The Downtown Lounge (DTL) - Portland, Maine

 

So tell me bro-lets in training, why the fuck are we packed into a booth in this dark-ass bar with just a shit ton of alcohol in front of us?

 

Don’t know? Drink.

 

It’s because bros: you don’t know fuck-all about the universe. The cosmological cunting constant, the red-ass shift, cosmic cock-gobbling background radiation, this shit is what’s real, bros.  And right now I am going to blow the fucking diarrhea out of your minds. But, before we get to atoms, fucking chug that Sam Adams.

 

Now!

 

Alright, the fucking atom: in the nucleus you have protons – positively charged particles like a lax bro – and neutrons – neutral particles like a burnout stoner. And fucking tear-assing around the nucleus you have goddamn electrons – negatively charged particles like the chick whose roommate you bang.  So here’s the straight truth: we don’t know fuck-all about what happens IN an atom. Everything that’s fucking going down outside the atom? We have that shit on lock.

 

Inside? Fucking who knows; it’s like a microscopically tiny-ass clit, unknowable by fucking man.

 

But we learned a sick-ass truth recently, something that happens with the fucking electrons and we don’t know exactly how or why. You listening? You better be able to repeat this verbatim, pledges, or it’s fucking elephant walks all weekend.

 

So some longdick physicist named Lawrence Kraus just wrote about this new reaction, similar to one spotted by the O.G. of wheelchair-bound brainpower S. Hawking. What Kraus said was that in an atom, two particles can appear out of nothing. No shit, gentlemen. Straight truth. First, you have a normal-ass atom, then bam, an extra electron and a positron.

 

What’s a positron? Great fucking question pledge, drink for it.

 

So, every particle has an antiparticle. An antiparticle has equal and opposite motherfucking mass and charge to its bro-particle. So, in this case, the electron is negative and the positron is positive. And the cunt-proof key is that (in the vast majority of cases) when a particle and antiparticle rub each other’s tits, they disappear. As soon as they collide, poof! Gone like my virginity at age 13.

 

So imagine this wacky shit: you have an electron buzzing around the nucleus of an atom, and all of a cocksucking sudden, ANOTHER electron and a positron pop up next to it. Out of dick-licking nowhere, two particles that, seconds ago, did not fucking even exist. I’m goddamn serious, this new particle and antiparticle pair are like Kappa Nu skeeves, rolling up on a freshmen chick out of fucking nowhere.

 

Bros, don’t fret for the conservations of energy though, because the two particles have equal and opposite mass. And if you fucking don’t know what conservation of energy is, look up Isaac Newton in any shitty physics book and start jerkin’ your gerkin.

 

But, and even fucking crazier, this cocksucking pair exists for such a small amount of time, it’s like they were never even fucking there! They appear from nothing, touch, and fucking bam – back to nothing. The universe doesn’t notice! Shit’s quantum fast (and pardon me if I’m paraphrasing I’m not a dick-ramming quantum physicist and plus fuck you). It’s like a bro giving a cop the finger to his face, but it happens so fast the cop doesn’t notice. So like, no bro goes to jail, nothing un-sweet happens, but the fact remains that the law got fucking owned.


Condiments. Indeed.

Image C/O Portland Daily Photo by Corey Templeton 


Why does that fucking matter? You ask. Drink for even making me say that. Chug like your mom chugs dick.

 

How did Hawking find this shit out? Black holes, bro. So, black holes just suck shit up, right? First, that’s such an easy mom joke I’m not even gonna fucking broach it. Two, shut your fucking herpes mouths because it turns out black holes don’t just suck everything in existence (like your mom) they also shoot out electromagnetic radiation. Yeah, players: black holes bukake the universe with thick-ass radiation.

 

So how the fuck does that work?

  

Remember those positrons and electrons? Well there’s this titty-twisting line of no return in every black hole called the event horizon. It’s like the front door to Phi Omega A.K.A. Gnargoyle Manor: a sweet lax bro puts a big toe past that doorjamb, and those gnar-ass birds will make certain he never gets out. Once you pass the Event Horizon that’s fucking it, you’re sucked into the black hole.

 

So, what happens is, remember those electrons and positrons appearing out of fucking fuck-all? That mamma-jamma happens right on the edge of black holes. And sometimes, a pair will pop into existence in just the perfect fucking spot where one particle is on the event horizon and the other isn’t. So instead of the pair of particles just touching again and disappearing, the antiparticle actually gets sucked into the black hole. Shoop bay-oop, cocksuckers.

 

And what that means is that the particle/antiparticle pair splits like Baloney Pony’s shitty parents at his fifth birthday party and the electron shoots out into space. And since that means the black hole is effectively absorbing antimatter and shooting out energy, it’s actually shrinking. Meaning no sweet-ass energy is lost or destroyed – conservation of fucking energy again. What that means, cum-gaps, is particles that shouldn't even exist are constantly being shot out of fucking black holes in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Isn’t that some brain-melting bullshit?

 

And again, you think there’s no point to me telling you this shit? Drink again bitches. Because mini-bros, this is where it gets ass-cock crazy.

 

So do your infantile peenees remember that titty-licking baus, Einstein? E=mc fuck your dad? Well, one thing E-Bro talked about was relativity. What does that mean? It means if you’re drunk and rimming a gross-ass chick, you might not think it’s disgusting. But if you weren’t drunk and doing the same butt-work to a busted flap you’d be thinking ew and fuck and shit. Meaning: reality is relative. So, what state you’re in/where you are/your velocity/so many other fucking things will change your perception. And perception is reality. 


Fucking relativity. Works for time and space too, cocksuckers.

 

So, and here’s where some fucking conjecture from yours truly comes into play. We’re saying there was a big bang, right? A big sploogy bang where something comes from nothing. Well, what the fuck else is an electron/positron pair appearing from nothing but another big motherfucking bang? Albeit on a smaller scale, but what is scale but a factor of perception you fucking brownie stabbers?

 

So isn’t it fucking possible… tit-cocking totally possible, that our universe could actually exist deep inside the nucleus of a randomly generated particle whose equal and opposite antiparticle got sucked into a black hole? Isn’t that a fucking possibility?

 

You’re goddamn right it is. Bring out the chicken wings.

 

I have never seen this man at DTL.

Image C/O Downtown Lounge


 

Why are we eating diggity-delicious chicken wings, dick-horns? Because fuck particles, fuck antiparticles and fuck the origin of everything. You eat those goddamn wings like you love them. Why? Why?! Because even if all that universe shit I just straight school-house rocked you in is true, those sweet-ass wings are the only thing in the entire universe that matters right now. That's straight truth.

 

 

FOOD: 

3.2 Stars

It may not look like it, but Downtown Lounge has some tasty bar grub. Suffice it to say it’s fine content housed in a rough exterior.

PRICE: 

Dive Time

Cheap beers and sub $10 burgers. Fine grub.

AMBIENCE: 

Urban Rustic Alleyway

Booths with high backs and a distinct lack of TVs make for great, if close, conversation.

SERVICE: 

Round and Round

If your drink is nearly empty, you’ll have company.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

While it’s not the pinnacle of bars in Portland, DTL is a fantastic go-to for a couple beers and some quality snacks.

 

Giordano's Take Out - Oak Bluffs, MA



Forsooth! What doth mine nose detect?

Ambrosia sweet, wafting ‘pon the aether,

Ah yes, I know what toothsome treat I descry.

‘Tis Giordano’s sumptuous fingers of the chicken.

 

Chicken fingers? scoff thee. A sniveling toddlers delight!

Surely ‘tis jest, chortle thee, polishing thy watch-face. 

I jest not! And, I implore you, judge not!

This tender be an off’ring from ‘bove the firmament!

 

And so from the gay counter-maid ‘tis order’d:

no fry’d potat (thankee), no sweet’d carbon quaff (quite so)

Simply the phalanges of a fowl, prepar’d in oil most hot!

Be Pavlov near? No?! Then, why doth mine mouth water so?

 

Woe to thee who chooseth ye popcorn’d chicken,

A dry demon-bird cloak’d in a bread of lies,

Nor catsup nor ‘tard a salve for its betrayal,

Mark me well, trust not the chicken Judas!

 

Oh how scores grovel before thy bar of clam, milord Giordano.

Ye waiting, once warbled Mr. Petty, is thy hardest part.

With steely mind and girded – yet outspoken – belly, I abide,

Poultry absolution is nigh.

 

Hark! The numerals of mine order have been sung.

Order 201! Order 201! Surely this be heav’n’s refrain!

Naught but Michael’s flaming blade couldst halt my ‘proach,

A-waving mine receipt like a fishmonger his cod.

