The Enemies of Reading

Letter from Maine 2: I survived a spittle storm & risked my life to watch Clara Bow's Wedding Night

By Hugh Gilmore
Posted 8/26/21

As noted in my first Letter from Maine, a sub-theme of easily provoked COVID wariness followed us north.

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The Enemies of Reading

Letter from Maine 2: I survived a spittle storm & risked my life to watch Clara Bow's Wedding Night


After two years of COVID cave-dwelling, my wife, son and I escaped for two weeks in early August by driving north. The change of scenery and evasion of daily burdens were wonderful. Haddock chowder, lobster rolls, spacious clouds resting against truly blue skies, good books read on lazy afternoons, and a shaded hammock were well worth the 1,700 miles of driving.  

But, as noted in my first "Letter from Maine" (August 12), a sub-theme of easily provoked COVID wariness followed us north. Though we didn't expect woke behavior on the turnpike rest stops, when we arrived in Nashua, New Hampshire, we were alarmed to see the Hilton Courtyard staff unmasked and not social distanced. This despite the daily media alerts that the Delta variation was rising from the south and heading this way.  

We spent a week in  Maine at cousin Jeanne's cabin on a Northport pond, reading during the day and eating under a red umbrella by the bay at night. In the little bit of tourism we did, we all wore masks. Same with food shopping and pickups. Small price to pay, that mask. Curiosity brought out the anthropologist in me: Who wore what where? And why? And I couldn't help noting the license plates at McLaughlin's Lobster Shack at Lincolnville Beach: Ohio, Virginia, Florida (escapees?), Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Georgia, California, Texas, Indiana and Iowa. Any Delta viruses here might be like conventioneers: gathering, mixing, then hitching rides back home.  

Mid-week we left Maine for Keene, New Hampshire, a halfway stop en route to Rome, New York. Keene is a cute little college town, but the Marriott Fairfield Inn staff was cheerfully unmasked. So were most of the guests. ("Ha ha ha, let them eat cake, we're all vaccinated here.") Spoiler alert: Our "suite" was reached via elevator level LL, down where the mushrooms grow. In the late afternoon we sought an al fresco restaurant.

There were two nearby. One was on the sunny side of the street, the other in the shade. It was hot and humid. We went for the shade. The restaurant's name was The Stage. (Good food and service.) We sat outside, spaced far enough from the other diners to risk going bare-cheeked. Blissful. Very nice. Relaxing. Except that sometimes I have the bad habit of talking to my fellow patrons. I asked a sixty-something man sitting alone about eight feetaway  (an important number here) if the weather had been like this all week. Did I care? Of course not, I was just working through one of my usual fits of exuberance – happy to be at a restaurant and outdoors and oh so free and loose and unworried in this scary world. But I triggered a dialogue that went on too long.

When asked, we said we were taking our son to a four-day film festival in Rome, New York, tomorrow. I bragged that Andrew was a very knowledgeable early-movie buff. Quite so, in fact. The man then tested Andrew's expertise with, "Okay, tell me: what movie star wrote and produced a feature film from 1968 featuring the Monkees ?" Andrew said "Jack Nicholson." Amazed, the traveling salesman asked what the title was. "'Head,'" said Andrew.

The man turned to Janet and me, "Your son's an effin' genius!" (Actually, he used the F-word.) He repeated his compliment. This time I noticed small bubbles of spit fly from his yap onto the sidewalk. Uh oh.

            "What's that you're drinking?" I asked. "Vodka and cranberry juice," he said as he bid the server to bring another. I'd counted: his third. A health nut, but a spraying one. Fool me once, shame on me, but, oops, here came another question, another answer by Andrew and another effin' shower of praise. "It's not the cranberry juice you see that can hurt you," Fauci once said, "It's the atomized spray in the air. It floats in the breeze." On went our masks, even though we were outdoors and spaced according to code. We gracefully turned away when our food arrived. The food was good. We hoped it hadn't been anointed.

The next day, we arrived in Rome, NY, for Capitolfest, a film festival that celebrates the intersection of late silent and early talkie movies. Over the next three days Andrew, normally the most cautious of us three, attended 18 feature films and numerous shorts. He and his friends are all vaccinated and all wore masks through every minute of every film. He loved it. He was in his milieu and with friends whose company the rest of the year comes only via the internet. Our gift to our #*%#!  genius son.

I did not want to attend even one of the programs. If I didn't feel free yet to return to our local Ambler movie theater, or dine indoors, I certainly didn't want to sit in a movie theater with 300 rambling strangers, even on the "I'm vaccinated" honor plan – not to mention our four-night stay in a motel attached to a Denny's restaurant.

Janet wanted to risk seeing a few. We settled on two. A 1929 silent on Friday night starred Constance Bennett in "Rich People," and an afternoon early (1930) talkie with the "It Girl" herself, Clara Bow, titled "Her Wedding Night." Clara was cute as ever, immortalized eye candy, and a gifted actress. Very enjoyable.

Yes, yes, but I've omitted the trembly part. I watched from the rear, seeing the backs of too many heads silhouetted against the screen. I felt warm and nauseated under my mask. Had the snapping jaws of Delta bitten my blood? I got up twice to go outside and breathe. But Janet and Andrew were inside and I knew that if one of us got sick, all of us would, so I returned for the final scenes.

We came home via Route 476 near Scranton. Shortly into Pennsylvania we rolled into a rest stop. To my wondering eyes, an astounding sight awaited: eighty percent of the people bustling about in there wore masks. I'm not kidding. What a relief! How reassuring. I was so happy I started to walk over to the Travel Hostess and tell her how happy I was to be home in good old Pennsy.

I stopped midway when I saw she was not wearing a mask.



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