… on oddballs and tennis balls


See that guy up there?


It isn’t his name. It’s just him. I don’t even know his name. But I’ve seen him nearly every Thursday morning in the summertime, for years now. I don’t know how many because he’s just always seemed to be there.

On Thursday mornings during the summer, a farmers market magically appears on the common in Boothbay, Maine. It’s a very exciting day of the week in our house (It’s the morning we actually shower before we go outside). Teenagers will even emerge before noon for this mini-adventure. It involves grabbing the canvas bag with a belted cow (no, not a Belted Guernsey or Galloway cow (you know who you are, you cow geeks). This cow is actually wearing a belt. A pink one. No, I’m not kidding.)

So we grab the bag and the keys and head out the door – early. Why? Parking strategy. Parking is a bit of a bear on farmers market day so we’ve gotten pretty smart. We go to the Center Cafe – which sits right on the green – and have a fantastic breakfast (I am telling you, the owners and wait staff there are the friendliest people on the planet, and this is not easy for them when they have – and I have actually seen this with my own eyes – customers in from Long Island who are loudly complaining that Maine is – here comes the quote – “just not the Vin-yid”.

So we go early, park at the Cafe, have a fantastic breakfast, try to scope out any disappointed Long Islanders, and then head across the little street, to the farmers market. I should insert here that, if we are planning a very long stay at the market, we will park away from the cafe so as not to take up a parking spot there (we aren’t savages), but we will still go eat there because there is not much funnier to the Dingle family than someone pissed off that they made a tragic travel booking error and ended up in Maine.

The market stalls create the perimeter for this event. This allows for a pretty nice open space in the middle, and there are picnic tables and people hang out and it’s sort of nice because the summer people (who are “from away”) and the locals intermingle and I like to believe that they are genuinely interested in each other rather than viewing each other as living caricatures that will provide suppertime entertainment for each group. Don’t think this happens? Ah, my little naive friend and reader…

The natives have their pick of a plethora of delightful comedic materials provided by we folks from away. Two of my favorites are: The naive tourist who asks if the live lobsters in the tank are “fresh”.

I’ll give you a second to think about that.

Happens. All the time.

And the other local favorite is the tourist who inevitably asks if the lobstermen go out and turn their boats every so often so that they are always pointed in the same direction.

Now, folks from away have their pick of a pretty great litter too. For instance, Mainers are famous for giving fascinating directions. Usually they involve taking turns after where a certain landmark used to be, or – and yes this happens – that you can’t get there from here, or that if you make a mistake there is no turning back.  About 25 years ago (maybe more), a transplant from Maine who’d landed in Reading, Massachusetts gave directions to a certain street nearby and was overheard by a friend of mine. He said, and this is absolutely true: “Go up the road a piece. If ya go puhst the big white chuhch, ya gone too fah. Might as well just say ‘fuhck it’ and go to Wis-tah”. That quote is seared on my brain (and I apologize for the profanity, but it is not only true, but totally germane to the spirit of the film…er…story).

Anyway, people from all over (as evidenced by the license plates of the cars parked willy-nilly all around) are talking with each other and buying everything from Alpaca blankets, to corn, to meats and cheeses, to asian sauces, to baskets woven in real-time.

And there’s this dog.

Every week he is there. He may or may not belong to a farmer, or weaver, or coffee bean roaster. I don’t know. He is always in the center of the big circle formed by the vender’s stalls. And he brings his ball.

For the entire three or so hours that the market is open, this dog sprints around finding people who will throw his ball for him. He is amazing. He does the whole border collie stare down thing at the ball and, as soon as someone picks up it up, he does this mini outrun and walk up and then downs himself awaiting the ball toss. He does this every time. The kids love it and sometimes there is even a line of them waiting to toss the ball to him.

He is just there to do his work. He is not remotely social. He doesn’t pause to make any sort of conversation, suck up to anyone, and shows zero interest in being stroked or even acknowledged. All this dog wants is to work with his ball. He also shows no interest in the many other dogs who come to the farmers market. But they all hate him. Because if he looses his ball, he takes their balls. And he doesn’t ask and he never gives them back. I don’t think he feels bad at all. He is a dog on a mission.

Actually, it isn’t really the other dogs that hate him. It’s their parents – and they are a crack up. Some of the other dogs’ parents actually spend time – a lot of time – gossiping about the ball dog. They despise this dog. They have actually projected an entire nasty personality onto him. He is a thief and a sneak (Okay, I can see those terms applied – even in a fun way – to little Mr. Toss-my-ball-for-me). But I’ve also heard him called ‘selfish’, a ‘socially misfit’, and ‘incorrigible’. I’m not kidding. I’ve had years to gather my intelligence at the farmers market. There is a whole dynamic surrounding this dog and it is a stitch!

But the kids and adults who visit the market find Ball Dog pretty cool, and shutting the show down would cause the grouchy dog parents to look bad, so they just snark quietly from the corners and Ball Dog goes about his business. Week after week, all summer long. And I should add here that the other dogs don’t seem to care at all. And he never takes anything else of theirs, just tennis balls. And I don’t know if he even really steals their balls at all. I have merely observed the cackling of the parents when he beats one of their dogs out in a ball chase (and, hence, gets the ball). It’s almost like they are complaining that their kid isn’t getting equal playing time.

People. This is the farmers market. It’s the big leagues. We play to win here.

I like this dog. A lot. He is dedicated and tireless and has an awesome work ethic. And maybe he is a little bit of an oddball and socially awkward, but he provides a very cool service. His skills entertain. People love the results. They want to interact with him, and are willing to do it on his terms because his service is just so great. He reminds me of so many talented and creative people in the world – folks who create and contribute great things, and don’t necessarily always fit in with the others (who, too often, end up sniping at them from the sidelines).

And that makes me think of that early Apple commercial, the one that Steve Jobs initially narrated himself (though Richard Dreyfus is the voice that appeared in the actual on-air commercial):

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The square pegs in the round hole. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I can’t get to the end of that commercial without tears springing up in my eyes. I’m always amazed at that. My daughter once superimposed these words on a photo of her and her younger brother, after she found out she was dyslexic. She knew she shared that odd gift with Einstein, Picasso, and Gandhi, and Jim Henson (all people featured in that old Apple commercial). Not to mention sharing it with the brother beside her in the picture. It’s one of my treasures.


Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…

And a little dog who chases a ball, on Thursdays in the summertime, at a farmers market in Maine.

Thanks for readin’.

p.s., I look that commercial up on youtube every once and a while when I’m lacking goosebumps in my life (if you’ve never seen it))