 

Of accoutrements, I ask for but two:

Catsup, a tool no less essential than ye fork,

Honey’d Mustard, thy flavors a harmony sweeter than Mozart.

Bird in hand, I slip, lizard-like, ‘neath the shade of yonder porch.

 

Huzzah! The moment of import arrive’d at last,

Tenderly, ‘nto both sauces I dip thy steaming husk, oh chick’n.

(Yon order of thy dipping matters not!)

Hand a-tremble I raise thee dress’d, to mine maw.

 

And bite…

 

I couldst swear ‘twere G-d’s voice translat’d threw tongue-buds.

His lexicon crisp, His meaning sweet, salt His punctuation.

And through’t all, the comforting tone of fowl most succulent.

In His holy, clucking thrall am I stricken.

 

Lost, then! ‘side the chronosphere I float in chicken-time.

Mine corpus finds agency its own, chick’n bourn to mouth by reflex ‘lone

Eyes roving, I spy tourists a-flitting, carriages rumbling past scenery most-fine.

In such a moment, do I find peace ‘mongst life’s headlong rush.

 

Mine purpose: clear! Mine intent: pure!

Simply I and mine chick’n treat; simul in aeternum!

But what is this? Yon chick’n boon is exhaust’d! Consume’d!

An epiphany, which from mine reverie jolts to find belly fill’d,

 

Whole once more.

 

‘Tis a gift to man, this chicken’s finger of Giordano’s.

A wonder ‘pon which better men have wax’d.

I implore, should thy path e’er spirit thee to the Vineyard of Martha,

Miss not yon delicacy! Miss not!


For ‘pon thy bed of final repose,

regret be th’ mightiest emote of all!

 

FOOD: 

4.5 Stars

Giordano’s (the take-out window/Clam Bar, not the actual restaurant) serves up a mean fried clam, pizza, and more. In fact, their pizza – by the slice or pie – is some of my favorite on the island; if only for nostalgic reasons. But nothing compares to their chicken fingers. Seriously, you think I’m joking. After testing my hypothesis for nearly 27 years, these are, without question, the best chicken fingers on the planet.

PRICE:

 Island cheap

The fried clams can definitely run steep, but everything else is well within reason.

AMBIENCE: 

Take-out area

Giordano’s remodeled its take-out area about three years ago. It’s still a take-out area.

SERVICE:

Tourist ready

Lots of tourist traffic thanks to its convenient location at the bottom of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. They’re used to lines, so the wait is never a deal-breaker.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

If you yearn for chicken finger perfection, make a pilgrimage.

Nosh - Portland, ME

 

“Popular culture,” said the screenwriter to the three immaculately attired TV executives, “is a black hole.” He delivered the statement emphatically, a bit of spit flying from his mouth on the “B” of “black hole.”

 

In front of him – at the opposite end of a stylishly elliptical mahogany table, nestled into a window-lined boardroom overlooking the sprawling white-and-green-flecked taupe of the valley – the TV executives appeared confused.

 

The screenwriter – dressed in a suit that fit him not at all – held up a nervous finger, indicating for them to wait, and clicked to the next slide of his presentation.


 

“Fringe culture is odd,” said the screenwriter. “And it used to start wayyyyy outside, far away from the black hole of popular culture. Nobody knows about it, at first!” The Screenwriter nervously jabbed his finger in the air. “But, as more and more people become aware of this fringe idea, it gets closer to the center of popular culture: the black hole.”

 

The screenwriter stopped and stared, eyes wide, at the assembled TV executives. One, an old man with cheeks that hung below his chin, leaned back in his chair. The other two – a young man with neatly gelled hair and a middle-aged woman who had had enough work done to look as if she’d had no work done – looked confused and skeptical.

 

“I’ll continue,” said the screenwriter, obviously shaken by their silence. “Over time the fringe has gotten sucked toward the center…” Another nervous jab. “Meaning, the distance between fringe culture and pop culture has decreased!”

 

 

The older executive cleared his throat and put his hand on the table. “So what’s the idea? You want a space show? Something about popular space?”

 

“Not exactly,” said the screenwriter. “It’s a reality show.” Silence. “A reality mash-up.” All three executives ahhhhed and recline back in their chairs. “I had the idea over a plate of buffalo wings. They were butter-poached, breaded, salted, doused in ranch sauce and then topped with pretzel bits.” The executives raised their eyebrows at this aside. The meeting, as far as the screenwriter was concerned, was going incredibly poorly.

 

Just noshin'.

Image C/O Portland Press Herald


“Anyway, I just mean to say that because the combination was a bit much and that kind of ties in nicely to my show and– .”

 

“Go on, but get to the point,” said the young, male executive. “Yeah, I have a meeting in five,” said the female executive, poking at her phone.

 

“You see, in the future,” said the screenwriter, “what used to be fringe will be pop culture proper. They will merge. But here’s the hook: my idea is from an even further out fringe.”

 

 

The older executive sighed and shifted his seat so that the sun wouldn’t hit him directly in the face. The sun then hit the female executive in the face but she pretended not to notice.

 

“So it’s a fringe-focused, space reality mashup?” offered the older executive, boredom liberally coating his words.

 

“No,” said the screenwriter. With a click, his presentation star-wiped to the next slide. On the screen was a live feed of the very conference room in which they sat. The female executive cocked her head, the young executive released a clipped “ahh.”

 

“It’s about this.” Smiling with only his mouth – nerves etched on his brow – the screenwriter reached beneath the table and produced a handgun.

 

Tension flooded the room.

 

“That’s not a real gun,” said the young executive.

“Of course it’s not,” said the female executive.

“So, what’s this?” said the older executive.

“It’s a gun,” said the screenwriter. “And this is my show.”

 

Raising the gun, the screenwriter recited, “This is a Glock 26 Gen4 – a concealed carry staple since 1994.” He then aimed at a floor-to-ceiling window and shot.

 

Glass exploded outward, raining onto the bustling street below. The female executive screamed, and the two male executives dove for the ground.  The screenwriter crouched, tut-tutting. “Sit up, slide slide your phones to me, or else I will simply shoot you all.”

 

The executives complied.

 

Bacon dusted fries. Yes. This is yes.

Image C/O FoodSpotting


“This is the idea,” said the screenwriter, actually smiling now.  Again, from beneath the table he produced a thick bike lock, which he ran through the handles of the boardroom door. “I call it “Death Panel.” And this, lady and gentlemen, is the pilot episode.”

 

The screenwriter appeared more relaxed than before. It was the calm of a man with a single purpose and goal.  There was no tomorrow for him, no this afternoon or even an hour from now. It was only now, and right now he had a gun pointed at three extremely wealthy white people.

 

The three executives were grimacing and pale. Their faces appeared, to the screenwriter, to have transformed into white masks covering deflated balloons. Their previous superiority and confidence had been erased.

 

“Why are you doing this?” said the young executive. The other two looked at him with white-wild eyes. Wind moaned through the hole in the glass.

 

“Ha ha!” said the screenwriter. “Thank you, my good man.” An aristocratic, creepy joviality crept into his voice. “The same reason anyone does something this drastic: to prove a point!”

 

“What possible point could come from this?” said the elder executive. “Don’t throw away your life. If you just put that gun away, we can all just leave this situation. No press. No hubbub. Just drop the gun and we can call it even.”

 

The elder executive’s appeal to reason met with deadly silence. “That’s bullshit and you know it,” said the screenwriter, pointing, one by one, to the security cameras that adorned the boardroom. The elder executive kept his deflated poker face.

 

A knock on the door. The handles rattled and a large male voice said, “Sir, please open the doors.”

 

“Nope!” the screenwriter shouted. “You force in these doors, everyone dies.”

 

“Just be calm sir,” said the large male voice. Another subtle rattle on the doors.

 

“Stop trying to get in!” The screenwriter said. He swept the gun over and shot two bullets low through the rich, oak particleboard doors. “Holy shit,” said the large male voice, outside. Hurried, leaden footsteps echoed away down the marble hallway.

 

Turning back to the three executives, the screenwriter smiled, his mustache forming a perfectly flat line above his mouth. “In the comments beside this live video feed, all the viewers are being asked “Who will live and who will die?” The young executive uttered a croaking no. “It’s a crowd-sourced, reality execution show! Get it?”

 

The board room had begun to darken slightly, shadows stretched across the table and sliced dark lines across the shaking executive’s bodies. They stayed silent.

 

“Anyway,” said the screenwriter. “On this phone, I will have the final tally. And from the comments,” The screenwriter scanned his phone, his gun still leveled at the executives. “From the comments.” He looked up and hove the black nose of his gun to the young executive. “Looks like you’re the strong favorite.”

 

The young executive began to cry. Small, peeping sobs that oddly matched the pitch of the wailing, bullet-holed window.

