May 24, 2018
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On catching the drift of things

By Kent Ward

“Snow again. I didn’t catch your drift,’’ an old timer of my acquaintance now gone to his heavenly reward was fond of saying when the person with whom he was conversing had made an ambiguous statement that my guy felt required clarification.

When we have to reread passages in news stories or watch a television ad more times than a person should be forced to in order to determine the shape of things, the old timer’s request seems spot-on.

A case in point was a front page story in the Tuesday morning newspaper concerning a contentious public hearing in Orono to discuss a proposed expansion of Old Town’s Juniper Ridge landfill, which is operated by Casella Waste Systems.

An expansion would not be needed at this time, opponents of the proposition argued, if a good part of the waste that winds up in the landfill was not trucked in from out of state. There followed the paragraph that caused a double-take by readers: “Casella has said that none of its trash comes from out of state — as ‘out-of-state waste’ is defined by state statute — because the out-of-state trash becomes Maine waste once it’s processed and shipped in Maine.’”

Most anyone who has seen state law being made, up close and personal, is aware that statutes sometimes can contain strange stipulations. Nevertheless, upon reading the official definition of waste, the tendency for many readers, I suspect, was to remain skeptical that out-of-state trash can be magically transformed into in-state trash simply by legislative decree.

If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare suggested, would not out-of-state waste by any other name smell as foul? And, more important, wouldn’t it occupy as much precious space in the Juniper Ridge landfill as it would if called in-state trash?

In essence, as soon as a trailerload of out-of-state rubbish crosses the Piscataqua River at Kittery and makes its way to a Maine-based processing facility, we own it. But you can’t blame opponents of the landfill expansion for asking the obvious questions.

Meanwhile, back in drift mode…

Some newspaper classified ads make it easy for a reader with an active imagination to easily catch the drift of things. An ad offering for sale, say, a trampoline used only once might be a good example — the more so, I suppose, should it advise prospective buyers they may contact the owner in the accident ward of the local hospital. In the case of other classifieds, though, the story that remains locked in memory could be the one that lies behind the scene.

Shortly after revisions to the Fair Housing Act kicked in some years ago, a Milwaukee woman advertised an apartment for rent. Seeking a stable tenant with good values who could help her remodel her 100-year-old house, the lady advertised for a “mature Christian handyman.”

Before you could say “big mistake,” authorities had charged her with discrimination, claiming that “handyman” meant she had intentionally sought a male tenant and “Christian” implied that non-Christians were not welcome.

All the woman had wanted was to place a simple advertisement in the newspaper. What she got was three years of expensive grief in court as she sought to clear her name. The case eventually was dismissed, but the politically correct ramifications that have resulted in advertising copy language the likes of “waitpersons” and “herdspeople” linger.

Television advertising sometimes can set viewers to mumbling to themselves. An ad aired on the cable networks was aimed at collectors. It promoted the sale of $2 bills for “only $10” each, and every time I was confronted by it I asked myself what was wrong with that picture. The promo suggested that each $2 bill could be worth up to $30, which made the ad even more peculiar to one who admittedly doesn’t “get” the nuances of that branch of the money-collection business.

Perhaps my favorite television ad, though, is one announcing a class-action lawsuit against makers of a drug that allegedly has been deemed hazardous to humans. It advises viewers, “If you or your loved one suffered a heart attack or sudden death, call this number.”

The pitchman does not say by what means those who suddenly have passed on are to get in touch with the lawyers, but I would guess that, considering the distance involved, it probably is not by toll-free phone call.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is

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