New England is not just prep.
I don't recognize this New England.
Where are all the quaint little cottages with matching doors and shutters? I only see endless blocks of dingy apartment buildings with weather-beaten vinyl siding. Plus, I've been driving around Lewiston, Maine for a good 30 minutes now, and I haven't spotted a single sail boat―not in the Androscoggin River that separates hard-knocks Lewiston from equally gritty Auburn, and not in the canal that runs along Lewiston's massive Bates Mill complex, where the first textile factory opened in 1850 and the last loom stopped spinning in 2001.
Our pedestrian contradicts the mythos.
In a green hoodie, he cuts across a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. The sweatshirt is one size too big. I can't see his waistline, but I doubt there's a whimsical belt with needlepoint anchors or lobsters holding up his roomy dad jeans. Battered training shoes cover his feet. Three plastic convenience-store bags dangle from his left hand. The bags bounce off his knee and thigh as he walks, creating a slight limp. Instead of a Kennedy haircut with emphatic part and light Brylcreem shimmer, messy hair thins backwards into a waffle-sized bald spot. If the sun were to break through the dirty-gray clouds, our guy might reach for some shades. Still, I can't imagine him wearing Ray Ban Wayfarers with a sunglasses retainer hanging around his neck.
This man is not the exception in Lewiston. He is very much the rule.
We will go the entire day without seeing one pair of Nantucket Red trousers.
When Greg Cordeiro almost got beaten with a tire iron, New England Outerwear Co. began in earnest.
This was back in 2012. Greg and Dan Heselton (pictured above, left) had just arrived at the home of a master handsewer named Bill Herrick (above, right). Bill had agreed to go into business with Greg and Dan, making shoes in Bill's garage. There was just one problem―namely, the guy chasing Greg around the yard with a tire iron. You see, that guy had established a similar partnership with Bill several months earlier. Bill had yet to receive one thin dime from sales, however, and Mr. Tire Iron had recently stolen 10 grand from their only distributor. So Bill contacted Greg and Dan, two New England natives who wanted to launch their own clothing brand, starting with traditional New England footwear.
As Dan remembers, "Bill was like, 'If you guys want to partner with me, I'll kick his ass out.'" However, Mr. Tire Iron refused to go quietly (as Greg can attest). Dan explains that Greg eventually escaped his raging assailant, who stole a one-off pattern sample on his way out the door, as a final, petty "Fuck you."
Dan finishes telling the story and lets out a long sigh.
"It's Lewiston," he says. "Those sorts of people are everywhere."
ALL GOOD THINGS ...
1) In the development of the shoe industry in America, the State of Maine has played a most important part. The business of making boots and shoes has been one of the foremost trades in the industrial history of Maine.
"The History of the Shoe Industry in Maine," 1927
2) ... if all ten factories in Auburn were to operate at full capacity, they could manufacture 76,800 pairs of shoes daily, or one and one half times as many shoes as there are men, women and children in these two cities.
Lewiston Sun Journal, 1927
3) I have made boots right in Lewiston of the very best French stock at six dollars per pair.
J.B. Sawyer, quoted in the Lewiston Evening Journal, August 15, 1888
4) Justin Brands Inc. announced on Thursday the acquisition of Brewer-based Highland Shoe Co. LLC. ... all 35 employees will be retained ... Justin Brands Inc. is a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary, which is managed by Warren Buffett. ... Highland annually makes around 25,000 shoes by hand ...
Bangor Daily News, May 9, 2013
... MUST COME TO AN END
1) ... as the largest shoe-producing state, Maine feels the foreign competition most. In the past year, 94 domestic shoe manufacturers have shut down. Thirty-two of them were in Maine.
Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 1985
2) ... in the 1960s footwear factories (in Maine) employed 20,000 people ... Now, that number is fewer than 2,000. Even L.L. Bean has outsourced much of its shoe manufacturing ...
Bangor Daily News, June 21, 2017
3) Dexter (Shoes, in Dexter, Maine) ... was purchased by Warren Buffett in 1993 for $433 million in stock and closed in 2001; Buffett has since called the investment "the worst deal" of his career.