 

“What’s the point,” said the female executive. The screenwriter raised his eyebrow and shifted the gun’s nose to her. “What’s the point?” he asked.

 

Is humangus.

Image C/O Foodspotting

 

“Yes,” said the middle-aged woman, now shrinking into a shirt that had, minutes ago, been far too tight for her artificially engorged bosom. “You said there was a point behind all this.”

 

Her tone was slow and deliberate, obviously stalling for time. “You’re obviously stalling for time,” said the screenwriter. She, like the elder executive, kept her poker face.

 

“But that’s just fine,” said the screenwriter. “There is absolutely a point. And this is the part where the ‘evil villain’ gets to air out his grievances. But of course nobody ever listens, and he never gets time to fully explain. But the point…”

 

Unfortunately, before he could continue, the doors to the boardroom snapped in half with a screaming crunch.

 

The screenwriter dove behind the table, narrowly avoiding the peppering of bullets that blew out the remaining glass in the formerly whistling window.

 

 “No!” screamed the writer, scrambling around the table and securing an arm around the elderly executive’s neck. “I was getting to the point!”

 

At least thirteen riot police emptied into the boardroom. Though only the elderly executive was physically restrained, the two remaining executives stayed riveted to their seats, stunned by the noise and commotion, into inaction.

 

“Release the hostage,” yelled an officer with a thick, Chicago accent. Saying it like: “release da hostich.” That accent.

 

“Move and they’re dead.” The riot police stopped their slow march forward.

 

The Screenwriter composed himself and began to speak.

 

“The point is that you people are ruining America.” He looked angrily at the backs of the executives’ heads. “I have done the research. The three of you have greenlit shows like: My Dad: My Boyfriend, Meth University, I <3 Dead People, Is It Sh*t?, My 300 Pound Toddler…”

 

“Sir,” yelled the Chicago policeman again. “Release the hostages!”  

 

“These shows make people feel good,” continued the screenwriter, redoubling his grip around the elderly TV executive’s neck. The pitter-pat of a helicopter snuck in the blown-out window. Nobody gave up any ground.

 

“Sir,” yelled the Chicagoan again.

 

“Listen!” the screenwriter screamed. “People watch and feel excited that they’re not as shitty and backwards and terrible as all the stuff they’re seeing on TV. It’s what they want! But it is not what they need. It doesn’t make them try to be better. It gives them license to be worse. You’re pushing American society to new lows with every show.“

 

A shot shrieked through the glass and nestled into the wall right behind the screenwriter’s head. The screenwriter emitted an inarticulate burp of rage, cocked the hammer of his Glock and buried the nose deeper into the senior executive’s head-folds. The Chicagoan raised his arm for his men to stay still.

 

The screenwriter continued his monologue, unfazed. His face was a glowing orb of red determination. His eyes bulged and shot red-hot lasers of accusation onto everything they touched. The sound of the helicopter rose outside and police lights bathed the room with a manic, strobing glow.

 

“We live in an age of ‘should’ not ‘could’. Our system is regulated by our basest desires, nothing higher, nothing grander. This show! My show is a shock to the system! It is a look into the inevitable future of our society. It’s a gut-check for America. Do we want this? Do we want to murder people on live television? If we don’t, then we must act! We must not continue to accept the next, ridiculous low. We must strive to be better!”

 

Should you ever need your bacon deep fried and then sauced, this is where you go.

Image ℅ Food Spotting

 

The screenwriter stopped speaking and his phone dinged. The entourage of riot police’s guns clicked into active readiness. “That’s the end of voting,” he said.

 

“Sir,” yelled the Chicagoan. “We have a sniper trained on you from that helicopter outside. Release the hostage now, or we will authorize him to shoot… again.”

 

The screenwriter held up a finger from behind the executive’s exhausted, shriveled head. “One second,” he yelled. “Just one single more second. Read this for me.” He raised his phone to the elderly executive’s eye-level. “Read who should have died.”

 

The elderly executive, wide-eyed, read the phone’s screen. “Who does it say?” screamed the screenwriter.

 

“Release the hostage!” said the Chicagoan. The riot police crept forward and now rimmed the edge of the table like eager reporters.

 

“You,” said the elderly executive.

“What?” said the screenwriter.

 

“It’s just you.” Exhaustion edged out fear in the elder executive's voice. “There’s a note below the voting. It reads ‘One of you executives needs to pick up this fucking show!’”

 

The screenwriter let out a chuckle. The chuckle turned into a sickening laugh. Society had chosen, what more was there for him to do?

 

The screenwriter stood up with his gun to his temple, still laughing. And as the executives scurried away from where they had just been trapped, the shooting began.

 

 

FOOD: 

3.0 Stars

In some items, it just nails it (like their salt & vinegar fries). In others, it is a pile of gluttonous foolery (their wings). Each dish tastes great on the first bite. But by the third you will be questioning why you are doing this to yourself. The “Smothered Meatload” sandwich boasts: all-natural ground beef, cheddar cheese, sweet grilled onions, ketchup on white bread and the whole rest doused in gravy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty. But eating this gravy-smothered, meat and cheese bomb in one sitting is basically an act of self-loathing.

PRICE: 

Engorged

Sandwiches run ~$12 and don’t come with fries. However, the fries being a tasty! strong suit of Nosh’s, it’s highly recommended you get them. You’ll walk out of there paying a bit more than you would like.

AMBIENCE:

Carefully-appointed Grunge

The tables and bar are situated in a railroad style. You’ll be sitting close to your neighbors. And you will most-likely have neighbors at this heavily-frequented joint.

SERVICE:

Yeah Cool

A bit harried at times because of the rush when I’ve been there. But good people who get you in and out with a couple beers (or wines) to keep you lubricated.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Skip

Nosh is a place I could only really recommend that you go once. Go to try the ridiculously flavor-packed sandwiches and fries and everything else. But I can almost guarantee that once the glow of “wow what wild flavors!” wears off (plus with all the other high-quality options in Portland *cough* Duckfat *cough*) you’ll find Nosh to be a bit superfluous. It’s not a bad place by any means. They’re just a little too focused on what they can serve, rather than what they should be serving.

Hot Suppa! - Portland, ME

I met Nick at Hot Suppa! about eight months ago. I was completely new to Portland and the biting chill was in the process of being baked out by the high April sun.


Good morning, Portland.


I was perched at their stout bar, reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. A guy about my age with wild brown hair – the kind that perpetually looks as if it just came from under a hat – sat down next to me. He situated himself and pulled out the same book I was reading. His version was older; its pages yellowed and corners creased with use. That was Nick.

 

He turned to me and we struck up a predictable conversation about the book. Soon, our conversation’s predictability vanished.

 

Our discourse flowed naturally and powerfully; dialogue went back and forth, building upon itself. Most conversations can feel as if both parties are carrying their separate points to their pre-conceived conclusions, as if the other party is simply a necessity to airing out opinions. My conversation with Nick, however, was an improvised duet. We played off of each other, coming to realizations on the fly, inspiring the other to think more deeply at each turn. It was the kind of conversation that, no matter how long it actually was, could never have been long enough. He impressed me quite thoroughly.

 

At the end of our meal– I had the waffles with Maine maple syrup, he the benedict – we exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up again. 


Nick, I found during our second meal at Hot Suppa!, was both a published author and semi-professional speed climber. He only told me after I asked him what he did as we waited for a booth to open up.  The word bragging would be about the exact opposite of how he described his daily activities; he tried, in fact, to downplay them, which of course ended up impressing me more.

 

Once again, our meal and conversation were superb.

 

At home that night I looked up videos of speed climbing online. Nicke assured me that he was well below championship level. I searched him out nonetheless. After scrolling through a couple pages of results, I found a poorly-captured video featuring Nick on one side in red and a young man in blue on the other. Both were hooked up to minimal harnesses and faced a sheer, blue climbing wall.

 

At the sound of the gun, both young men shot up the wall, climbing as if the surface were horizontal, rather than vertical. The video was named “NCAA Speed Climbing Men’s Semi-Final 2006”. Nick lost. I could tell which contender he was without any trouble: his hair hadn’t changed.  But his immense skill was evident.

 

And though he lost, his mastery of climbing was dumbfounding. I’m athletic enough, but nowhere near competition-level in any sport. That sort of skill, where one is talented enough to rival every other driven young person in America, is unattainably difficult. It requires not only innate ability but an almost absolute dedication. Nick had impressed me again.


My feelings can be summed up here.

The next week, we met on a Thursday morning at Hot Suppa! and he brought his girlfriend along.  She was a petit woman, named Erica, with brown hair and luxuriously large green eyes: pleasant, smart, beautiful. She had actually just been hired off of an internship at an in-demand interior design firm. Not that Nick needed the money, his writing supported him well enough.

