WEDNESDAY?!


J/K I knew it was Wednesday.

However, this week's Drunch requires more careful consideration and crafting. This is good for you RE: quality. This is good for me RE: time.

In the interim, have a great Memorial Day Weekend and I'll spy you back here next Wednesday with a brand spanking new Drunch.

Portland, ME - The Review

Portland Sucks: A Paean

 



Howl with me comrades, “I hate Portland,”

Don’t migrate here, stranger. It sucks,

It’s cold and our taste stinks,

We’re all weird and ugly,

The praise is hype.

 

Jet to New York, stay high in San Francisco, square-dance to Austin, re-confirm the superiority of Capital-P Portland. Just please! Please! Don’t come here.

 

This Portland, Maine,

This Cubic Zirconia,

It’s a fraud,

Your inclinations were right,

Stay out.

 


Between us two, Portland is the blood in my veins,

That its streets welcome walking,

That its food springs more plentiful by the day,

That its bars bubble over with choicest local brew,

That it remains relatively obscure, oh Portland — song of my heart — more the better I think.

 

So I shout out loud, “Oh how awful Portland is!” to keep the masses out,

Scenic coastline? More like geological deathtrap,

Fresh-caught seafood? Mercury-filled offal, inedible and poisonous,

Plentiful microbrews? They flow like moose urine in the forest (and as appetizing),

Vibrant food scene? Know-nothing dilettantes stewing sea spiders in warm brine,

Its proximity to nature? Better for wild beasts to eat your children,

Portland: Hell on earth but cold.

 

Cover your ears, Oh Portland! My love!

Icy winters obscure your hidden beauty, like the Serengeti’s heat shimmers obfuscating an oasis,

Glory, Maine, that your name too rings rough on the tongue: creepy Stephen King, frostbite, depression, hermits, moose, the stereotypes of a rough-hewn past,

How they belie such a glorious present,

How they keep those weak-of-soul out.



I want to keep you to myself,

My Portland,

Just the way you are.

 

Am I a local, even? Interloper of two years,

No, I consider myself a cub,

True locals see my flannel, my trim beard, my Ray Ban sunglasses and swear, their cusses more lyrical than mine,

I blame them not at all,

I am the lapping wave of an ever-rising tide of city slickers, trust funders, and disaffected yuppies, looking for “the next place,”

And oh how I have found it.

 

We transplants caught the ambrosial hymn of Portland, whispered on the northern wind,

Yet our arrival lugs with it the baggage of change — longer lines, more expensive apartments, sold-out shows, and worst: annoying, loud, space-filling, sweating, cackling, price-hiking, mouth-breathing, trend-following, raw, organic, low-fat people.

 


So I repeat to all who don’t yet live here: Portland is a cesspool,

It’s less a city than a conglomeration of asphalt and tears,

 

Still your write-ups and reject your awards, my Portland!

Hold your pride in your throat!

What does national acclaim bring but more bandwagoneers clamoring aboard a beaten horse?

Do we need a celebrity to tell us what our taste buds already know? Do we need numbered lists to confirm the deliciousness of our microbrews? Does a plaque, hammered to the wall, make pastries taste better?

 

Please.

 

Not that I don’t want you to grow, my Portland,

Not that I don’t want you to thrive, my Portland,

Not that my first inclination isn’t to bellow Portland’s praises as loud as my diaphragm will squeeze,

 


I delight in your sloping promenades, your undulating sidewalks, your Munjoy Hill’s rolling peak, your low tide’s organic funk, your Congress Street’s glorious human fauna — splendid in their vivacity and unvarnished individuality, your frame of sea, sky and trees, your crisp, capricious northern wind, your beaches — by turns sighing and raging, your unending winter’s savage test, your dense foliage of coats in the cold, and the brief flashes of sun-starved skin in summer, your gulls, your curves, your color, your everything.

 

I don’t want you to change, but alas, you must,

We all must,

Time, ever an increase in entropy,

But if we Portlanders try, can we slow time’s work?

Can our collective gravity shape the flannel of reality?

With our words against you, Portland, can we slow your change?

We can try.

 

Keep our secret ours, Portland,

Let us sink into delicious obscurity,

We know we have it good so — like lobstermen on a choice spot — we must proclaim we don’t,

Respond with me dear Portland comrades, when asked about your home by the sea,

“You’d hate it here.”

 

Yes, Portland sucks.

And it’s ours.

 


 

EAT:

5.0

 

That’s right, I’m undertaking the grave folly of reviewing the Portland food scene as a whole. And like an old, resolute friend, I recognize that Portland may not be perfect, but goddamn it Portland is perfect to me. For the amount of people stirring about Portland’s streets, not to mention our Continentally remote environs, the options for food astound. While Portland is no vast, steaming pot of culture like a New York or London or Taiwan, it IS a mixing-bowl of peoples diverse enough to keep the city interesting while not so disparate that our food goals feel scattered. Disproportionately more people up here in our nook of Maine seem to love food, and I love them for it.

PRICE:

An Arm (not a leg)

Some places require fatter bank accounts than others, but it is a reasonable city by and large. The range trends toward the middle (as it is wont to do) with more $10-$15 entrees than both other sides of the spectrum.

AMBIENCE:

Seaside Sylvan City

Nestled between bays and coves, downtown Portland welcomes walking. Take the cold out of the equation and Portland transmogrifies into a seaside resort for 20-30-40-50-60-somethings like myself. Fortunately — since I’m a fan of cold and many other people aren’t — the temperature for 60% of the year is a large consideration.

SERVICE:

Warm

In my time here, service has actually improved. When I first arrived in Portland, way too many places seemed inordinately loosey-goosey in their serving styles: waiting just too long before coming by to pick up orders, water glasses perpetually unfilled, forgetting that I asked for hot sauce; small but important aspects of the dining experience, unfulfilled. Now, maybe I’m just only going back to places with service (and food) that I enjoy, but it seems that the quality has raised. In addition to that, rare is the server who brings any air of snobbery to the table, no matter the location. And while many servers, I’ve noticed, will not be the ultimate authority on the finer details of wine-pairings, or a dish’s origin, the casual attitude of service here in Paw-tland leads to no less enjoyable a meal.

STAY OR SKIP:

Stay

Here, I cannot tell a lie. Despite the above poem imploring that we all trumpet Portland’s suckitude, I must write here that the boot-shaped peninsula and its surrounding areas have captured my frigid, shriveled heart. Don’t come here though, you’ll probably hate it.


Collaborative Drunching


THE BAD NEWS: Drunch simmers like a delicious stew, gaining potency for your patience i.e. it's not done yet.


THE GOOD NEWS: You (you, you) get to contribute to next week's illustration(s).


How?


Just comment on this post with the message you'd like to see uttered by my little finger-slingin', foot-goofin' Portland.



Seriously, I'll write it in, so you'll have your very own GIF of Li'l Portland saying your message. It can be short, it can be long. Challenge me you sons of guns. Just note that I am human and have human limits, so first come will probably be first included. Unless the first comment is like a ten-page racist tirade. I'm not going to write that. Li'l Portland wouldn't say that.



So yeah, comment with your message and I'll post the lot of them with next week's Drunch.



Vena's Fizz House - Portland, ME


In a time when the hills were small and the trees just taking root, the Wendigo came. It devoured the flesh of men and could never be full. In shadows it made its home. And not a soul knew its form except for he that would soon depart this world, hastened by the Wendigo’s fang and claw.

            This I first heard from the crone with dry, gray hair. She had stumbled through our town, one day, covered in mud, yelling to any and all of the beast that hunted us. He was coming, she said, the Wendigo. Slinking from the dawn of time for us as sinners we were. My mother had clucked and shut the windows tight, muttering of nonsense under her breath.

            That night, I hunkered alone in bed, my thoughts consumed by the Wendigo. The crone’s words had forced their entry into my mind like the grate of a violin, poorly played. A nut hit the rooftop and I screamed into my pillow. Then, a shadow in the corner set my heart to thumping, but it was only the moon lighting my bearskin parka. In so many other ways, that night, I brought terror to myself. After long hours awake, I fell into a fitful sleep.

            And then I awoke. The moon was bone white against a deep, cloudless sky. Around my cabin the woods stood silent as the crypt. No cricket’s chirp, no owl’s hoot, no squirrel’s cry, no pine bough’s creak penetrated the night’s vast silence.

            I’ll just sleep again, I thought to myself, enwrapped in fur upon my mattress of straw. My parents room lay across the cabin through a breezeway, along whose length stretched a window. I dared not scamper through, for fear that whatever had silenced the forest would see my movement and strike. Better to stay quiet and alone, huddled behind the sheets — a child’s best protection. And so I stared out the window and tried to calm myself.

