What money means
Students embrace discomfort and navigate stereotypes about class on campus
Spencer Shagoury ’17 grew up in Maine, near Waterville. His high school was small, underfunded and mostly white, and people there saw Bowdoin as the gold standard. This was his normal, until he got here.
“It’s not like other people are saying things that are demeaning in any way, but there's this constant inside battle that's, like, well, other people went to this really fancy private school and they had SAT tutors and—not that my parents didn't give me what I needed—but I didn't have that,” he said.
He said he asks himself, “Do I belong here? Am I up to these people’s levels?”
“I think that's been a constant thing on my mind and finding my own personal confidence in the way of that has been challenging for sure. Like, proving to myself that I deserve to be at Bowdoin,” Shagoury said.
“My friends from home are what people here would call hicks and my friends here are what people from home would call elitist snobs,” he added. “When they met each other—all super nice people that I love so much—there's just such a huge disconnect between them.”
Shagoury straddles two worlds with drastically different expectations, and that puts pressure on him. Not only does Shagoury need to manage time between school and friends, but he also holds a job to pay for the things his friends can already afford.
“There’s a delicate walk for sure between working the right number of hours so you can afford some things that you might not be able to do—I got to go skiing last weekend—but also making sure you have enough time to, like, spend with friends,” he said.
Hanging out with friends is not always simple. There is a certain amount of capital required in order to go to a restaurant or ski slopes.
“You make a new friend and they're like, ‘Oh a couple of guys are going to Little Tokyo this Friday.’ And you're like, well, payday isn't till the Friday after that, but you don't want to say that to someone you just met,” he said. “You don't want to label yourself, because you're more than your bank statement. You're more than that. So, you don't want to say something that labels you as that, but at the same time—you just can't go.”
Spencer Shagoury `17
When interactions or shared activities revolve around spending money, wealthy students have the upper hand. As long as capital-intensive social activities remain important, poorer students bear the burden of operating within the norms of a high-class world.
Sometimes, students find a balance. Poorer students work harder so that they can afford access to these activities. Most wealthier students do not have unlimited spending money. They too turn down dinners out of a desire to spend less.
Despite these instances, class underlies fundamental power dynamics in our social world. Class influences how people dress and what they do in their free time, how they view themselves at Bowdoin and how they plan their summers and vacations. It affects who interacts with whom and their common interests, experiences or preferences. But most importantly, it affects what we each consider normal.
Class can be easy to ignore at Bowdoin because the College is a powerful equalizer. Within our on-campus community, students have roughly equal access to a vast array of resources. Great financial aid and familiar amenities such as Polar Points and dining halls with really good food, as well as policies like mandatory underclassmen housing and first year car restrictions all level the playing field and work to create an environment where students face as few disadvantages as possible.
People, like Evan Montilla ’17, notice this.
“I feel like the school is really good at providing the things I would see, that I would notice. Back home, class was like what food people were eating, what clothes people were wearing. But here, if you’re not so great financially, the school helps out a lot, and that’s been so key,” he said. “Everyone gets to eat really nice here.”
Here, no one has to worry about where their meals are coming from or whether they can afford to go to parties on the weekends.
But they might be worrying about other details like how they will afford the cost of a spring break trip or a new pair of hiking boots—or how they’ll ask for financial assistance.
Evan Montilla ’17
At Bowdoin, much of what is taken for granted is new for less wealthy students. This can be a difficult adjustment.
“While some students can afford to go skiing or drive to Portland every weekend, others have to work 10 or 20 hours per week to support themselves and their families. While some students regularly have hundreds of dollars on their OneCard accounts thanks to their generous and wealthy parents, others worry about being able to do laundry because you can't deposit less than $25 to a OneCard,” wrote Jesse Ortiz ’16, who organized a discussion about class last spring, in an email to the Orient.
If a poor student wants to have wealthier friends, overcoming these anxieties is not enough. They must strategize how to fit in.
Mitsuki Nishimoto ’17 dresses well. She’s on the smaller side and wears big glasses that make her look put together regardless of what else she has on, which is usually black—she is from New York. Her easygoing attitude belies how much effort she has put into her clothing choices.
Since high school, when a nonprofit program connected her with Spence, an all-girls private school on the Upper East Side, Nishimoto has understood the value of passing: the process of making your appearance match the norms of those around you, despite differences in class.
“Especially going to an all-girls school, I think people really looked at what everyone else was wearing, and I knew what was cool. I knew what could be seen as a marker of privilege,” she said. “I would make my mom go buy all these things—on sale, obviously—and I would tell her, ‘These are the things that are cool, and these are the things that you have to buy for me.’ I think, in those ways I was able to pass, because that wasn't fundamentally changing my financial circumstances. It was just something that I could wear to fit in.”
Mitsuki Nishimoto ’17
Although she described her class as “lower-middle income,” her parents raised her in an apartment in a predominately wealthy area. “We didn’t live in the nicest apartment but we still lived in this neighborhood, so I would say that I could get by telling people that I lived on the Upper East Side,” she said.
“I grew up going to the Met and going to Carl Schurz Park and Central Park. That was my playground,” Nishimoto continued.
“I think I had immense privilege, despite my family circumstances, and I think they really made sure that I had those experiences, to make up for what they couldn't practically give me. So just being able to say that. Y’know, some people have never been to the Met before, and being able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I used to go there all the time.’ That just puts me at a different place with social capital, especially at a place like Spence,” she added.
Her effort helps her feel comfortable at places like Spence or Bowdoin, but it helps wealthier students feel comfortable as well. When students from lower-income backgrounds assimilate to upper class students’ norms, these norms get validated. Wealthier peers can avoid confronting uncomfortable issues of class.
Like many other wealthier students, Sophie Binenfeld ’17 wasn’t ever really forced to reflect on class before attending Bowdoin. While she was aware of conspicuous displays of wealth, she was more comfortable downplaying her class—she transferred to a high school that required uniforms because she felt they were equalizing.