Bangor Daily News, June 23, 2017
4) Greg Crouchley, Executive Vice President of Justin Brands released a statement announcing the closure of Highland / Chippewa shoe factory ... "We have offered severance to all current employees, which includes 25 full-time and 2 part-time people."
WLBZ, February 7, 2017
Dan and Greg met at Timberland, where Dan worked in logistics and Greg designed footwear. They shared a vision for making traditional handsewn New England moccasins, and, importantly, doing all manufacturing in the region.
"All the Timberland production was in the Carribean or China," Dan says. "When handsewing left the U.S., some of it went to China, but most of it went to the Caribbean. Haiti had a little bit. Puerto Rico had a lot, and the Dominican. With the shoes made in the Dominican, salaries are lower than China because of the value of the dollar, and it all comes in duty-free from the Dominican Republic. You can make a boat shoe for 11 dollars there, out of Horween leather, and import it into the U.S. with no duty."
Once the guys took the plunge and left Timberland, they needed a business name. Inspiration came from their shared love of the outdoors. In spring and summer, Dan and his wife plan their meals around what's ready in their garden. Greg is an avid fly fisherman. An early NEOC photo shoot featured a Maine hunter as a model. The man wore a canvas jacket with accents of blinding orange. He held a camouflage long-gun case, and stood tall in his NEOC Harvester Boots. Not surprisingly, the guys ended up picking a suitably rugged name: New England Outerwear Co.
NEOC soon outgrew Bill's garage. Dan and Greg found an affordable space towards the back of a factory at 550 N. Lisbon Street, where rival shoemaker Quoddy operates inside the street-facing storefront. The overall building is enormous. It's nothing compared to Bates Mill, but still probably the size of a Chicago city block: an eighth of a mile. When we arrive, Dan meets us out back. He asks about our morning drive from Kennebunkport and our trip as a whole. I explain that we're visiting upstart New England clothing brands that are reviving traditional regional manufacturing practices, thereby exposing the absurdity of GQ's version of New England. Dan laughs and says something in response. My voice recorder is still in my bag, so I can't quote him. But it's something like this:
I'm running as fast as I can from the whole white-guy thing.
Dan leads us through a corridor into the factory. At a work station, he has set up a makeshift office desk. We stand around chatting about the place in general. It's a modestly sized workshop that used to be the Cole Haan soleing room back when Bill worked here with Dave Rancourt. Today, it's home to five people besides Dan: Michelle and Sandy, who stitch shoe uppers and do pre-fit; Bill, who cuts patterns, handsews, and oversees production; Dana, who takes care of soleing; and, as of last week, Richard, a handsewer.
Eventually Dan picks up the "white guy" thread, without me having to ask. He seems flustered, repeatedly beginning a thought but quickly jumping to another one, almost stammering. It's obvious that he is choosing his words carefully.
"That's ... if you look at our Instagram and the PR we do, I'll post a boat shoe every now and then, but it's like, I almost ... we don't wholesale boat shoes. We keep them out of retailers. It's not ... it's almost like the image .. Maybe when we started, it was our go-to at first and then ..." And then, Dan stops dancing around the elephant in the room. It's an elephant that has haunted every progressive American clothing manufacturer since last October. He now speaks clearly and with palpable conviction.
In the beginning, Dan and Greg aspired to start with handsewn moccasins and gradually expand into total outfitting, with garments made in all six New England states. Unfortunately, the first time they moved beyond footwear, their aspirations collided with harsh business realities. The Shoals Break parka and Fieldsman jacket went into production at an outside milspec factory. The factory owner only let Dan and Greg make small tweaks to existing patterns. Producing their own pattern would have been insanely expensive for two guys self-financing their own business. During one factory visit, Dan watched thousands of coats destined for Afghan soldiers roll through production. "Looking at the way this particular factory made the product," he says, "it was really no different than something I'd get from China or elsewhere that's doing mass production. That's where I ask myself, 'Is this what we want to do just for the sake of making a jacket?'"
