Every publication should have its own superhero. Bollardhead, the not-so-mild-mannered surgeon with a bollard for a skull, led readers on a series of epic adventures during the course of over 60 episodes, the first of which appeared just days after The Bollard was launched online in September 2005.
With the assistance of companions like Rupert Flint and Uncle Athanasius, Bollardhead fought off villains ranging from a rogue city plow driver to tusk-faced thugs wielding nunchucks in the service of the mysterious Hurtubich Enterprises of Cape Elizabeth. When Portland was flooded in the fall of 2008, Bollardhead rescued then-Mayor Ed Suslovic and City Councilors Dave Marshall and Dan Skolnik from City Hall. (Skolnik went on to star in a spin-off Bollard comic, Danland.)
When we last left Bollardhead last fall, our hero, disguised in his Roger Daltrey wig, was crashing an orgy at Hurtubich Enterprises’ Cape Elizabeth headquarters. Will Bollardhead return to tie up loose ends, or will we be left, Lost-like, pondering what the hell really happened?
The first article to really create a buzz about The Bollard was its exclusive jailhouse interview with notorious graffiti vandal Eric White, a.k.a. Fnord, in October 2005. The science fiction writers Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson introduced the concept of “fnord” in their Illuminatus! trilogy. It’s a nonsense word inserted into news stories but perceived only subconsciously, creating a vague sense of unease among the populace.
White’s ubiquitous “fnord” tags registered in a different part of the cortex, creating a very definite sense of rage among property owners. Bollard readers had a similar response to White’s explanation of the “disability” that prevents him from getting a job: “Ergo phobia,” he said. “Fear of work.”
White left the Portland area for a period of time after his release from jail, and the “fnord” tags disappeared, too. But just last month he was back in the Cumberland County cooler. The Portland Daily Sun reported that White and an accomplice were arrested in South Portland on burglary charges, allegedly for stealing construction and surveying equipment. White faces an additional charge of threatening a witness to the crime.
“More public art for Portland”
In early 2006, when Portland Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke decided to install three freakish statues on the sidewalk outside Hadlock Field to promote his business, and the Portland City Council voted to accept Burke’s “surprise” gift as a work of public art, The Bollard was inspired to write an editorial letter to the Council announcing its own surprise gift to the city.
The public art The Bollard commissioned also consisted of three statues. Burke’s figures were inspired by Sea Dogs fans attending a game; these depicted the type of people who loiter in that area the rest of the time: smoking, wearing sweatpants, drooling slightly. For the third work, we proposed replacing the head on Longfellow’s statue with the bust of another famous Maine author: political columnist Al Diamon (a Sea Dogs season-ticket holder).
Curiously, we never did get a response from the Council.
“Ex-Mayor, Gov.’s brother push waterfront hotel project”
The Bollard has had some notable successes getting responses from public officials. For example, in April of 2006, when editor Chris Busby asked former Portland Mayor Peter O’Donnell (then an employee of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development) about private meetings he was holding with former Council colleagues and the governor’s brother to pitch a hotel project for the Maine State Pier, O’Donnell responded quite readily.
“You fucking asshole,” he said. “I thought I told you not to call me. Are you as stupid as I think you are?”
And so began the long, profanity-laced process during which two developers tried, and ultimately failed, to turn our public pier into private property. The Bollard broke this story and followed it through to the bitter end. As with the Sea Dogs statue controversy, the magazine was eventually compelled to offer city officials its own plan: The Bollard Boardwalk. As detailed in the Fall 2007 issue, the Bollard Boardwalk has no hotel and plenty of open space for the public to enjoy.
Just like it is today.
“Drunk Old Port bar owner attacks cops”
Who doesn’t like a good mug shot? OK, maybe the subject of the mug shot, but most everyone else in town got a kick out of seeing Old Port bar owner Tom Manning’s portraits from the pokey after he was arrested for boxing without gloves on Wharf Street in July 2006. (Manning’s once numerous Old Port holdings are now down to just one, The Cactus Club — which, despite the best efforts of city and state officials, is still open for business.)