Binenfeld is from Los Angeles and bought her first winter coat her senior year of high school. Once she knew she was going to Maine for college, her older sister took her shopping in New York City. At her sister’s suggestion, she purchased a Canada Goose jacket—a frequent touchpoint in class-related discussions at Bowdoin.
“We were at Bloomingdale's and she was like, ‘This is the kind of coat you need.’ And I was like, ‘Is it the warmest?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, all your friends will have them,’” said Binenfeld, recounting her shopping experience.
“And I saw the price tag and I was like, ‘Jesus!’ But I don't know how much warm weather gear costs. And I was lucky enough to call my mom and be like, ‘Mom, Molly said to get this coat. Is that OK?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, if that's what she said to get. You're going to be warm, it's freezing in Maine, and you'll have it forever.’ So I bought it,” she said.
Sophie Binenfeld ’17
When a campus event last year drew attention to her jacket as a status symbol, Binenfeld's understanding of her class changed.
“It forces you to think about the money that you've had access to your whole life that you don't realize you did,” she said.
But for so many less wealthy students, awareness of class is not new.
“It’s shocking to me that a lot of students on campus don't know how much their parents make,” said Nishimoto. “Because as someone who's always had to fill out financial aid forms and just be mindful of that, I've always known how much my parents make.”
Henry Bredar ’19 shares a similar experience with Binenfeld.
He is on the rugby team and was also on the baseball team last year. Bredar describes these teams as fundamentally different in terms of class: he said that while the baseball team is “incredibly wealthy,” the rugby team feels more socioeconomically diverse.
The baseball team is predominately white and 74 percent of the 31 players on the 2016 roster attended private high schools. The rugby team does not publish the high schools of its team members.
Bredar is used to environments like that of the baseball team—he went to a wealthy, private all-boys school in his hometown, Washington, D.C. and said he was “middle of the pack in terms of affluence there.” Upon arrival at Bowdoin, he experienced more of the same.
“In my first year, really, class was completely irrelevant for me,” he said. “It was never a conversation I had. It was never something that came up with my friends. It was never something that came up with my teammates or anything like that.”
Henry Bredar ’19
Class-skewed spaces like the baseball team are one factor among many that allow wealthier students to not address class during their day-to-day experiences at Bowdoin.
There are many similar groups and spaces at Bowdoin. Examples such as the equestrian team or the club ski team stand out. Though these are more accessible with assistance from the dean’s office—students receiving aid can ask for supplemental funding for expensive activities—students need financial means to participate in and even encounter these experiences in the first place.
Other class-skewed groups include tennis, field hockey and lacrosse—programs funded more often at affluent high schools. Seventy-seven percent of the current men’s tennis team attended private school as did sixty-six percent of the current field hockey team. But it is difficult to generalize.
“I can't think of a team where I can't also think of the exceptions,” said Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Leana Amáez.
The Orient is one such organization. The staff members of the Orient tend to be consistently wealthier and whiter than Bowdoin’s student body. Of the paper’s 10 top editors, seven attended private high schools and all are white.
Class segregation occurs in less affluent circles as well. Students spoke with the Orient about a number of spaces or groups on campus that tend to be composed of poorer students. Often these spaces address other forms of identity, like race or gender.
Kathya Marte ’18 spoke of how this process of segregation began with the start of her first year.
“It was the week of matriculation and they would set us up in groups of four or five different people about where you come from or whatever. But even in those conversations, sometimes I was the only Latina or the only poor person, and I would notice that the rich people would have more stuff to talk about,” she said. “Just because, ‘Oh, my dad also has a house in the Hamptons’ or something, or if they went to rival boarding schools or … they would have something to talk about and I couldn’t relate to it because I didn’t go through these experiences.”
Amáez has led approximately 15 students in an Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) program almost every semester for the past three years. During the introductory session with each group she asks every student to introduce themselves, addressing various aspects of their identities such as race, ethnicity, family and cultural background, sexual orientation and class.
According to Amáez, in every IGD introduction, it’s very rare that a student will describe their class status without using the word “middle.” Wealthier students refer to themselves as upper-middle class while poorer students say lower-middle class.
“No one wants to leave the middle – there’s something honorable about the middle and there's something really stereotyped about outside of it,” said Amáez.
Some students do come from the middle class, but for the vast majority of Bowdoin students, that is just not true. According to data from a report by the Equality of Opportunity Project republished in the New York Times last month, 69 percent of Bowdoin students come from families in the top fifth of the national income distribution. As of fall 2016, 44 percent of the student body received financial aid, meaning 56 percent of students pay the College’s full $63.5 thousand in tuition.
“That’s a lot of money! Right? And that's not to say that isn't a strain; that's not to say that some of those students don't have some loans that have to be taken out as a result,” Amáez said. “But 56 percent don't qualify for aid on a need basis. That means their parents are making good money!”
In Amáez’ opinion, students are not adequately acknowledging the exceptional nature of their backgrounds. She’s not alone.
Read a candid converstaion about class between four students
According to Walter Chacón ’17, who is performing research on the relationship between social norms and class at NESCAC colleges for an honors project in sociology, Bowdoin normalizes social customs and behaviors that allow us to not recognize our wealth.
Chacón offered the example of the meritocratic myth as an idea that contributes to this normalization.
“I think it kinda gives the impression that regardless of where you come from or your social background, we’re all on an equal playing field, and I think that’s a pitfall to attending a really selective elite college,” he said. “That everyone can come in and think that we’re all on the same page because we all worked really hard, and we’re all really talented and we really achieved. That’s the only way we got into Bowdoin. I think we should question that.”
“A lot of people at Bowdoin have lives that are very atypical. Whether that’s because they have a second home—for example, a summer home. People normalize that at Bowdoin. But that’s not normal—by any standards—if you look at the composition of the United States,” he said.
“It’s easy to take that for granted, and think that that’s normal, but if we don’t question that then we kind of normalize the immense privilege that people have when they come to Bowdoin,” added Chacón.
