Because I consider each and every one of you a special friend, I want to confess something to you right now:
I wish you’d stop calling me at home.

Ha! No, I kid. I love when you call me at home. We’ve had some terrific talks, you and I. I especially like it when you call and weep openly while talking about the passing of your cat. I swear the gestures I make to my wife mean “I am talking to a really fascinating person,” and not “another weirdo. Call the security company.”

So, my confession has nothing to do with that extra special relationship you and I have. Please read the small print on the restraining order.

No, what I wanted to tell you is this: I wince every time I log in to e-mail.

I get letters. Great letters applauding my news prowess, questioning my sensitivity or demanding that I do more as a journalist overall. Fantastic letters from the wing of the asylum that apparently allows computer access, in spite of my repeated efforts to get that kind of thing banned.

And I take them seriously, I really do. I have never opened e-mail from a reader and said: “This person should be on Thorazine. I will completely ignore this person for fear that he or she will sneak through my window and cut my hair while I sleep.”

How could I? Some of my best stories have come from you, the mentally deranged. I love each and every one of you. Please stop knocking on my window.

Here’s one of the letters now:

“Mr. LaFlamme Sir: I would like to request as to why the largest high school in Maine no longer has a marching band? Last week they had to borrow two fiddles and a kazoo for the national anthem. But seriously what the hell happened to the band?? As a former member I demand an investigation! Thanks!”

At some point, this person thought: “I’ve been following the work of Mark LaFlamme for years. He enjoys writing about drug dealers, hookers and dead things found on the side of the road. I’ll bet he’d really like looking into a discrepancy in high school band finance.”

And I was ready to launch into some serious investigative journalism (looking it up on Google) when I got distracted by the second letter of the day.

For future reference, people, it’s hard to stay focused on Bandgate when you’re confronted by something that pertains to a Cult of Canoes.

And, no, I did not make this letter up.

“I enjoy your outlook on things. I thought of you when we happened upon this. My wife and I hiked the Slaughter Pond Trail in southwest Baxter State Park last week. The trail is about 3.4 miles, following an old logging tote road. We approached the pond and entered an area with tall pines and thin undergrowth. In an area about the size of an acre, there were 46 canoes. Some were fairly new, some were beat up. Most were chained to a tree with about 20 lbs. of chain. Initially, I thought that some Outdoor group was teaching camping and fishing. But, there were far too many canoes and many were in disrepair.

“We asked the Ranger at Baxter when we got back about this eerie happenstance. He said, ‘There aren’t any canoes there.’ I said that there are forty to fifty canoes there. ‘Okay. There aren’t many now. The state took out about a hundred earlier. You see, when you find a good fishing spot, you stash a canoe there. Now men don’t tell anyone about it.’

“He then looked at my wife and calmly stated, ‘There are secrets that men don’t tell their wives, and shouldn’t. I have five canoes stashed in various places, and I am not telling you where they are. I have one at home now that I am fixing up for that, and she doesn’t know how much I spent on it either.’

“I find it ironic that this secret fishing spot had 150 secret canoes stashed there. I find it amazing that someone would lug a canoe 3.4 miles through the woods. I find it amazing that they would also lug chains, locks, drill holes in their paddles to put the chains through, and why? So someone won’t lug it back out and steal it? I had not known of this fishing ritual. I suppose that I am not a man, as I am telling someone about it. However, if you are ever looking to see something weird, check it out.”

What disturbs me the most about this letter is the line: “I thought of you when we happened upon this.”

I would like to advise everyone that if you’re out in the forest and facing something that Ned Beatty wouldn’t like, don’t think of me. I’m not coming to save your butt. Even if I could, I probably wouldn’t, because there would be something good on TV that night and I wouldn’t be able to tear myself away.

No, if you’re out in the woods and phantom canoes start washing up on the beach, you should probably start thinking about Spiderman or Chuck Norris or something.

But clearly I jest. Often, the e-mails and phone calls I get in the course of reporting are the best things about the job and the more outlandish the better. Freaky-looking dog at the roadside in Turner? That one started as an e-mail tip. Ghost lady roaming the roads in Poland? Delivered right to my inbox.

Keep writing me is what I’m saying, oddballs. Although I might not be at this gig much longer. Just today, a nice prince from Nigeria wrote to say he has 100 million U.S. dollars and he’s just dying to put the bulk of it in my bank account. A Nigerian prince wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, I figure so I’m going for it. I’m going to be rich, I tells you! Stinking rich!

I think the first thing I’ll do is buy a canoe, but don’t tell my wife.


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