“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would I’d never leave.”

— Winnie the Pooh

About a year and a half ago, when I first started the process of putting my book together, I stopped walking Main Street in Waterville. When compiling a book, myriad details swarm up and fog the brain, cloud the eyes. And when you’re sharing your life with another working human, there are the errands, the chores, no time for “stop and chats” on the boulevard.

There was a time when I first arrived that I spent hours wandering around the street. I arrived with enough money to take time to settle, to find something valuable to do with the rest of my life.

Technically, I was retired. Hollywood’s mystique had lost its grip on my heart. Emboldened by my first year with the Los Angeles Times, She and I decided to become a small-town New England writer couple.

It sounded tweedy, autumnal, a pilgrim wandering the shady side streets with unbuttoned tweed jacket, a pipe clenched in teeth, horn-rimmed glasses propped on my head. I envisioned myself as Gregory Peck playing John Cheever. Fun.

I discovered that the actress I had married was the daughter of a prominent legal family who had been here for a hundred years. I had to adjust quickly: wardrobe change to L.L. Bean casual, tone down Hollywood Boulevard voice.

At a restaurant table, She reminded me. “See that man at the next table? Whomever you’re talking about? That’s his cousin.”

I bought a tweed jacket from the legendary Levine brothers, in their famed corner store run by their nephew Howard Miller. I met a bevy of shop owners who were eager to stop and chat with, not only a stranger from away, but a strange “Hollywood actor.”

I was instantly befriended by a local legend, everyone’s best friend, Al Corey, who let me sit in his store on cold winter mornings and hot summer afternoons, playing his stock of pianos. That was great, and I was famous for wasting time.

When She, who never wasted a breath, went immediately to work as a teacher, I was shamed into finding meaningful work. But what?

I started Last Laugh Ltd. and wrote and shot commercials for local businesses. I became friends with the gifted Jorgensen family, David and Helene and their son Jon, who created the now iconic cafe. Now I had another place to sit and “waste time.”

But when She said I had to stop playing the nonprofit role of “local character,” I pulled together a coterie of local actors and, with their talents and energy, formed a theater company. We wrote original comedies, musicals. Everything was on the cheap, borrowed, stolen, loaned, thrown together. This was after all, New England, where that sort of theatrical entrepreneurship was born. Hurrah! Fun! But not much money, and L.A. cash was running thin.

I was saved by Bob Moorhead, of the Morning Sentinel, who gave me a job as columnist and film critic. Film critic? I guess they figured that a former Hollywood actor must know more about movies than anyone in Kennebec County. I “convinced” them that I was a movie genius. It worked. After all, the first three letters of that word are CON. (Faking it, by the way, is another old New England tradition.)

So Jimmy Devine became “J.P. Devine.”

Eventually, I was warmly embraced by the sweetest, friendliest people in America. In Los Angeles, I was just another talented, anonymous, but gorgeous face. (You can make a living just being “a gorgeous face.”)

But here I was “somebody,” a man of notable achievement, known and beloved by all. I had achieved a meaningful identity. I finally became, even in a small way, “famous.”

Punch line: Last week on a bright, sunny day, I wandered through a few shops on Main Street, ready to be welcomed back by loyal fans.

In a shop where once my column and a framed two dollars that I was the first to spend there hung on the wall near the register, I was asked by a young girl for my driver’s license when trying to use my credit card.

“I left my license in the car; sorry. But I’m J.P. Devine.”

“How do you spell that?

“DE … . Which paper do you read?”

“I don’t read newspapers,” she said “Are you a summer visitor? We can set up an account.”

“Summer?”

I paid in cash. It was raining when I left the store.

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


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