The character of a town or city is formed by the mixture of its inhabitants. In Rockland’s case the city’s character was made a little more fascinating by former resident Meredith Dondis. Dondis who operated the city’s movie and furniture store, always made the day a little more interesting. He passed away last week at 93.
Dondis was a school board member, Rotarian and Shriner. He was a familiar face at the Main Street coffee shop, where he sprayed tea over his neighbors while he delivered his forceful opinion on the topic of the day, any topic.
I don’t know why I remember it so well, but one day he complained to Beverly, the veteran coffee shop waitress. “The service here is terrible,” he said. Without missing a beat, Bev said “So are the tips.”
We had a mutually irritating relationship. When I went into the movie theater, I always told the woman behind the ticket counter that “the press gets in for free.” Dondis was always there and always heard it. “Charge him double,” he would yell. When I gave her the money, he would run up take the bill and hold it up to the light to see if it was real.
There were two shows every night. As I was leaving the early show, the crowd would be lined up for the second show. I would tell them “Don’t bother. It is a lousy movie.” When I saw that putrid “Showgirls” movie, I really meant it.
Somebody at the BDN was doing a story on the running craze and wanted pictures of older runners. Dondis must have been in his sixties and was still running. I asked him to take his picture and he loved it. I set up on Broadway after he told me what time he ran. I took the picture and it didn’t feel right. I told him to run around the block. He did and I took some more pictures. I cannot remember what happened but they never used his pictures. They chose someone else. He was mad after all that running. For years after that he would ask “Wanna take my picture again?”
He was always mad at me for something. The worst time was when I did a feature of famed sculptress Louise Nevelson in her New York apartment. Her brother, Nate Berliwasky, another interesting gent, ran the local hotel and arranged a special show for Nevelson at the Farnsworth Museum
During the interview, Nevelson took the opportunity to unload on Rockland. During her high school days in Rockland she encountered anti-Semitism from several students. Decades later, she remembered each by name. Naturally, I included her comments in the feature. Dondis was seriously mad this time and he said I had no right “stirring all that stuff up.” Naturally I was sprayed with tea during his diatribe. It took him a while to get over it, but he did.
Whenever I saw him on the sidewalk or the coffee shop, I would tell him that a big movie chain was coming to town, to give him some serious competition. He would growl something about “stupid talk” and go on his way. Anything to irritate him.
I hadn’t seen Dondis for years. I really missed him. He was one of those interesting people that every community must have.
There really is a multiplex movie theater in Thomaston now. That would have really irritated him.
Rockland will be quieter now. But nowhere near as interesting.