Editor’s Note: Almost two decades ago, Crash Barry spent a couple years living and working on Matinicus, Maine’s most remote island. This is another of his true stories.
“You know what ruined this island?” Captain Emery asked, slurring his words because the orange juice mixed with moonshine from his basement still was powerfully strong. “Radio! Radio ruined this island!”
We were drinking at his kitchen table. Emery – in his early 80s – remembered the days before radio.
“Back then we had dances.” He paused to take another long sip. “We’d have church socials. Play games. Play cards. Sing songs.” He sighed. “Then radio comes along, with its news and music and stories, and people would just stay home and sit in front of a box.” He snorted and shook his head. “Nowadays, nobody does nuthin’ together.” He pointed at me. “And everyone hates everybody else.”
Emery was a funny looking fella, short and stocky with big ears and a long nose. I’d heard from other islanders that his reputation as a sexual swordsman was well known across Penobscot Bay. Even as a rugged elder, he mischievously flirted with females of all ages. Girls swooned under the spell of his twinkling eyes and crooked grin, wanting to hug and squeeze him. He always obliged.
Emery’s fishhouse was next to mine down in the Lower Harbor. He was the oldest man still lobstering on the island. His traps were made from spruce, not wire. His arms were huge from a life of hard labor and his brain was filled with the knowledge of history. He understood what the clouds and birds had to say. He could smell storms and tell which way the breeze would blow. He trusted his gut more than technology. I really liked learning from him.
That’s why we were drinking the moonshine. We’d spent the whole day working on the shore, jacking up his fishhouse. Before Emery showed me how, I had no idea two humans could lift a building. He appreciated my help and wanted to repay me with cocktails and conversation.
“Radio,” he repeated, emphatically, “radio ruined this island.”
One wicked windy morning, a year later, I was working in a huge shop, a hundred feet from Emery’s fishhouse. It was an illegal building, constructed without permits or permission. Upstairs were unfinished apartments. Downstairs was a big open space, shared by several lobstermen. To make some extra cash, I was bending wire and building traps for another captain, a newly learned skill that I actually enjoyed. A half-dozen other men were involved in similar trap-related tasks. To me, the labor felt ancient and traditional, despite the thump, chortle and hiss of the compressor that sporadically drowned out the rock ’n’roll coming from the radio, courtesy of WBLM.
It was an hour before lunch when Philly’s truck came speeding down the dirt road and screeched to a stop in front of the shop. Philly, the 65-year-old ne’er-do-well father to a pair of the meanest outlaws that ever called the island home, climbed out of the pick-up slowly — because Philly didn’t do anything fast, except drive his truck. Truth was, his brain was dim. Islanders blamed it on the fact his mom and dad were brother and sister.
Philly’s torpor could have been caused by drugs, too. He was a pill-head. A lover of Valium, he popped ’em like candy. His speech was sluggish and his sense of humor non-existent. Listless, lethargic and droopy-eyed, Philly constantly seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep while standing up.
This morning, his mission must have been urgent, because he almost sprinted into the shop.
“Everybody!” he yelled, then paused to wheeze. “Let’s go!”
Was there a house on fire? An injured child? A shipwreck? A sinking boat?
“WRESTLEMANIA!” he hollered. “WRESTLEMANIA IS ON THE SATELLITE TEE-VEE!”
Within a minute, the place was almost empty. The gang filled the back of Philly’s truck and raced up to his house in the middle of the island, home to a swimming pool–sized satellite dish.
Not me, though. I stayed down on the shore and kept building traps, listening to the radio.