Walter Chacón ’17
Marte—who said she is currently taking a year off “to recharge”—spent some of her first few weeks at Bowdoin looking up her peers’ families on Wikipedia.
“I would Wikipedia people’s last name and I’m like, ‘Wow, their family is worth x amount of money.’ These are the people I’ve read about, but I actually go to school with these people and I interact with them—or, I just go to school with them, I don’t really interact with them,” she said.
“Before I went to Bowdoin I wasn’t ashamed to say, oh, you know, I live in a single-parent household, a low-income household, went to an urban, public, low-income high school,” said Marte. “However, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that when I was at Bowdoin, because I didn’t want people to feel bad for me or thinking less of me because of my background.”
Although the wealth at Bowdoin came as a shock to Marte, money alone did not keep her from sharing her experiences with wealthier peers. Marte felt that she came to Bowdoin unprepared for its academic rigor.
Regardless of a student’s background, discussions about class are often characterized by discomfort and shame. When talking about class, there are assumptions that go along with class that are negative and reduce their experience to a class stereotype.
Attending Bowdoin comes with opportunities to access resources unavailable to students back home, but can also be accompanied by discomfort. Students like Marte worry about what happens when they fail to assimilate to elite standards.
“In terms of jobs, internships, I feel like I had ... I had to network with people outside of my community to get the jobs that I want, because they don’t have access to the opportunities that I’m interested in,” said Marte. “Although I know that sometimes it is hard to be at Bowdoin, I want to push through because I know that the networks that come from being a Bowdoin student, and also the resources as well, outweigh going to a school where I feel more comfortable.”
Wealthy students have different concerns surrounding stereotypes. Some of these students are afraid of coming across as being unaware of their privilege or being seen as inadequately working to address it.
“It's like … someone who is tangentially aware of how lucky they are but also really ... loves playing lacrosse like I do, or really ... loves going to ski like I do,” said Drew Van Kuiken ’17, describing his worry about playing into the stereotype of a typical student who attended boarding school.
Drew Van Kuiken ’17
“I'm really apprehensive about doing [this interview],” said Binenfeld. “It’s super important to talk about, but it’s something at Bowdoin that we just don't talk about because you don't want to look like a rich asshole—and people don't know those things about me unless I tell them.”
Binenfeld feels like a fear of negative perceptions related to specific things like expensive jackets stops conversations about class before they happen.
“I often feel really judged for my coat. I know it's stupid, but I don't want you to judge me for it; talk to me about it. Let's talk about the differences in how we grew up, because I'm sure there were a lot of things that were the same,” she said.
“I think on both sides of the spectrum there are assumptions that go along with that that are negative,” Amáez said. “Once you label it, you're subject to the notions of everyone else about what that label means, and it takes your really personal story and relationship to class out.”
But nearly every student the Orient talked to said addressing class on one's personal level is where a productive conversation about class starts—especially for wealthier students.
“I think it is kinda like the conversations about race we've been having on campus where white students have to acknowledge their own whiteness and their privilege,” said Nishimoto. “And for the most part students who are not wealthy—this is something that they've had to think about. And it now has to come from the students who never had have to think about it to confront.”
Bredar and Marte echoed this sentiment.
“It's not people of lower classes’ job to teach people of higher classes about this issue,” Bredar said. “That’s where the responsibility really is, in a way, on the people of higher class.”
“Some of the friends you do make are in the classroom, I feel like people notice—people notice! They can tell people’s background from what they say, how they act, what they dress. Foster relationships there,” suggested Marte.
“I think that the burden doesn’t always have to be on the person from a marginalized group,” she said.
News in brief: Town to sell Mere Point lot after rejecting petition
On Monday, Brunswick Town Council voted (7-2) against a citizens’ petition that called for the town to hold a referendum on whether to reverse the council’s previous decision to sell a waterfront property on Mere Point Road. The petition proposed that the property be converted into a community park in an effort to preserve public access to the coastline. The petition gathered over 1,100 signatures, the most in town history.
Brunswick will move forward with the sale of the property, as the council originally decided in a contentious 5-4 vote last September. The town had acquired the property last year after its previous owners failed to pay property taxes for nearly a decade.
Soxna Dice, a principal organizer speaking on behalf of the petitioners, feared for the town’s loss of public waterfront access. At the town meeting on Monday, she argued that a park at Mere Point would be accessible for all citizens, such as school groups on field trips, clammers and the elderly. According to Councilor Stephen Walker, there is currently scarce public access to the waterfront for Brunswick residents.
Though questions were raised concerning the council’s legal obligation to meet the petition’s demands, the council’s major concerns included the cost of converting the property into a park as well as the quality of the property itself and its accessibility for the elderly.
During its deliberation, the town council considered the merits of the property as a public park. Objectors found contention with the potential cost to the town. Not only would Brunswick be unable to collect the tax revenue on the waterfront property, but the town would also be obligated to front the costs to convert the land into an accessible park. According to Dice, the petitioners did not propose a budget for the park, arguing that that responsibility would fall to the town if the referendum passed.
Though the Council is moving forward to sell the property, councilors on both sides of the vote expressed commitment to expanding public access to the waterfront in the future.
About Town: Maine Street’s new king: Adrian Reyes thrives with new hair studio
I had to wait for my interview with Adrian Reyes, barber and owner of Kings and Queens Hair Studio on Maine Street. My wait was more comfortable than inconvenient—his lobby is warm, adorned by well-stuffed black leather couches and new issues of Allure. His business, known as the only barbershop in Brunswick with the skills to cut ethnic hair, is booming. Reyes embraces the busyness and his energy was tangible, translated into upbeat engagement with each person who walked through his doors.
He fit in the interview while working with a new customer, who hadn’t gotten a haircut since arriving months ago to work at Bath Iron Works. He was referred to Kings and Queens by a friend.
“I used to be a chef at Bowdoin College, and the students were asking me who was cutting my hair,” Reyes explained. “At the time, I cut my own hair. I knew there was a niche, I knew there was something up here that was special because no barbers here could do what I do.”