To be fair, Manning was just one of three people who made the Gossip section of thebollard.com that day for drunken antics. The other two were a boozy Peaks Islander who made a scene during a tense meeting on Peaks’ secession effort, and Kiefer Sutherland, who got blitzed at Amigo’s that weekend. It was a crazy 24 hours.
“Bang-Bangs Invades America”
Bollard columnist Crash Barry made numerous short films that premiered on thebollard.com, including such mini-cinematic classics as “Bang Barry’s Urban Yolk,” “The Artful Chicken,” and “Censored: A True Story.” The flicks earned Barry many fans and not a few foes, but one was particularly popular among employees of the Department of Homeland Security.
That would be “Bang-Bangs Invades America,” in which Barry rowed from Canadian waters to Eastport wearing a burka, then danced on the shore in an Osama bin Laden mask to make the point that it’s impossible to keep America’s borders truly secure. The film was subsequently posted on Barry’s own Web site, where statistics provided by his site’s hosting company revealed numerous visits from computer servers at the Department of Homeland Security (shouldn’t they be masking that somehow?).
Barry was disturbed by this. It wasn’t that his work was attracting government scrutiny. It was that it apparently took Homeland Security officials four months to discover the film. “I posted a short film of me, dressed in a burka, rowing a rowboat across an international border in November 2006 — and they’re just getting around to viewing the film now?” he wrote in a March 2007 press release. “I think that’s a problem. Shouldn’t they have watched it earlier?”
The Bollard’s founding art directors, Sean Wilkinson and The Fuge, teamed up to produce several special features back in the day. Two involved the pair preparing and consuming extreme foods. In April 2006, it was the reflux-inducing egg cocktail known as the Yard of Flannel. A year later, they braved The Clinkito, the so-called “prison burrito” inmates make by combining potato chips (and/or corn chips) with ramen noodles and hot water.
“It tasted like it smelled: stale, corny and chalky, with a vomit-like film that stuck to the back of our throats,” they reported. “Why on earth would anyone, for the love of God, combine these ingredients in this manner instead of just eating some corn chips, then some barbecue chips, followed by some ramen?” Wilkinson wrote. “We supposed the answer must be either sheer boredom or animalistic desperation.”
Elizabeth Peavey’s travel series for The Bollard is similar to the feature stories she’s written for Down East over the years, but with more drinking. The Bollard sent her on missions to find cool things to do in towns within a tolerable drive of Portland, and she delivered every time.
The first of eight installments, published in The Bollard’s first print issue (Summer ’07), was about this Bath native’s backyard, Brunswick. She covered a lot of bases: landmarks like Gulf of Maine Books and the Fat Boy Drive-In; newer attractions like Frontier Café, Cinema & Gallery; and semi-hidden gems like Back Street Bistro and El Camino, the hip cantina on Cushing Street. Plus history, personal anecdotes, side trips and back roads. Oh, and beer.
“The Online Underground”
Remember when people used MySpace? Before the social networking site started following Betamax down the road to technological oblivion, David Pence mined it and discovered a mother lode of local rock gold.
The Online Underground ran from mid-2007 to late ’08, and introduced readers to well over 100 musicians and bands recording in garages and bedrooms throughout Maine. In addition to Pence’s incisive write-ups, the music columns include photos and MP3 from nearly every act. The songs Pence collected reflect the kinds of music he plays during Radio Junk Drawer, his weekly radio show on WMPG: “smart sound (see Graeme K., Matthew Erickson), garage visionaries (e.g. Metal Feathers, Citadel), and pop with a problem (Computer at Sea, The 500s).” The archive of these columns constitutes one of the coolest jukeboxes in town. Check it out.
“Skolnik curses opponents at the poll”
The Bollard’s Nov. 7, 2007 gossip item about Dan Skolnik profanely telling off his two political opponents on Election Day went viral shortly after it was posted. In fact, though Councilor Skolnik went on to lose his cool (and make news for doing so) several more times, there are those who still identify him solely by this incident.
Unfortunately, he is not seeking reelection this fall.