            Yet soon as I my heart had slowed its tattoo, I spied movement along the treeline. A spar of white bone snuck from behind a thick maple. Terrible shivering overtook me. The bone gleamed there, quivering in the hollow moonlight. But hark! As my sleepy eyes focused, I realized the bone was only an antler, emerging from the trees. A harmless buck, I told myself.

            Yet, the antler’s points grew in number as it slid into view, ever-slowly from the shadows. Something about it was wrong. The points were too many, no buck could heft a rack such as that. Entrails hung from it, I now saw, glittering slick in the pale moonlight.  The weight of silence crushed the breath from my lungs.

            Then the face that held the antlers emerged, the muzzle of a sickly bear, half its teeth bared in a gory snarl; its flesh torn and flapping like pelts swaying from the rack. Its head sat upon the torso of an emaciated man, black hair sprouting from its chest in patches. On the tips of its long, slender fingers gleamed talons, brown and thick. It stumbled from the woods on the legs of a goat, its cloven hooves sinking deep into the soft earth. It stood slouched in the moonlight, its onyx eyes with a core of red, burning across the meager expanse of yard for me and me alone. I tried to scream but no sound would come, my diaphragm seized, a sheet of glass.

            The Wendigo had come for me.



Across the length of my yard it scrabbled, its claws striking for purchase when its palsied legs gave way. It crawled and it kneeled and it leapt all at once, a clamoring, ravenous struggle of locomotion. I covered myself in sheets. What horrible end for a child was this? All of my friends, for I had a few at the tiny schoolhouse, would mourn my passing while thinking, thank the Lord it wasn’t me.

            I pleaded for help from my God, trembling beneath the sheets. I stayed that way, praying and crying, my face soaked and hot for I know not how long. After countless prayers, I peeked out from under my sheets. The yard was empty.

            An owl’s screech scared off the night’s silence. I held my breath as I rose to look out the window. Each tentative step creaked the floorboards. Cooling sweat dripped down my fluttering chest. At the window, I looked out from all angles: to the left was only the trodden path that led to town. Below, the damp grass glistened in the moonlight. To the right, an army of black pines stood at attention. I sighed and looked up to the moon, two red eyes gleamed from its center.

            In a rush, the Wendigo leapt from the roof, landing in a heap before my window. I tried to run but terror paralyzed me. It raked its claws against the panes, gibbering as it shuddered the hinges. Its plaguy skin left black streaks on the glass. Blood sluiced through my body, my vision doubled then trebled with fear.

            “What do you want, beast?” I said, quailing. I knew exactly what it wanted, but I said this nonetheless. The Wendigo ceased its ravenous scrabbling and rose to full height.

            “Do you like cream soda?” said the Wendigo. My eyebrows knitted. “I mean, I dunno,” it continued in a thin, brittle voice. “I just got the Battlestar Galactica Blu-Ray box set and like a ton of Bagel Bites and if you came over it would be a lot of fun.” The beast worried a pile of grass with its hoof. It gazed imploringly at me, its bloodblack eyes abashed.

            “Erm,” I said, “Excuse me?”

            “It’s a stupid idea, no, you’re right,” said the Wendigo, turning to leave.

            “No, halt,” I said. The Wendigo swung its head round, hope in its heinous visage. “I would first ask my parents.” I said. “But alas, they slumber. Perhaps another time?”

            “Oh yeah, sure,” said the Wendigo. “Yeah another time is probably better… Definitely. Yeah that’ll definitely happen.”

            “My apologies,” I said as the Wendigo slunk back toward the shadows. I don’t think the hideous abomination heard me. Its bear-muzzle rested against its chest. Its cloven hooves dragged in the wet grass. It disappeared into the woods without another look back. And that was my harrowing encounter with the terrifying, the abominable, the monstrous Wendigo.

 

 

DRINK:

4.5

 

Vena’s Fizz House detonated a flavor bomb on my unsuspecting taste buds. Seriously, I got a pink girly drink that may have been the un-pinkest, un-girliest drink ever to crotch-punch my mouth. A mixture of blood orange, coconut puree, bitters, ghost chili and other things I cannot remember from sheer shock — even the name escapes me, sorry — it was madness. Was there alcohol in the drink? No. And it wasn’t necessary. In fact, I went back the next day and ordered up another non-alcoholic drink to make sure the first hadn’t been a fluke. My second quaff was a Ginger Shrub, which, to my great delight, knocked me for another loop. Mom and pop’s soda shop this isn’t. There is some serious mixology going on in this oft-overlooked joint.

PRICE:

Boutique

Most non-alcoholic drinks are five smackers. The alcoholic drinks run about ten to thirteen. With the craft that’s gone into these creations, this is money well spent.

AMBIENCE:

Willy Wonka

Walking in, you’ll be confronted by a bevy of whimsical glassware and homemade bitters. Forging forward, you’ll find yourself walking to a bar whose back wall is covered with so many curious bottles of fantastical color you’ll find yourself involuntarily humming “Pure Imagination”.

SERVICE:

Confusing

In my first visit, I didn’t even get talked to for like twenty minutes as I sat at the bar. For some reason this didn’t trouble me, since I was A: reading a good book and B: intermittently listening to Steve Corman — one of the owners and creator of all the bitters on offer — talk passionately about all the drinks he was mixing. When finally I was noticed, I ordered and received my drink promptly. The second time I happened to be there close to opening and the service was much improved. I actually don’t care as much about the service here, since it’s more about taking in the atmosphere than getting some sort of meal down your gullet. But the service was still slow. Take that as you will.

DRINK OR SKIP:

Drink

Vena’s Fizz House, a place that serves fizzy drinks, mocktails and the occasional cocktail, seems ridiculous and unnecessary in a food-saturated town like Portland. However, the drinks are so damn impressive that it has earned its residence in a special corner of my heart. Vena’s Fizz House, you win. You are not only unique to Portland, you are unique to my gustatory experiences in life. Check Vena’s out, it is a delightful surprise.

 

Vena's Fizz House
345 Fore St,
Portland, ME 04101
http://www.venasfizzhouse.com/


Po' Boys & Pickles - Portland, ME

[Click the picture to see it work properly. I can't figure out what sort of hocus pocus is making it look funky]


The band deserved to be back together. It was up to me to make it so.
           
            Big sky Willikers was the first member in need of finding. I knew from experience he’d be somewhere in the gutters of St. Roch. I zig-zagged the streets, quizzing people — sunning fat and happy on their porches — as to the whereabouts of a drunk man in rags. Some pointed some way and others pointed another. Big Sky Willikers was an itinerant imbiber; he rarely got sauced in the same establishment twice in a row.

            “Big Sky, you scoundrel,” I said at last to a heaping lump of black suit cloth in a drain. Big Sky turned his red balloon face to me, his eyes yellow as piss.

            “Grah!” he said, clutching for me. I leapt back. Big Sky had vices for hands.

            “You still have your spoons?” I said. Big Sky Willikers looked beyond the horizon and fumbled two pristine spoons from some deep crevice of his raiment. I smiled and nodded. I hailed a cab and sent him to a nice spot on Bourbon Street. I set him up with some fungo money, too. That way, if he wandered, he wasn’t going far.

            Next, I sniffed out Digbo Skrivens in a live oak tree, peeping on joggers and rubbing his belly. He looked like a decorative gourd in a Hawaiian shirt, his stomach all pooched out, full of crawdads.

            “Digbo,” I said. I poked him with a stick I’d been carrying since a while back.

            “What time is it?” Digbo said. I told him it was band time and that I already had Big Sky Willikers locked. I promised him all the crawdads in New Orleans if he’d join. We shot the breeze for a bit after that, going over the hubbub and the tooraloo.

            “Yeah I’ll jam,” said Digbo, at last. “Just let me ask my maw for the keys.” When it came to the ivories Digbo had hotter hands than satan himself. I happily told him to be at the Apple Barrel at sundown and reiterated about the veritable Everest of hot, spicy crawdad that awaited. I gave him cab fare and left him in the tree and he went back to scratching his protuberance as I departed.

            On my stroll to the abode of the brothers Preux, I ran into the Human Jelly-Bowl Lester Mancud, an insufferable plunker of strings.

            “I heard I heard you’re getting the band together,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud. He bowed his head and dabbed his eyebrows with a ring-heavy hand.