“I was the first one cutting Bowdoin College’s hair, African-Americans, Hispanics—I’m Puerto Rican,” Reyes said. Hailing from Florida, Reyes found Maine to be “a culture shock” when he moved here with his family as a teenager. Upon moving, he, like many Bowdoin students, could not find a hairstylist.
“A lot of seniors are like, ‘Oh man, the freshmen are so lucky that they have you here now!’ They used to have to wait to go home [to get their hair cut]. The only time they actually looked good was actually right after breaks. Now, they can maintain their style.”
Yet, he refuses to be pigeonholed. “If you look on my page, at Facebook, I can do black, white, Puerto Rican, Chinese—any hair, I can cut it.” While I was in the shop, a white man in camouflaged uniform gave a big thumb’s up, saying “I would drive anywhere to get my hair cut by Adrian.”
Although there are few other hairstylists with the skills to cut ethnic hair, Reyes also stands out with his individual attention to clients. “As a barber, man, we get a lot of clients who really feel with us. We’re their shrink, we’re their best friend,” he said. Reyes is as close with his clients as he is his family, who were visiting him in the shop at the time.
His grandmother (who calls Reyes “sugarplum” and hugged me before leaving) was present throughout the interview, along with his mother. “[My mom] is my manager, she’s the one that takes care of all the boring stuff,” Reyes said, smiling. “I learned humility from my mother.”His mother, who had been listening to our interview while she swept, interjected here: “He’s been humble since he was born,” she said. “He was a sweet, calm child.”
“I was a punk,” Reyes countered. He had a son at 18 and has since separated from his son’s biological mother. “She took a different path,” he said, “I’m a family man.”
Adrian immediately brightened upon mention of his son. “He loves reading. We read to him at nighttime, we have to. Do I want to, no, I’m tired, but I have to, to get him where he needs to be. As his parent, it’s my responsibility.” Adrian lives in Yarmouth, now, because it is a better place to raise kids than the Portland suburb in which he grew up.
“My favorite part about being a dad is to guide my kids, give them things I didn’t have, guide them where I didn’t have guidance when I was younger. When I said I was a punk, I was a punk. I had to land in jail to get where I am, it was a complete 180,” Reyes declared.
He tries to relate this guidance to some of his younger customers. “They see the success, but they don’t see the struggle I went through.”
Reyes works long days, and coaches baseball Wednesday nights. Each day is packed with work and preparation for his new daughter, Julianna, who is due in two weeks. Potential surrounds Reyes, and he’s meeting it.
“My dream was to be ready by the time she was here, and I am,” he said.
About Town: Lighthouse Deli: a beacon for students hungry for a taste of home
When Becky Marcos starts talking about her deli’s breakfast sandwiches, her voice perks up with an enthusiasm typically reserved for special occasions, like the first time you hear “Dance Yrself Clean” or when you find your lost OneCard in the pocket of that jacket you thought you would wear more when you bought it. Her tone indicates the discovery of something special. The discovery of this place, Lighthouse Variety & Deli, and its food is a joy that has been shared by Brunswick residents and Bowdoin students alike.
Marcos wears a knit beanie to work and has a soft, even voice. “I’m a mom,” she said. “I just don’t have kids anymore.” When we sat down to talk, she took care to turn off the TV that normally plays in the back of the store. The only thing that disrupted her steadily upbeat demeanor was the design of new Mountain Dew can—it mimicked a beer can, using adjectives like “crafted.” “This place is supposed to be family-friendly!” Marcos protested.
An emphasis on family grounds Marcos’ values: “My father owned his own business and worked very hard to be a success.” He would leave for work before she woke up in the mornings, and would come home briefly at 5 p.m. to catch up with the family over dinner before returning to work.
She describes herself as the kind of person who does things completely. “It takes me a while to make a decision, but that’s because when I commit to something I do it the best I can.”Learning how to navigate the small-business scene of Brunswick was a challenge, and she had to pick up as she went along. “I had no experience at all, before. With what I know now, I was crazy and stupid, back then.” Before owning Lighthouse Variety & Deli, she worked as bursar for a private school.
Some things come naturally to Marcos, like the upsell. When I asked her about what she has done to stand apart from other local markets, her enthusiasm was palpable.
“My stuff is twice as expensive, but it’s twice as good!” Marcos exclaimed with conviction. She is resolved to spend more on the “little pepperonis that cup up” rather than the larger ones that lay flat and don’t get crunchy, and the locally-made English muffins she described candidly as “like little clouds.”
Yet after two years of experience, Marcos still grapples with some issues faced by small business owners.
“The biggest challenge that anyone in my business faces is employees, your workforce. Getting reliable people you can trust that are going to show up on work on time and clean and not steal from you and have a good rapport with customers.” She only has one employee, Jen, who has stayed with her from the beginning, her team of nine in near-constant turnover.
Luckily, rapport with customers comes easily to Marcos herself, and much of her business comes from regulars: the people who live down the street, the students who live nearby and the athletes coming from Farley.
She was particularly close to the 2014 football team.
“I named the Polar Bear after them. They would come in and order their sandwiches: ‘Well, I want a double-egg. No, I want two meats. I want this, I want that.’ They kept ordering a double-egg, double-meat sandwich, so I named it the Polar Bear.”
After we had been speaking for a while, she paused in the middle of a sentence and interjected: “You know what I love the most? Ivies weekend, or the big football weekends, when all the alums come.”
“They push all my tables together and I get all the old kids from since I’ve started the store, and they all come and I’ll have 30 or 40 of them—standing room only. They all come in and get their sandwiches and I get hugs and kisses from everybody.”
“They bring their moms and dads in to meet me. I love that.”
About Town: Keeping Eveningstar Cinema alive as Brunswick population ages
Barry Norman does not sit still. Trying to get a photo of him between facial expressions is nearly impossible—he talks a mile a minute and gestures with equal frequency. When he talks he goes on a lot of tangents and pursues them completely.