 

Again, our meal went by too fast and Nick continued to cement his status as someone truly to be admired. He was so put-together, self-assured and confident with the physical and mental substance back it up. I had never met a person so superior to me in every single way.

 

I thought about it quite a bit. How superior he was to me in so many ways. Nearly the perfect person – at least as far as my estimation went.

 

Another couple weeks passed after that meal without us seeing each other. Nick and I had both gotten busy: he, writing an article for an outdoors magazine and me with work.

 

One steamy, mid-spring night in the Old Port, I was out with my girlfriend, Katie. She was ready to go – she had an early start planned the next day – I was not. She left me among the tourists, trying not to stumble on the frost-heaved cobblestones. I wandered into some dive or other, I can’t remember the name but it had low lights, pool and darts. Ordering a drink from the packed bar, I heard my name. The voice was excited, slurred.

 

It was Nick.

 

He was visibly drunk. The collar of his shirt was turned up at one side. He motioned to the open seat next to him. I made my way through the crowd and sat down. I was a bit drunk myself, so his drunkenness seemed another feather in his cap from my perspective: a guy who has everything so much together that he even has time to go out and let loose.

 

We talked for a bit, though not about much since the noise of the place precluded any meaningful conversation. It was more an intoxicated exchange of admiration, talking about how excellent our chats had been.

 

Then a girl appeared behind Nick and reached over him to a half-empty cocktail on the bar. She put her arm around Nick’s shoulder and he leaned back and kissed her neck.

 

She was a brunette, tall and voluptuous. Her make-up was a bit smeared, though it made her look perhaps even more licentious than had it been perfectly situated. Nick didn’t introduce her so she introduced herself. Her name was Hannah and, by her voice, had drank equally as much as Nick.

 

Looking at Nick’s collar, I now noticed her red lipstick was there. Maybe he’d broken up with Erica? But in the time we talked after Hannah showed up, there was no mention of anything concerning Erica. No explanation from Nick as to this change in women. It was almost as if he was acting completely serene to test what kind of a friend I was. Would I ask about Erica and destroy their mood? Would I simply judge him without knowing the details? Or would I let it slide and assume that whatever he was doing was probably appropriate?

 

I chose the last option. I chatted as best I could until my drink was gone and announced that it was time to head home. Despite their protestations I nodded my way out. It was only three days before I ate with Nick again.


It took until three quarters of the way through our meal before I found an opening to ask about Erica.


I am the Alpha and the Omega. 


“She’s good,” Nick said. “She just got a big assignment designing a new rec-room for some young couple up in Falmouth.” I nodded, allowing him to go on. “So, she’s been busy.”

 

Nothing more than that. We had already acknowledged that it was fun to see each other out and I hadn’t had the audacity to ask about Hannah. The majority of my hesitation came from a reticence to delve too deeply into Nick’s personal affairs. It seemed that our friendship had started off so perfectly that any outside factors could only serve to sully the clean and well-defined picture I had of him. He was a perfect person. I didn’t want to believe he was any less than that.

 

I tried to bury my disappointment over Nick’s complete lack of remorse concerning Hannah. I didn’t succeed. But still, we continued to meet and talk.


About three weeks later, Nick brought Erica again. When we all had been seated, I couldn’t find an inkling of unrest. Not within Nick, nor between him and Erica. This could have meant two things: either they’d made up completely for Nick’s transgressions or Erica was completely oblivious. As the meal went on, there was no doubting that she didn’t know.

 

That realization sparked in me an electric tension. The sort of tension that increases with prolonged inaction; like when a teenage me was dared to go ask a girl out. It was the the type of dread that made the task impossible to complete, yet more excruciating not to the longer you waited.

 

As we ate each extended pause felt like a challenge. Nick’s gaze intensified as if daring me to bring up Hannah or somehow hint at her. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring it up because I genuinely liked Nick and wanted to think the best of him. But I am also a coward when it comes to confrontation. So I kept silent on the matter through until we said our goodbyes. I vowed to bring her up at our next meal alone.

 

I never did.

 

Two weeks later Nick told me that he and Erica had broken up. That completed the talk of girls. The matter was dropped for good and all, no resolution. But, unfortunately, that’s the way so many relationship-centric matters tend to end. Both parties unfulfilled, nobody happy.

 

The very next day, at the dentist, I was flipping through Down East Magazine. Its feature article was called “Depths of Flavor,” about a struggling fisherman who’d found a flourishing new market in deep-sea fish. It was by Nick.

 

After reading it three times, to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I realized that it was simply an adequate article. It felt like just another let-down, concerning Nick. Given our conversations, the article seemed well below his level of thought and humor. Not that it was a terrible piece of writing. It just wasn't what I would have considered worthy of him.

 

Nick and I didn’t talk for nearly five months. And this, coming after we had not gone an entire week without some sort of friendly meet-up, was a surprise. But so it goes.

 

In that time I thought about him a little. Mostly about how impressive he’d seemed in the beginning and how he’d eventually let me down. Though he hadn’t let me down, I realized, not really. He’d merely gone from the realm of the extraordinary into the mildly-above-ordinary. He still was a fantastically talented athlete. He still wrote professionally. He just wasn’t the “overman” I’d convinced myself he was. It was more my own fault for expecting to find someone who was perfect. My own selfish hope that there was an ideal person living an ideal life out there. That perfection – as a quality – was attainable. But of course, perfection is only really reserved for the imagination, and only poor ones at that.

 

It was getting to be the end of shorts weather when I reached out to Nick again. I texted him, suggesting we grab some food that weekend. He responded quickly and with enthusiasm, even throwing out a couple times that worked for him.


The topography of deliciousness.


Being back at Hot Suppa! with Nick was excellent. We talked and laughed and it was like next to no time had passed between our last meeting. The meal flew by. After shaking hands and waving our goodbyes, I left smiling.

 

Sure, I’d wished that Nick was perfect. I’d wished it for him – because I liked him – and I’d wished it selfishly because I wanted to believe that I could be perfect too. But he wasn’t and neither was I.

 

Nick may be a little loose and inconsiderate with women. He might not be as groundbreaking a writer as I had, naively, expected. And I could revile him for those traits. I could build a boiling dislike for him and never speak with him again. But what good would that do? He wouldn’t change as a person. I wouldn’t have a chance to possibly help him improve (and he, me). And I would be deprived of a great conversation partner and friend. The world would continue as it was, with two people less happy than they could have been.

 

In the end, we build the strongest connections around what we have in common and imperfection is the only universal trait.

 

 

FOOD: 

4.4 Stars

I have visited Hot Suppa! vastly more times than any other brunch spot in Portland. They simply understand eggs better than basically every other brunch I’ve ever been to (their omelet is straight out of France). In overall food, they’re close to equal with Caiola’s brunch, but at a lower price point. It’s both excellent and consistent.

PRICE:

Reasonably Reasonable

Every item on the menu “proper” is well priced. In fact, the Waffle (which comes with breakfast meat, two eggs, and a sliver of grapefruit) is a damn steal. Their only downfall is that their specials tend to be both too little (in terms of portion sizes) and too much (in terms of price).

AMBIENCE:

Boutique Art Show

Its intimate booths and art-smattered walls make for great conversation and a cozy atmosphere. However, it’s slight size means wait times can hit the hour mark any day of the week. And with its popularity ever rising, wait times may well rise commensurate. Go early. Go late. But be aware that it’s worth the wait.

SERVICE: 

Busy Bee

Overall, great service. Coffee stays full 95% of the time. Peak hours tend to be when it gets the diciest.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

I tend to be critical of Hot Suppa! because I love it so much. Like a father to a child, I want to see it improve for its own sake. Meaning, I tend to internally gripe about stuff like the sometimes so-so service, long waits and underwhelming specials. That all being said, in Portland, there is no more consistently fantastic brunch than Hot Suppa!

Binga's Stadium - Portland, ME

Rich Jerscyzkhein: Hi everyone I’m Rich Jerscyzkhein (pronounced “jason”) and this is the Super Bowl XCLVIII post-game discussion, brought to you live from Binga’s Stadium in Portland Maine.

And oh by the way, joining me is former Super Bowl-winning coach, and current Binga’s spokesperson, Bill Trunt. Beside him is Hall of Fame running back Dayved Nardley. And joining us, as always, is former coach of the Carson City Gamblers, Heck Jonson. The score was eighty-four for the Gettysburg Cavalry and zero for the Carson City Gamblers. Gentlemen, what did you think of the game?

 

Dayved Nardley: W—

 

Bill Trunt: First off I want to thank Binga’s Stadium for bringing us out here. Delicious wingas and a wall of beers. Fantastic!