            “A rumor,” I said, strolling on. H.J.B.L. Mancud whirred after me on his Segway. “I just saw Big Sky Willikers knee deep in a blizzard at the Cat’s Meow.” Said H.J.B.L. Mancud. “Now I know he didn’t get there on his own. I suspect he was recruited to The Fangwater Bayou Revival.”

            He had me nailed to the cross. The Fangwater Bayou Revival was the name of my band. I’m Tid. I kept my peace and walked on, trying to poke my stick into the spokes of Mancud’s conveyance. He circled me wider.

            “Oh I’m gonna be there,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud ominously from his distance. “Wherever you is, I’ll find it! Just wait!” He whirred off fast ahead but was stopped at a traffic light until I caught up. He dabbed his eyebrows and sneered at me again. We waited there, ill at ease, for the light. When the walk signal finally turned Mancud zoomed off cackling and almost hit a pigeon.

            The day simmered thanks to the noonday sun’s efforts to suck all colors back to white. I had a good sweat on by the time I rapped on the thick wood door of the Preux house. Unfortunately, the brothers Preux — a twin drumming duo — were off gigging in Nashville for the week. Their mother did offer me a spoonful of gumbo for my troubles and that was indeed fine payment.

           


I took a sit for a spell on a bench beside Big Lake and who should come by but Rashad Dinkins. Rashad and I had — during our long history as beautiful friends — gigged from the west Levy to the east and come across a not insignificant number of Cuba Libres along the way.

            “Klem, you look parched,” said Rashad. And I was parched, that was the truth. I tumbled into his black Legacy and we made a straight shot for the Tremé. There, amongst the young people and music sneaking under every crack of every door we started a few tabs and got to wandering.

            As the day wore on and clouds joined the sun, so too did musicians of all stripe throng about us. It was like some great coniferous tree had been struck by a drunken driver, shaking the spring pollen that was every musician in New Orleans to the streets.  Floyd Scrumpins waved at me with a moonin’ grin as he sailed past my post at the open window of Johnny’ White’s Bar. I tried to tell him about the gig since his hands made thunderous rapture on the upright bass. I think I got it out in a way he understood. No way to be sure though on account of the noise. Also passed: Trevor Juniper, Kipper Goots and even Thrillin’ Jay Bounty.

            The day’s tropical humidity made my hair wild and speech emphatic. I lost track of time.

 


There is something sacred in a lost day, I thought to myself, slumped in the doorway of the Apple Barrel with my trumpet in hand. I didn’t remember retrieving it. I was not shocked, however, that my pockets were bereft of the meager dollars I’d managed to squirrel together for this day’s affairs. My head was liquid-greased on the swivel of my neck, my attitude upbeat as only a flow of Cuba Libres as wide and rapid as the Mississip can render me.

            “Lookee, lookee,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud, picking a fluorescent feather from the lapel of his enormous pin-stripe suit. He smugly waggled his rusty steel guitar at me. By God he was going to steal the show from me like always. But on this day — this impeccable, most rapturous of days — it was no matter at all.

            High above the sky blushed at the thought of another lascivious New Orleans night. As the lights came on Digbo Skrivens boogied up belly first, his keys slung up behind his head with his lanky arms hanging over. He looked high which was fine because he played tight when he was high. Big Sky Willikers hove up carrying a giant cup of something fluorescent. He waved his spoons at me and spilled some of the drink on himself. I patted his ass as he passed. And then luck of all luck the Brothers Preux screeched to a halt in their tiny Volkswagen Rabbit and unloaded all heck of drums. They said the gig had fallen through thanks to cross-booking by some money-grubbing Nashvillains. Even Floyd Scrumpins came by, giant bass strapped to his back like a coffin. I nearly cried from joy.

            I sat where I sat, unable to move for the beauty of it. The streets sprung alive with the cooling air. Young men and women touched each other’s bared skin, laughing and glowing with life’s lustful holiness. The bulbs of Frenchmen Street buzzed with vortices of insects incalculable. Even the palm trees across the way dipped and swayed with the vibrant air of a night yet young.

            I could hear my band in the back plunking and striking their way to a perfect harmony and I thought I should join them. What more holy joining than in music made by hands and breath, I ask you?

            Ah, I was drunk, me. Too drunk to philosophize, but not too drunk to play. I harrumphed up and strolled inside, waving my horn at every single pretty lady in sight. This was going to be a good show. They were all good shows.

 

 

FOOD:

3.9

 

At Po’ Boys and Pickles I ate both po’ boys and pickles and both were equally satisfying. My main course was a Debris Po’ Boy, lovingly filled with slow-cooked roast beef, gravy, lettuce, tomato and horseradish mayo. It was not a traditional Lew-see-ana po’ boy, but it was still as stunning as a bayou sunset. A serious combination of flavors abounded. I am eagerly awaiting my next visit to try either a fried oyster or muffaletta po’ boy (or both). However, I feel like I can vouch for these other fried variations strictly because of the fried pickles. The batter that lovingly surrounded each pickle slice delivered signature southern spice and the dipping sauce (a red pepper mayo, I believe) accompanied the flavor perfectly. The best part, however, were the pickles themselves. Pickled in-house with a signature blend of some very potent vinegar, these pickles were piquant, snappy and satisfying.

PRICE:

Busker’s Tips

$$ — Not cheap cheap, but reasonable cheap. I got out with a small po’ boy, pickles and a beer for about twenty bones, with tip.

AMBIENCE:

Southern Comfort

With not too much room to boast, Po’ Boys and Pickles feels comfy without feeling cramped.

SERVICE:

Intuitive Counter

You order from the fine person at the register and they bring you your food.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

I have been to New Orleans. This feels like a necessary point to mention. I have eaten a legit and hallowed fried oyster po’ boy from the one and only Domilise’s. Was my Po’ Boy — from Po’ Boys and Pickles — up to the creole snuff, then? I’d say yes indeed. The bread was crusty and authentic, the portion ample, the taste robust. They aim to do Louisiana cooking and Louisiana cooking they do. I will be going back and building po’ boys into my monthly cycle of urges and cravings. Po’ Boys and pickles, your name is well earned.


Po' Boys & Pickles

1124 Forest Ave

Portland, ME 04103


Portland Hunt and Alpine Club - Portland, ME




Soot rolled through the gutters and clumped in the branches of oak trees and accumulated on my windowsill like black snow. The castle at the end of town had burned the night before, its silhouette now a black skeleton, looming.

            Strolling into the kitchen I told Janelle, my wife, I was heading out to investigate the castle.

            “Isn’t it a work day?” she said, looking over her shoulder at me from the sink. She had her hair up in a messy ponytail and wore running pants and a baggy shirt under an apron that said “Just eat it.”

            “Yep,” I said and headed out. I waved from the yard and she didn’t look up from the dishes.

            The clouds had marched in under the cover of night and hung low. Surrounding the castle was a blast circle of burnt grass. A halo of smoke flew high over the blistered frame, suspended somehow in the clouds, quavering in and out of sight. Its former grey facade had burned to a pencil sketch of blackened steel; it had been a castle built for R.P. Duboise, a wealthy contractor who had wanted verisimilitude only in the look of the castle, not its construction. Coal-black dust dyed my shoes and the legs of my khakis up to my shins. Each step puffed up a groping cloud that quickly dissipated back into soil.

            The castle’s moat had evaporated. Crocodiles peered from around the roots of the surrounding maples, cursing the water’s departure.

            After ducking under some yellow tape, I strolled through the vast anteroom beneath scalded pilasters and a crumbling, burnt arch. I smelled flowers, faintly beneath the acrid smell of burnt everything. The ceiling was smoked in whirling arcs of soot. Massive, wooden trunks of charcoal leaned against each other in consolation. Debris scattered with each gentle push of breeze.

            Why had I smelled flowers? I ventured deeper.

            I picked my way down what appeared to be back steps to a room knee deep with ash. This must have been where he kept his scrolls. R.P. Dubois fancied himself a descendant of Merlin and had bought up copious scrolls of ephemera, Apocrypha and indecipherable nonsense. His collection had made the local papers four years ago. A gray mélange of burnt edges and yellowed parchment littered the floor like bones in cremains.

            Janelle had told me not to come back but of course that had been a joke. It was a joke we always had, since I’d started jogging. It was funny to us, I think.

            I mounted a long spiral staircase at whose bottom I spied flickering light. Perhaps the fire had yet to go out? Perhaps it had come so low that it was burning a hole into the ground itself, searching deeper to eradicate all notion of this place. My heels scuffed against the time worn rock steps. The deeper I ventured, the more powerful the smell of flowers became. I discerned the type: rhododendrons.