It wasn't what they wanted to do. So, the shoemakers stuck to their last. But they were also stuck with the name "New England Outerwear," which didn't make sense for a footwear company.
Earlier this year, Greg left NEOC for an opportunity to design at Clarks. "We barely pulled a paycheck for two years doing this," Dan says when I ask about Greg's departure. "It wears on your relationships with your wives, your significant others. We both worked second jobs, third jobs while doing this to try to keep it up." Faced with the responsibility of running the business on his own―and tired of answering questions from confused retailers and customers about the name―Dan decided to take a new approach in terms of branding. In the coming weeks of summer 2017, New England Outerwear will become Maine Mountain Moccasin, as we previously reported.
We at Someone Else are preoccupied with "presence" as it relates to clothing. The topic first came up when we interviewed Pierre Lupesco, co-founder of Shockoe Atelier. Pierre used a different word, "soul," when describing the presence of Neapolitan suiting. “How do you define soul in a suit?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't even know if the words have been invented yet. The fact is that you can see it. You feel it.” In our conversation with the political philosopher Andrew Potter, we talked about the realtionship between "presence" and "status." Then you have our story on Ebbets Field Flannels, which included a meditation on "presence" and "authenticity" in the "Authentic How?" side chapter.
With something like handsewn New England moccasins, the topic of "presence" was inevitable.
Paul Sperry invented the boat shoe in 1935. Last winter, Wolverine Worldwide (Sperry's parent company) promoted the head honcho of its apparel / accessories division to top dog at Sperry. That man's name is Tom Kennedy. A person with the most stereotypically New England surname imaginable now presides over the most stereotypically New England shoe imaginable.
And people say there is no god.
Long before Tom joined Sperry, back in 2013, the company announced its "Made in Maine" collection. In the launch video, a Sperry designer proudly announced that the company had partnered with the ill-fated Highland factory for production. That's unusal. Highland only made private-label shoes, and its clientele typically avoided mentioning the factory. They sometimes vaguely referred to "our factory in Maine," but generally speaking, companies don't advertise their private-label dealings. For instance, today Eastland is no hurry to tell you that its "Made in Maine" collection originates at the Rancourt & Co. factory. A more cynical writer than myself would suggest that Eastland, and plenty of other private-label clients, are exploiting what they see as the made-in-America "trend," which Dan, tellingly, refers to as a "movement." Eastland touts itself as "one of the few remaining family-owned-and-operated American shoe brands still making footwear in our home state of Maine."
Except they don't make the shoes. Rancourt does.
But let's consider the truth: Eastland is one of the few remaining family-owned-and-operated America shoe brands that outsourced production overseas to save a little money (and who cares about workers or Freeport anyway, lol), and we still make everything overseas except for two collections that we contract out to an actual, legitimate New England factory because of this "heritage" thing, just in case we can leech brand equity from the entrepreneurs whose vision and sacrifices kickstarted the made-in-America resurgence, and we'll drop those two collections as soon as they stop achieving arbitrary sales goals set by a middle manager who prefers wearing Kenneth Cole Reaction anyway.
The bigger a company grows, the poorer its terms with reality become.
Kyle Rancourt is happy to tell you that Rancourt makes Eastland, and he'll also make some astonishingly candid remarks about his client's lack of "heritage" while he's at it. Via Kyle's 2013 Reddit AMA: "... Eastland, and LL Bean are not manufacturers. They buy shoes from factories like ours. ... the fact is that the heritage is not there, the owners don't have the history in this business that we do." I've never met Kyle Rancourt, but I like the cut of his jib. In addition to his apt observation on heritage, he rebukes men who wear flip-flops in public, a sentiment with which I could not agree more. A man's bare feet are an abomination before God.