Rich Jerscyzkhein: Any thoughts on the game coach?

 

Bill Trunt: Textbook annihilation.


Enough screens to play every season of Frasier simultaneously.

Image c/o Binga’s Stadium


Dayved Nardley: That’s putting it lightly coach. I mean… I mean… Marcus Lackey, you look at the stats on this guy… as a QB, he basically put up a season’s worth of numbers in a single game.

 

Heck Jonson: I don’t even want to talk about it.

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: Tell me what you mean coach?

 

Heck Jonson: What I mean is I want to bury my head in a dry old crick. I’m torn up, Rich. I was coach of the Gamblers when Biff Mandingo started at quarterback. To see his career end like this… It's a damn shame.

 

Bill Trunt: *muffled chuckling*

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: OK, let’s look at the numbers. D’Quayson Figgins, always a force for the Gamblers, came up with a net gain of 2 yards. Both of which came when he tripped and was launched into the air by Cavalry linebacker Fred Zuht.

 

Dayved Nardley: You also have… you also have the crumbling of the Brick Pillow.

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: Right.

 

Dayved Nardley: Russel Armstank, A.K.A. The Brick Pillow, a perennial pillar of the Gamblers’ defense. He let 25 sacks through his line.

 

Bill Trunt: Put up less of a fight than a roofied prom date.

 

Heck Jonson: You’re talking from experience now, Bill?

 

Bill Trunt: You’re a funny guy, Heck. You know what else is funny? *looks straight at camera* How much I love Binga’s fried pickle chips: crispy, tart and delicious. Mmmm mm!


Hey chickens. Bet you wish you didn't have such delicious arms.

Image c/o Blueberry Files


Rich Jerscyzkhein: The list goes on; Veto Threat Jr. tripped himself during the kickoff return, broke his leg and then his pants fell off. Wide receiver Bret Dillinger dropped ten out of ten reception opportunities and then got divorced on the sidelines. And, Gambler’s coach, Larry Popkiss was last seen rummaging naked through arena dumpsters sporting an unhinged gaze.

 

Heck Jonson: It was a ten-car pileup on top of a train wreck in a concentration camp. Gall dang! I think I’m gonna start crying again.

 

Dayded Nardley: Then you take a look at the Cavalry. I can’t believe what these young guys can do. You take… You take Ngube Onukafor. This 21-year-old not only ran for 805 yards but set a world record for scarves knit during a single Super Bowl at four.

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: They were tastefully made.

 

Dayved Nardley: The Cavalry defense… I mean, these guys gained more yards than the Gamblers offense. Sweet mercy!

 

Bill Trunt:  Sweet is right! Sweet as Thai BBQ Wingas. Only at Binga’s

 

Dayved Nardley: Wide receiver Gibbs Jacoby literally floated five feet off the ground the entire game. Punter, Sagittarius Arkenstone laced a ball so straight that – for a brief moment – it sliced through the very underpinnings of spacetime revealing, to the entire stadium, the tenebrous clockwork of the universe.

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: And let’s not forget tight end Robo Liscious… this guy, in the third quarter he animorphed into a seventeen-foot-tall komodo dragon and started picking passes out of the air with his heinous tongue.

 

Bill Trunt: *Makes a fervent series of exaggerated slurping sounds*

 

Heck Jonson: *Lets out a keening wail*

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: And oh by the way, you have quarterback Marcus Lackey. Talk about game of the century. Any century. In fact, we were just informed that a coalition of every citizen on earth has demanded that his likeness be laser-etched into the moon.


Heck Jonson: Poor Biff Mandingo. Poor, poor Biff.

 

Gate F, as in, "F*cking humongous."

Image c/o Local Events Authority


Rich Jerscyzkhein: That’s right, coach. Biff arguably got the worst of it out there tonight. Even in the first quart—

 

Heck Jonson: Let me do this. I can do it... Biff Mand—*sobs*

 

Dayved Nardley: It’s OK Heck. I can—

 

Heck Jonson: Biff… Biff! Mandingo! He was a fine man. A *sniffle* a whip-smart student of the game. We don’t need to trot out all the details, so here are the dang keys. Biff Mandingo’s first throw went out of bounds. So far out of bounds in fact that it flew into the Make-A-Wish Sideline Seats, struck a young Gamblers fan in the throat and killed him. Still can’t believe the little scamp is gone… Biff’s next… Biff’s next pass – a dang rocket of a throw – sailed the length of the field and nicked a gas main, incinerating the Gambler’s entire rooting section. Nobody left alive in the Jackpot. Not a one. And if that weren’t enough, Biff’s last pass sailed out of the stadium as if… as if borne on the wings of fallen angels! Biff's errant pass hit a moving truck carrying, of all things, his own possessions. Biff's aim was so unlucky that it managed to knock the back door loose, allowing a personal safe to eject from the vehicle which, upon striking the pavement, unlocked to reveal three hard drives labeled Child Pornography 1, Child Pornography 2 and Child Pornography 4. Biff is currently awaiting trial in Carson City’s sheriff’s office… That’s… That’s all I can get out.

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: Thanks coach, that sums it up. Hard to watch. Hard to stomach.

 

Bill Trunt: I’ll tell you what’s been easy to stomach: *thumps down an enormous bucket of wings on the desk* Binga’s Fantastic 4lb. party bowl. Stuffed chock-full of wingas.

 

Heck Jonson: Bill, you are a shilling swine!

 

Bill Trunt: At least I'm a winner, Heck. Don’t see a ring on your finger.

 

Heck Jonson: You sonuva… I’ll give you a ring!

 

*Heck tackles Bill and both disappear behind the bar*

 

Rich Jerscyzkhein: And that’s our post-game analysis. Tune in tomorrow for more highlights on SportMiddle. From behind the bar of Binga’s Stadium I’m Rich Jerscyzkhein, ESPM.

 

 

 

FOOD: 

3.5 Stars

Go for the wings. The rest is certainly solid, but the fact that they’ve decided to create an entirely different nomenclature for their wings (dubbed Wingas) says a lot about their ability to prepare poultry.

PRICE:

Have a time

You can really drink and eat to your liver’s content. As long as the budget isn’t tight, you’ll end up pleased.

AMBIENCE:

Stadium Seats

More flat screens than there are people (it seems). If you came to watch sports, watch sports you will.

SERVICE:

Rapid Rounds

Waiters, waitresses and bartenders certainly keep you from drying out. Genuinely nice people by all accounts.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

If you’re in the mood for bar grub and a big game night, Binga’s Stadium is a fine location. Just make sure to get there well before your game of choice; many other people will have the same idea (and for good reason).

 

Toast - Ferndale, MI

 

Two young men are fighting to the death. One is from one place and the other is from another place. These two young men have decided its OK to kill each other because that’s the whole point of why they’re where they are. Currently, they’re both doing their best not to be the one who gets killed.

 

About these two men locked in mortal struggle: one man is named Paul Johnson and the other is named Feda Noorzai. Paul, oddly enough, is thinking about how all he really wants is the banana coffee at Toast, a diner in his hometown of Ferndale, Michigan. Sure it’s a weird thing to think about when trying to kill another man, but it popped into his mind and that’s that. He’s thinking about how a sip of that coffee, maybe with a mountainous plate of chocolate chip pancakes, would be just about his version of heaven. He’s thinking how much he’s going to miss that if he dies (among many other things) and so he’s trying to kill Feda. Feda, though, is pretty much trying to do the opposite. In a more typical turn, Feda is thinking about his son and wife. Feda is trying to kill Paul because he wants to protect his family from things like military occupation and drone strikes. Above all, though, he hopes that if he dies his wife and son will actually get the stipend they were promised by the militia and won’t have to wait too long for it as other militiamen’s widows have had to.

 

Image ℅ Metro Alive

 

So, when you zoom into the scenario, with the two dudes thinking about stuff as they try to kill the other, it all gets pretty specific and sad. So let’s zoom out.

 

The reason why these two guys are even allowed to kill each other – without having to worry about getting charged for murder and all – are the people in charge back home that want things to stay the same. And while everyone (big “E” Everyone) back home may be kinda split on whether anyone should be getting out there and killing other people, ultimately it’s the decision of the people who decided, long before, that they want to convince everyone that they’re the right people to make decisions like that.

 

That’s all a bit confusing though. So, let’s boil it down.

 

It’s really about Toast Diner.