“I’m an insomniac,” he said blithely. He doesn’t turn off and he doesn’t stop. “I have always been an opportunist,” he says. His life story is scattered across the country and various industries, all roads ending at Eveningstar Cinema on Maine Street.
If you want to know why he bought Eveningstar, all you need is to watch his preshow—it features a clip from a movie he made where he walks down Maine Street with his dog, a schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle) named Scooter. “I first get into Brunswick, and I see the Little Dog Café. This is obviously a sign.”
“When I was looking to buy a movie theater, I was actually looking to buy an Art Deco movie theater.” There was one in Lamar, Colorado, “only going for $250,000, which is pretty cheap,” and still turning a profit, “but then I would be living in Lamar, Colorado,” Norman lamented. “All the other Art Deco theaters were dark.”
He mentions that the unique character of Eveningstar was a draw. “It did appeal to me that it was funky, that there was nothing like this. This used to be a garage for Goodwin Chevrolet.” Its eccentricities are evident in his attic workspace, a loft with ceilings a full foot shorter than Norman, located above the box office. To interview him, I had to use a wooden ladder to get up and metal handles to get back down.
Norman was raised in Boston, where he spent time in similarly small theaters. He appreciated the sense of community he found with the people attending. Today in Brunswick, this community has changed.
“I survive because my older audience, which is who I cater to, still wants the community feeling of going to a theater. They like talking to the owner and seeing Scooter and all that.”
“They don’t want to go to a multiplex like Regal because there are so many different screens and so many people running around and they don’t want to get 10 previews because they need to promote all of the films that they have on their screens.”
“They like coming to a theater like this. First of all, they all know each other. When you go to a comedy, a room full of people laughing is a lot more fun than you sitting by yourself. Same thing when the movie’s sad. Emotion is a shared moment.”
He hopes people feel connected in his theater like they did when he was young.“This is what going to the movies was; [the community] was a big deal.”
Outside of the theaters he cherished, his childhood was defined by pressures from his OB/GYN father and family. “My dad never got it,” he said. “It was so foreign to him.”
“I come from a family of famous physicians. My aunt helped develop the pacemaker.”Though he went in a different direction than his family, he has applied a familiar focus to his own pursuits. He has asked himself throughout his career: “Things are shifting, how can we get in the forefront?”
This question led Norman from Boston to Connecticut College to New York City, where he “was living on a park bench in Washington Square for three weeks, trying to beg for three dollars a day, which got me a joint, a Colt 45, and two slices of Ray’s pizza.”
He cleaned himself up to score an interview which led him to a job at a magazine distributing office in Denver. After a divorce, he took a job in Florida and then another in Atlanta, where he got into film. Between these moments, he has published magazines, gone to the Olympics to cover wrestling for CNN and run alternative rock radio shows.
Norman has been independent his entire life, and owning his own business grants him autonomy in many ways. Yet, this existence relies upon a customer base and his is dwindling.“My mature audience, two things are happening to them, one, they’re becoming too old or infirm to go out, or they’re passing away.”
“How do I become relevant? How do I stay?” When I asked him about his next opportunity, he replied: “I’m exhausted. Maybe something is going to come up that I don’t see, but I don’t see it.”
Without knowing Barry Norman for very long, I got the feeling this wasn’t something he said easily.
“There is a certain level of burnout. I don’t have that type of stamina anymore. I was doing the Olympics for 18, 19 hours a day and when I did the Olympics I also started a film festival and was running the film festival from the Olympics,” he said.
“I don’t like to do things half-assed. So, if there’s any other major challenge, it’s a major challenge trying to expand. I’ve been telling people, ‘I’m either going to break through the wall, or the wall is going to kill me.’ We’re getting closer to the wall killing me.”
When I walked into the theater from the box office, I noticed that the only poster that Norman keeps up permanently is a one-sheet from The Last Picture Show. “Great movie,” Norman commented. “I love the movie. I love the poster, and the irony.”
“I don’t want to be The Last Picture Show.”
About Town: Reverend Geoff Parker on finding God in a Winnebago
It wasn’t easy to get First Parish Church’s Reverend Geoff Parker to talk about himself. His tone was easily humble, but when he speaks about church, his voice goes up a little like it’s filled with hope and home. When asked about his involvement in the Brunswick community, he deflected from his own invested role.
“My job as pastor is really to be a cheerleader and support and connector of other people and their passions,” he said.
Whenever he meets someone new, he asks himself “How will [I] honor their story?” This is something that he treats as a matter of faith.
“I honestly believe that there is something holy happening in every single person, and so it’s about ‘How can I get out of my own way to experience what that is?’” he said.
I experienced this myself, as throughout our interview, he would interject to ask about my perspective and reflections. His engagement struck me and changed what started out as just an interview into a thoughtful and rewarding conversation. Parker applies this principle generally, emphasizing the importance of community discussion about tough subjects.
“We’re making sure we’re engaging the serious conversations,” he assured. “One of the conversations about privilege is you know you have it if you don’t have to talk about these issues. It’s something we haven’t had to do, but it’s something we’re called to do in terms of seeking justice in the world.”
He credits Bowdoin for keeping the congregation on its toes in terms of social consciousness. Though he did not mention it in the interview, his pennant from Sarah Lawrence College and diploma from Yale Divinity School spoke to the intellectual engagement he demonstrates and values in this community.
“We enjoy all the rich benefits of having Bowdoin next door that help us really be an educated, engaged, learning congregation,” said the reverend. “A lot of times we go. If you guys are talking about something, it’s a really good cue for us that we should probably have some knowledge about what’s going on in the world too.”
Parker also appreciates the personal relationships between Bowdoin, Brunswick and his church.
“I can look around, and I can point in my pew to the number of members of First Parish that are Bowdoin host families,” he said. “They make a real, intentional effort to make the church, as an expression of the community of Brunswick, a welcoming place and a safe place.”When I asked him to explain where this appreciation came from, he gave me some spiritual context.
