On the day before Thanksgiving, 2007, I took a reminiscent walk down Commercial Street, the aptly named strip of tourist shops edging the harbor. Back when fishing paid the bills, it was called Front Street. In summer, Commercial Street is a sluggish, suffocating river of flesh, but the rest of the year it is usually quite walkable.
On this day there were few other people, but one of them was Dwayne, a “townie” sitting alone on the bench in front of Town Hall, still talking to the voices in his head just as he did when I last saw him nearly 20 years before. His voice was raised and forceful, amply holding up his end of the conversation. Dwayne’s mental condition was variously rumored to be from drugs or insufficient outcrossing. He still looked like a Chicago Seven radical, and his appearance and behavior could be quite alarming to anyone encountering him for the first time. But he had proven himself harmless over the years, and was tolerated even by the authorities.
Just after I saw Dwayne on this most recent encounter, I was passed by a man who also was alone and talking. Coming towards me was another man, and he too was alone and talking. The difference between them and Dwayne (and I regard it as a small difference) is that the latter two men were talking on their cellphones.
And then it occurred to me: what Dwayne needs is a dead cellphone. Due to forgetfulness, he will need a boxful of dead cellphones, and a community committed to providing them. But with phone in hand, he will instantly look normal to tourists, who may think he is a latter-day beat poet having an animated conversation with his publisher—or more frequently, is on a conference call.
by Richard LeBlond
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in numerous U.S. and international journals, including Montreal Review, Redux, Compose, New Theory, Lowestoft Chronicle, Concis, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for “Best American Travel Writing” and “Best of the Net.”