Down East 2013 ©
Maine is in the middle of mating season for amphibians. 
Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have been frequenting that topless coffee shop in Vassalboro, hoping to hook up with suitable mates. So far, the results have been kind of disappointing, at least from the frogs’ and salamanders’ points of view. The topless waitresses have displayed little enthusiasm for wallowing in icy vernal pools with cold-blooded paramours.
More traditional amphibs are finding partners the old-fashioned way: Internet dating services. On spring evenings, you can hear their mating calls:
“Is that your real picture or did you use Photoshop to make your eyes bulgier?”
“I want to have your polliwogs.”
Residents have also complained about the little frogs trying to look in their windows, which is why they’re called “peepers.”
This sort of behavior won’t be tolerated much longer in Vassalboro if town officials have their way. As news circulated that the owner of the aforementioned topless coffee shop is planning to expand his operation to include a strip club, the town manager is attempting to draft an ordinance that would prevent more businesses in which nudity is part of the sales pitch. 
It’s not yet clear if that regulation would apply to amorous amphibians. If it does, somebody is going to make some serious cash sewing salamander suits.
There is, of course, more to life than sex. There’s also gambling. New legislation just introduced in Augusta would allow amphibians to run casinos. Well, technically, the bill doesn’t say anything about toads being in charge, but it’s sort of implied.
What the measure does spell out is that new slot-machine facilities would be allowed in Oxford and Washington counties and within 50 miles of the Scarborough Downs racetrack.
The so-called “trifecta” plan is designed to garner enough legislative support to overcome an almost-certain veto by Gov. John Baldacci. Even so, it’s given about the same chance of becoming law as a salamander has of crossing the Maine Turnpike on a rainy night.
I have been accused by some readers of this feature of being obsessed with vice. This vile slur is, of course, true. But among my many moral shortcomings, gambling ranks far below doughnuts.
If you don’t thing the deep-frying of dough is a vice, you haven’t been talking to some of the outraged citizens of Camden, where they’re organizing to fight a proposal to place a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in the heart of their village. 
Opponents of the plan claim that if franchise businesses are allowed in the scenic seaside town, then it’s just a matter of time before casinos, strip clubs and busloads of over-stimulated frogs arrive.
Enough frivolity. Let’s discuss serious matters. Like beer. According to the Brewers Association in Colorado, Maine ranks fourth in the nation for breweries per capita, with one for every 42,000 people.
Which is why it’s always so hard to get the bartender’s attention.
The latest numbers show the state with 31 breweries, including Shipyard in Portland, which is listed as the 26th largest brewery in the country and the 16th biggest craft brewery.
In other beer news, Atlantic Brewing in Bar Harbor has bought up local rival Bar Harbor Brewing. 
Atlantic plans to continue producing Bar Harbor’s flagship brands, including Thunder Hole Ale, a name that never fails to cause tourists to utter an embarrassed chuckle because they think it’s something dirty.
I wish they’d get their minds out of the rain-filled gutters full of spawning salamanders.
While I’m on the subject of tourists, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is more of the state’s lodging facilities for summer visitors have been officially certified as environmentally friendly. 
About 100 of Maine’s 1,600 hotels, motels and inns have signed on to a state Department of Environmental Protection program that monitors how they’re conserving electricity, water and heat, as well as solid-waste disposal and chemical use.
As for the bad news, rental agencies and property owners are reporting sluggish (I wonder if this is slug mating season, too) preseason business in renting oceanside cottages. 
The downturn is mostly being blamed on the recession, although some out-of-staters who aren’t returning this season said they were turned off by unfortunate experiences last year with wood frogs throwing wild parties until all hours.
In other economic news, the state’s unemployment rate climbed to 8.1 percent in March, up over three points from that month a year ago. 
General Growth Properties, the owner of the Maine Mall in South Portland, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The court case over the company’s debt is not expected to affect mall operations.
Far more devastating to me was the report of the closing of Charrier’s Restaurant in Skowhegan,  thereby eliminating one of my favorite breakfast spots. Now I’ll have to eat at that place with the fake sign left over from when they filmed “Empire Falls.”
And if you were planning to attend some University of Maine women’s volleyball or men’s soccer games next season, you might want to consider alternatives. 
Both programs are being eliminated to help cover a shortfall in the athletic budget. Also, to protect frogs and salamanders who tend to migrate across volleyball courts and soccer fields during their frantic quest for companionship.
On a brighter note, the Maine Community College System has borrowed an idea from the auto industry. Which seems like the worst possible place to be borrowing ideas. Still, the colleges deserve credit for trying to make higher education more affordable by agreeing to pay the tuition of full-time students whose parents lose their jobs.
More good news from the tomato front: Backyard Farms in Madison is expanding. 
The company, which sells vine-ripened tomatoes, is supplementing its 24-acre greenhouse with a new 18-acre addition and hiring up to 75 new workers.
And in Biddeford, efforts to close the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator that’s hindering downtown development (typical comment: It smells worse than frogs in heat) are going in all directions at once. Except forward.
Casella Waste Systems, the plant’s owner, says it won’t be cooperating with efforts to shut the place down, but will be trying to sell the facility.
Speculation is the company needs the cash to pay off debt. 
But there are also concerns that if MERC is closed, there won’t be enough capacity at Maine’s remaining incinerators and landfills to take all the waste. 
There’s no sign of recession (or excess solid waste) in the immediate vicinity of Ron Currie Jr.  of Waterville. For the second year in a row, the author has won a major literary prize. By major, I mean the kind that comes with a substantial check.
Last year, Currie received the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award for his first book, “God Is Dead.” This year, he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters with the Addison M. Metcalf Award. Beyond the recognition, both groups also sent along $10,000 checks. Currie’s new book is called “Everything Matters!” and will be published in June.
No word yet on whether it will address the touchy issue of salamander sex – if that isn’t one of the everythings that matter, I don’t know what is – but I remain hopeful.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.