“Here’s a big one that I stick with as part of my theological assertion—everybody is of worth and value just as who they are, not because of anything that they do,” Parker said. “And in a wonderful experience that is as challenging and as hardworking as going to college at a place like Bowdoin, sometimes you need a space for that. To be able to go, it’s not about what I got on my last test.”
"It’s not about how I’m doing in general or how I’m even doing socially in this environment. Sometimes I need a place where I can just be accepted and of worth just as who I am.”"I hope we can provide a pausing place in the midst of a lot. You guys have really busy lives and so do a lot of people in the town of Brunswick,” he added.
Throughout this interview, I was considering the role faith played in his life and decision to become a reverend. I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious household, and I wanted insight into how faith comes to someone. It took the whole interview, but eventually, he let me in on some of his perspective.
“What did it for me? There’s my belief in the story and scripture that drives my tradition, but what drew me to get interested in that was actually the experiences of what felt like holiness in my life in many ways. So for me, it started out in a Winnebago because I was in a band, and so me and seven of my friends traveled around the country in a Winnebago playing shows.
“This is more embarrassing than it even sounds, but here’s the thing: you wake up every day, and you’re surrounded by your best friends, and you do what you most love. And it’s hard, and you have to learn how you’re going to feed eight people on five bucks because you’re not making a lot of money, but what I took out of that was that I was incredibly moved by the experience of living in a community and working towards common goals and the belief that living in such a community could transform the world around you,” he explained. “So I call that church now.”
“And then, you know, being in college and a little depressed and reading a little too much Russian literature, that also helps,” he added.
About Town: An evening with Nick Holes at Vibes Tattoo & Piercing
Within weeks of entering Bowdoin as an un-pierced and relatively sheltered first year, I headed over to Vibes with my roommates to get pierced. At first, I was apprehensive, but any preconceived notions I had about piercers and tattoo artists were immediately reversed when I met Vibes’ chief piercer Nick Holes.
His name is kind of punk, and Holes won’t deny that at times he’s had the looks to go with it—acid green dreadlocks and a gauged septum. He combines this tough aesthetic with a well-spoken and upbeat demeanor, a far cry from the bastion of counterculture and angst I had been anticipating. He says he’s very into “New Wave hippie stuff” and has a lot of tattoos that feature sacred geometry, like the blue Merkaba on his forearm.
For Holes, tattoos and piercings are transformative events, and each holds its own significance. The big hole in his septum has a particularly meaningful story behind it.
“There was a book I read when I was younger called ‘Nothing in This Book is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are’ by Bob Frissell, and one of the things he brought up in this book is that we never learned how to breathe. You’re brought into this world, you’re smacked on the ass and you find out you need to breathe,” he said.
“Getting my septum, to me, was a relearning of how to breathe—not just breathing as a sense of ‘I need to do this to live’ but breathing as a sense of ‘I need to take in what I need and expel what I don’t.”
He incorporates this meditative philosophy into his relationships with clients. When people get nervous about needles, he knows how to put them at ease.
“You calm the person down with how you’re talking,” he said. “When you pierce them, something as simple as when they’re breathing in or when they’re breathing out makes a huge difference in how it feels. When you’re breathing in, you’re tense. Your body is winding up. When you’re breathing out, your body is relaxing. I always pierce on an out breath.”
Although Holes wasn’t born a Mainer, he has lived in Brunswick for three years. Originally from Long Island, New York, Holes moved to Maine to find a lifestyle that fit him. He wanted a slower pace—less traffic.
“I wanted to learn how to hunt, live off the land and everything like that,” he said.
Indeed, Holes has enjoyed learning to hunt since moving from New York. During deer season, he can go hunting mornings before his shift starts at noon.
When he is not hunting, though, he enjoys the slower pace of his life and work in Brunswick.
“You don’t get the feeling here like you do at other shops I’ve worked at, where you have to get this person out the door. It’s much more laid-back, much more relaxed.”
During the three years he’s been here, Holes has noticed that piercings have become a lot more acceptable.
“We have everything ranging from kids straight up to professionals coming in here,” he said.
He appreciates this cultural shift—the fact that something so important to him is becoming more mainstream.
“When I was younger, in my twenties, I had dreadlocks. I had a big septum ring,” he said. “I had a woman ask me what my parents thought of it. I said, ‘My parents don’t care—I’m paying my own bills. I’m making my way through college. They don’t care.’ She said, ‘Well, if I was your parents, I would kill myself.’ You don’t really see that sentiment anymore.”
“Tattoos and piercings were always a rite of passage—this is what I’m going to do to say that I’m an adult and ready to enter the world,” Holes said. His favorite kind of experience with a client is when there is a transformative aspect, when he can provide people with the same kind of transcendence that he felt upon getting his septum gauge or even moving to Maine.
“We had an 18-year-old here getting a Monroe piercing, and she feels like that was what was missing,” said Holes. “That was what she needed.”
About Town: A family affair: variety at Uncle Tom's Market
Upon entering Uncle Tom’s Market on Pleasant Street, I was immediately greeted by André—a bouncy, moplike bichon frise—who hangs out there with his owner, Dan Bouthot. Dan inherited the store from his father, Leoneide Thomas “Uncle Tom” Bouthot. As uncle to more than a dozen nieces and nephews, the market’s name is homage to a family man. Yet, the namesake is often confused for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic antislavery novel.
“It has nothing to do with what people keep saying. In fact, we were written up in the Chicago paper. I keep the clipping at the front of the store. Are you kidding? It has nothing to do with Harriet Beecher Stowe,” Dan said. “Everyone called him Uncle Tom.”
André is the third of three bichon frises that have graced the store, documented in a series of photographs laminated on the counter. Uncle Tom loved the dogs. “He would finish his meal, pick the dog up, put her on the countertop where he had just gotten his meal, feed whatever scraps were on his plate, and watch TV for the rest of the afternoon,” Dan said.
