Steve Foss, a 10th-generation Mainer, works on a harness for Claire yesterday in South Portland. Steve has his business, the Shoestring Exchange, in his garage at 32 Fickett Street. He shouted upstairs in Spanish for his wife, Daisy, to come see the little dog. They met in Ecuador when he was in the Peace Corps.
Once in a while when I’m traveling, I fall into a sweet zone of contentment. Steve’s cozy shop, smelling of leather, brought me into the zone by surprise. I sat on a chair, reading Corker’s Freedom, a flawless novel by John Berger, while Darlene explained how the harness needed to be made smaller. Steve had the Portland Oldies station playing all my favorite songs. A beautiful tall young blonde woman came in with a shoe needing repair, because her dog had chewed it up. I realized I was in the zone when a Beach Boys song came on the radio. Berger’s character, Mr. Corker, was describing a favorite ice cream place in Vienna named Dehmels. “The inside is all pink and blue and crystal candelabra hang from the ceiling. In the days of the Emperors the aristocrats used to go to Dehmels for their ice-creams and to say hello to each other. And it hasn’t changed.” I was taking in all the elements of the scene in Steve Foss’s garage at once–the music, the book, my wife and little dog, the calm artisan, the pretty girl–and they magically added up to a state of bliss. It made me remember Garrison Keillor in one of his Lake Woebegone sketches describing a ride on a bus in Minneapolis, when he recognized a retarded boy he’d known in school. It was a rainy day, so steam was rising off all the bus riders. He felt overwhelmed by contentment and wondered why. So did I.