Down East 2013 ©
Let me be clear. The following story is in no way intended to hold those involved in it up to ridicule. That would be inappropriate, given their close brush with events that could easily have ended in tragedy. The account of their misfortune is included in this week’s roundup of important Maine news not because reading the original newspaper report caused me to laugh so hard that I almost choked on my English muffin and came close to requiring that Heimlich thingie where somebody squeezes you until you unclog.
I present this information here because it contains an important lesson for every American and most people of foreign origins. Which is: Always store your “numbing lotion” in an easily accessible and well-lighted location. 
On Jan. 30, two women in Rumford were feeling some discomfort because they had recently had their tongues pierced. Fortunately, they’d had the foresight to obtain a product designed to ease these symptoms. something they would later refer to as “numbing lotion.”
I’m not sure what this miraculous elixir actually is, although after a hard day, I have sometimes used a similar term to describe bourbon. Unlike bourbon, however, “numbing lotion” is apparently not stored in a liquor cabinet. Instead, it is kept under a bed in a room with less-than-adequate lighting.
I know this because when the women went in search of the soothing substance, they needed illumination to see under the bed. Lacking a working flashlight, they resorted to using a cigarette lighter, which promptly set the mattress and box spring on fire.
The fire department was summoned, but by the time it arrived, the occupants of the building had extinguished the blaze, using water from the kitchen sink. The published account gives no indication as to whether the “numbing lotion” was recovered in usable condition. Nor does it say whether people with newly pierced tongues have trouble saying the words “numbing lotion” without dwooling. I mean, drooling.
I would have some further comment, but I again seem to be choking on my English muffin.
On to a more spiritual matter. Or, to be perfectly accurate, a less spiritual matter. In spite of mattress fires and other tribulations of living in Maine, a majority of the state’s residents don’t put a high value on religion, according to a new Gallup poll. 
Asked “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” only 48 percent of Mainers said yes, making this the third least-religious state in the nation after Vermont (42 percent) and New Hampshire (46 percent). Mississippi is the most religious state. Eighty-five percent of respondents there answered affirmatively, well above the national average of 65 percent.
I know many of you expect me to make a joke here, somehow involving “numbing lotion,” but I’m not going to stoop to that wevel. I mean, level.
As expected, the Lewiston Maineiacs hockey team  is leaving the state for a new home in Quebec.
Team owner Mark Just said the franchise hasn’t turned a profit in six seasons, and attendance this year had slipped from nearly 2,600 per game in 2007-2008 to less than 2,200. This in spite of promotions such as tongue-piercing night and mattress-burning contests.
Also in decline were housing values in Maine. The median sale price dropped over 7 percent in 2008, from $194,000 to $180,000, and the experts are predicting another 5 to 10 percent cut this year. 
The number of houses sold was down, as well, by 21 percent.
On the other hand, the number of real estate agents who admit to being addicted to “numbing lotion” is up significantly. And none of them appeared to have tongue piercings.
That prompted the federal government to extend jobless benefits for Mainers for an additional 13 weeks, bringing the maximum to 59 weeks. 
Employees of TD Banknorth in Lewiston need not be concerned about all that. The company announced that, in spite of rumors to the contrary, it won’t be closing its Lewiston operation center. 
The decision preserves over 1,000 jobs in Androscoggin County. Which beats a poke in the tongue with a sharp medical implement.
The state’s scheme to consolidate school districts isn’t exactly going like a mattress afire. To date, 139 districts have come up with some kind of condensing plan acceptable to Augusta, while 149 have not, either because voters refused to approve the proposals or administrators never submitted the required paperwork.
State officials said they weren’t concerned about the local resistance to reorganization, which they expect to dissipate once the “numbing lotion” they put in the water supply takes effect.
Nod weally. I jush made dad ub.
What’s weal … er, real is higher tolls on the Maine Turnpike. 
As of Feb. 1, it costs more to ride almost anywhere on the toll road, unless you have one of those E-ZPass gizmos. Turnpike officials were seen drooling, but it had nothing to do with tongue studs. They were just frothing at the mouth to get at all that extra cash.
Instead, the MPA will deal with ever-tightening education budgets by raising tolls. When asked what tolls the group was talking about, an official suggested having a couple of shots from a bottle marked “numbing lotion,” after which he’d be happy to explain.
OK, we’re guilty of misusing a substance intended for pain relief. We’re also guilty of overusing a joke, although we’ve learned from experience that if you persevere with the same punch line, eventually it gets funny again. It can take quite a while, though.
But none of that means we’re all bad people. Some of us are only partially bad.
On Jan. 27 or 28, a person or persons unknown broke into the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico and stole a laptop computer and some wrenches. 
On Jan. 29, the thief returned all that stuff, leaving it in a box by the main entrance with a note that read “I.O.U.”
The ink on the note had run, due either to melting snow or drool.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.