Every night, Dan cooks for his wife and daughter in the back of his store. “I work 60 hours a week,” he said. “It’s just what I do if I want to spend a meal with them.” Once he roasted an entire pig.
“On anniversaries, he makes scallops,” his daughter, Gabrielle, added. “And on Valentine’s, and Mother’s Day.”
“I mean, [the store is] good for him and it’s great to keep it in the family, but balance is hard,” his wife, Maggie, commented. “Which is why we adapt, why we have suppers here. We just do what we need to do to be together.”
“Talking about beer, that’s what I do,” Dan said about his job. “I try enough of them to help customers pick them, and people are happy with the choices I help them make. I’m not a professional by any means. I’m completely self-taught. But I keep my ears open for information.”
Yet, the store offers some other things that have grabbed customers’ attention. On the wall opposite the checkout counter, there are racks of pornographic magazines.
“I mean, there’s a demand for it,” Dan comments. “I hate the fact that I have them, but now that they’re here, they are a draw.”
Stranger things have been sold here. When Uncle Tom was still around, the shop sold 40 suits of armor within five weeks. “Those were cheap Mexican knockoffs,” Dan admitted.Their customers can be strange, too. One has a name that’s a phrase, Bobby Rocks. “He legally changed it,” affirmed Gabrielle, Dan’s daughter.
One woman, known as “Moose Lady,” brings in stuffed animals to show Dan and his family. “She brought in her brand-new boots the other day, to make sure I knew she had boots this winter,” Dan said.
“She’s lonely,” Dan said. “And belligerent sometimes.”
“He’s like a bartender,” Maggie noted. “You know, just listening to people.”
“I hear everybody’s problems. Sometimes I can offer information, sometimes I can’t,” Dan said.
“Opening up and talking to people it what is part of what it is, it’s the business,” he said.“Good at heart, that’s what you need to be.”
About Town: Bath Cycle & Ski fosters unique community
The workshop at Bath Cycle & Ski is an actual garage, attached to the foyer storefront of a carved up Victorian in Woolwich, ME. In it, there’s a ramp featuring a black mat with holes punched out and filled with beer bottle caps. The ceiling is covered with bike wheels, stickers and tools. As the shop’s owners reorganize the space to accommodate the seasonal ski business, the shop’s immaculate record collection is nestled under mechanic Jesse Pilgrim’s workbench. He’s worked here for years.
When I asked him to describe the variety of people who frequent the place, he explained, “We get all kinds here.” For example, a local farmer looking for help fixing his garden cart. Forrest Carver, one of the co-owners of the store, recalled a customer with a very different experience than most who frequent the bike joint.
“We got this customer named Ken. I don’t think he can read, I don’t even know if he has power in his house. He’s just a clam-digger; he’s been doing that for 60 years. He pays us in clams.”Pilgrim explained his clientele as widely varied.
“We have this one group of doctors who will ride and they’re some of the coolest customers we have.”
The common trait among all of Pilgrim’s customers is that they appreciate bikes and the people who fix them.
“On one day, I could be working on a Huffy, a bike that isn’t necessarily worth getting right again. Or, I could be working on a $6,000 bike,” he said. “The most common bike you see here is your basic hybrid, bikes that are meant for getting from A to B.”
“Find your outlet and don’t let the winter get you down,” Pilgrim advised. He shared his own approach, something that works for a lot of the people he runs into at Bath Cycle and Ski. “Finding time to do anything is tough, obviously, but you’ll lead a lot better life if you actually get out and enjoy nature as much as you can. It definitely helps a whole lot, and bikes are a great way to see a lot of nature in a really short amount of time.”
He referenced some communities that use music to escape the boredom of northern winters. “The highest per capita of fiddlers in the world is on this island in Canada. That’s their outlet. Music is a good way to get out.”
Pilgrim used to take part in Portland’s music scene, and played in the same venue as Lady Lamb (a Brunswick musician) during her start there. Today, he’s a husband busy with errands, though he’ll always have a special connection to Maine.
“You get to see stuff that people never get to see and it’s just in your backyard.”
The Brunswick Commons and the Phippsburg Land Trust nature preserves are some of his favorite spots in the area.
“You’ll never run out of cool things to do in Maine if you love the outdoors,” he said.
About Town: Café Crème – a plight against the bougie coffee shop stigma
Twelve years ago, Tonnie Schultz put her house on the line as collateral, risking everything with the goal of creating a “community gathering place.” The result is Café Crème, a busy coffee shop located in Bath, ME. It was difficult to separate my first impressions of the café from Little Dog Coffee Shop on Maine Street—both are cozy, friendly and warm. This is unsurprising given the fact that Little Dog’s owners came to Schultz for advice on getting the right “feel” for a coffee shop.
Schultz’s business model was simple—fill her town’s need for a coffee shop, a place for “sitting there all afternoon, and taking your time to chat with a friend,” while appealing to the largest audience possible.
“What I love about Maine and what I’ve always loved about Maine is our economic diversity, and interests and backgrounds, [and that people] are really comfortable with those differences and being together with them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure to honor that by creating a space that wasn’t specifically designed with any one demographic in mind.”
When describing the process of designing her shop, she explained, “I would try to go for things that would appeal to everybody, in a certain sense, and not be too far in one direction or the other that someone might not put their foot in the door because they thought, ‘Eh, that’s not really my kind of place.’”
Schultz said she struggles with fitting her coffee shop into different people’s ideas of what Bath is and should be. She has difficulty reaching people “who just don’t feel like the downtown is their space, because they feel that things are more expensive, or they feel like they wouldn’t fit in. I’m constantly working to counter that, but it’s difficult unless they come in.” She remembers someone who remarked, “This is Bath, we don’t need a hoighty toighty coffee shop,” upon hearing about her proposition to open Café Crème at the intersection of Front and Centre.Her menu, written in chalk on the wall, features a few bold testaments against this stigma. A specialty drink, “Single Working Mom” (three shots espresso over ice with a splash of soy milk) was proposed by a former employee before she left. The price of a small cup of coffee is $1.62 – 16 cents less than the same cup at the average Maine Dunkin’.“This place has been great because people do make connections here,” Schultz says. “They start up conversations with somebody they wouldn’t otherwise know. So, even just trying to make sure that everybody gets a foot in the door. I don’t even care if they come, sit in here and have a free glass of ice water.”