            My only son had gone to war three years ago. He still wrote but his letters are in a different language now. His life has been transformed into a breeze of military jargon, a shifting storm of CPs, engagements, and MREs.



The steps to the castle basement were slick with mold. The fire hadn’t reached this deep? The incline was steep, but I liked it. Water beaded on the stone walls. These walls were actual stone. Old and dank. The danger of exploration had been gone from my life for so long, ever since my son’s toys had taken up the space where my gear had always been. I’d dove into the cenotes of Mexico, breathing in clear, blue oceans below laughing Mexican families. I’d seen nations of bats clinging to the ceiling of a cave in Guatemala like bristling hairs. Now I mostly stare at the pond outside my office window with the pitiful fountain whose clogged left half forces the right side’s water to spray in a violently unnatural mist.

            Each step took me further into the smell of the flowers. I liked it. My khakis stuck to my skin with sweat. The steps continued down and down. As they spiraled the light grew more golden and pure, the dank smell more intense. Light sparkled off the schist embedded in the wall. Carvings appeared, ancient runes. How could they look so old? This castle was only six? I felt a thrill in my heart, spiraling downward.

            I turned the final curve and saw the bottom. A shadow flickered at the base of the steps. The shadow of a bald head, crooked over shoulders in concentration. No movement. I thought of a wizard, bent with a hawk’s feather in his hand, arcane words on his lips, conjuring flame from stone.

            I stepped out into the light and was dazzled. A blistering flash shone out from across the room. A muffled “the hell?!” came from beyond the light.

            The light shut off revealing two men in thick, yellow gear.

            “Who are you?” the man on the left said, removing his filter and goggles. His sweat-reddened cheeks hemmed in a formidable, gray mustache. The bottom edge of the mustache curled down in a scowl. This was R. P. Dubois — I recognized him from the papers. All around us were rhododendrons, of every shade and color. Grow lights blazed from the ceiling.

            “I’m Jean,” I said, strolling in for a handshake. They both shook my hand with quizzical looks on their faces.

            “Are you a surveyor?” said the man on the right. He was slightly taller and was the bald one I’d noticed. His eyes were blue.

            “Nah, just a neighbor pokin’ around,” I said. I rapped the wall closest to me with my knuckles. I don’t know why but it felt like the right thing to do. It made a hollow thunk.

            “You have to leave,” said R.P. Dubois. “I don’t know why you thought it’d be OK to be in here. You’re trespassing right now.”

            “Ah,” I said, rapping on the wall again. “Gotcha.”

            I didn’t leave though. I didn’t want to leave.

            “What happened?” yelled Janelle through the rolled down window of the car. I’d just stepped out of the police station. I folded up the citation the cops had given me, shoved it in my back pocket and shrugged. The clouds had all cleared and the moon’s light was sapped by the harsh, buzzing streetlights as she drove me home in silence. In the driveway I picked at a couple weeds as Janelle slammed the front door. The light in the bedroom turned on and then off. I looked up at the pale moon and let the chirp of what sounded like all the crickets in existence fill my ears. I wish I had flowers.

 

FOOD: 3.9

DRINK: 4.3

Portland Hunt and Alpine Club is a key player in the elevation of the Portland drinking scene. Their cocktails are no dilettante’s creations. The owner/bartenders understand their cocktail lore as well as their ingredients. The food also delights, as they embrace their Scandinavian theme all the way to the “gravlox” (sic) and aquavit on offer. The Skier børd was satisfying, featuring local cheeses and jams. But the star of the show is, and remains, their popcorn. Buttery, parmesan-covered pieces of heaven with a sprinkling of jalapeno heat, this popcorn refuses not to be eaten. Seriously, it just might be the most addictive bar snack I’ve come across.

PRICE:

Club Status

With great drink comes great expensability. The prices fit the fare and the atmosphere: $10 signature drinks, $6-7 draft beers, snacks anywhere from $5-15. If you gorge on food and drink you can incur some bank account carnage. But as a spot to quaff a couple leisurely cocktails before or after dinner, this is the jam.

AMBIENCE:

Ricola!

I am both gladdened and saddened nobody on staff wears lederhosen. The clean, spare mixture of white and natural wood lends the interior just the right amount of Scandinavian class, without going overbørd on the theme. While I sound like the old man I truly am for saying it, “hip” is the most apt descriptor of the space.

SERVICE:

No Hunting

During my visits, the timing has been killer, the servers available and the attitudes upbeat.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat (Drink)

While you may, in your head, just be dropping in for a cocktail, the whole package is available at Portland Hunt and Alpine Club. Admittedly, you won’t be getting stuffed on any of the hors d’oeuvres on offer, but you will easily stave off any hunger you’ve accumulated with carefully considered fare. The drinks, though, are the main attraction and, no matter your liquor of preference, they shine like the polestar when viewed on a clear night from the heights of Kebnekaise.

 

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club
75 Market St
Portland, ME 04101

The Holy Donut - Portland, ME

 

At Davie Trembleau’s stupid eighth Birthday party I snuck into his brother’s room and stole a baseball signed by Mo Vaughn. The following day at school I was certain that Davie’s brother, a stringy tree of muscle named Dirk Trembleau, was going to find me, pick me up by my neck and hold me that way until I expired.

 

I didn’t see Dirk that day, but I did know that he knew what I’d done. Don’t ask how I knew it. I just knew. In fact, I knew it with such a fierce certainty that the next day I faked a fight with an oaf named Philbert Klarson and got my parents to transfer me from Doyle Rider Elementary School to Eisenhower Elementary school twenty minutes away.

 

This did not allay my fear as I’d hoped.

 

I daily contemplated surrendering Dirk’s Mo Vaughn ball. Possibly hurling it onto the Trembleau’s hockey stick-scattered front lawn in the dead of night. But then Dirk would have my prints. Then he would have proof of my thievery and murder would be justified. No, it was impossible. I hid the ball in the deepest recesses of my action figure drawer and prayed for absolution to whatever god would have me.

 

For the remainder of elementary school and junior high I expected Dirk Trembleau’s towering form to materialize for its due revenge. All unopened lockers held murderous Dirk. Half-cracked Janitor’s closets hid Dirk’s glinting, beady eyes. Dirk was omnipresent.

 

Upon graduating junior high I celebrated by burning the ball in raging cathartic flame kindled in my Dad’s rusty fire pit. This expunging the object of my guilt actually granted me moral release. For a time...

 

In high school, making out with Taeesha Wilkins on the embankment behind the Krispy-Kreme, I expected a now-bearded Dirk to slither out of the dumpster behind us and put a Ka-bar to my neck before shushing me into eternal darkness.

 

On the rolling hills of my college campus, delivering my senior thesis on the Ethics of Using Children in Diaper Advertisements, my nerves sung. My worry at that point was that the tenured chair of the Philosophy and Communications department, Dr. Lionel Hargraves, was none other than Dirk Trembleau in a Hollywood-quality skin suit. I was convinced that during my speech the faux Dr. Lionel Hargraves — with my guard finally and fully down — would rip the mask from his face and, shrieking Mo Vaughn’s name, disembowel me before the assembled masses, which included my parents.

 

During a significantly wonderful date with a co-worker, Lana Klee, whom I considered out of my league by about three A’s, I forgot Dirk for a second. I was gazing into her eyes as she gazed into mine. Their shade of green entranced me and for a brief iota I was completely unguarded, enamored and open to Dirk’s nefarious tricks. Luckily, a dish crashed in the kitchen, shocking me out of my reverie. In that moment it dawned on me that this woman was nothing but a sting, a snare, set by scheming Dirk. When she invited me back to her place for coffee after that first date I politely declined. She took this as chivalry and restraint. I knew I had just saved my own life. I never talked to her again.




After exchanging vows with Peggie Brumeinder, a fine, sturdy woman, I died inside when the priest called for the ring bearer. Surely, instead of a gay young child flouncing down the aisle it would be haggard dirk, the shorts of his boy-suit hardly covering his rippling vengeful thighs as he plowed toward me, lifting a long red sock knotted into a noose from its place on the white satin pillow.

 

Scuba diving just off the shore of our honeymoon suite in Cancun, I was alert and waiting for a free-diving Dirk to emerge from behind every reef, spear gun in hand. He would smile, a thin stream of bubbles escaping from his pressure-flattened face as he loosed a red, metal dart into my wretched, pilfering heart.

 

As my son stepped to the plate in his very first game of little league, I nearly jumped onto the field and tackled the ump. Surely, at the first pitch, the umpire would rip his mask from his face revealing bloodshot eyes and a crooked, unhinged smile. Umpire Dirk would grab my son by the shirt yelling, “you’re out! For goooooooood!” After rending my flesh and blood in twain, he’d come after me.

