THE attractive woman working the scanner at the checkout was about to ask me, ``Do you have any coupons?'' when I beat her to the draw. ``Do you think they'll have it?'' I asked. This interrupted her routine, so after beeping my bag of brown sugar she looked up to say, ``Have what?'' ``You are not,'' I countered, ``a State-o'-Mainer.''
``No,'' she said. ``I'm not.''
I rubbed it in by saying, ``You're from away.'' (This is the ultimate dismissal of non-Mainers by all true members.)
She beeped my nosegay for my cook, and my buckwheat flour. (We like a ploye* now and then.) Then she said, ``How do you tell?''
I had her full attention now and customers behind me were looking to see if another aisle would be a good idea. I said, ``You didn't give me the correct word, grip, and sign, according to the ritual descending from the ancient and honorable.''
``What's that mean?''
``I asked if you think they'll have it, and you asked me, have what.''
``Yes,'' she said, cozily avoiding our folksy eyah, ``so what are they going to have?''
``I don't know,'' I said. The rest of our transaction was concluded with her silence and my amused expression, and we parted at $52.76 with her affable wish that I might have a good day. (I inquired not long ago and was told the checkout ``slaves'' are instructed to say that as a company policy laid down by some ``jerk'' with the title of Corporate Vice-President for Public Affairs.) I told her I had already had a perfectly lovely day, just meeting her, and she turned to the next customer with, ``Do you have any coupons?''
Nobody really knows what it might be that we will or will not have. From my earliest recollections, I can still hear the menfolks about town greeting each other on the street with the basic Maine salutation, ``Do you think they'll have it?'' Not until I grew up and encountered my first stranger ``from away'' did I hear anybody respond, ``Have what?'' The question is purely to commence, and the one answer no Mainer would frame is ``Have what?''
``The tents are up'' is, as much as anything, the standard response, indicating that the circus has come, but the improvisations are numberless and each equally irrelevant. A grimmer entertainment is suggested by Lem Morton's customary reply, ``I seen a couple of fellers goin' down the ro'd with a rope!'' Steve Mitchell, our hardware dealer and foremost manipulator of whimsy, liked to say, ``I sold my 10 tickets!'' In those days schoolchildren would be given 10 tickets apiece to local charity events, from the Grange melodrama to the K. of P. minstrel show, and those who sold all 10 would get a free ticket.
To assert that tickets had been sold would indicate a probability that whatever the tickets were for would take place. Steve had other answers, all just as good, but now and then he would take the inquirer by the hand and lead him off into a corner, where in furtive attitude Steve would whisper that ``it'' was already going on - he was offering a bargain price on stove-lid lifters, five for a dollar! Just what anybody might do with five stove-lid lifters is certainly not going to be explained here at this late date.
*Ploye. A kind of fritter indigenous to Maine's French-speaking St. John River Valley. Made with buckwheat flour and usually served with strawberry jam, it may be no more than an American version of the cr^epe bretagne. That's a good thing to know.