Down East 2013 ©
As you approach Portland from almost any direction, it’s the first thing you notice, a welcoming indication you’re about to enter Maine’s most populous municipality.
There’s bad graffiti on everything.
If this state had reasonable laws, there’d be some kind of creativity test before failed art students were allowed to buy cans of spray paint. At a minimum, they’d be able to demonstrate they possess more originality than, say, the producers of TV reality shows.
But back to approaching Portland. The second thing you notice is that sign on top of a big downtown building flashing the time, the temperature, and what appears to be somebody’s phone messages.
“CALL,” it reads, followed by, “JOE.”
Puzzling, but on the off-chance this communication was intended for me, I called my neighbor named Joe.
“I’m in Portland,” I said, “and this big sign told me to call you.”
“Right,” said Joe. “Be sure to call me another time when you’re sober.”
He slammed down the phone. Obviously, I’d reached the wrong Joe.
But who was the correct one?
Joe Cupo , the TV weatherman?
Joe the Plumber , the Tea Party icon?
Joe DiMaggio , the Yankee Clipper?
I was at a loss. Until, that is, I saw a story in the October 12 Portland Press Herald about how the landmark time-and-temp sign had gone dark  due to technical difficulties.
Repairs took a few days, time enough for me to read all the way down near the bottom of the article to where it said the “CALL JOE” message was an ad for Joe Bornstein, a personal-injury lawyer of such ferocious reputation — according to his TV spots — that the mere mention of his name causes attorneys for insurance companies to heap money on his clients, after which those weaselly lawyers resign from the bar and become bad graffiti artists.
This explains the spray-painted messages on bridge abutments on roads leading into Portland that say, “Please don’t call Joe.”
What the graffiti doesn’t explain, among many other things, is where the U.S. Navy was born.
A dispute has broken out among five towns, all of which claim the naval baby  as their own.
None of these places is in Maine (one of them isn’t even on the ocean), but the official United States archivist has drawn this state into the dispute by announcing that he’d be investigating all the claims — and including some from spots that don’t even pretend the Navy was born there.
Such as Machias , the site of the first-ever naval battle of the Revolutionary War. In spite of the clear superiority of King George’s navy, the feisty Americans won the day, when they sailed within range of the Red Coats’ guns and unveiled a banner that read, “IF YE SHOOT, WE’RE CALLING JOE.”
The Brits immediately threw down their arms and negotiated a settlement with the unschooled colonial sailors that gave Maine its freedom from the crown, as well as conveying to Machias a sizable annual share of the profits from the Canadian coconut and palm-oil crops.
Which explains the town motto: “From Now On, We’re Hiring a Lawyer to Handle All Our Negotiations.”
Speaking of our heritage, fans of unusual produce will gather in Wiscasset this weekend for the American Harvest Picnic , where they’ll learn all about varieties of peppers, squash, and other veggies that once flourished in this country, but are now so rare, they’re threatened with extinction.
To tell the truth, if squash became extinct, I wouldn’t be all that upset. Turnips, too.
Anyway, experts on these unusual plants will be on hand to explain their history. After which the participants will eat them.
I’m not making that up. It was in the newspaper .
It’s sort of like saving the whales by having a barbeque and serving blubber-burgers.
The only difference is whales are highly intelligent creatures who keep Joe Bornstein on retainer in case they need to file a class-action lawsuit. In contrast, the squash hired some sailors from Machias to represent them.
While we’re on the subject of whales, we should take note of a recent discovery made by researchers at the College of the Atlantic  in Bar Harbor. After extensive study, they’ve been able to prove conclusively that there never was any Canadian coconut and palm-oil crop.
Also, they’ve learned that humpback whales sometimes behave in odd ways.
For instance, they’ve discovered that a photo of a humpback taken off the coast of Brazil in 1999 shows the same whale that later turned up in another picture taken in a nightclub in New York, as well as at the Cannes Film Festival (watching an advance showing of “Free Willy 8”), in an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan and partying with Lindsay Lohan in Santa Monica (“We’re just friends,” the whale told the National Enquirer. “We, like, just get together to discuss, like, rehab and stuff”).
However, none of that was particularly interesting to the scientists, a group notorious for its lack of interest in pop culture. Otherwise, they would have known right away that there never was a “Free Willy 8,” so the Cannes photo was probably a fake.
What is true is that the Bar Harbor experts were able to identify the Brazilian whale as the same humpback  that surfaced two years later in Madagascar.
The country, not the movie.
That gives this whale the distinction of having traveled farther than any other mammal on the planet, except for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It also shows that humpbacks may breed in hitherto unsuspected locations, much like the OctoMom .
Time now for our weekly bedbug update. This time, it’s in the form of a multiple-choice question.
a. Direct Predator drones to launch Hellfire missiles.
b. Abandon the building and home-school your kids on how to lead a nomadic lifestyle, free of the constraints of conventional education.
c. Don’t panic, because the appearance of a few bedbugs doesn’t necessarily mean the whole facility is infested. Also, bedbugs can smell fear.
d. CALL JOE!
The correct answer is “c,” more or less, even though “a” seems like a lot more fun.
E-mail the exact coordinates for your house to Al Diamon at email@example.com , and he’ll guarantee you’ll never have bedbugs again.