As the Mythographer prepares to visit her hometown in Maine this summer, she’s reminded of a conversation she had maybe 12 years ago with her college roommate, a native New Yorker. At this point, I was a Mainer planning to visit New York for the summer. And the two of us were talking about which place would be more scary, the city or the country. I thought there was no contest: cities are dangerous! All those scary people! Bass Harbor, Maine, was empty. About the worst thing that could happen to you there was to get sprayed by a skunk, or have a tree fall on you. My roommate disagreed. That was just it, she said, it’s empty. And the nights are dark. So who knows what kind of psychopath could be lurking behind those pine trees? But those crowds, I said. On the subway! Who knows what kind of psychopath could be standing right next to you in the broad daylight? That’s when I realized that her vision of rural Maine came straight out of Stephen King, and my image of New York City came from. . . . I hadn’t seen Bonfire of the Vanities at the time, but that’s the closest I can come. Do The Right Thing, maybe? Now, after 9 years living in New York, I know what my city friend meant. You know things are getting dangerous on city streets when there AREN’T any crowds.
It’s still true that there’s not much crime in Maine–the “Police Beat” column in the weekly paper has a dedicated cult following who enjoy the unintentionally hilarious encounters between animals, tourists, and locals. Confused kayakers, stolen ashtrays, lost llamas abound. The best items have even been collected in a brilliant book by Richard Sassaman which I urge all of you to buy now.
This lighthearted mischief happens, however, against a steady drumbeat of drunk-driving accidents, drug busts, and domestic violence. It’s not the random psychopath behind a tree you have to fear, it’s the long winters and high rates of alcoholism. And Stephen King? His name was synonymous with horror when I was a kid, but now I just think of him as a very nice man who lives near my Dad in Bangor, and spends his fortune building pediatric hospitals and small-town libraries.
Addendum: city-country myths are a rich genre. An informant reminds the Mythographer of the time we had a visitor from New York who refused to get out of a parked car when she saw a deer, because “it might be rabid.”