The interview was just terrific.

The subject was a man who had been an emergency dispatcher for more than two decades, and he had amazing stories to tell. Powerful stories about trying to keep steady and calm when bullets were flying, when cars were crashing or when buildings were burning.

A significant chunk of the conversation centered on a shooting from years ago, when a man perched in a high window had shot his ex-girlfriend with a rifle as she sat in her car. The bullet had struck the woman, killing her, before passing through her body and into that of a friend seated behind her.

For twenty minutes, this former dispatcher had talked to that man on the telephone, trying to keep calm a person who had a blazing-hot bullet buried in his flesh and a dead friend slumped in front of him.

“He kept saying: ‘She’s dead. I know she’s dead,'” the former dispatcher told me. “I kept saying: ‘I’m sorry about that, but I need your help. You’re my only eyes and ears out there. I need you to tell me what you see, what you hear. I need you to tell me what’s going on.'”

It was a riveting tale and informative, too. And this was only one story of several the career dispatcher told me during a very productive chat. I could not wait to get all of it down on the page so that you fine people could enjoy it over your Cheerios and everything bagels.

And then, at the end of our conversation: “You can use anything I’ve told you,” the fellow said. “But not my name.”

You know those sad trombones they play when some fool mucks things up on “The Price Is Right?” That is the sound I hear when a good story dies. Because while I COULD tell you all these dispatcher stories without naming the dispatcher in question, it would lose something. Without that name, the person who put voice to all those great stories would become truly faceless, and the anonymity of those words would undermine the power of them.

Or something. This is all just my way of admitting that I do not really have a column for you today, and it is totally not my fault! I’m the victim here, you know. Cheated out of what surely would have been an award-caliber column, I’m now forced to scrounge for sustenance like a stray cat on the street.

3 p.m.: I parked my motorcycle on the street next to the skateboard park at the end of Lewiston’s Kennedy Park — nothing weird at all about a grown man standing at the fence and watching a bunch of kids skateboarding, of course. Perfectly normal.

I did learn a few things, though, chief among them being that skateboarding has changed radically since I was out there doing the ol’ pivot grinds and half Ollies (whatever those are. I just consulted an online skater-lingo page).

Back in my day, if you wanted to get your pole jam on and really sack it, you went to either Kmart or Mammoth Mart to buy yourself a $15 hunk of plastic with wheels on it. Except maybe for the color, your hunk of plastic with wheels on it looked just like every other kid’s hunk of plastic with wheels on it, because back then, a skateboard was a generic hunk of plastic with wheels on it with no variation.

No kid I ever knew developed anything I would call talent on his skateboard, no matter how many times he wheeled down Abbott Street hill at warp speed. Conversely, at Lewiston’s skateboard park, I saw kids doing things on those hills and bowls and ledges that seemed to defy known physics. Those whippersnappers have legit talent, yo, so I figured why not talk to a couple of them and write a spiffy column about the local skateboard scene?

“How’s it going?” I asked one of them.

“Good.”

“That’s a nice board you got there.”

“Yut.”

“Want to tell me a little bit about your skateboarding experiences?”

“Sure,” said the whippersnapper. “If you let me take your motorcycle for a spin.”

Clearly, this was not going to work out.

So I fled the skate park and wheeled on over to Poirier’s Market on Walnut Street. No matter what time of day or night, you can always count on the crowds in front of Poirier’s to inspire great works. That little stretch of sidewalk is like a theater stage upon which our local version of “The Gong Show” can be enjoyed 24 hours a day. Would it be a half-naked slap fight? Some drunk lady’s rendition of “Milkshake” sung at full volume into a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20? Some delicious combination of the two?

On any other day, sure. But on this day, because I happened to be desperate for column fodder, the folks on Walnut Street were straight as pins and as peaceful as angels. The only thing I saw that was remotely interesting was a pair of wig dummy heads mounted on poles in the back of some dude’s pickup truck. As fascinating as that was, both heads made for terrible interviews, although they WERE easier to talk to than that skateboard punk.

Off I went over to Auburn because, let’s face it, I almost never write about interesting things happening in Auburn. I mean, it’s waaaaay over there on the other side of the river. Who’s got the time?

So, more desperate than ever, I rode up to the roof of the parking garage on Mechanic’s Row, even though I hate riding in those garages because I feel that eventually, I’m going to bash my head on one of those rafters. I figured that from way up there on the roof of that garage, surely I would see something interesting enough to bring back to you fine people. But nope. Other than two pigeons doing something deviant in an empty parking space, I got nothing.

I took a spin over to the walking path along the river, behind Gritty’s, thinking surely I would discover something of interest there. A guy vomiting buffalo wings into the Androscoggin, perhaps, or a tipsy couple engaging in pigeon-like behavior on the river banks. But no. Nothing of the sort. The only person I saw was a jogger huffing along the walking path.

“Nice day for a jog,” I said.

“Yut. Say, can I take your motorcycle for a ride?”

Clearly, this was not going to work out, and so off I went empty-handed. It is all right, though. A wise man once advised me, “If you can write a thousand words about absolutely nothing at all, then you, my son, have truly mastered the art of column writing.”

That wise fellow told me lots of great things, now that I think of it, but they’re no good to me here.

The punk won’t let me use his name.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Nameless punks need not email him at [email protected]


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