Lord, I’m old.

I made this discovery, not through some complex mathematical computation, but through a giant heap of old Street Talk columns recently unearthed from the deepest snow caves of Tibet.

Or from somebody’s basement — it’s all very hazy. The fact is that I found these old columns — most of which I have no recollection of writing — that date back to February 2002.

2002!

In the weird museum of my memory, 2002 was a time when travel was done mainly by horse and buggy and the newfangled moving pictures were all the rage.

In 2002, I was a single fellow and a bit of a gadabout. I lived in a walk-up apartment over a pizza joint, and I didn’t concern myself much with the unimportant things that transpired beyond the borders of downtown Lewiston. I don’t recall thinking about very much at all in those days of the deep, dark past — but here they are, nonetheless — a hefty stack of columns that reveal the splendor and the squalor of the city, and my place within it.

Behold the very first Street Talk, a slightly yellowed strip of newsprint that might fetch as much as 9 cents these days in auction circles. It’s dated Feb. 1, 2002, and sits just below a story about how it snowed in January — I won’t make you guess who wrote that absolutely gripping weather story.

The column begins thusly: “It’s a slow night on the police beat and I’m bored.”

But not for long! Enter a woman who has climbed to the roof of her Bartlett Street apartment house (along with a rather large group of cats for some reason) and is threatening to jump:

“There’s a small crowd gathering on the street below — men yacking with each other and children pointing — but she doesn’t seem to notice.”

The next 20 column inches focus on the dialogue between the woman on the roof and Lewiston’s crisis intervention officer, who offers soothing words from the sidewalk. A happy ending followed by some deep and nearly coherent thoughts from our hero, the column writer:

“Maybe there is something in the human psyche that says, if you’ve made the momentous decision to do yourself harm, you can’t simply shrug and turn around. Whatever makes you step out onto the ledge insists you stay there until something is resolved  …”

And we’re done.

The following week, I wrote about a homeless woman in Kennedy Park who refused the hot sandwich I offered her:

“The look in her eyes was not one of pleading or hope. It was fear.”

It’s a heavy piece; very profound. I wish I could recall whom I paid to write that one.

The third Street Talk begins, “Man, I hate February,” and then goes on for 16 inches or so without saying anything substantially more than that. Reading it, you can still hear the echoes of all the eye-rolling that must have transpired on the copy desk. Really? We’re paying someone to write this drivel?

On comes a piece about a panhandler, followed by another detailing the life and death of 31-year-old Brenda Williams Gould, a downtown Lewiston fixture and my greatest source on the crime beat. That one was used as a eulogy at her funeral, which was strangely flattering.

By spring, I was writing about the joys and wonders of the police beat, the rise of heroin in the Twin Cities, the bad reputation Knox Street just couldn’t seem to shake and a hot typist at the paper on whom I had a crush. Yes, my long-suffering friends — I used the real estate of expensive newsprint as, among other things, a dating service. My shame is great.

Later in the spring, I wrote about a weeping young girl at the police station:

“She was rocking back and forth and occasionally glancing up at the police officer above her. There was something that bordered on hatred in her eyes.”

I wrote about recent attacks on cab drivers, about a 42-year-old man who quietly died on his porch and then went unnoticed for days, and about the loss of a downtown alcohol detoxification center in Lewiston:

“They peer at the now dark building that once was alight with hope for those who had lost another round. They frown at the situation and then go stumbling off to their liquor supplies, like needy children who come home to find nobody there.”

I wrote about the mysterious man who wanders with bags full of returnable cans and bottles; about the homeless woman who twirls on the sidewalk; about the deaf man with the flags and the wise smile. I wrote about stray cats, baggy pants, police jargon, naked people, sweater vests (still weenie), lone shoes found in the street and the horrors of the ice cream truck, which I knew, with dread, as the Ding Ding:

“Like a clown has a painted smile, the Ding Ding has day-glo colors and ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.'”

Reading those old columns inspires both fond nostalgia and squirming embarrassment. There are people whom I had loved, loathed, feared or found amusement in. There are circumstances that I enjoyed, dreaded, welcomed or lamented. This is the Lewiston of the period I’ve come to view as “the olden days,” and it’s all laid out in engaging format through the magic of my own writing, which can best be described as, “Well, at least he’s enthusiastic.”

Here’s an odd thing: When I wrote that first column about the woman on the roof, I was a completely different person. Since Feb. 1, 2002, I’ve done a complete political worm turn, gotten married, drastically shifted priorities and stopped believing that the world is a happy place where everything will turn out fine. I’ve been radically transformed over those 13 years and yet the place where I live, as described in all of those columns, hasn’t changed very much at all. It just goes to show …

But I don’t know what it goes to show, exactly. I think I best summed it up in the first week of February 2003 when I noted the one-year anniversary of Street Talk:

“My suspicions were concerned,” I wrote then. “I’m a gibbering idiot.”

The new, older, only occasionally gibbering Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Email him at [email protected]


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