The Massacre and the Ball-hitch

The media is hyperventilating about a not very interesting massacre in Colorado.  Here’s a more interesting story about a ball-hitch in Maine.

Of course the massacre is horrifying.  It’s terrible for everyone involved.  I wish there would never be another one.  But it’s not very interesting because massacres do occur every so often.  Perhaps they would happen less often if our weapons laws and enforcement were changed.  But whether or no, they are rare events that happen not only in the USA and that reveal little or nothing about our culture.  My experience with the ball-hitch, however, is symptomatic of a profound cultural difference between Maine where I live now and southwest Connecticut where I came from.

Here’s the story: I went to a huge hardware store to rent a log-splitter.  We did the paperwork, then the man asked if I had a 2-inch ball on my van.  I didn’t remember its size so we went to look.  “One and seven-eighths,” he said.  As I started thinking if I had a wrench in the van or would I need to buy one as well as a 2-inch ball, the man went into the warehouse saying, “I think I’ve got one here somewhere.”   He didn’t see one immediately.  “I’ve got one on my truck,” he said, walked off, replaced mine with his and gave me mine.  He’d already gone home when I brought the splitter back the next day.  He hadn’t told the guy who took over from him to get his ball-hitch.  He assumed I would give it back because that’s what folks do here.  I won’t say something like this would never happen where I lived before but it would be a big surprise.  It would have been more likely when I moved there in 1970 but still surprising.

It would not be very interesting if this was an unusual event but in fact, it’s so commonplace that only a newcomer would notice.  There’s a letter from another recent immigrant to Maine in today’s newspaper.  She misjudged the turn into a fish shop shortly before it closed, hit the curb and blew out her tire.  Shaken by the blast of adrenaline, she went into the shop to get her fish before calling a tow-truck.  “I’ll have to stop and serve any customers who come in,” said the young man behind the counter who had heard the tire burst, “but I could change your wheel if you’d like.”   The shop owner came while he was doing that and told the fellow to go back in the shop.  The woman knew she was now on her own but no, the owner took off his jacket and finished the job.  Neither of them would take any money.

It’s fascinating to consider what may contribute to this distinctive aspect of Maine’s culture.  It would make a big difference if we could establish it everywhere.

6 comments on “The Massacre and the Ball-hitch

  1. I can add some anecdotes to that: I spent my summer in Maine from 1946 until 1962 when I discovered girls. There were unattended roadside stands that sold honey and jam. There would be a pot of money and the products. We would take what we wanted to buy and make change if we had a large bill.

    In 2003 I sailed to Maine and picked up a mooring in Swans Island. There was a large sign on shore saying $20 for the mooring, so I took the dinghy and went in to pay. There was no one there, but there was a pot of money with probably $100 or so in it. I left my $20 and went back to the boat thinking how wonderful that this culture of honesty has survived the turbulent times since 1962.

  2. Martin, In 1962 when I traveled across country after taking off the second term of my junior in college I had some problems with my car. The generator stopped working. I don’t exactly remember where we were but it was in a small town in someplace like New Mexico or Arizona. It was late in the day so I stopped at a gas station and asked where I might be able to get it fixed. It might have even been Sunday. The fellow told me to drive down a few blocks and go behind a building and I would find somebody who might be able to help me. Well sure enough I found a man who stopped what he was doing and without hesitation took a look. He said he thought I needed a new bearing or bushing in the generator. He said he could take care of it. Well, he got out his wrench and pulled the generator out, opened it up, and saw what was wrong and replaced what needed to be replaced. Put it back in and asked me to start the car and see if it was charging. Sure enough it was. I was both relieved and thrilled that it was fixed that easily. I asked him how much it would thinking I would have to fork over a substantial amount of money for his work. He said, “That will be 2 dollars.” With that, I thanked him profusely and we were on our way. Can’t image that happening today. Cars are far more complex and people not quite as friendly and helpful. I do remember feeling very good, and that was 59 years ago.

  3. Felicity told me about a radio report on a UK survey about happiness. Respondents in London, by far the UK’s largest city, reported themselves least happy; residents of a small island off the coast of Scotland were happiest. “Maybe happy people are more trusting and generous?” she said. “Maybe people in Maine are happier than in some other places. I know I am!”

    We speculated about why this might be and I thought about Nepal. The first time I went, I was blown away by the happiness and generosity of Nepalis. I had to go back to try to understand why and what I could apply in my own life. Of course, I’ve learned their life is much less idyllic than it seemed, there’s more violence, more crime and so on, but there is a big difference between the culture in the mountain villages where I went first and the Kathmandu Valley where I’ve explored more recently.

    Folks in the mountains are, in general, happy. Those in what is now a big city are less so. Folks in the mountains accept what happens, supporting themselves as best they can no matter what. Expectations of the city folks are set by what others have and do, and the need for a job. You can’t be self-sufficient in a city. You must earn money so you can buy what you need. There’s very high unemployment in Nepal because there’s almost no industry. A quarter of GDP is remittances from Nepalis working overseas.

    But, just like everywhere else, Nepalis who leave the village don’t want to live that way any more. It’s probably unfortunate that the entire global population is urbanizing.

  4. Chris Blaszczynski commented via Facebook: “I would like to think these things happen sometimes in CT! Once, a long time ago, I went to pick up pizza. I had brought my ATM card, but the machine near by wasn’t working. So, I went in just to tell them that I couldn’t pick up the pizza. They let me take the pizza anyway (and some soda) and come back later with the money! I did of course!”

    • I replied via Facebook: “Yes, Chris, there are trusting folks and ones who can be trusted everywhere. I wish there were more like you and that you had many recent such stories to tell. What struck me is there doesn’t seem much value in dwelling on massacres. If anything, the media exposure is counter-productive, likely to incite more. Paying attention to what we can do in everyday life, however, moment to moment, that could incite more good behavior feels far more valuable.”

      Doma Ghalay Facebook “liked” what I wrote.

      • Chris Blaszczynski responded: “Yes, that is true about the media coverage! I wish it would at least lead to some better gun laws. NOBODY needs an assault weapon!”

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