 

Waving from the window of our car as our third and last child tromped away with his new found college friends, I finally admitted to Peggie, my wife, my persistent fear. She, the patient woman that she is, explained to me my phobia’s illogic. I wanted to believe her. It had been a lifetime. What maniac could hold a grudge so long? Especially one as unfounded as this? I mean, who could care about a baseball signed by a B-level Red Sox player for that long? But then again, that’s just what Dirk would want me to think. That’s the way Dirk worked. I smiled and nodded at her and the rest of the drive was spent in casual banter. Home again, I locked myself in my study, pulled a wrinkled, oily picture of Dirk from my wallet and stared at it until sunrise.

 

For my Eightieth birthday Peggie set up a beautiful surprise party for me at our favorite restaurant, Fandangles. Everyone was there: even our eldest brought his family from way out in Sacramento. As our longtime server, Cindy, rolled out the cake, something tore in me. I stopped worrying. Looking around, I finally realized that I was in the comfort of dear people as a well-lived octogenarian. Dirk was probably long gone, lost to lung or liver cancer, his cremains scattered into the mildewed pond of the trailer park he’d called home. The humongous cake — it was very large — was wheeled beside my table and everyone enjoined me to blow out the giant sparkling “80” candle on top. I gripped my cane with a knobby fist and stood to the applause of all assembled. Teetering, I leaned in to blow. The cake really was rather massive. I had to lean far in, my lips stretching to aim air up at that towering candle. My curved back creaked and my neck stretched, pulling my old waddle into taut lines. Just as I began to blow, iron fingers closed around my neck. I looked down to see that the fist now choking me was connected to an arm emerging from the cake! Candle still sparkling atop his head, Dirk burst from inside, frosting and cakemeat clumped in his gray, rat hair. He was old, older than me, his cheeks sucked into his sunken , murderous face. Dirk lifted me, somehow still strong as an ox. The assembled masses looked on with the glow of vengeful justice burning in their eyes. They had been in on it all along! Everything was correct! Dirk, yellow teeth crooked and bared, suffocated the life from me and said not a word. What words needed to be said? I was a thief and he was my Hammurabi. A lifetime of betrayal would finally receive its just reward. The light slowly receded. My legs stopped swinging. I welcomed this blackest release…

 

“Grandpa!” said my son’s youngest daughter, a three year old in pig tails. “Watch!” She twirled her light blue dress. The party was winding down around me. I rubbed the crust of sleep from my eyes. Surely it couldn’t have been… A small piece of marble cake rested on my plate, untouched. “Watch me,” she said again, spinning. I looked around the room, no Dirk. I looked out the window to the parking lot, no Dirk. “Grandpa, watch!” she repeated. I loved her but distraction was just what Dirk wanted. I had to stay vigilant; Dirk always was.

 

 

FOOD:

4.0

Holy, Holy Donut. Such sweet ambrosia rarely have I tasted. Before I get into the praise, it is worth noting that there is a flavor discrepancy between a piping fresh doughnut and one that has been out for a spell. This is not unique to The Holy Donut, it is simply worth noting. Fresh = 4.3, Nearly Fresh = 3.7.  Moral: get them fresh in the morning. The steaming hot Dark Chocolate with Vanilla Glaze I had yesterday morning was a revelation. Crisp outside with a just-sweet-enough doughy, moist center. The Holy Cannoli! also delivered a divine punch. The true offering, though, was the Bacon Cheddar Filled doughnut I had before writing this. While impossible to fit into nearly any regular routine because of its no-doubt astronomical calorie count, the Bacon Cheddar Filled doughnut socked me in the flavor place. Soft, fluffy, semi-sweet dough enwrapped a bounty of gooey cheddar and crisp bacon. Seriously, I crushed it in two minutes and now I feel pregnant.

PRICE:

Not Nuts

Each doughnut runs about $1.50 depending on the flavor (the Bacon Cheddar was $3.50). While this may seem a bit pricy to certain breakfast lovers, I aver that their quality easily surpasses the price. Buying one doughnut can have you feeling like a doughnut baron.

AMBIENCE:

Local Sweetness

In the 194 Park Ave. location (the original), there’s that a-little-too-wide-open feel featured in more than a few Maine-only locations. However, the color palette is unique and the feel of the place is warm and inviting. Plus, doughnut smell galore.

SERVICE:

No Holes

Wait in line. Pick the doughnuts. Get the doughnuts. OK thank you yes.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

The Holy Donut delivers on its promise of Biblical taste. Their potato-infused dough packs moisture, unmatched in the vast doughnut realm. I am not a scholar of Maine-only doughnuts, but in my humble experience, the Holy Donut is the best doughnut in Maine, nay, the North East.


The Holy Donut

7 Exchange St

Portland, ME 04101

AND

194 Park Ave.

Portland, ME 04101

Market Street Eats - Portland, ME


How to Impress Girls

According to An Eleven-Year-Old Boy

 


Do a High Kick:

If you kick really high when a girl is watching, she’ll have to like you.

 

Perform The "Near Fall”:

Or, surprise her with this one:  pretend to fall and then, at the last second, roll out of it and stand up like, “oh you thought I was gonna fall?” Girls love agile guys.

 

Show Her Your Pokémon Trading Cards:

Now that Amy Hoople — I mean she — she’s all weak in the knees because of your crazy reflexes, show her your rare shiny Blastoise Pokémon card and even maybe let her hold it for a second, if she asks. Don’t let her take it out of its protective case. Make her respect you.

 

Jump Off the Swings:

Still not getting the girl? Get on the swings and go really high. Like, super high. Wait until your future wife approaches, then, right as she’s nearing the monkey bars you jump off the swings and, if you can, blow a kiss at her while you’re in the air. By the time you land you’ll basically be dating.

 

Know Stuff:

This one will definitely get her attention. Try saying something you know to your friends — like how wombats are marsupials — but say it loud enough so that Amy hears it and understands that you’re a man.

 

Win at Four Square:

I don’t know why none of these have worked so far? I won at four square all recess and Amy Hoople still says she likes Dwayne Williams. Girls are confusing.

 

Pop A Wheelie:

Why is Amy— I mean, the girl still not talking to you? Probably because she hasn’t seen you pop a sick wheelie. If you hold the wheelie for more than five seconds then she’ll talk about you at lunch where all the girls sit together and talk about stuff and giggle.

 

Throw Something Really Far:

This one has to work. Pick up a stick or a rock or a crabapple and throw it far. If Amy sees you throwing something really far, she’ll be attracted to you immediately. I’m absolutely certain of it.

 

Build a Cool Fort With your Dad in Minecraft:

Build a cool Minecraft fort, show it off to your friends but then be like, “woops, didn’t see you walking by, Amy. Just showing off this HUGE fort that I built with my Dad.”

 

Have Your Parents Drive A Cooler Car:

She probably doesn’t like you because your mom drives a taupe Subaru Outback. If your mom would just buy a Dodge Viper, or at least a Corvette, you might have a chance at making Amy think about holding hands with you as much as you think about holding hands with her.

 

Send A Note:

Pick a girl that’s trying to be friends with the girl you like. But make sure the girl you choose isn’t too popular, like Ellie Mnorczyk. That way you can be sure she’ll deliver the note and won’t show it to anyone else because you wrote stuff that you really mean.

 

Don’t Send A Note Through Ellie Mnorczyk:

Especially if it’s a note to Amy Hoople, because she’ll just share it with everyone at recess and they’ll all laugh at the poem you wrote.

 

Sit at the Front of the Bus:

If you’re really cool, you can sit at the front of the bus and talk to the bus driver. You’re not sitting there because everyone in the back is talking about your love poem and chanting things like “If you’d be my girlfriend, I’d show you the world, friend!” No, you’re just making everyone jealous that an adult is talking to you and treating you like an equal.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Dogs:

If you’re trying to practice your high kicks over the weekend don’t do them in the park where there are big scary dogs. And especially don’t run away from the dogs and scream as Amy and all her friends just happen to be walking by. Most dogs online look friendly unless they’re barking, but in real life they’re big and they smell. Running away from a barking dog should be OK, but apparently cool kids have to be able to pet barking dogs.

 

Don’t invite Amy to Your Birthday Party:

By starting a rumor that you’re not inviting Amy to your birthday party you’re showing that you’re too cool. This only works if Amy cares.

 

Tell Amy She Smells:

I told Amy she smelled when she was in line at the water fountain and then I ran into the bathroom and hid in a stall.

