The man on the phone said he had some items I’d be interested in seeing in regard to a news story I was working on. He’d be glad to show them to me, he said, but I had to keep his name out of it. 

“Excellent,” I said. “I’ll meet you at the Chestnut Street parking garage. Second level. Flash your lights twice when you see me approach and we’ll . . .” 

“We’ll do it on Zoom,” the fellow cut in. “4 p.m. tomorrow. I’ll send you an invite. Come alone.” 

Say, what? 

“But I like to meet in parking garages,” I told him. “It’s very noir; the kind of thing you can wear a cloak for.” 

No go. It was Zoom or nothing, and so a day later I found myself sitting in my stupid office chair, listening to a floating head on my computer screen and not feeling very noir at all. 

A few days later and an easy task came my way. There was a book I needed about the old Androscoggin County courthouse building and I’d heard tell that the local library had it. 

Off I went, strutting toward the library, absolutely certain that this chore would be taken care of so quickly, I’d have plenty of free time on the other side of it to do fun stuff. Why, I may have even whistled as I strutted up to the front doors. 

Struttin’ and a-whistlin’, that’s me, all right. 

But the library doors were locked. I pressed my giant nose to the glass and peered inside, finding the place dark and creepy in a Scooby-Doo mystery kind of way. 

“Say,” I muttered to the pigeons on the sidewalk. “What gives? Why’s the library shuttered on a weekday afternoon? Something’s afoot, I tells you! Something sinister!” 

But nothing was afoot. The library was simply closed to gomers like me because of — what else, brothers? — COVID-19. 

There was some mumbo-jumbo on a sign about curbside pickup and computer use by appointment only and it was all so confusing to me, I just gave up. 

“Who needs ya?” I muttered to the door. “Why, I’ll just wander over to the Historical Society and find the book there. Nyah!” 

Well, you see where this is going. The Historical Society wasn’t open, either. There was some mumbo-jumbo about appointments and volunteer staffing, and no matter how many times I yelled for some history type to come to my rescue, there was no answer. 

“I guess everybody’s doing their best,” I muttered, and wandered out. 

Later, in Portland. Some cruel fiend had dragged me to Trader Joe’s and I figured while I was there, I ought to buy some of that fancy organic coffee and maybe a bag of pistachios for the ride home. 

“Place your items on the tray,” the helpful checkout clerk said. “And then step back to that red line.” 

Say what again? 

I did what I was told and the whole thing felt like I was either declaring exotic items at customs or giving my coffee and pistachios up for adoption. 

“You may pay for your items now,” the clerk told me. 

“Where do I go to do that?” I asked, wheeling around in search of the payment zone. I thought maybe he’d send me off to meet a guy in a parking garage, but no such luck. 

Placing a pizza order used to be an easy matter, too. You’d call to tell them what you want, the guy on the phone would grunt your order back to you and off you’d go to pick it up. Tra-la-la! You might even skip all the way there.

I ordered a pizza just the other day. 

“When you arrive, sit in your car and call this number,” the lady on the phone advised me. “A man named Jeb will be out with your order. DO NOT EXIT YOUR VEHICLE! You may flash your lights once if you need anything further.” 

“Now, just hold on a minute, buddy,” I interjected. “I ordered a pizza, not a half-kilo of heroin and some guns. We never had this conversation!” 

You know you’re in weird times when meeting with an underworld source doesn’t feel noir at all, but a dinner order is conducted like an arms deal. 

I just can’t get used to this new normal business. It’s commendable how everyone is constantly adapting to keep the wheels of society turning, but nope. I barely managed the old normal. This new version of it confounds me utterly. 

I did manage to get my hands on a copy of “The Courthouses of Maine,” though. A very nice lady at the Auburn Public Library told me to drive up to the building, call a certain phone number and then wait near the train tracks. 

The train tracks! That’s not as noir as a parking garage, maybe, but it’s something. 

I’m definitely going to wear a cloak. 

When he’s not lurking in dark corners hoping to catch his next big story, Mark LaFlamme covers the police beat for the Sun Journal.


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