A million melodramas in naked city

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Here’s a play in many parts I like to call “Scenes from Downtown Lewiston.” The players are men, women and children who roam the city and appear at scenes of chaos like ants discovering a cheese doodle on the sidewalk. The backdrop is Lewiston itself, with its ornate steeples, sagging tenements and leaning phone poles.

In the first act, the curtain rises on Kennedy Park, which is teeming with people out in the late-day warmth. A child has fallen from a bicycle and hit his head on the pavement. The collision was so dramatic that money has flown from his pockets.

The child is loaded onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital. Witnesses continue to mill around, speaking with cops who review the scene. One boy eyes the crumpled dollar bills lying in the grass at the scene of the wreck. Some adult inner voice seems to tell him that running over and snatching it up would be crass. But there is also the undeniable law called “finders, keepers” that clearly applies here.

There is a way out of this conflict, the boy realizes. He adroitly steps to the fallen money and coolly sets his foot over the bills. He looks around to ensure he has not been seen. Then he simply stands there waiting for the hubbub to subside so he can safely collect his riches. Three minutes turn to five. Five minutes turn to 10.

When I leave the park, the kid is still standing on the cash, arms folded as if to say, “Nothing going on here. I’m certainly not standing on money to be gathered up later. Nosiree. Just standing and enjoying the night air.”

Act II is a fine-looking young man throwing a ball against a brick wall. Ah, such a wholesome exercise. Ball bounces back to be caught, ball is thrown against the wall. What a marvelous way to collect one’s thoughts and improve eye-hand coordination.

Now the young man is getting more fanciful about his play. He throws the ball higher along the wall and catches it as it arcs back down. Higher goes the ball, more dramatic is the catch. Higher, more dramatic. Higher, more dramatic. Higher …

Forget about it. The ball has sailed onto the roof, never to return. The young man wanders away rejected. He knows he has learned a lesson here, but danged if he knows what it is.

Act III. Pretty young lady is walking up Sabattus Street. In the opposite direction comes another young lady walking beside her boyfriend. The three pass on the sidewalk without nods or any form of acknowledgment. But moments later, the young man turns his head ever so slightly to watch the comely young lady walk away. His girlfriend detects this and gives him a petulant shove.

Now the young man is raising his arms in protest. What? He seems to be saying. I was just checking for traffic so you won’t get hit!

The girlfriend buys none of this. She is disgusted at his lecherous behavior. She storms away in a flurry of his protests. The young man sadly watches her go. He stands there and appears to be deliberating. After a moment, his mind is made up. He strides off in the direction of the first young lady and there’s an extra bounce in his step.

Act IV. On Pine Street there is the drama of sirens as firefighters and cops scream to the scene of a house fire. Flames on a back porch are quickly climbing the walls of a three-story apartment house. Tenants are rushing from their apartments. There is panic and confusion.

The hero firefighters are there in minutes. Hoses are uncoiled and snaked from long, yellow trucks to the blazing building. There are gushes of water and the crackling sound of emergency radios. Curious gawkers line up for blocks to watch the drama.

In the midst of this scene, along comes a bored young man with a muscle shirt and a crewcut. He is skateboarding up the sidewalk along Pine Street, oblivious to the mayhem around him. He glides liquidly along until suddenly there is an obstacle in his path. It is a fire hose, plump with water, stretched across the pavement. The skateboarder stops and looks around with a look of frustration. Ain’t nobody gonna move this thing out of my way? he seems to say.

Alas, the fire crews are unwilling to help this poor boy. Cussing, he gives the skateboard a kick and flips it up into his hands. Then he steps with exaggerated flair across the wretched fire hose. The nerve of people in this city, he just can’t believe it.

The scenes run seamlessly together in this Lewiston tale. Every day and every night, microdramas are acted out in all corners of the city. It would be my immense pleasure to bring them to you every day. But not right now. I have to go to the roof of this building and fetch that stupid tennis ball.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. He hones his hand-eye coordination by writing novels in his off-hours.

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