 

Who Needs Girls Anyway:

I’m gonna go make another fort with my Dad and Amy hates me and everyone still hasn’t stopped talking about the note and its been like four days and I don’t like school.

 

Ignore Amy Hoople:

I’m not even going to look at her anymore.

 

Oh Now Ellie says Amy Likes Me:

I don’t understand girls.

 

 

FOOD:

3.6

Wraps galore are on offer at Market Street Eats. I got the Buddah (sic) Wrap as it was dubbed “An MSE Favorite!” by the menu itself. Featuring a crispy, flour wrap around eggs, Havarti cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato and onion, this karma-infused wrap was well balanced and disappeared hastily. The egg was done in a traditional over medium/hard style and the ingredients were fresh. It was the sort of wrap I could see eating on the way to a ski trip or walk in the woods. It was not necessarily a meal I’d ever sit down and savor, though. This was a tasty meal that easily delivered a food fix.

PRICE:

Marketable

$1/2 — Cheap wraps, anywhere from $4 - $6. You won’t feel cheated, nor will you feel you’ve gotten the deal of the century. Good, sturdy prices.

AMBIENCE:

Burlington, VT

There’s something about the memorabilia on the walls, the whimsical menu item names, and the casual, varnished-wood atmosphere of the place that somehow says, “these owners probably support marijuana legalization.”

SERVICE: '

Street Vendor Style

I ordered from the cook. He cooked the food. He rang me up. He gave me the food. A fine situation and a nice gentleman to boot.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

Market Street Eats is one more solid notch on the Portland Food Belt Of Gloating Rights. While it doesn’t necessarily blow the socks clean off the feet, it’s a nice little place that makes a great breakfast wrap (I can’t speak so much for their lunch wraps, there are very very many. Lunch will be handled in a separate post). If I lived closer I would probably drop by on the way to work. Of course, this is no Dutch’s or Ohno situation, which is fine; those two juggernauts are not within the realm of mortal cooks. Market Street Eats does its thing its way and that way is fine with me.

 

 

Market Street Eats

Portland's Old Port

Across from the Regency Hotel

36 Market Street

Portland, ME 04101

207-773-3135

 



Gelato Fiasco VS Gorgeous Gelato - Portland, ME


The burner was ignited beneath the stew of war when, during morning snack time, the boys chewed with their mouths open. The girls expressed their disgust both visually and verbally — making gross-out faces and gagging. The boys’ unmannerly posturing continued until the responsible adult, Miss Pfafferkorn, intervened.

            Though volatile, tensions would have relaxed by recess were it not for the note delivered by Wendy Oilerman — chief female liaison to icky boys through Nick Batte (whose jacket Wendy had kissed once during a game of Red Rover).

 

            Boys, read the note. It continued,

 

            sniff each others (sic) poop.

 

            ~ Girls

 

            Upon comprehending the note’s contents, sweat broke out on Nick’s palms. Despite the missive’s undetermined meaning — was it a command for the boys to smell feces or a statement of irrefutable fact? — the aggressive tone was clear. Surely, thought Nick, such inflammatory language will foment war most gruesome! Nick looked to Wendy, note trembling in hand, and asked if this was indeed the message he was to deliver. Wendy nodded gravely. Such a simple thing, a nod. Yet with it — a dip of the chin, a lowering of the eyes — the entire 5th grade class of room 3E embarked upon the path to battle.

            Dutifully, Nick returned to the throne of Tyler Nilperson, who lounged at the only purple desk, majestically abutting the blocks, picture books and map of Africa. Upon receiving the note, Tyler’s wisp of a blonde mustache twitched. Tyler’s long, straight hair broke in a gossamer wave upon his shoulders as his head rose. Lancing across the room, his eyes struck the obvious mastermind of this nefarious declaration.

            Helena Grouper-Sarkey, heir apparent to “Large” Laird Sarkey’s Lawn Accessories empire, innocently jotted in her “Watch Me Spell” workbook.

            “Helena!” thundered Tyler pre-pubescently. Helena turned, brushing her prim locks aside with a ring-littered hand. After meeting Tyler’s gaze, Helena jutted her narrow, pale chin and sniffed long and lustily. Tyler crumpled the note in his chubby palm.

            Tell of the message spread within minutes of its arrival. The class was on edge, the air crackled with tension. Thus, the remaining interim until recess passed with sickly slowness. Potentially, this would be a trip from which none returned.

 


On the playground, the boys and girls huddled in their respective camps: the boys in the shaded, cool dirt beneath the jungle gym and the girls on the dandelion-dotted copse behind the swings.

            Tyler, the boys crouched around him, began to delineate an involved plan. Despite the shade, the air was warm and the boys quickly grew restless — battle had been promised and it would be battle they had. Phillip Phillerson, a hot young stallion, was the first to break ranks. Taking matters into his own hands, Phillip burst from beneath the rubber-coated steel of the playground, bellowed, and lobbed a knobby chestnut into the girl’s tittering circle. Before the missile could land the girls scattered like mice from a boot, flitting to all corners of the playground. Helena’s plan sprung into motion. In seconds, whooping girls surrounded the boys on all sides, wielding handfuls of sand, clumps of grass, and other sundry ordnance. Tyler yelled for the boys to form a phalanx, each man facing out in an impenetrable circle.

            Under these conditions, the boys weathered an onslaught of debris. The girls’ form was strong, their aim true, yet the boys had the power of comradeship and kept their heads down. Helena, a ruthless tactician, quick understood the futility of this assault and shifted course. With a command, the girls dropped their ammunition and together loosed a blood-curdling call.

            “Tag,” they yelled. “We’re it.”

            Lo how the boys did quake, surrounded as they were, potential cooties hemming them in on all sides. The women began to count down from ten, a generous gift to these imperiled men. Surely, the descending numbers were the countdown to their everlasting departure from this realm. Ravenous girls ranged around them like hyenas around a kill, waiting to tag and touch and cootify.

            “Eight,” said the girls.

            Yet as the winds of war blow, so too do they shift. For Tyler, great Tyler, had a stratagem as yet unused on the field of battle-play. With a shout, Tyler brought the young men huddling in and told them what must be done. The boys were shocked, incredulous.

            “Five,” said the girls.

            “No…” croaked Jaden Ingersoll, fumbling with his fogged glasses. “I… I can’t!”

            “We must,” said Tyler.

            “Two!” said the girls.

            And madness though the plan may have been, battle does not preclude insanity's triumph. If successful, these twenty boys would wrench their souls from the tip of grinning death’s scythe. If unsuccessful, no God nor demigod would find them fit for mercy.

            The boys fanned out, teeth set against the coming hardship.

            “One!” said the girls. “Ready or not here we come!”



The glittering amazons rushed in, fine puffs of dirt rising with their every footfall. Hunger triumphant painted their faces. They did not want to simply tag — ye LORDS no! — they wanted the boys to be IT!

            “Hold!” Tyler cautioned, his arm raised to the burning sky. The cootie onslaught was close enough to be smelled — girly body spray and freshly washed clothes rode the howling wind. “Hold!” said Tyler again, his resolve a thick girder, threatening to bend under the heavy futures of the brave boys that dared call him friend, leader, master. The whites of the young girls' eyes blazed brazen and triumphant, their tiny teeth bared in smiles of victory assured. They were ten feet out. Now seven. Now four. Now two…

            “Now!” roared Tyler. The boys turned as one, their backs replacing their fronts, and pulled their pants beneath white buns that gleamed opalescent.

            The girls screamed and scattered. The mooning defense broke their charge like waves ‘pon a mighty bulwark. Helena threw herself to the soil, shaking her fists at the cruel fates. How could she have overlooked the ultimate power of a full moon? And the boys did not relent; their pale posteriors stayed proudly proffered, some waggling, some immobile as granite, as the girls put a maximum of distance into their retreat.

            And so that day the future men of the world emerged victorious from the skirmish. Though their victory proved short-lived, as once the administration understood the enormity of their war crimes the boys were all punished with the grave sentence of no longer being able to play with Gumby, the class’ communal hamster.

            But for that moment, looking into each other’s grinning faces as they pulled up their pants, the boys knew the ineffable glory that springs to the breast of all men after battle. That radiant splendor when against fate and time and odds incalculable, you stand together unbroken, and wonder in awe if this world had ever been so beautiful and perfect and right. Yes, in that moment, feet nestled into the fragrant cedar chips of the playground, the boys beheld the victorious grace of life most sweet and drank in its potent, undiluted fullness.

 

 

FOOD:

Gelato Fiasco – 3.5


Gorgeous Gelato — 4.2

To Preface, I tried to get the same flavor at both places in order to get as close as possible to an “apples-to-apples” comparison. A perfect comparison would be impossible. This is also a dumb food blog written by a lunatic. Take that as you will.