Sperry has legitimate heritage as the original boat shoe. But HQ seems to have forgotten about that cute "American-made" thing. The company does some collaborations with Quoddy, but its "Made in Maine" line appears to have been discontinued, no doubt due to low sales. Sperry continues to "support" (give money to) American sailing events and teams, but it doesn't "support" (invest money in) American manufacturing. What would happen if you approached Tom Kennedy and suggested that Sperry build a factory adjacent to its corporate New England headquarters, to deepen Sperry's ties to the community and practice "fair trade under a microscope"?
What's more, I can't imagine Tom ever inviting a writer to the Sperry factory―or more likely, to one of Sperry's many overseas factories―and telling that writer what Dan is about to tell me. I don't mean to pick on Mr. Kennedy. We can just as easily, and just as absurdly, picture James B. Klein, president of Eastland, at the Rancourt factory. Surrounded by at least two generations of Rancourt family members, James points to the handsewers, stichers, solers, and other master craftspeople working on Eastland's "Made in Maine" collection. He looks at the visiting writer, and with a straight face, he says, "I identify myself with this. This is me."
Somehow, I'm not quite sure I would believe him.
Today is Friday. On Wednesday night, we stayed at Bluebird Farm in rural Willington, Connecticut. Our host grew up in Lewiston. She referred to the city as the "Dirty Lew." The place would, she assured us, rival anything we'd seen so far in terms of overall bleakness. Considering we had visited Hartford and Fall River, that was saying something. Heading into Lewiston, I was prepared for the worst.
But the worst never came. "The Dirty Lew" is actually remarkably clean. I don't remember seeing a single piece of litter the entire day, which holds up when I look at Jeff's photographs. But "Dirty Lew" pertains to Lewiston citizens, not the streets. The people are shady, the nickname suggests. But so far, everyone seems normal. We haven't encountered any of the "crack heads" mentioned by people shitposting online about Lewiston. No maniac has chased me with a tire iron. And I certainly haven't tangled with a family of carnies after they tried to catch me in an insurance scam.
That won't happen until after lunch.
"Be careful." That's what the owner of Simone's told me when I left. Ten minutes later we dropped Dan at the factory. I got out and we said our goodbyes. "Hey, man," he said as I climbed back into the rental car, "be careful."
Be careful of what? The so-called "Dirty Lew"? This super-clean city filled with salt-of-the-earth folks? I haven't seen a bit of danger all day. I will admit, though, that right now, as I'm driving through downtown Lewiston with Jeff, those two "Be carefuls" have me feeling a little leery. Why the insistence? "Be careful"―you might as well tell someone, "Be worried."
Jeff is shooting from the passenger seat, so he needs me to go super slow. I have to consciously keep my foot from pressing the accelerator. I'm ready to get out of Dodge.
Jeff flips through photos on his camera. He nods and says, "We're good." I turn right off Canal Street onto Pine, and from there onto Park Street. We pass Simone's. This is the same route we took maybe 15 minutes ago when driving Dan back to the factory after lunch. A green bank rises up into Kennedy Park. Twenty yards or so in front of us to the left, caged basketball courts sit above the street. Jeff mentions the courts and I slow way down again for him to shoot. No big deal. I can putter along for another few seconds. Soon enough we'll be back on Lisbon Street, then the Parkway, then I-95. We should arrive at our Airbnb in Owl's Head with a few hours of daylight left. Once there, we'll poke around the countryside and take more photos.
That's the plan, anyway.
Across the street from the basketball court stands the Lewiston Police Department. And right outside the police department, there's a kid straddling a BMX-style bicycle. The kid is in the street, just enough out of the way to allow cars to pass. He has his back to traffic. I see the right side of his body in profile. Under the brim of a backwards baseball hat, dirty blond hair shoots out like ragged straw from an old broom. His t-shirt is not only sleeveless, but sideless. From shoulder-seam to hem, his ribcage is exposed. Mesh basketball shorts droop to within a few inches of white athletic socks and white high-tops. In a few moments I'll notice (as if I could possibly miss it) an enormous love bite on the left side of his neck. An older woman stands on the sidewalk by the police station, facing traffic, talking to the kid. We're getting closer now. Jeff's camera goes click ... clickclick ... click. I notice less about the woman's appearance: a green t-shirt, blue jeans, red-hair pulled back, a refillable convenience-store mug in one hand. Behind the woman and the BMX kid stands a boy with red hair and a purple t-shirt. He is noticeably shorter and younger than BMX kid, who has now started yelling toward the woman. I hear him roar, but the words are unintelligible.
