The hardest job in writing a weekly column is keeping a smile on its face, even when the news is not funny.

I learned this from professionals back when I was working with these great comedians. Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Jerry Lewis and Johnny Carson all had their secret pain, but never showed it on camera.

As I write this morning, the news is all about a new variant rising in South Africa. It’s impossible to stick a smile on that.

In the city of my youth, Los Angeles, where my daughters live, one cannot walk into a supermarket without a mask. No mask, no entry.

Here in Elm City, I see signs on beauty parlors and coffee shops: “Masks Optional.”

Is dying optional? Is watching your daughter or mother or grandparent die on a ventilator optional? Not funny.

Good news. The dreaded COVID-19 had, this week, one bright light. It kicked up the great, old, American hustler gene that made this country flourish.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Waterville’s McDonald’s, at 336 Main St., Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s partner on a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, offered free milkshakes. McDonald’s should be proud. But why stop with a milkshake?

Siblings receive complimentary milkshakes Nov. 23 after receiving their vaccinations for COVID-19 during a pop-up clinic at the McDonald’s restaurant at 336 Main St. in Waterville. From left is Arwen Trochi 7, and brothers Andrew, 11, and Arthur, 5. The kids are from Windsor. First vaccinations were given to people as young as 5 during the clinic and booster shots were also given to people aged 18 older during the two-hour clinic. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

What if McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Taco Bell offered free burgers for a limited time in exchange for taking a shot?

What if someone, somewhere, offered a six pack of Bud? Bingo!

This is no new idea. Saloons in New York City did the same thing in almost every saloon and bar from Brooklyn to the Bronx in Democratic elections.

You’d be shocked to know how many folks got elected in this country that way.

Dems went to the working neighborhood saloons, where a nickel glass of beer, a quick “shot,” a hard-boiled egg or ham sandwich bought votes for Fiorello La Guardia and “Beau James” Jimmy Walker, the one-time scandalous Mayor of New York, from 1926 to 1932.

Everybody denied it. Too late.

Today’s news is not funny: “1,089 new infections, over three days, 28 deaths.”

“There are still roughly 400,000 people who have not gotten vaccinated.”

Four-hundred-thousand. Any of those in your house? On your block?

What’s going on in my county of Kennebec, with only 62.5% fully vaccinated?

We’ve had a lucky year. She and I have had all the vaccines and the booster, and we’re here.

Back in the ’50s we stopped polio with Jonas Salk’s vaccine. We can do it again, but it takes guts.

In that same decade, there was a savage, brutal 15-round fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson. LaMotta took a terrible beating but stayed on his feet.

The decision went to Sugar Ray, but before they left the ring, LaMotta staggered over to Robinson’s corner and with a big smile, whispered, “Hey, Ray? You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down.”

Get the shots. Wear your masks. We’re taking a beating, but we’re not going down.

Now go get your milkshake.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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