GF: I sampled a cup of the “Cookie Fix” which, to my mind, was the closest option to a Cookies ‘n’ cream-type situation. While enjoyable, the vanilla-based gelato was a bit more cloyingly sweet than the sort of full-bodied French vanilla I prefer. The crumbled cookies (whether Oreo or some Hydroxy-esque knockoff I cannot say) peppered throughout the ice cream weren’t really crumbly either. I tasted more cream filling than anything else. It was not unpleasant but it wasn’t close-your-eyes-and-press-your-lips-together good.

GG: Here, I sampled a cup of “Oreo” gelato, which, rather than having the cookie crumbles of its Fiasco counterpart, appeared to have whole Oreo-esque cookies blended up in it. The taste was rich, robust and ultimately satisfying; a flavor much closer to the Oreos I know and love. While I didn’t finish the tiny bowl, the amount I ate was surprising given that I’m not a huge sweets person and I was feeling full from the Fiasco bowl I’d already polished off. This was some fine, balanced gelato.

PRICE:

$


Gelato Fiasco gets the nod on economy. The scoop GF portioned out towered over the max capacity of its meager serving bowl. GG’s serving size was a bit less ambitious.

AMBIENCE:

GF: Cold Stone North

GG: Try-Hard Grandma


GF: Professional in a franchised sort of way. The ambience's coziness is diminished somewhat by the imposing arc of gelato tubs that line the eastern wall.

GG: From the chairs to the colors to the tablecloths, Gorgeous Gelato has a scattershot approach to decoration. It all fits together in a quaint homey way that definitely fits the mood of one looking for a bit o’ the sweet. It’s not impressive. It just kinda works.

SERVICE:

Chipper Teens


GF: The ladies behind the counter were peppy and quick to serve. The only other thing to remark is that they talked non-stop nearly the entire time I was enjoying my treat. Girls, girls girls!

GG: The lone counter watcher was a young lady who graciously reminded me that I had to pay before I walked out the door. Seriously, I got my gelato, thanked her and tried to leave. My previous experience at Gelato Fiasco had checked the “paying for gelato” box in my brain. I apologize, young woman. I am not a sweet-toothed, penniless vagrant. I simply forgot to pay. I am still ashamed.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

(at Gorgeous Gelato)


Why did I go get gelato in the middle of this godawfully cold “spring?” I don’t know. Why does anyone do anything? Sex? Money? Power? Take your pick. Regardless, judgment must be passed.

GF: I tried one flavor. Maybe their other flavors are better? The flavor I had was sweeter than a Louisiana huckleberry (is that even a thing?). It was too sweet. Granted, I am a savory man by choice and trade, so sweetness is not necessarily my territory. Anyway, its flavor profile was very one-sided and left me in want of a pretzel or something to balance it out. Frown.

GG: This was what I am now talking about. The GG Oreo gelato had the signature taste of an Oreo’s crumbly cookie-parts (I obviously like Oreos) with taste hints of that glorious whatever-the-hell-it-is frosting disc intermixed. The texture was velvety and the lasting taste was one that sank deep into the taste buds, demanding further tiny bites. In a head-to-head, I'd go to with the Gorgeous.

 

Gelato Fiasco
425 Fore St,
Portland, ME 04101

Gorgeous Gelato
434 Fore St,
Portland, ME 04101


Scratch Baking Co. - South Portland, ME



“Chief,” said Nell, sauntering into my office. “You called for me?” She closed the door and sat without asking, her diamond earrings glinting in the hollow yellow light of my desk lamp.

            “I have a confession,” I said. I lit a thick Cuban cigar with a lighter held in my giant, brown flipper. “I’m a walrus.”

            Nell’s walnut-brown eyes narrowed. That was all the reaction she allowed.

            “You,” said Nell, picking her words carefully. “You’re a… a walrus…”

            “Correct,” I said, blowing smoke between my two-and-a-half-foot-long tusks. “I’m sorry to break it to you like this. I tried to think of a better way, but none appeared. I’m sorry… baby.”

            Her breath probably quickened and I bet the heart underneath her glorious chest might have even skipped a beat, but I’ll be damned if she showed it. She was a hard dame, Nell. That’s why I’d hired her. That’s why I loved her.

            “So, you want me to believe,” said Nell, straightening her back. “That the best goddamn precinct in New York City is run by a four-hundred-pound aquatic mammal?” She shook her head. “Nuh uh… I’m not buying it.”

            She was so beautiful like that — angry, confused — it nearly broke my enormous heart. “Nell I—“ I said. She cut me off with a flat palm in front of her. Her hard façade was cracking. Below us, sirens from the city street wailed up at the closed window. Nell sat up, shaking her head.

            “You’re a walrus,” she said. “You think I’d fall asleep every single night thinking of a walrus? You think I’d write out drafts and drafts of the words I’d use to break it off with my fiancé for a walrus? You think I would have felt my stomach do a somersault when I heard that I was wanted in the office of a walrus?!”

            She got up and stormed for the door, wiping quickly at her eyes. I felt the need to say something, but what could I say, propped as I was with both flippers on my mahogany desk? I thought of something.

            “Nell,” I said.  “Just listen.” She stopped, didn’t turn. Standing there, her black hair framed against the smoked glass of my door, she looked like a silhouette of a dream. God, the professional way she dressed, trying to hide curves that refused to be hidden; I’d have swam through arctic waters just to be with her. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve gone crazy. But no matter what I am and what you believe: I still want only you...”

            It was pretty good for off the cuff, I must say. Nell turned. Her eyes shimmered red; she wanted to let me keep talking. She wanted us to work out no matter what. I wanted that too.

            “Please, Nell,” I said.

            She started to say something herself but Detective Alvarez burst in the door without knocking. Nell casually hurried to the window.

            Alvarez’ eyes were bloodshot and his red hair askew. The thin, red mustache that lined his upper lip like mascara quivered with sweat. “Chief!” said Alvarez, panting. “Chief we have a triple homicide out in Jersey City and… hello Nell."

            Alvarez was Nell’s fiancé.

            “Hi,” Nell said, turning from the window, the picture of normalcy.

            “If you’re telling me about a homicide in Jersey City,” I said. “That means it’s him again, right?”

            “Party kids. Spring break from Oklahoma,” said Alvarez. “All eighteen years old. Two males and a female. Yeah Chief, we think it’s him.”

            “Goddamn it,” I said, slipping my government-issue suit jacket over wherever a walrus’ shoulders are. “Nell, we’ll finish this conversation later.” Nell nodded, a true professional.

 

 

I flopped out of the squad car onto the frigid pavement. Red and blue lights painted the lone building abutting the lot. Eight motionless officers leaned against their squad cars, sipping at lukewarm coffee in the weed-strewn lot. We were out in the boonies of Jersey City, no place for three revelers to end up. What a shame.

            “Same arrangement,” said Detective Alvarez, getting out of the passenger’s side. I nodded. The kids’ bodies were arranged on the ground, two prone, one bent at the torso. The dead skin of their pale, skinny bodies glowed opalescent in the full moonlight. Their bodies formed a W shape on the ground. Or was it an M? We’d seen this two times before and it was starting to get on my nerves.

            I hunkered down to look at them. These murders were all alike, three young, innocent kids — two males, one female — taken from their natural habitat in the packed jungle of bars that made up the meatpacking district, brought to a foreign place, poison froth leaking from their mouths. Who was this maniac? What was he — or she — trying to prove?

            “Chief!” said Alvarez. “Look.”

            I humped next to Alvarez; he had the girl’s skirt lifted. “He’s taunting us,” he said, pointing to words etched over the faint blue veins of the girl’s pail thigh. This was new. He’d never sent us a message.

            The handwriting was hurried, the blood still not fully congealed. It read, “Monkey see. Monkey do.”

            I was inclined to agree with Alvarez — that this was just another taunt, another piece of the puzzle — but it didn’t sit right. I scanned the scene again, two guys and one girl. Far away from home. I gazed up at the lone abandoned building looming behind us. Its façade was grim, chipped brown concrete framing rows upon rows of windows. So many windows. He’d underlined see. He sees. He could see us.

            “He’s still here,” I said, rearing up on my hind fins. “He’s still here! Form a perimeter!”

            The scene sprung into action. Coffee cups rattled to the ground and service pistols were cocked. Policemen bristled from behind the parked cruisers like some epileptic phalanx. I caught my breath behind my vehicle — walruses aren’t meant to hustle. Alvarez, seated next to me, his pistol up in front of his flushed, red face, gave me a look that said I was either nuts or a genius.

