One smoggy Hollywood day back in 1984, I plopped into a red leather booth at the legendary Formosa Cafe and announced that I was moving to Maine. There was table-wide silence. Pickles dropped from tuna melt sandwiches, napkins fell to the floor.

These were professional comics who almost never shut up, but when I said “Maine,” a silence so dense descended that you could hear the toilet flush in the back of the bar, the bartender wiping glasses and the whispers of fans whirling overhead.

Then the comments started, typical for this bunch.

My best friend, the late Ron Carey, who then was living high with a featured part on the comedy cop show “Barney Miller,” asked, “Can I have those two summer linen jackets you’ve got? I love those jackets.”

Another said, “No more tennis?”

“Maine has summer,” I said. “They play tennis. It’s not like it’s Alaska.”

“But it’s like right next to Alaska, ain’t it?”


Then one of them said, “Boy, Maine. You’re really jumping off the grid.”

That was the first time I had ever heard the word. It wasn’t the ubiquitous meme that it is today.

“Getting off the grid” today has different meanings to different folks. There’s the real off-the-grid guy like Cody Lundin, who used to have a series, “Dual Survival,” on the Discovery Channel. Today, Lundin is a survival instructor at the Aboriginal Living Schools in Prescott, Arizona. You can Google Cody. He’s written a book, “When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes.” That sounds like a manual for the nightmare of a Donald Trump White House.

There are other kinds, and I’ve been in touch with some of my old friends, who, like myself, have gone off the grid. We’re talking now about the “Hollywood grid.”

I had two friends in Hollywood who have long since gotten off the Hollywood grid: the rat race of daily auditions, meetings, appointments and constantly staying at the beck and call of employers, of always looking beautiful.

Jim M., who had a nice career of television acting and a few good big movies, pulled out of the loop and fell back on his savings and his Screen Actors Guild pension. (We both are grateful for that.)

Jim split his life between a boat in New Jersey and a house in the mountains far away above Los Angeles. His leap from the grid was relatively moderate. Jim chops his own wood, grows vegetables, composts and has no television nor radio.

But Jim hasn’t given up the iPhone or laptop, so it’s kind of like being part of the crew of “Gilligan’s Island” stranded on an island just off of Malibu with a view of the city’s lights.

Jim can still motor down to the Big Orange and pick up a caramel macchiato.

Then there’s a darker brand of “off gridder,” like “Jake” (doesn’t want his name even whispered).

Jake was a former wannabe cowboy actor from North Dakota. We all heard that he had gone back home to retire, but then word drifted down and eventually up to here that he had become a survivalist and conspiracy maven.

His last girlfriend reported that he went into “deep cover” somewhere in far Washington state.

This was back in the ’70s, and there were multiple stories drifting around about Jake, mostly, I’m sure, apocryphal, because of the tendency of actors and comics to embellish.

For a while, we heard that he had stopped going to auditions, grew a beard and ponytail, got tattooed and set up a tent in MacArthur Park in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles.

He told friends that the FBI was tracking him.

Jake survived, I’m told, by going to church food kitchens and stealing clothes off people’s clothes lines. Who could trace them? Everyone in those days wore tie dye.

I miss those characters. Unbeknownst to them, they gave me years of column fodder.

So here I am off the grid on the frozen lip of North America with new linen jackets, making a living writing about the dead I loved. I still have the worst tennis serve, but do not live in a tent or eat at church food centers, although I’m keeping that option open.

My fellow comics, mostly all dead now, would be stunned to know that I have cable, Netflix, Amazon streaming, two laptops, an iPhone and a Twitter account.

I respect my old ex-gridder friends, especially Jake, who may still be living in that tent. But if I were Jake, I’d keep an eye out for that Zika virus stuff. Mosquitos will find your grid, wherever it is.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. His book, “Will Write for Food,” is a collection of some of his best Morning Sentinel columns.

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