As I write this column, the palm trees sway in the tropical breeze, the pale blue-green waves slip up the white sand and tickle my blue-tinted toe nails, as the beach girl hands me my margarita. Have you missed me?

Last week I wrote from Paris. There I sat at Les Deux Magots, a  cafe, writing from the very same table Hemingway wrote at. That was the column on old men. I said at the time that the scene took place at a coffee shop outside of Portland. I lied.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about St. Patrick’s Day and my Irish family. It may have seemed to some that I was right here in Waterville. Actually, I was sitting in O’Toole’s pub on Parnell Street in Dublin. Fancy that.

Remember my column about Her desk, the seemingly cluttered one? I wasn’t anywhere near it. She sent me a photo of the desk so that I, sitting in a bar in Chicago, could be as accurate as possible. Neat trick.

I especially enjoy sitting at my favorite table in the crowded farmers’ market just off of Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. Here, I sip coffee with old friends, former actors, stand-up comics, writers and directors fresh out of rehab. The boys often remark how good I look at this age and ask where I’ve been for 30 years.

“We thought you were dead,” some say. “Why do you smell of lobster and seaweed?” others ask.

Bored with all the questions, I packed up and started submitting my column from a bar overlooking San Francisco Bay. From here, with my L.L. Bean binoculars, I watch the tourists as they scamper about the walls out on Alcatraz.

Here you thought I was right under your nose all these years. You thought that gray-haired old man in the aisles at the supermarket and sitting in the sun in front of Starbucks was really me. You should know that the guy costs me a hundred bucks a week just to wear my old clothes and pretend to be me. You have no idea how many months it took for me to teach him how to be charming, to dress well, to watch pretty young creatures walk by without being too creepy.

You’re not buying this, are you? OK. I confess, I have a gift for fiction, but it comes with a point. Earlier this winter, huddled in front of the space heater as I managed to finish a column and hit SEND, it occurred to me that I could have hit that key in Key Largo, or Key Biscayne or any other key in the world.

Upon completion, this column goes from here to my editor and eventually to your eyes. I rarely visit the newspaper offices anymore. Everyone I started with there seems to have retired or died. When I walk in, the kids, failing to recognize me, each give me a quarter and ask me if I have a place to sleep.

It’s so sad. So why am I here?

Film reviews? I can see movies in Berlin. The real Berlin or Tokyo. I can scan this paper online and write witty comments on the daily doings on The Concourse. Who would know? I’m not really a face.

I’m just a bunch of words topped with a 12-year-old photo. I could be writing from Palm Springs or, God forbid, Williston, N.D.

“Times they are a changin’” someone once said. Joseph Stalin, I think. And so they are. The Kennebec Journal building is a memory, and some say that by early summer, the Sentinel building may be full of chained-up felons. I can envision the current staff scattered across the city, sitting on the floor in some empty loft or vacant storefront.

It’s not difficult to imagine reporters working from laptops in their cars, a bench in the park, or at home as they sit in their underwear at the kitchen table. They will file their stories and with tiny frozen fingers, press SEND.

FYI — I do have a place to sleep, but quarters are welcome.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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