            “What the hell is going on, Chief?” he asked. I twitched my tusks towards the abandoned building. It stood not fifty feet from us, five stories of windows, some broken, some yellowing to opacity, lining its five dilapidated floors.

            “He’s in that building,” I said. “Let’s go catch this maniac.”

 

 

 

 

The front door opened with a grating shriek, as if its hinges hadn’t been moved since the twenties — they probably hadn’t. Behind us, police officers spread out in a perimeter in case our killer tried to make a slick escape. I shuffled in first, a flashlight raised in my flipper; Alvarez followed close behind. I could hear his pistol rattle in his shaking hands.

            Around us oily dust was pushed up in piles next to skeletons of machines. It was just another manufacturing plant, from back when Jersey had jobs for the middle class. My thick brown hide rasped against the aged concrete. Chipping paint and the odd spray of graffiti littered the walls and girders that somehow held this hollow carcass up.

            “Chief,” whispered Alvarez, shaking. He pointed to footsteps in the grime. They were fresh, leading deep into the back. I nodded and we trudged deeper.  

            My flashlight created more darkness than it pierced, shadow darted behind shadow. Crack heads and squatters had taken everything of use; only forgotten debris remained. My thick torso’s scrape echoed against the concrete walls. We followed the footsteps back and back until they came to a door. Painted on its cracking wooden face, in what used to be beautiful hand-written calligraphy, was the word  “Foreman”. I motioned to Alvarez and he raised his pistol, releasing the safety. We got into position beside the door and I started counting. Even my whisper echoed.

            “3… 2… 1…” I threw my girth against the door, splintering it like Styrofoam. I bellowed for the killer not to move. First, there was silence. Then a bang echoed through the darkness and a blunt stick knocked the flashlight and gun out of my flippers. Both went clattering uselessly toward the far wall.

            “Alvarez!” I yelled. “Get your light on!” But there was only silence again. The smell of the place inundated me, engine oil mixed with dirt and mold, a forgotten smell. But there was something else… something acrid to it that I just couldn’t place. Maybe it was my own fear. I tried to slide toward a corner, I had no idea where this maniac might be or what he’d done to Alvarez.

            As I flopped helplessly, I heard a chuckle.

            “Chief,” it said. It was a deep voice, more gravel than I was used to hearing in it. But it was a voice I knew.

            Alvarez flicked a light on his face; it was pinched up, rage or madness or some admixture of both boiled on the surface. He was across the room, sitting with his feet up on a desk. “I know you’re a walrus.”

            What? How could he know? I’d never told him. Alvarez shined the flashlight in my eyes.

            “I’m a what?” I said, squinting against the glare.

            “You think I didn’t notice?” He said, his voice a sickly growl. “All those pounds of whole fish sent to your office? The way you never talk about family, where you came from. Oh I picked up more than you think.”

            Alvarez turned the light’s beam back on his face. “I know about you and Nell. I know the way you two skulk around like your feelings aren’t on your sleeves! But you don’t know Nell like I do. And that’s why you’re here. That’s why I wanted to show you this…”

            Alvarez flicked a switch and electronic buzzing filled the room. Halogen lights jittered on, dazzling my eyes. Slowly, the images coalesced. The walls were covered in pictures. That had been the acrid smell. Pictures, so many, but of whom I couldn’t tell.

            “Look,” said Alvarez, cocking a silenced pistol and leveling it at my brown dome. “Look at them!” I raised my flippers and complied. Sidling to the wall I focused on the one closest to me. It was of Nell, younger than I’d ever seen her, looking happy, eating a banana. The next photo showed Nell prone in a cage, naked, a dart sticking out of her neck. The next she was sitting in a tree, people were watching her through bars. And more and more: people in lab coats teaching Nell sign language, Nell picking mites out of someone's hair. There was something connecting all these, some pattern or reason in all these images… I just couldn’t figure it out.

            “What are you trying to show me?” I asked. Alvarez cackled, his mania growing by the moment. “You know, Chief. I know you know.”

            I didn’t know. Did I? Hadn’t I suspected this since the moment I laid eyes on her? Hadn’t I felt it in the way she walked with her knuckles lightly grazing the floor? Hadn’t I noticed her swinging from the pipes of my apartment when she was happy? A tear rolled down my giant wrinkly cheek. “Nell is a chimpanzee.”

            “Yes!” shrieked Alvarez, spreading his arms wide. “And how does that make you feel?” Alvarez leapt onto the desk, kicking a stack of dusty paper to the floor. I was confused. Nell, is a monkey? It blindsided me, sent me reeling. I slumped into a corner.  “How does it feel to have something hid from you?! Still love her? Can a walrus love an ape?!”

            “Nell is my love,” said Alvarez. “My love. You can’t even begin to know what that means. You love Nell the person. You could never love Nell the stinking simian!”

            I straightened my back, shook my girth. What was I thinking? What did that change? Nothing!

            “Of course I still love her,” I said, puffing my chest out to its full barrel splendor. Alvarez stepped down from the desk and raised his gun. I began to ebb towards him. “Did you kill those girls? What the hell is wrong with you?”

            Alvarez’ gun shook slightly. “You think I could get the chief of New York City’s most honored precinct out to just any old crime? You think I could get such a figure — such a walrus! — to join me into any old dilapidated building? You think I didn’t know that there was only one way I could break you and Nell up and still get away with it?”

            Alvarez shot me, the bullet hit just below the sternum, taking some meat on its way out my back. I groaned, stopped.

            “Do you think they’ll find you?” Alvarez pulled out a remote with a red switch on top. “I mean… five stories of brittle steel and chipped concrete. That’s a lot of shrapnel.”

            I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was focusing on the next breath. It felt like an elephant seal was sitting on my chest.

            Alvarez kicked open a back door, letting in the sound of sawing crickets. The room hovered at the very extremities of focus. I had to get him, but I didn’t know where he was. My body felt heavier than it already was.

            “Well,” Alvarez said from somewhere in the onrushing blackness. “Got to get back to Nell.”

            I heard a click and then the shut of the door. I didn’t even have time to bellow for help before a dull thud rumbled out from deep in the factory. A large pillow of shrieking warmth wrapped itself around me, lifting my body from the ground. Everything seemed to suck inward as the air was filled with the unthinkable wrenching shriek of falling steel.

 

 

 

 

I woke up to blinding light and the soporific beep of a heart monitor. Phosphorescent light stabbed my pupils, so I squinted until it only hurt a lot. I tried to roll over and stopped immediately as pain tore through my chest.

            Next to me on a little tray was a piece of paper, folded in fourths. I gingerly moved a flipper, the same pain growling with every inch. I flipped the note open. It read:

 

            Chief,

 

            I know you know. Alvarez disappeared. I can’t see you, not anymore.

 

            Nell

 

            I lay in the bed listening to machines tell me I was alive. I didn’t believe them. I’d get Alvarez for this, all of it. I’d make Nell understand it didn’t matter what she was. I’d fix everything if I could only move.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 


 

FOOD:

4.3 Stars

*bows at the foot of a bagel altar*

PRICE:

Light on the Dough

$1/2 — For the quality of the eats, the money is well worth it. Bagels themselves aren’t pricy; the baked goods by the counter can run a bit more — in the $4.00 – 6.00 range. Scratch is filled with fluffy pastries that won’t leave your wallet light.

AMBIENCE:

Goods on Display

Bagels are fresh and copious. A horn-of-plenty’s worth of savory and sweet delights await you by the front counter. Fresh cream cheese awaits in the fridges. It’s a walk-in-and-get-what-you-need sort of place with a nice, homey ambiance for good measure.

SERVICE:

Swift Lines

Chipper, fulfilled-looking people manned the cash register. Working at a place that’s producing a product of very obvious quality certainly pervades the workspace with a feeling of wellbeing.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

If you hadn’t already guessed, Scratch has my number. The quality and care they put into their baked goods is abundantly apparent first in the layout of the shop — baked goods cover nearly every flat surface — and second, upon biting into one of their heavenly bagels. A Scratch bagel’s crisp crust enwraps a matrix of fluffy inner-bagel-flesh that, when lathered with their insanely tasty, made-from-scratch cream cheese, is a piece of gustatory splendor. Seriously, I’ve been back already this week. I will not, however, give Scratch the nod over my all-time favorite bagel spot, Brookside Bagels, but it is a close — and delicious — second. Go there. Eat bagels. Love life.

Scratch Baking Co.

416 Preble St, South Portland, ME 04106