked my thumb is hurt like hell.
- When in doubt make up your own verb conjugation. Elsie: “Why warn’t you to home last night, Earl?” Earl: “I warn’t home ’cause I knew you’d a been there, ferchrissakes.” Where to even begin?
So there you have it. Everything you need to know to successfully communicate in the Pine Tree State. If any of you are considering a trip to Vacationland in the coming months (September is by far the best time to visit, by the way), may I suggest you consult the archives for my handy tourism guide?
Head north, intrepid readers. Head north.