The smell of wood smoke was everywhere. From the darkened back roads to the cluttered downtown, homes were being heated and the aroma of it was high and nostalgic. I thought to myself: Ah. What a lovely October evening this is.

But hold the phone, Joe Cupo. I was experiencing this olfactory thrill ride because I was out on the Suzuki on an unmapped course into, around and occasionally straight across nowhere.

This was not late autumn at all, but a week into June.

No matter how sweet the smell of burning wood, it has no business floating from a chimney in the elderly days of spring. And with this startling revelation, I thought: Eureka! This is what I will write about for this week’s column, due about six hours ago.

I will write about those June nights of youth when daylight seemed stretched impossibly long and how it was 70 degrees when darkness finally fell. I will portend that the luckiest among us will revisit such nights as old, old men, sitting on front porches and experiencing again the dazzle of eternal June dusk.

The march of nights leading to the summer solstice are the most precious of all, I would wax for the enthralled reader. And my, how I would bitch about how this once-glorious season has been plundered in recent years by long periods of rain, unseasonable cold and probably a hail of toads I will have forgotten.

It was a beautiful idea that died the same quick death as the June bug that flew valiantly but fatally into my helmet shield. Complaining about the weather is a well into which I’ve dipped many times in periods marked by a dearth of ideas for this space.

And so I rode on. And somewhere in downtown Lewiston, stopped at a traffic light, I was greeted by a 40-ish man who cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled to me: “Do a wheelie! Let’s see you do a wheelie!”

And I thought, ah … I know this fellow. He is of the variety who will yell, “Fore!” every time he drives past a golf course. If the window crank doesn’t work, this man will bust out the glass with his elbow, so committed is he to the delivery of this wit which, of course, has never been deployed by another before him.

This is the same middle-aged wit who still oinks quietly to his friends whenever he sees a policeman; who continues to ask people to pull his finger; who advises “that’s what SHE said” in the presence of any sexual utterance, no matter how vague.

Just marvelous material for a column, but slap my forehead for me, will you? I tackled the topic four or five years ago after a beer-swilling 50-something oinked at me on Pine Street and repetition, they say, is a sign of sloppy thinking.

Denied again, I rode on.

At the carnival in Auburn, I expected ideas to fall from the sky like loose change falling from the pockets of riders aboard the Zipper. But the carnival landscape was sparse. Instead of delighted screams and the clang of bells, I heard only the sad creaking of mechanical parts and low murmurs from bored carnies.

I thought: Well, this is surely something. I could fill 18 inches of column space opining on how carnivals can’t possibly survive in a world of exploding technology. Young people don’t need to fork over their spending dough to sit on a pirate ship whose only thrill is that of gravity. They have high-tech adventure in the form of video games with graphics so vivid you can actually get bruised and lose teeth. A young man doesn’t need to win a stupid teddy bear for his love of the week; he can send her a rose and pinch her butt through one of thousands of Facebook applications designed to do those very things.

Write about the carnival, sure. Just like I did in 2005, 2006 and 2008 (I took a break from carnivals in 2007 because of the incident with the three-fingered carnie about whom I’m forbidden to speak.)

So, I twisted the throttle and rode away frustrated in search of an open manhole. Instead, at a location I cannot disclose, I found them.

By them, I mean those groups of people who hang out in a specific parking lot, lying atop the hoods of muscle cars or straddling street bikes. They have thousand-dollar stereos with which they blast the soundtrack of their youth across the night. They have beautiful mag wheels with tires which they will burn across the pavement, sending up clouds of dark smoke and eliciting cheers of “Hell, YEAH!” and “Smoke ’em, Ronnie!” from their peers.

They are replicas of the kids I hung out with back in my restless adolescence and they are a near-perfect imitation of your old gang, too.

And so here was fine fodder for that elusive column that was ruining my ride. Here was an opportunity to talk about the tribal nature of these generational gatherings – to really get down into the psychology of it and wow the reader with the depth of my knowledge, which might sound suspiciously like a passage from “Lord of the Flies,” but which is really not, I swear.

But again, history foils me. I wrote about the Lord of Flies Theory of Parking Lot Ritual a few years ago when I admitted, finally, that I was the kid who streaked across The Concourse in Waterville back in 1985. To do so again would constitute redundancy and, let’s face it: bragging.

Repetition, they say, is a sign of sloppy thinking.

I went out riding in hopes of finding clouds of fresh ideas instead of clouds of moths. But the only ideas that pelted me were old ones, and so I have nothing new for you today. I’m out of time, my long-suffering friends, and out of gas. You’ll just have to get by on your own.

That, by the way, is what SHE said!

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can e-mail him at [email protected]sunjournal.com.


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