The Land of Forgotten Cocktails
Local mixologist John Myers’ column on classic cocktails debuted in the Winter 2007 issue and quickly became a reader (and drinker) favorite. “I can recall the photo shoots for this feature,” said Busby. “Myers would make each drink at the bar in our old office above Gritty’s on Fore Street.”
“Actually, that’s a lie,” he continued. “I can’t remember a damn thing about those nights. Good thing we still have the recipes.”
That’s My Dump!
The Winter 2007 issue of The Bollard also contained the first installment of That’s My Dump! — perhaps the most popular regular feature in the magazine. The inaugural dump on Brackett Street in Portland’s West End, profiled by original dump hunter Patrick Banks, is still standing, though several others investigated soon afterward have been demolished, including the corrugated-metal shack on Custom House Wharf, the roofless four-story building at the corner of Washington and Congress, and the railroad roundhouse at Rigby Yard in South Portland.
Some dumps are being renovated. The Cumberland Self-Storage building on Commercial Street, profiled by Cotton Estes in March of last year, is being converted into classy waterfront office space for the law firm Pierce Atwood. But for every property getting a new life, there’s another that’s still dead. The post-apocalyptic Mobil station where Riverside Street meets Brighton Ave. is as desolate today as it was two years ago.
Off the Eatin’ Path
Food writer Zachary Barowitz’s forays into the Portland area’s ethnic markets and restaurants, Off the Eatin’ Path, have uncovered a wealth of exotic entrees, take-out food, and groceries. But none of those finds has sparked the kind of cult following his spring 2008 profile of Kim’s Sandwich and Café on St. John Street in Portland did.
Granted, when you’re selling delicious, made-to-order bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) for less than $3, people are gonna come back.
Journalist and author Colin Woodard has contributed several blockbuster articles to The Bollard over the years. “Chump Change,” his exposé of the flimsy financial rationale behind the push to bring cruise ships to Portland, was the cover story of The Bollard’s first monthly issue back in June 2008.
Bitter merchants in the Old Port still bring up this story today, despite a record number of ship visits this season.
No doubt about it: “Chasing Chellie,” the story that uncovered Chellie Pingree’s then-secret romantic relationship with a hedge fund manager and political player, S. Donald Sussman, put The Bollard on the map, earning the publication a lot of recognition, if not always respect, in Pine Tree State political circles.
Intrepid (and, at the time, mildly intoxicated) reporter Chris Busby tracked the couple from Pingree’s primary night election party at the Porthole, through a thunderstorm, and up Munjoy Hill to a property Sussman owned on Kellogg Street. The first-person account of that adventure, and the Pingree campaign’s attempts to keep the relationship out of the press, caused an uproar, but obviously didn’t stop Pingree from handily winning her Congressional race that fall.
This year’s campaign finance filings seem to indicate that Pingree and “the other Donald” are still a happy power couple.
“The Keg Party”
The November 2008 cover story about The Keg Party, a satirical political movement formed to defend hedonistic rights, took on a life of its own and nearly became real. Readers wanted to know how they could join. The Bollard printed and distributed membership cards and t-shirts. A couple city councilors nervously asked if the party intended to field candidates. (It never did.)
The rise of the Tea Party movement has attracted renewed interest in The Keg Party from out-of-state readers who think it could counteract the popularity of that conservative cause, especially among Bud-guzzlin’ Bubbas in the South. But nobody’s had enough energy to take up the mantle yet.
“The Dark Side of Parkside”
With the possible exception of Zack Barowitz’s op-ed criticizing the Portland Buy Local campaign, no other piece The Bollard has published has generated more letters to the editor than the cover story of the August 2009 issue. And every time it begins to seem like the article’s critics have a point, that it’s really not that bad down there, another person gets stabbed.
The story of the galleon RawFaith got a big reaction last spring from Portlanders who’d seen it in the harbor for months and wondered when the pirates aboard would attack. (Most were relieved to find out there weren’t real pirates aboard.) It sailed out earlier this summer after spending about nine months in Portland Harbor.
In mid-August, the ship was docked in Winthrop, Mass. According to the Winthrop Transcript, Capt. George McKay was giving tours and collecting donations, accompanied by Jack Sparrow (or was it an impersonator?).
— Chris Busby