Image ℅ Google Street view or something creepy

 

See, Paul thinks that more people should be able to live the way he’s lived, including stuff like being able to get a group of guys and girls together, maybe smoke a joint, and go to a diner like Toast. Feda, however, has a different view and thinks that people should live the way he’s lived. And, in Feda’s way of doing things, Paul might be able to go to Toast but he def couldn’t go there with girls or eat certain things or smoke weed because Feda’s God says that’s a no-no. Paul believes in God too but it’s a different one with different rules that are a little more lenient on the whole girls and eating scenarios (the rules are kinda fuzzy on drugs). So both these men believe that their particular way of doing things is, ultimately, better. Enough so that they’re willing to kill each other for it.

 

In reality though, the people who’re really responsible for Paul and Feda being where they are, are the people who make the rules on what’s the right way to do stuff. So, those people who can currently tell people what to do want to keep things going the same way they’ve been going, so they’re sending a bunch of people to kill other people in the hopes that they win and get more people to do stuff the way they want them to do it.

 

Image ℅ Metro Alive

 

The tricky part though is that those higher-up people on both sides figured out that sending other people to go kill and die is easier than going out and killing and dying  themselves. It would probably have changed their decision-making process if, when they wanted to go out and kill some other people, they actually had to go out and do it too. It would certainly help to show that they wanted things to stay the same for everyone back home and not just for them.

 

So the honchos back home on both sides said to their respective home-people, “These other people want us to do things their way so let’s kill them until they agree that our way of doing things is better,” but what they meant was “we need a lot of young people to go out and do the mind-changing/killing. They’re the ones who need to prove that our way of doing stuff is better.”

 

And the great part is that what you want to do depends on where you are. Feda, because he grew up around people who wore what he wears and worshipped who he worships, naturally wants to keep doing those things. The same way that Paul grew up eating at Toast and wearing jeans and so knows that the way he dresses and does things is better. Though of course if you had switched the two guys at birth, Feda would probably be in Paul‘s same shoes and Paul in Feda’s.

 

Image ℅ Metro Alive

 

These two young men believe what they believe because other people they grew up around believed it too – people like their parents and family. Except that means, from Paul’s perspective, Feda is wrong and vice versa. Luckily, they’re both right! Since both their (kinda) different Gods say they’re right. They just have to kill the other person to make them agree.

 

But here’s the difficulty of the situation: one way of doing things may be better. In fact, I can hear you saying now, “we know our way is better.” But that’s where you ask yourself, “Hey, me. If some other group of people right now with an actually better way of doing things tried to force their better way of doing things on me, would I be OK with changing?”

 

And even if that way of doing things you were trying to convert people to was simply, say, freedom. Wouldn’t forcing your version of freedom onto other people essentially be a violation of those other people’s freedom?

 

But back to Toast.

 

Paul likes eating pancakes at Toast just as much as Feda likes his mother’s homemade Korma Pulao. So now they have to try to kill each other, rather than enjoying their respective meals, because both heard from other people that the other guy wanted to stop him from enjoying what he’d become accustomed to enjoying. Whether that's the exact situation is kinda fuzzy and harder to parse.

 

See, the point isn’t who ends up ending the other person’s life. The point isn’t even that it’s not so good that two guys have ended up in this situation. The point is something amorphous and gray and difficult to entirely pin down. It’s somewhere between Paul’s love of Toast’s delicious cuisine and Feda’s love of comforting, home cooked Afghani meals.

 

Only when you draw your own conclusion can you really be certain what it is.

 

 

FOOD: 

3.8 Stars

Don’t get me wrong. Toast is damn delicious. However, there are quite a few leaps they make in their fare that don’t hit the mark squarely. Order what you think sounds good. If something sounds a little “out there” it probably is.

PRICE: 

A leetle more

More expensive than other, equal-if-not-better breakfast establishments in the area. But not by any significant amount.

AMBIENCE:

 Hipsta

Newly renovated, always cozy. Toast (Ferndale) doesn’t have a bad seat in the house. However, the house is often packed. Luckily you can chill in the back with a coffee.

SERVICE: 

Workin’ women

At least when I dined it was all women. Sure, they may act a little beleaguered at times, but that’s what people do. Treat ‘em right, they’ll treat you right.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

It’s not my top spot in Ferndale (which, I concede, is obscenely rich in diner fare). But it can hang with the best anywhere.

The Art Cliff Diner - Vineyard Haven, MA

 June 1, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

It’s perfect, by fuddy! I’ve procured a dining cart off of an old coot and his noisome hound.  Soon, I plan on moving the cozy nook to a convenient lot by the Edgartown docks. By gum and spittlewhippets what a fine affair! I plan on calling it Captain Brown’s. Don’t you think that droll? I trust you will keep the photograph I’ve included in a dear place despite the fact that my eyes do appear cross’d.

All my love,

Brown

 

June 4, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

I’ve transported the dining car to its lot by the docks and jim-junipers is it fine. Of course, there was one small nugget of a detail I couldn’t have foreseen. Nothing to worry about of course, but something I will have to deal with before the patrons start flooding our welcoming doors: an elephant. He’s quite small at the moment, but something has to be done about him. I found him in the back room, sitting and not causing any trouble. Of course I’ll have it sorted before the grand opening, tomorrow. I trust the chickdaws have quieted for the spring and allowed you some, if any, slumber.

All my love,

Brown

 

"A plafe what woos ye palette of men and weomen bothe." - Elmer Horseman, The New Tisbury Old Tymes

Picture c/o Hungry Native


June 7, 1883

My Dearest Denise

Boy-dippy, what a fine yester. Patrons came from all over the island. A rousing success for a burgeoning eatery. What a feeling! To satiate your fellow man and have them shake your hand and give you their hard-earned cash in thanks for the sup! Willickers and baldergrump I feel fine! Not concerned at all am I that this pachyderm issue hasn’t been sorted just yet. Oh indeed, I’m a bit cross that I couldn’t shoo the little beast successfully (what a stubborn one, just lazing in the corner). I resorted, in a fit of panic, to throwing a table cloth over him and sticking a “Reservée” sign on top. Can’t have people eating off the back of a wild grey-snooter! It’s a problem that will have to wait until I’ve a full sleep upon which to contemplate it! Then I know I’ll sort it with a clear head and open eye. Fig-and-nut-butters that I will! Hope you are well.

All my love,

Brown

 

July 15, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

My very own Captain Brown’s was recently written up in the Vineyard Gazette! Here I note a particularly poignant passage: “How indeed our strain-ed belly’s yearn for another wrestle with the thick vittles apportioned by Messier Brown.” Vack-wattle, a rousing review! Of the celestial nomenclature with which they rate, Captain Brown’s was given a hearty four and one half of five. Though, somewhat distressing, is the half-star that went un-awarded. This they chalked up to, and I quote, “… some unknown quality in the environs of the cafeteria which burdened us [the reviewer and his charge] with undue pause. In reverence to decorum, this humble reviewer will spare you the particulars of the matter. Suffice it to say: there is an undeniably large, be-trunk’d obstacle, haranguing a space that we found otherwise to be, in a word, outstanding.” That elephant! It must be dealt with! I hope your feet are less swollen this week.

All my love,

Brown

 

July 18, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

He’s not budging. And he has grown too massive for one simple cloth to cover. I’m talking about this elephant of course. Though, as you suggested, I’ve tried every manner of ruse to drive him from the place. Like clockwork, I shoo him from the cart; I beat him about the head and neck with a long-handle broom. Surely he trumpets and expresses his blowsy discontent, but out he goes. Then, upon my return, there he looms, snooting and flapping his ears withal! Shippy, our negro cook, resigned himself to the elephant’s presence, leaving the situation entirely up to me. Most disappointing behavior from such an, otherwise, stalwart partner. A solution must be found! A solution will be found! I hope the rhododendrons you spoke of survived the recent plague of stink-bugs.

All my love,

Brown

 

"On the melding of cornèd-meat and potahto -- its moniker being "Hash" -- a single taste did elicit a tightness in my breeches." - P.F. Shemp, The Edgartown Soapbox 

Picture C/O Cooking With Books


July 22, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

Hum-boge! The past fortnight has been upsetting.  Though I have done all in my power to shew this silent monstrosity the outside of our establishment, he does not budge.  Indeed, in a further downward turn, a child unraveled my most recent ruse; the little rug-sniffer pulled the flowers we had adhered to the elephant’s feet (in imitation of a grand flower arrangement) at the height of morning-rush. Thus was the non-literal buzzard of my worry revealed for good and all. Though naught can be done about it now! Stack-piggle and hooch! Surely, the only answer is to humanely end the animal’s life as you have suggested from the beginning. I realize now the truth of your steely wisdom. Upon that, I will call the authorities in the morning. I trust the symptoms of your rheumy nostril have been cured by the chemist’s potions.

