Something that happened this morning reminded me of something that happened on a different morning more than 10 years ago. Let me ‘splain. In 1996 or somewhere around that edge of the decade, I lived in rural Maine. I can’t emphasize how rural this place is. During the time I lived there, the population was under 2,000 and that includes the outlying countryside. “Town” was a main street plus a side street, and a couple of extra streets for houses. There was one bar, one little market, a drugstore, and about fifteen churches. It was close to the Sunday River Ski area, so we got a lot of tourists, but most of the time, you could see just about everyone from town just about every single day. Everyone knew everyone, everyone was related to everyone (except me), and if you found out you had a cold at 9 a.m., somebody would be asking you about it by noon. The post office was a huge social gathering space, and it didn’t matter when you went to get the mail – somebody you knew was bound to be there. This town is in the mountains, and everybody in those parts uses oil to heat their homes. If you’re new to town, people tell you not to let your tank run out, but having no experience with such things, I figured they were like the car – you don’t have to worry about them til something goes wrong. (I’m being facetious.) One morning, I woke up in the dead of winter, when the temperature rarely went above 10 below freezing, shivering in my bed. In the night I had had the wherewithal to put on a hat, a scarf, and mittens, in addition to an extra pair of sweatpants and a sweater. But it never dawned on me that anything other than cold weather was afoot.
In the morning, I mentioned my problem to a veteran northeasterner, who suggested my oil had run out. So I called the one place in town that supplied the tanks, and they sent over a hulking man who had to duck to get into my house, and when I said hello he replied, “WHAA YAAAHHH OOOOHHH TAAAA AAT?” Then he said, “HAA GIMMEL FRINK-A-DRAANNN” or some other such nonsense. I couldn’t understand a word. I instantly realized he was one of those guys who is basically a giant child, and although trained to fill oil tank, probably couldn’t be counted on to relay an accurate phone message. In other words, I think he may have been at a mental disadvantage.
He gestured toward his tool box, and I directed him to the basement, where I had not had the courage to venture. In fact, I hadn’t even unlocked the basement door. He did so, and, wielding his flashlight, descended the stairs. Slowly. I got the idea that maybe he was a little spooked by darkness. There was a bulb light down there somewhere, but I never had any desire to get close enough to it to turn it on, having always stayed upstairs, as it were. Nonetheless, the guy made it to the basement, I heard him click on the light, then heard a muffled shuffling of sorts, a series of whacking noises, and a “AAUUUGGGHHHH!!!” I ran to the top of the stairs, and called down: “What happened!?” After a few moments of silence, I heard (in clear English), “Nothing.” It was weird! I remember specifically wondering if something had reached out to grab this guy, who already seemed a little jumpy, and the shock of it all forced him to split off another personality to deal with it.
So this morning, a similar but very separate event occurred, reminding me of this other so long ago. My family sometimes goes to get hot chocolate at a chain coffee shop which shall remain nameless, partly out of my shame for giving them my business, and partly because they just don’t need my publicity. Nonetheless, there we were, the only people in the place save for one guy, who was sitting in the back with his feet up on another chair. Usually I don’t see people reclining with their feet up, home-style, but whatevs. Anyway, this guy was probably 60 or so, and looked normal enough, in a sort of Wilford Brimley sort of way. About the time we got our drinks, this man, silent up til now, lets out this long low moan like “UUNNNNGGGHHHHHH…..” with the expulsion of a certain force of air. I looked at my kids, who were looking at each other, trying to figure out what’s up with that. And then loudly, Owen says, “Did you hear that? That guy did that! That’s funny!” To which the guy replied nothing, of course, and left after 10 minutes or so.
So I guess my point is – what do you do when somebody makes a loud weird sound in front of you, a stranger, and doesn’t give any explanation? There really isn’t anything you can do, and what’s funny to me is the internal struggle I usually endure trying to pretend I don’t notice. I still wonder what happened in that basement!