About Town: Kloberdans pays tribute to grandfather with camera repair shop
David Kloberdans runs his camera repair business out of his home. Sandwiched between a store filled with found items called “Ed’s Stuff” and a residential area, 16 Hall Road looks like any other house, large and painted white. What lies inside, a collected life, is far from ordinary.A little more than 30 years ago, Kloberdans settled here with his wife, a Bath native, after their daughter passed away in his native Colorado.
“It was really, really hard for my wife to stay [in Colorado], so she wanted to go back home.”A former undercover police officer, Kloberdans began repairing cameras after a doctor recommended he take up a hobby to relieve stress from work.
The trade came naturally to him. As a child, he spent afternoons after school with his grandfather, a clock-maker named Shep (the namesake of his shop), who let him fiddle with the extra clocks he had lying around. Kloberdans finds the inside of a camera to be similar.“See, a clock, that clock up there, times out the hands on it, and the chimes, that’s what it times out,” he explained. “A camera times out shutter speeds... but it’s still the mechanism.”
I first met Kloberdans as the tough and consummately competent camera repairman. My photography professor, Mike Kolster, recommended him when I needed to replace a small and relatively obscure piece of my camera.
When I knocked on Kloberdan’s door, I had low expectations. He introduced me to his garage, and I left with not only the piece I was missing, but also a filter that he found and fitted to my lens free of charge.
“I opened up a shop. I started going around to different camera shops, telling them who I was, and what I did, gave them my card. That stuff just started trickling in,” he said of his large collection of camera parts. “After a while, you just collect them.”
His camera parts collection dominates his garage, though he manages to store other eclectic objects there as well. The collections companions include a Seth Thomas banjo clock, some motorcycles (his Harley has an engine designed by Ferrari), two retro slot machines that entertain his grandchildren, and stacks of bagged wood pellets that fuel the wood burning stove in his basement. The clutter floods into a workshop and his living room, mingling with his living space.
“This stuff is valuable,” he says.
Over the years, Kloberdans has developed a large network of friends through his business. More than two decades ago, he fixed the camera of Claude Montgomery, a local artist known for his landscapes and presidential portraits. As a favor, Montgomery offered to commission a nude portrait of Kloberdan’s wife at a wholesale price of $4,000. The couple politely declined. Today, both Montgomery and Kloberdan’s wife are deceased.
“Once they’re gone, you realize what you should’ve done,” Kloberdans said.
About Town: Good times and family ties: Michaud’s Market draws generations of locals
The first time I heard the concept “sense of place” was at convocation my freshman year. Former President Mills said in his speech, “Here, we recognize that place matters. Maine is an essential part of Bowdoin, and Bowdoin is a part of Maine.” This resonated with me—the relationship between the college and its surrounding area. Throughout my first year, I took advantage of Outing Club trips and nighttime excursions to Portland, but I still felt like I had yet to burst the infamous “Bowdoin Bubble.” In this column, I attempt to remedy this. Every other week, I’ll explore different places outside the immediate Bowdoin community and talk to those who truly understand what it means to be connected to this place: Mainers.
Fresh off a bike ride across the bridge to Topsham, I walk into Michaud’s Market, and already this place feels so far from the student-heavy crowd on Brunswick’s Maine Street. I am immediately greeted by a posse of four grizzled, smiling men sitting in a straight row behind the bar. It’s perpendicular to the counter where Jim Michaud and his father work, and the bar faces the entrance directly. This is the perfect spot to greet passers-by and chitchat.
“Are you my panel?” I joke, remembering Jim saying something about inviting more people over during our scheduled interview. They have no idea what I’m talking about, and I realize that this crowd is normal, part of a long-standing routine.
Jim enters and everyone perks up. When he warmly greets me, the rest of the crowd follows suit and welcomes me. I ask his friends why they like spending their evenings here with Jim.“’Cause he’s a wise-ass,” his second-cousin, Jim Thibeault, says with a sideways grin. “You walk in, and everyone’s in a good mood,” he adds.
We talk for a while. The group shares everything from their memories riding around town on bikes as kids to recent moose sightings. Brags about past sports victories punctuate the conversation.
This is how Michaud’s Market works: people gather here day after day, lured by the powerful draw of good company. They joke around with Jim and his father—a sweet man, who winked and surreptitiously passed me a piece of cellophane-wrapped candy—over a couple of beers and some fast food.
Jim thinks fast food is his niche. He was forced to specialize in fast food, in order to stay in business and compete with Hannaford and other large markets. I disagree with his characterization; I firmly believe that Jim’s specialty is not fast food, but a good time. “This is our hole in the wall,” says local character Paul Reymond.
The crown jewel of Michaud’s is its counter, which is framed by wooden panels filled with evidence of Jim’s devotion to his community. There are pictures of the annual Memorial Day parade (Michaud’s is an unofficial stop because the crowd gets so large there) and the old high school IDs of a few local boys who used to eat lunch there regularly. When the boys went off to college, they wanted to leave a piece of themselves there.
A poster board covered with photos from a disposable camera jumped out at me. It’s headlined “HALLOWEEN 1999” in big letters on the top.
“That’s my brother, who died of cancer, he took these pictures. Every year he would take pictures at Halloween. He took pictures of all the kids and we’d put ‘em up. A week later, they’d all come and see their picture,” Jim tells me. “This was his last Halloween, and that’s why we left them up.”
To this day, people still come back to see the pictures of themselves as children, to share the photos with their own kids and to soak up some of the good company that can always be found at Michaud’s.