When I get within a few feet of the kid, he's still yelling. I can only make out a single word.
" ...TRAFFIC ..."
With that, the kid kicks out his feet. The bicycle, with him on it, spins backwards―directly into the path of our car. We're so close now that all the action I'm describing occurs in my peripheral vision. Luckily, our car is going so slow that when I slam on the brakes, the tires don't so much as squeak. At the same time, I crank the steering wheel to the left. We veer sharply and completely avoid the boy. The back wheel of his bicycle gently bumps the front right wheel of our car. In a split-second, my brain gathers, collates, analyzes, and distills all stimuli from the last 10 seconds, and cross-references that collective input with my life experiences, including my 2002 exposure to a Chicago scam that looked a lot like this. My conscious mind receives the following report: CARNY FAMILY. INSURANCE FRAUD. RINGLEADER MOM. KILL WITH FIRE. REPEAT KILL WITH FIRE.
The gear shift is slammed into park. The driver's door is flung open. My legs stride across the street. I am out of my mind, guided solely by the autopilot of incandescent rage.
My wife doesn't think I should tell this story. "You come off badly," she advises. And I do. No middle-aged man looks good upbraiding a child (in this case, a 16-year-old boy, as I quickly learn). But I'm telling you what happened as it happened, and I reckon the truth is always worth telling. Me looking bad is beside the point. I say the following not in my defense but to acknowledge my shortcomings: When people treat me like I'm stupid, or like I'm an easy mark, I take issue. This probably owes to low confidence on my part, a feeling of insecurity for which I overcompensate with hypervigilance. It's a personality defect, a blemish in my character. I concede all of that. In Lewiston, I should have stayed in the car and driven off. But I didn't. And I'm happy I didn't. It's vainglorious to say, but maybe the kid needed to hear it from me. And I certainly needed his mother to teach me the upcoming lesson.
But we all can agree, I think, that as I rounded the front of the rental car, I could have picked a better way to develop a rapport with the young man.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"This is what you do? Ride your bike into slow-moving traffic and then sue? But you completely missed. Shouldn't you be better at this? I mean, I was going slow enough that you wouldn't get hurt, but you could still show up in court in a neck brace. That's the idea, right?"
Then, like an old man yelling from his porch, I repeatedly ask, "Where did you learn to act like that?" All the while, I mock the kid's accent by putting my A's through a sausage grinder.
Classy, I know.
At first the kid looks stunned, like no one ever calls him out for antisocial behavior. Then he seems mildly annoyed with familiar territory, like, "Great, now I have to deal with this again," as though people frequently call him out for antisocial behavior. As I persist, he becomes enraged. He ditches the bike and squares up to me, chest to chest. He's going to beat my ass. He's going to slap me upside the head.
"Where did you learn to act like this?
"I'm gonna slap you upside the head."
And so on.
At one point, the red-haired woman on the sidewalk shouts, "You're arguing with a 16-year-old." The kid picks up on this. "I'm 16. How old are you, anyway? I'm 16." Eventually the mother resigns herself to the situation and sits on the curb, watching the proceedings. With supreme self-satisfaction, I think something like, "It's cowardly enough to enlist children in your Oliver Twist street hustles, but then you don't defend them when a smart mark protests? So much for honor among thieves."
At one point, the red-headed child in the purple shirt comes into the frame, out of nowhere, like a whirlwind of filet knives. Now he too is going to kick my ass. He looks and acts the part of the youngest Bobby child in Talladega Nights, he of the "spider monkey" fighting style. In truth, this spirited little urchin is far more terrifying than his blond, and far taller, counterpart.
"Where did you learn how to act like that?"
"I'm gonna kick your ass. I'm 16. How old are you, anyway? I'm gonna slap you upside the head."