All my love,

Brown 

 

 August 27, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

The crowds continue to grow! It seems our repast has piqued the interest of those from as far as Gay Head: the opposite side of the isle! Unfortunately, as the clientele grows, indeed so does the bane of our location: the elephant! Attempts at his life were thwarted at every turn. After the authorities came and went (carrying a large, clothed cadaver), assuring me the animal had been assisted, gently, in his ascent to heaven, I returned inside to find him snuffling merrily about the kitchen. Indeed I took a knife myself and slashed the beast until his pulse was no more! By fuddly, I chopped his massive limbs to pieces, laboriously transported them to the sea by skiff, at which time I dumped them into the brine and saw to it that marine-life did indeed feast upon his depart’d flesh! I thought – upon my blood! – that mother nature would brook no more skullduggery by that fleshy brute. But on my return to the diner, there he sat! Silent and peaceful, bashfully batting his long lashes at me. Oh how he galls me! But! BUT! His presence seems not to deter our many diners from their gormandizing of our vittles. A conundrum, indeed! I am sorry that the moist air has not helped your grippe.

All my love,

Brown

 

December 18, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

The elephant cannot be moved. As Captain Brown’s grows in popularity, so does he! And as he does, my despondence grows commensurate. Surely, an ulcer is brewing within my nethers. I am sorry, I can write no more until he is gone. And I fear that he can only be truly gone when Brown’s Diner is gone as well. Wish me luck. No, do not wish me luck; wish me courage.

All my love,

Brown


"'The Bayou Bundle,' proves that what these Americans lack in (natural) sexual freedom, they compensate for in their quaint cuisine." - Jacques Louis-Cromes, The Menemsha Erudite

Picture C/O Cooking With Books



December 20, 1883

My Dearest Denise,

I almost burnt it to the ground. Punting cricklesticks, the shame! There I crouched in the dark of night, cap pulled low over my eyes like a lackaday crook, nearly setting flint and tinder to the source of my life and livelihood! Surely, if my beloved Captain Brown’s were reduced to ashes, I surmised, so would be the elephant inside! Without a Brown’s to occupy, would he not go back to the demonic jungle of his nascence? Against the dark of my heart the flame flickered. Yet as a match to strong wind, so my wherewithal did flag. In the end I allowed the flame in my hand to extinguish itself and chucked the vile tinder into the gorse. My love for my diner trumped my hatred of the beast. Perhaps, I, like Shippy, will learn to ignore this elephant (maybe even care for him?). Anguish of this kind can only be dissolved by the inexorable therapy of time. I appreciate your concern.

All my love,

Brown

 

June 6, 1884

My Dearest Denise,

Two years and hum-dogle what success! I’ll be the first one to say, the fact that this elephant now occupies one third of our space has ceased to alarm me. The patrons, though the new ones certainly comment, seem not to be deterred by him. He sits lazily in the corner, sometimes nosing around the salt shakers of the tables nearest him, but often satiated and quiet, his eyes scanning the assembled masses in paternal approval. He is a necessary evil, like the chill of rain or the itch of the thistle. Without him, my little Captain Brown’s would be… well, not Captain Brown’s. We are an establishment dedicated to the enjoyment of foodstuffs and potent brew. We are not attempting to cater to everyone all of the time. Those who dislike humongous, exotic creatures may not be enticed by what we have on offer. But certainly, those who do not mind a certain, unavoidable, grey inconvenience will find their repast no less satisfying! Surely, Denise, it might even become a badge of honor for my beloved diner. Captain Brown’s: home to world-class treats, thick camaraderie, and an unthinkably cumbrous house-pet. Indeed, it’s a possibility, only time may tell. But, if it’s any indication, we have done naught but fine business these first two years. I hope the heat wave we’ve been experiencing has not disrupted your vapors.

All my love,

Brown

 

"A treat this fine is scarce below the heavens and therefore is an affront to G-d." - Samuel Boothbutton, The Gay-Head Goode-Christian Snooper

Picture C/O Serious Eats

 

June 6, 1943

My Dearest Denise,

Sixty years ago today, as a young man, I opened Captain Brown’s. Now I am old and the wind stirs nothing as it passes over my head. Indeed, looking back upon it, I’d dare say that Brown’s started as a part of my life and ended as my life entire. And, as it so happened, so did the elephant within its walls. Never changing, never aging, only a mild inconvenience from start to end. Oddly enough, I find his consistency to be one of the only comforts afforded me in this terrifying new century. In happier news, I’ve found two young men who seek to appropriate my shop and take it from its longstanding spot by the harbor. Indeed the messieurs Art and Cliff plan to move it up near Tisbury to a fine lot on Beach Road. Though I am sad, I know that eventually we must pass everything along, especially that which is most dear to us. For if not – if we hold on too tight – it would be lost forever. Though oddly enough, they bought my little dining cart on spec, taking a look at the outside and deeming it fit. By squittly, I think it’s something more than coincidence that they too will have the surprise of finding the elephant inside. I hope they find it in themselves to treat the little snooter well. Alas, they are young and bold and are bound to find their haste and ambition leading, often, to folly. I will not begrudge them that. But I will implore them, above all, to preserve one tenet I found always to keep Captain Brown’s on even tack:  No inconvenience can negate a well-prepared meal.

All my love,

Brown

 

 

FOOD: 

4.6 Stars

Art Cliff opened in 1943 and changed owners in 2000. What has not changed is the quality of fare; If anything, it’s been raised to obscenely toothsome levels.

PRICE:

Split the check

The price fits the fare. Plus, the portions allow for hearty leftovers.

AMBIENCE:

Packed

Simply one room with tables and a bar. Herein lies the rub of Art Cliff: it’s small. Whereas the demand for Art Cliff? Quite large. Unless you show up before the cock’s crow, or on some deadly off-season day, you will find Art Cliff packed to the veritable gills. Wait-times during the summer are consistently at the ~1 hour mark. But rest assured, it is worth it. Oh dear is it.

SERVICE:

Well-Trained

These waitresses know how to turn a table without making you feel rushed. A fine balancing act to be sure.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

On Martha’s Vineyard (and dare I say in the greater New England area), Art Cliff looms large.

 

 

 

Bintliff's American Cafe - Portland, ME

There she is: the dame. You know the sort, twenty dollars of body stuffed into a ten cent getup. Not that the getup is cheap, this dame's probably got my whole year's rent on her person. And what a person.


We’re at Bintliff’s, an old Portland haunt. I’m at the bar and she’s at the window. Alone. I’d been given succinct instructions to document her near-future activities with a Paypal account to make it worth my while. 


Wonder when her beau gets here? Or maybe he already arrived?


Bintliff’s is full of old wood and smiles. They’ve got knickknacks and yellowed menus on the wall boasting 10 cent burgers. Now that’s a time I wish still existed. I’ve got money problems out the ying, which is why I’m bird-watching – you can’t pay the bill collectors with kind words. So, I took the job. What red-blooded man could say no to that many commas?


Gigantic Lamp Picture


She’s looking out the window. The fog outside gives me a view of her reflection. In it a set of eyes, black as coal, slope down at the sides like Egyptian royalty. The kind of eyes you don’t forget.


Laughs carom off the walls and the air is humid and pleasant against the frost outside. But you can see this dame’s got a frost inside. Something’s dark and lost behind those baby blacks. 


Can’t say this gig is hunky donky, though. Got my hackles up last night when the e-mail appeared. Unknown e-mail address: URF@IL.com. The message was succinct. 


Subject: FOLLOW HER. DON'T BE SEEN.

Attached: (A picture of the broad I’m spying)

Message:  “BINTLIFF’S SATURDAY 8:00 AM” And a link to a paypal account in my name. One click to “Accept Amount.”


You think I hesitated in clicking? You think a gig this simple paying this much would give me pause? Hell no. When you’ve been in this game as long as I have, you learn to take what people pay you. 


This Bintliff’s place is a peach. Good coffee. People waiting out the door. Though, I never understood the whole “waiting for brunch” thing. Sounds a whole lot like the bullshit, “good things come to those who wait” mentality. I find the angles. I was never one to jog the full race. I’m the guy who ducks into the first alley and hails a cab to the finish.


The dame got a Florentine benedict; I can see the flakes of Parmesan from here. Apparently she’s got a figure that doesn’t need watching. But damn is it nice to look at.


Florenteen? Florentine? Either way, mighty fine.


The hash browns, garden-variety potatoes, reds and Yukon golds, mixed with sweet potato. All browned up on the griddle with a savory char. I haven’t had a meal this nice in I don’t know how long. Funny how good a little potato can be when you just…


Oops, almost forgot about the dame. These browns had me spinning my rusty hamster wheel. Bad news. I need to be sharper.


She’s on her phone now, talking quiet. She’s hunched over while she talks, those blonde tresses draping around her face like a veil. It’s not a good call, whatever it is, because soon enough she’s got her hand in the air for a check. 


