It had been a rowdy morning on Bartlett Street.

Right around the time most people are sleepily fetching newspapers from front porches, bullets were flying between two groups of rival drug dealers.

Apartment houses were dotted with bullet holes. Tenants dove for cover under kitchen tables and on the street outside, a trail of blood wound away from the scene.

Good morning, Lewiston. Rise and shine.

On a sidewalk just this side of the crime scene tape, a shirtless man gave me his account of what happened. Drug dealers, he said. They come here from Brooklyn and Boston and New Haven and they bring their violent, big-city ways with them. Wretches, the lot of them.

Sometimes, the man said, when open-air deals were being made on the street, he whipped out his Samsung and quietly took pictures. It was the shirtless man’s ardent hope that he would one day be able to help put some of these gang bangers behind bars.

I thanked him. Shook his hand. Tucked my notebook back into my pocket.

“Wait,” the man said. “Don’t you want my name?”

He gave me his name, which I scribbled in the notebook. Gave me his address, too. I’m pretty sure that if I’d asked for it, this avid witness would have included the number on his debit card and his mother’s maiden name just for good measure.

A day or two later, I was at some fluffy assignment that editors like to hit you with if they see you’re getting too excited about real news. I don’t even remember what it was — a group who made specialty hats for pet poodles, or something awesome like that.

At the event, I spoke at length to a woman who had made a spiffy fedora for her teacup poodle using only a few scraps of felt and those plastic things you find on the ends of shoelaces.

The lady was colorful and sweet and super helpful. Couldn’t thank her enough for helping me to bring this important story to life.

“Can I get your name?” I asked her.

Suddenly, the Teacup Poodle Hatter of New Auburn was all upraised hands and narrow eyes and shaking head.

“Oh, gosh,” she said. “No. I don’t want my name in the newspaper.”

I tell you, bub. This happens more than you’d believe. A guy on the street who claims to have evidence of a gangland shooting doesn’t mind identifying himself right down to the dental records, but a hat maker with a cute dog? Back off, mister.

Maybe she was on probation and wasn’t supposed to be consorting with poodles in the park. Perhaps she didn’t want to rile the dog fedora union, which is known to have mafia connections in this part of the world.

I don’t know what it is, but some people, no matter how innocuous the story in which they are centered, are uneasy about seeing their names in print.

Last week, I had to employ verbal gymnastics and make weird assurances to convince a pair of volunteers at the Dempsey Challenge to give up their IDs. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered 19th-century French literature book clubs at which the president of the Balzac fan club refused to provide her name for fear of — I dunno — a drive-by shooting from those goons at the rival Gustave Flaubert Reading Circle.

It happens, yo.

For a reporter, it’s a real pickle. You’ve got these florid, beautiful quotes around which you can hang the rest of your story. And yet, somewhere in there, you’re going to have to use the line, “… according to the poodle fedora maker, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.”

Anonymous quotes are terrible things. Unless you happen to be writing about tense hostage negotiations or some such, they feel cheap, the content of the spoken words somehow diminished by their phantom nature.

There are worse things, of course. In the early part of summer, as I was interviewing people about recent violence in Kennedy Park, a young man provided me a breathless eyewitness account of a recent killing.

It was vivid. It was bold. And when the street fighter passed along his name to go with his account, I scribbled it in my notebook without a second thought.

The weasel. Turns out that while his recollections of the brawl may have been solid, the name he provided was that of another young man, one who lives on the other side of the river in Auburn and who knew jack diddly about scrapping in Kennedy Park.

I don’t run into fake names very often, but when I do, it burns me. From now on, bros? I’m going to demand the mother’s maiden name just to cover my butt.

Mark LaFlamme (if that’s his real name) is a Sun Journal staff writer. Email him at [email protected]


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