National Geographic : 2004 Apr
and Wiscasset has never known a bigger booster, even though he is, in local parlance, "from away." Big Al (who at 300 pounds lives up to his name) is from Queens, New York. He immigrated to Maine 16 years ago after being robbed three times in six months. "There are people who decorate their house in Modern Big Al's and Antique Salvation Army," Al said, showing me his merchandise, which consists of manufacturers' overstocks and odd-lot leftovers from catalog houses. He picked up a plastic bird from a bin. "Don't You Know You Need One Of These?" he said in his TV voice. (Big Al stars in his own television commercials.) "Is it an ostrich?" I asked. "Not an ostrich," he corrected. "Here they should know from ostriches? This is a Lawn Bird." He picked up a ceramic bowl and offered another marketing lesson. "In some places this is a pasta dish." It was one of a huge lot of bowls that didn't sell-at first. "Then I called them chowdah bowls. Now I sell 230 cases a year." That's Yankee ingenu ity by way of Queens for you. We moved on. "And Don't You Need One Of These?" he boomed, lifting a coffee mug shaped like a cow's hindquarters. A woman in the adjacent aisle pricked up her ears and headed our way. "Get it before it's gone," he said. She practically broke into a run. "Life's been good to you?" I asked him. "Can't complain. I won the lottery," he said, by which he meant the jackpot in the lottery of life. "I came to Maine." I stopped by the counter to choose my Free Gift (Big Al has the Only Free Gift Bar In Maine!) and couldn't decide between a ring made of indeterminate metal with LOVE on it, or one with a peace sign. "Take both," said Big Al. Why not? I should get it before it's gone. E WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Find more 04578 images along with field notes and resources at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/0404. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/zipcode/0404. Four miles upriver from town a freestyle kayaker surfs the onrushing tide at Sheepscot Reversing Falls. "It's a balancing act, like riding a bucking bronco," says river guide "Dutch" Holland, who has the scars to prove It. "Wiscasset is very much tied to the water. Everybody lives by a tide chart here.