Hard Times, Harder People

Letter from the editor

Bob Bergeron in the Old Port last year. photo/Michael Heathers

I know many of you — too many of you — can relate when I say this spring has been an emotional roller coaster. Hopeful highs followed by gut-churning lows. Feeling like you’re steadily progressing upward, then free-falling on rickety rails that you realize are only as safe as the most corrupt or inept amusement-ride inspector on the state’s payroll. Not actually fun at all.

The season started on a relatively hopeful note for Mainer. Despite the plague that decimated our advertising revenue, I was confident we’d get the financial support we needed from the government disaster-aid programs, that alphabet soup of EIDLs and PPP loans from agencies like the SBA and FAME.

Days passed, then weeks with no word on the status of our applications, and not a dime save a grand from the SBA that was supposed be $10,000. With the deadline for our May issue approaching this month, I had to share the glum news with our freelance contributors that our cooperative was hopelessly broke. We could not pay them, or the printer, so the May edition wasn’t gonna happen.

It was Bob Bergeron who cheered me up. Two years ago, when we began publishing the comic Bob and his collaborator, Katy Finch, created, “Pirate Ship Adventures,” Bob was still on the streets, one of the most hardcore, seemingly irredeemable alcoholics sleeping and pissing in the parking lots of downtown Portland. He’s actually among the majority of our regular contributors who’ve been homeless, some as recently as last year.

Bob’s since secured housing and screwed his head back on, but phone plans and e-mail are still luxuries beyond his budget, so we use Facebook Messenger to communicate. Told of our predicament, Bob wrote back, “Yeah. Let’s keep fighting until we can’t. Keep your chin up boss. Times are hard but we are harder.”

That last line is what did it for me. Bob is powerful and undeniable proof that it’s true. And he’s not the only one who’s puts this crisis in proper perspective for me. Our newest contributor, Leo Hylton, is about a decade into a 50-year sentence at Maine State Prison. We communicate by mail and via a texting app for which prisoners pay way too much to use.

As Leo wrote in our April edition, social distancing isn’t happening in prison. Correctional facilities nationwide have become COVID-19 “hotspots.” The risks we face making grocery runs on the outside are multiplied behind bars, then squared by public indifference to the fate of the incarcerated (even though we’re only as healthy as they are, since prison staff travel between cells blocks and our communities all the time).  

Leo’s been texting me almost every day, asking if my family is well and sending encouraging words along with updates on the situation inside. We’d planned to run his first cover story in the May issue. I know he’s disappointed that’s not happening, but I’m determined to get his story in print for June. His friends in Warren won’t be able to read it otherwise.  

Earlier this week, I finally heard back about the FAME and PPP loans. We’ve been approved for both, but the money won’t arrive in time to pay the printer this month, so we’ll publish the May issue’s content online instead, along with the breaking news, podcasts and other material we’ve been posting here from day to day.  

Also, earlier this year, technical problems broke the subscription system on our website through with readers can support our work. We’ve since moved that function to a Patreon page (patreon.com/mainernews), which is much more reliable, and added the options of getting an enhanced PDF version of every issue or a copy by mail every month when publication resumes in late May. 

If you can throw us a few bucks to help keep the ink flowing, thank you! But if not, know that we’ll still be OK. Of all the things to worry about these days, Mainer should not be among them.

Because, yeah, times are hard, but rest assured: we are harder.