Honoring the Little Stick from Strong
Hellougghfuh. Jutha minuphth. Ahm ahmoth finithed pigging muh teef.
Sorry, what I meant to say was, “Hello. Just a minute. I’m almost finished picking my teeth.”
Please don’t be offended. I realize that publicly removing the last of my lunchtime cheeseburger, fries and coconut-crème pie from my denticulation could be interpreted as an affront to etiquette, particularly since I knew you’d be showing up expecting to find my weekly summary of the state’s important news and events, rather than an inventory of the partially digested food scraps in my mouth.
I apologize. I wasn’t trying to be rude. (Come to think of it, I almost never have to try.) I was merely celebrating the quintessential Maine product:
According to the June 2 edition of the Franklin Journal (which doesn’t have a Web site, so you’ll have to take my word for it), the town of Strong will hold a festival of the toothpick sometime in 2010. Strong decided to do this because it’s the former site of the Forster Manufacturing Co, which once manufactured 90 percent of the world’s toothpicks.
I suspect that many of you are unaware that the toothpick was invented by Forster founder Charles Forster. I suspect that the reason for your ignorance is that this bit of local lore is patently false.
The toothpick was invented by … well, nobody knows. Homemade versions were common in the middle ages, and Americans of the 19th century often whittled picks for themselves. It wasn’t as if it took a genius to figure out that a thin piece of wood could aid in the removal of annoying crud left over from previous meals (Americans were not given to regular brushing until well into the 20th century, shortly after the invention of nagging parents).
In any case, what Forster was the first to do was to create a market for his mass-produced picks (he did this by hiring college students to go into stores and restaurants and ask for toothpicks, after which he’d show up offering to sell his product). He set up operations in Strong to be near his raw material (at one time, the area was home to the world’s largest tooth farm) and the rest is history.
At least until cheap Chinese toothpicks came long and destroyed the American industry. Today, Strong no longer employs the slogan “The Toothpick Capital of the World” (nor does anyone else, so it’s collecting welfare), but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a swell place for a toothpick festival. The event is still in the planning stages, but will undoubtedly feature a tooth-picking contest, musical events of the pickin’-and-grinnin’ variety and a mock-nuclear-missile attack on a Chinese toothpick factory. There may also be – and I swear I’m not making this up – an art exhibit of sculptures made out of toothpicks.
There aren’t that many hotels in the immediate vicinity of Strong, so I’d recommend booking your room early.
In other news of the week, I’m pleased to inform you that Maine has successfully fended off all questions as to what place on the planet has produced the world’s longest lobster roll.
The Guinness Book of World Records currently recognizes one from the 1997 Whatever Family Festival in Augusta, but a Canadian roll is said to have surpassed it. No matter. The roll concocted for last weekend’s Old Port Festival in Portland was the first ever to surpass 60 feet in length, a standard once thought to defy the laws of physics, making it the undisputed champion.
Pending testing for steroids, of course.
Once the record is officially confirmed by Guinness, tourists are expected to flock to Commercial Street just to stand in the spot (spots?) where the monster roll once rested.
Seems like a good opportunity to sell them locally produced toothpicks. (Hey, you with the paisley Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals! You’ve got that stringy lobster body meat caught in your incisors!)
Speaking of primitive dentistry, there’s a move underway to remove fluoride from the water in Greater Portland.
A group called Fluoride Leave Our Water is circulating petitions calling for a public vote to take the decay-fighting chemical out of the public water supply in an effort to encourage not only more tooth-picking, but also the increased production of Maine-made wooden teeth.
Some week, I’m going to write an entire posting without mentioning nude waitresses. But I’m pleased to report that this week isn’t that week.
On June 3, somebody burned down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, putting several nude-from-the-waist-up waitresses out of work.
The owner, Donald Crabtree, and several members of his family were sleeping in an attached building at the time, but all got out safely. In spite of being under-insured, Crabtree remains overconfident. He’s putting up a tent on the site and offering free coffee and doughnuts (served by fully clothed waitresses), while hoping to collect enough donations to rebuild.
State police are investigating, but no one has been arrested. If the perpetrator is caught and convicted, I am not suggesting he or she be punished by having flaming Maine-made toothpicks inserted under his or her fingernails. Although, it would be a nice local touch.
In other crime news, the state cops pulled over an SUV in Greene recently because it was traveling erratically. But the driver wasn’t drunk or otherwise impaired. Unless you consider being 12 years old an impairment.
The kid’s father, sitting in the passenger seat, said he was too drunk to drive, so he had his son take the wheel. Dad was charged with operating under the influence, anyway.
A Vassalboro man, who got a little tipsy but didn’t have a 12-year-old driver handy, came up with his own novel solution. The guy, who was allegedly drunk and out of beer, had a suspended license, but needed to make a run to the local variety store. So, he did the only sensible thing.
He hopped on his rider lawnmower and headed down the road. He was nabbed for drunk driving as he emerged from the store with two cases of beer.
Stephen LaVerdiere is also planning to get high, but not in a stupid way. Unless you consider spending $200,000 to take a two-and-a-half-hour trip into outer space to be stupid.
LaVerdiere, who lives in the Belgrade Lakes area, plans to become the first native Mainer to leave Earth’s atmosphere when he travels on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, which is set for launch about the same time the Strong Toothpick Festival gets underway.
Probably just a coincidence, but it makes you wonder.
LaVerdiere will experience zero gravity, see the curve of the Earth and be able to spot any possible competitors for the title of world’s largest lobster roll.
LaVerdiere may become the state’s first native son to boldly go where there are no variety stores selling beer, but he won’t be the first Mainer to venture into the void. Christopher Cassidy of York, who was actually born in Massachusetts, will fly to the International Space Station on the space shuttle Endeavor’s scheduled June 13 trip.
Before becoming an astronaut, Cassidy, 39, was a Navy SEAL for 10 years.
I don’t make jokes about SEALs. Those guys are trained to kill you with a toothpick.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.