"Where did you learn how to act like that?"
Overall, it's not a productive conversation.
Eventually the kid pushes me up against the side of the rental car. When he does, some loose change falls out of the breast pocket on my shirt: a few quarters and pennies, a dime or two, and oh, would you look at that―it's my 12-year-anniversary coin.
I stare down at the anniversary coin. My wife gave it to me before I left Wednesday, on the morning of my sober date.
Goddman it. I did it again.
The sight of this coin on the ground, this round hunk of cheap metal inscribed with cheesy slogans, completely kills my taste for chastising Lewiston's wayward youth. Truly, there is no worse time to remember that sober people aren't supposed to act like complete jackasses―especially after 12 years―than when you're right smack dab in the middle of acting like a complete jackass.
"I dropped my change," I tell the kid. I'm speaking with my inside voice now.
"Fuck your change. I'm gonna kick your ass. I'm gonna slap you upside the head. How old are you, anway?"
At this point, a motorist steps between us. (Traffic is backed up on Park Street behind my idling car.) I point to the ground and I tell the kid, "I'm going to pick up that coin right there. I'm picking it up, and then I'm leaving."
"Yeah, you pick that shit up and get the fuck outta here, before I slap you upside the head."
I bend over and get my coin. The bitter remorse and self-recusal that alcoholics call an "emotional hangover" has already set in. I return the coin to my pocket and leave the quarters and dimes and pennies on the street. I walk back around the car. Unfortunately, I don't think to check if anything else has fallen out of my pockets.
I'm behind the wheel. The kid calls through Jeff's open passenger window. "Ya cah is gah-bige."
I guess I'm not ashamed enough to bite my tongue. "It's a rental," I call back.
Then I add my parting shot.
"Your life," I yell at the kid, "is garbage."
I press down on the accelerator.
We are an hour out of Lewiston, about 45 minutes from Owl's Head. I feel like I've woken up hung-over, endlessly replaying my embarrassing fuck-up from last night's holiday party, wondering if I should call the host's wife to apologize. Jeff and I talk about why I react this way to intense situations. (In New York, he once witnessed me reading the riot act to an apathetic animal-hospital attendent while I clutched an abandoned kitten, whom we had just stumbled across on the street, to my chest.) Eventually, I feel like calling my wife. I need to reorient myself to what, and who, is important.
I can't change the past. Right now I just need to reset my mind and drive safely to Owl's Head. We're almost there now. A call to my wife is just the thing.
"Hey, Jeff. Do you see my phone?"
Jeff does not see my phone. Jeff does not see my phone in the console. Jeff does not see my phone in my bags in the back seat. Jeff does not see my phone on the floorboards.
Jeff calls my phone. "Hello," he says. "Hello? Who is this?"
I pull over into a driveway off the two-lane highway.
"This is my friend's phone," Jeff says. "He's driving right now. His name is Joe. Wait. What? Who is this? Officer who?"
I take Jeff's cell. "Hello, this is Joe. You've got my phone."
The man claims to be a Lewiston police officer. I think it's a man. Is this a man's voice? Could it be a boy? Maybe. My voice dropped early when I was a kid, but the BMX kid, did he ...
The "police officer" says to me, "I'm sorry you had to deal with those two idiots. But don't worry. Just come back to the police station. Your phone will be here for you. With any luck, I'll be at the front desk typing up reports when you get here."
I have the presence of mind to ask for the officer's name. He says Travis something. Then he asks me what kind of car I drive.
Adrenaline. Fear. KILL WITH FIRE. Why on earth would he need to know about my car, unless it's to match what I say with a description that someone else has already given him?
I clear my throat. I feel like pleading the Fifth. "Well, officer, it's a white car. I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. It's a rental."
"Sounds good, Joe. See you soon."
Jeff and I talk through every situation we can imagine. Presumably my phone fell out of my jeans back pocket at the same time that the loose change and my sober coin fell out of my shirt pocket―that is, when the kid shoved me against the car. So, how does the phone go from the ground on Park Street into the hands of a policeman? It makes no sense. The family of carnies would have certainly seen it before anyone else. They were right there. And obviously they wouldn't have turned it into the police.
