Reality Bites: Down East Dickering

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

The only conclusion I can reach concerning all these shows about pawn shops and junk collectors and barter economies is that someone in a pretty high position at A&E Networks (owners of the History Channel) is thinking long-term about mankind's future. Perhaps the existence of Down East Dickering and NatGeo's Doomsday Preppers indicates a desire by concerned network executives to ready us for life after the apocalypse, when currency will be useless and primitive trade systems will return to prominence.

Whatever, I was just relieved to find out "dickering" meant something other than I initially thought it did.

"Dickering," you see, is not a quaint New England expression for coitus ("Grady! Get ovah heah and give me a wicked dickering!"), but rather the gerund form of the verb "dicker," meaning "haggle." Curiously, everyone in the rest of the continental U.S. seems content to use "haggle," or "bargain," but this Maine we're talking about.

Don't get me wrong, I love Maine. From Portland up to Bangor and Bar Harbor is beautiful country, with friendly people and plenty of cool stuff to see and do. The problems start once you venture inland, because that's when you realize most of Maine is just Alabama with earflap hunting hats.

Down East Dickering follows three sets of self-titled "dickerahs" on their quest to bluff their fellow poor people out of money. Presumably this is acceptable because the dickerers themselves also appear to live at or below the poverty line. Nobody minds if poor people screw each other, I guess.

Tony and "Codfish," which I suspect is not his real name, are the first pair. Tony's excited about the coming autumn, not because of the beautiful New England foliage, but because of the numerous regional festivals about to take place. "Everybody's got festival fe-vah, especially us dickerahs."

We forget in Houston, but north of the Mason-Dixon Line, firewood is something of a necessity, hence the need for chainsaws, axes, and burly, bearded men.

Tony and Codfish plan on "scouring the Uncle Henry's (a bargain newspaper that appears to be the sole purpose for this show's existence) and scooping up all the saws we can find" to sell at the annual lumberjack competition. Because if there's anything a serious lumberjack competitor wants, it's a chainsaw sold by some bearded weirdo out of the back of his truck. The pair find an abandoned storage trailer advertised in Uncle Henry's that also happens to be filled with chainsaws. Because Maine.

Tony "dickers" (*sigh*) with a fellow rural type over two saws and an old snowmobile. The guy wants $80, but settles for $40 (to be fair, that'll still buy a lot of meth). The show keeps a running tally of money spent by the dickerers, presumably to conclude with an assets/debits comparison at the end of the show, or at least show how much beer will be consumed.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, "Turtle," "Johnny Awesome," and ... "Captain 2-stroke" (ugh) are engaging in a shrewd trade of a (different) snowmobile for a hovercraft. Is that right? Yep, it's an actual hovercraft. Turtle, presumably named for his Klingon-like forehead, is hoping to sell it at a motorcycle festival called "Rice-O-Rama," which seems offensive, until you remember 99.9 percent of the attendees at a Maine motorcycle fest will be Caucasian.

Edit: or Massachusetts. The percentage stands.

The final group consists of "Yummy" and his son Mitch. Yummy runs some redneck festival or other, and negotiates a fee of $500 to conduct a wedding. This kicks off a laundry list of to-dos before he can see his Benjamins. First, he has to become an ordained minister, hardly a problem in our wondrous, modern age (I obtained mine from an ad in National Lampoon). Yummy's truck is also on the fritz, and he has to "negotiate" to get it fixed in time.

Yummy's redneck festival looks awfully familiar to its southern variants: lots of ATVs in the mud, mechanical bull riding, and drunk white people. The wedding goes off pretty pain-free, which would be surprising until you see that the groom is wearing a t-shirt and there are chickens roaming freely on the stage. All that's missing is a Honey Boo Boo cameo.

Turtle takes less than what he wanted for his hovercraft, netting $730 all told. Considering that none of these guys have to spend money on hair conditioner or Gillette Fusion ProGlide accessories, that's a pretty sweet deal.

I realize every network has a quota of how many reality shows they have to produce every year or they'll be bought by Oprah and forced to air live Maya Angelou poetry readings*, but is there really some audacious and/or romantic side to pawn shop ownership and/or the direct exchange of goods that I'm missing? With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, are these guys our new American heroes? Can we at least vote on this?

* That's what I heard.

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