If I were going to invent a character that runs a Christian health-food restaurant in midcoast Maine, I would imagine that he looks like a wide-eyed Dobie Gillis, giving off rays of intense, bean-sprout-y enthusiasm. And I might imagine that he works behind a great big linoleum church-basement-style space completely devoid of patrons. Scratch that — maybe with one patron, sitting at a table in the corner eating slowly, staring fixedly into space.
If I really wanted to go all out, I would imagine tracts scattered around this big, empty, echo-ing linoleum basement: tracts about intestinal health and holiness, and everything on the menu would be spelled almost right, but not, since it’s a vegetarian restaurant. “Grilled chz sandwich.” “Chz.”
Since this blog is a work of fact, however, I do not have to invent anything, and I’m horrified to report that I thought the “chz” was real cheese. I thought it was real cheese until after I was finished the sandwich and I heard the proprietor whistling tunes I haven’t heard in twenty years since my family used to go to a Pentecostal fellowship called “The Eagle’s Nest” that met in an empty storefront in a mall in Paramus, New Jersey. IT WAS NOT CHEESE. It was “chz”, and when Dobie started talking about purity of essence (okay, now I’m making stuff up, but only now, I swear) I just nodded, swallowed back an oddly gorgonzola-y “urp!” and beat a hasty retreat, scooping up Lydia before he could get crazy all over her (I hadn’t seen the tracts, yet; this was one of your “slowly dawning realization” things. I knew it was vegetarian, but not vegan, and I hadn’t even spotted the tracts yet, though I was wondering why this guy was whistling “Beautiful Savior” while staring fixedly at the opposite wall.)
Across the street from the “that wasn’t cheese” luncheonette was a walking store that sold expensive shoes to the faithful: “Have you owned a pair of Birkenstock shoes before?” asked the white-bearded man behind the counter, shaking his burlap robes, the betel juice beading on his chin: “Oh, you’d KNOW if you had owned a pair of Birkenstock shoes. You’d KNOW.”
Midcoast maine, apparently, is still the woodsy seine for craziness that all thirteen colonies used to be, and the fires of zealotry still burn bright on its stony shores. The Green Store in Belfast is one of my favorite places to browse, with chemical toilets, 12V solar lighting, and greaseproof oriental rugs woven in Thailand from recycled soda bottles, which is perfect for (just for example) making your motorcycle garage look like Al Capone’s jail cell. (Pictures to come once I get the chandelier hung.)
You can also, in Belfast, spend two thousand bucks on handmade boots — for-real, from stratch, cobbler-built boots: in adjusted dollars, this is about the same as they’ve always been, but midcoast Maine is where the artisans go to eke out a living actually lasting the boots by hand and selling them to the faithful (or to Martha Stewart readers: Martha sniffed out this guy years ago.)
So put all those Xtian Chz-eaters cheek by jowl with the greens, the yoga buddhist purists, and the artisanal refugees, put them in a landcsape filled with gorgeous, dilapidated Greek revival mansions built by retired whaling captains and now falling to ruin, and you have a powerful air of… well, of something possibly akin to the old days when Quakers were called “Quakers” because they were freaky, ecstatic, and tremulous Pentecostals, not sedate Volvo-driving subcommittee members.
The good news is that Kate, Lydia and I had a great time celebrating Lydia’s birthday with my mom’s side of the family, who have gradually been emigrating to midcoast Maine’s ecstatic shores, but so far are only showing signs of the good kind of crazy, born from enthusiasm and love for life and not from a desire to promulgate “chz.”
Also, these new Birkenstock shoes are freaking awesome.