Is one of the carnies impersonating a policeman?
"Call the police station," Jeff says.
"Bingo!" I shout. "Look at the big brain on Jeff! I'll call the police station."
"Lewiston police, records / staff division."
'Hello, yes, I lost my phone. I called my number, and a man claiming to be a police officer said that he has the phone."
"What's your name?"
"Oh, yeah, I just heard your name come up on some chatter on the scanner. Come on down to the station. We'll have it here for you."
"OK, great. Do you have an officer Travis on the force?"
OK, so now we can rule out the possibilities of carnies impersonating the police. But the whole thing still stinks to high heaven. How did my phone get into a policeman's hands? Maybe a pedestrian found it and turned it in? Maybe a cop exiting the station saw all the hubbub and came over to investigate just as I drove off, and that cop picked it up? None of these scenarios seem plausible. It still makes the most sense for the carnies to have seen my phone before anyone else. So, this is the big question: Why would carnies give an iPhone to a cop? "If we go back there," I tell Jeff, "I'm going to walk into the police station and this kid is going to be in a wheelchair, with his legs and arms in full traction and a neck brace and a fucking halo with spokes holding his head still, and he's going to have an IV in one arm and a feeding tube in his stomach. And his carny mother is going to be all distraught, like, 'There he is! There's the cold-hearted man who ran over my poor son, snatching him from the prime of life, leaving him to die in the middle of the road like a dog' and she's going to have professional mourners there, and they'll be all screaming and wailing and I'm gonna be fucked."
Jeff nods in silence, assessing the possibility.
I have two options: (1) Call Sprint and have them kill my iPhone, go without a cell for the rest of the trip, and lose hundreds of dollars getting a new one, or (2) Drive back to Lewiston and face whatever and whoever is waiting for me.
I deserve comeuppance after my altercation with the kid. I didn't threaten or strike the boy. Whatever the penalties for verbal assault, I will accept those, but that's it. Jeff is my witness. Plus, the basketball courts were empty when I walked back to the car. All the kids were pressing their faces against the chain link, watching the sad spectacle unfold. So they were all witnesses too.
I call my wife on Jeff's phone and tell her about the situation. "I have no idea what I'm driving into," I tell her. "I fully expect the carnies to be waiting inside the police station when I get there. So if Jeff calls you and tells you that I need a lawyer, just be ready for that."
I end the call and back the car out of the driveway. I turn around and head towards Lewiston―or as I think of it now, the Dirty Lew.
I turn right off Lisbon onto Chestnut, and then immediately onto Park, passing Simone's for a third time today. Stepping out of the car, I scan the courts at Kennedy Park for sideless t-shirts and red hair. I walk to where the loose change fell from my pocket. All the currency I left in the street is gone.
The police station is completely empty. Behind bullet-proof glass, the front desk sits unmanned. This is discouraging because there are no police to help me. But this is also fantastic because I'm not being ambushed by scheming carnies. We sit on the edge of a random table for several minutes, waiting for someone to arrive at the front desk. A highly intoxicated man with a overflowing hiking backpack wanders in and lies down in the corner. A woman walks in, yelling. She sees the empty desk and turns around just as quickly, yelling―specifically that she could get quicker service by going home and calling 911. Eventually Jeff picks up the red phone on the wall, which connects him to the emergency line in Auburn. The operator tells Jeff that someone will arrive soon.
It takes awhile, but eventually an officer shows up. I approach the glass.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, sir. My name is Joe Jarvis. One of your officers said that he found my phone. I lost it, you see. He said it would be waiting for me here."
The officer slowly looks around the desk. He shakes his head. "Nope. Nothing."
"That's strange," I say. "I called here earlier, and the gentleman I spoke to said that he heard my name on some police-radio chatter."
The officer looks at me with pointed skepticism.
"Officer Travis," I blurt out, suddenly remembering. "Officer Travis. He has my phone."
The officer clicks on his shoulder mic. He does the whole "rubber duck, 1-2, 1-2 thing," and then pauses to listen to a static-garbled voice calling in response. He nods at me and says, "He's finishing up his shift. Sit tight."
At this point, I should point out the drunk camper sleeping in the corner, and suggest that perhaps a wellness check is in order. But I'm so preoccupied about my smartphone that I totally forget. The policeman leaves the desk area. Time passes. We've been here about 20 minutes now. I decide to stretch my legs. I want to walk off some of my nerves, and also to check on the car.
Once outside, I'm relieved to find that the tires aren't slashed. The side panels haven't been keyed. But, to be safe, I should check that front right hubcap, just in case ...
Jeff is walking toward me with a young police officer.
Well, here we go. Whatever this is, this is it.
"I'm Joe Jarvis," I say, offering the policeman my hand.
We shake hands. The officer pulls my phone out of his vest. "Here you go, Mr. Jarvis. Do you have an ID?"
"Yes sir." I look over my shoulder while getting my driver's license. This all seems way too easy.
The officer takes my license and clicks his shoulder mic. "Jarvis," he says into the device. "Joe. Middle initial 'T,' tango. Roger."
"I'm happy you came back for this," he says with a smile. "I didn't want to have to log it." He points to the bottom of the iPhone screen, at a crack. "I don't know if your phone had this before ..."
"Yeah," I say, confused. "I dropped it awhile ago."
"Well," he says, "I'm sorry you had a bad experience."
The officer hands over my phone. I understand nothing about this situation. How did we get here? How did this phone get back into my hand? I squint my eyes. My mouth hangs open. I'm waiting for my brain, so quick to announce KILL WITH FIRE, to help me ask the obvious questions in this situation.
Jeff intercedes. "Who turned it in?" he asks.
"The mother," the officer says.
What? The mother? The woman whose son I cursed up and down? The woman who listened to me accuse her boy, and by implication herself, of insurance fraud? The woman who heard me tell the kid, "Your life is garbage" before I drove off? The woman with the refillable convenience-store mug? That lady? That's the person who picked up my iPhone and turned it into the police? May I say again―what?
"Well," I say so loud that I'm basically yelling, "God bless her."
"Yeah," the cop says. "The mother is good people. She just has idiot kids. One of them is under house arrest."
"But I assumed this was insurance fraud," I say.
The cop shakes his head. "Not even. Just some dumb kids, messing with traffic."
We exchange pleasantries with the officer. We're up here doing a story. Interviews, photographs. We're headed to a place called Owl's Head. It's east of here, pretty much on the coast. The officer doesn't tell us to be safe, but it wouldn't matter if he did. I don't need any more warnings. I feel completely safe. The emotional hangover is gone. No nerves, no fear, no remorse, no self-recrimination. And it has nothing to do with getting my phone back. I just received something else way more important.
Laugh at this all you want, but I feel healed.
The mother should hate me, but she looked out for me. She had no reason whatsoever to pick up my phone and give it to the police, telling them, "It belonged to a guy in a white car." In fact, she had every reason to take my phone, sell it, smash it, try to get into my banking app, whatever. And honestly, I would have understood that kind of revenge. I mean, this whole time I've been thinking of her as a carny matriarch.
But instead she did the last thing I would ever expect. She was kind. I find that inexplicable, undeserved. When Jeff and I were hypothesizing scenarios back on the highway, neither of us said, "Hey, what if the mom found your phone and gave it to the cops?"
This feels like a mother's love. But I'm a stranger who hated her and her family. It makes no sense.
This is grace.
I sit at the wheel. The officer disappears behind the station into the staff entrance. "The mother," I say, shaking my head. "The mother is good people."
I put the car in gear. We are on Park Street again, headed out of town. And to be clear, it's not the "Dirty Lew." This is Lewiston, Maine, and I'll never forget the love I was shown here.
In this interview, Dan Heselton talks about his decision to rebrand New England Outerwear Company as Maine Mountain Moccasin.