Huh, no ring. I guess a suspicious husband is out of the question. Her nails ain’t even chipped, means she probably got them done yesterday. This femme is on the hunt for a man. 


Who wants me to watch her? A protective father? No, this has jilted ex-husband written all over it. The way she’s still sitting at a two-person table, rather than the bar. It’s habits that paint the most vivid picture.


This is too easy.


I signal for my check and leave a healthy tip. I’m feeling good about this one. 


Her BMW is pristine as well, black that’s been polished to a silky shine, except for a couple mud flecks from the morning drive. My Corolla? I say its color is “Maine Winter Camouflage.” All black and brown with salt spray up the sides. 


Keeping a car clean during a Maine winter is harder than building a house of cards in a shitsquall.  This broad is some kinda careful.


Soon enough we’re both driving north. She’s weaving a bit on the road, probably talking on the phone again. Dames. Can’t keep them off those things. Sure, maybe I even get a bit sloppy too, tailing her too close. But if she notices she doesn’t let on. 


It’s not long before she’s exiting at Freeport. Maybe to do a little L.L. Bean shopping? Though she doesn’t look like the type to go for Bean Boots. As plebian as I seem, I still got an eye for expensive taste. Just so happens that the expensive things don’t often come my way. Don’t ever, if I’m being honest. 


Lawtta benedicts, guy.


That simple fact cost me a wife. Well, maybe the drinking and cussing didn’t help. She wasn’t too excited about ramen noodles at the end of the month, either. It’s for the best. What I lost in her I gained in a little extra income. Though it takes a couple more beers to supplement an empty bed.


She always thought she could do the private eye thing with me. Thought she had a knack for it. But I can tell you, she never would have lasted. I mean, I’ll allow that a woman may have a keener juju-sense – you know, feeling things in their guts and getting all spiritual on you – but I never had the North Star point me to a fat wad of scratch. 


Though I won’t say business hasn’t slowed down since she left. Odd the way good and bad times tend to attract each other. Like good and bad have some sort of subtle gravity.


Luckily it looks like the good is starting to hove back my way. Where is this dame taking me?


These roads have more cracks than a plumber convention. Signs point us to “The Desert of Maine.” Funny she’d be going here. Probably a clever place to meet her secret man. Looking for love in Maine? Forget the snow. Go where the heat is: the desert!


God, I love how symbolic dames can be. 


I’m tailing her so that I just catch taillights when I hit the top of the crest. She’s a cautious driver when she’s paying attention.


The last crest and there's the entrance to the desert. A cul de sac of a parking lot. And look at that – another car just happens to be parked already. Don’t know who could have predicted that. I was even thinking of calling my buddy Mick for backup. He’s a two-ton gorilla of a judo instructor. Normally backs me up on iffy jobs. 


Huh... 


Now up close, looks like that's Mick's car. Haven’t talked to him in a while, actually. Maybe this dame is his? Mick you old so-and-so, getting mixed up in other people’s lives. And sure enough, I turn in a driveway just short of the desert proper, and Mick’s already getting out of his car. 


Through the trees I can see him lean in the window of the dame’s car. Mick, I didn’t know you had it in you. She’s a looker for sure. 


Is he pointing at my car? Can’t be sure, but it seems like something’s off. Now he’s walking toward me, waving. What the heck is this about?


I put the car in reverse. I don’t want to get caught here, lest that paypal account suddenly dry up. If that’s even possible. Can't take that chance.


But Mick, the lug, he blocks me in. Catches me trying to reverse and plants his moose trunk behind me. Awww now the dame is walking up too. Mid-winter fog puffing out of her mouth.


And as she walks she pulls up her long blonde curls, lifts them right off her head. She’s got the same spiky hair as Sheila underneath. Looks just like Sheila, come to think of it.


Jesus. It’s Sheila. It’s my ex-wife.


“Bobby,” she says, winking at me. She puts her arm over Mick’s shoulder.


“What the hell is this about?” I say. I have no idea what she’s playing at. Her eyes were never black. I tell her so. 


“They’re contacts you idiot,” she says. She’s got her lips done up in a different color too. How did I miss it?


 “You did the job, Bob.” Says Mick. 


“The hell I did,” I said. “Who wants me following my ex-wife?” 


“I did,” says Sheila. “Notice how all your old leads went dry? Notice how your services have been… less demanded.” 


“Maybe I do,” I say. “I’m doing fine.”


Mick and Sheila look at my dirt-mobile and smirk at each other. So what if I haven’t had work in a while. What’s it to them?


“You still don’t see it, do you Bobby?” says Sheila. “You never had the eye for it. You always wanted to take the quick route. The easy buck.”


“Sorry Bob,” says Mick. “Life don’t work that way. Sometimes you gotta wait in the line to get the prize. And Sheila here, you kept her waiting. And she waited good. Now she’s the best P.I. in this town. By far.”


I look at Sheila. No way that muddleheaded broad could rock a case all the way to bed. I’ve got the head for this business. I was born for it. But then again, I couldn’t recognize my own ex-wife? 


“You’re dried up, Bobby,” says Sheila. I look out at the Desert of Maine. 


“So this is your symbolism,” I say to her. “You dames and your hidden meanings.”


“That’s all life is,” says Sheila. “If you can’t read the writing on the wall, you might as well be blind.”


“So who paid me,”  I ask. 


“I did,” says Sheila.


“You can’t pay for that.” I say. One nod to her beamer shuts me right back up.


“So what is this, an intervention?”


“You bet your ass it is,” says Mick. 


“You’re done. You’re through,” says Sheila. “I’m pulling down more dollars in a month than you’ve made your whole career. You still living in that shack on Cumberland?”


I nod. What are you supposed to do when you’re whipped? You nod. You accept. At least that’s what they expect you to do.


“So you’re just giving me that money,” I say.


“Start a new life,” Sheila says. “Go and be a plumber or something. Something you can make some damn money at. Something where you can survive. Live.”


“Funny,” I say. 


“Funny is you thinking you got an eye for anything. Just give it up. How’d you enjoy your Louisiana Bayou Benedict?”


Boom goes the dynamite.


I look down at the greasy steering-wheel, at the dust-littered dash. Getting bamboozled by my ex. Driving this junker out to the desert.


 “OK Sheila,” I say. 


Sheila looks at me with a suspicious eye. Disbelieving. “You’re out?”


“Look, I know I’m a no-good P.I.” She nods. Mick does too. Mick’s nod hurts more. “And I get the point. I never will be good. Hell, I’ll never even be passable. But what you’re talking about is who I am. Here.” I poke myself in the chest like a jerk. But it’s the truth. All I’ve ever been is a P.I.. On the job is the only time I'm happy. Give up my work, and I’m nothing. Nothing at all. I look from Sheila to Mick and back again.


“So the only way I stop hitting the streets is when I get an idea in my head that’s small and fast and made of metal.”


And with that I pull out of the desert to go back to my stinkin’ apartment and my cheap furniture and my shit life. Sure, I’ll never be worth nothing. But when that’s the guy you were born to be, how can you say no?



FOOD: 

4.3 Stars

Bintliff’s has been around for years and their menu shows it. Each dish contains no little amount of care and craft. And with a menu this big, it’s surprising the quality remains so consistently high.

PRICE: 

(Not that many) Dolla dolla bills y’all

You can pay for a filling brunch (for one) with a twenty and still have more than enough for the tip. Start getting bloodies and mimosy-does though? That’ll cost ya, stranger.

AMBIENCE: 

Comfy Attic

Most likely you’ll be upstairs where the lighting is low and the booths are comfy. Old wood and plenty of nostalgic pictures all over the walls will put any workaday drudgeries from the mind.

SERVICE:

More Coffee?

They keep your cup full. The hallmark of a fine brunch experience.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

Wait your turn. Don’t leave. Just grab a coffee from the bar, put some cream or sugar in it if those are your things, and just have some patience. You will like it. Heck! You might even love it. Rest assured, Bintliff’s is a Portland gem. Give it a try or many. 




Leo's Coney Island - Royal Oak, MI

DIARY

ENTRY 38 – Late Night at Leo’s

 

Fifteen minutes and he still isn’t here. Is this the right Coney? I guess it’s a good thing I keep this diary in my purse. He seems like a really nice guy too. Who knows, maybe he’s the one?

 

He said Leo’s right? We were on the dance floor and I’d had like… a lot of drinks and I could feel he was… excited to be dancing with me. And I said, maybe you want to get out of here? And he’d said Leo’s. And I’d said fifteen minutes. And now here I am.

 

At least I can look out the window. It feels weird to be sitting in this booth by myself when every other booth is packed with high teenagers. And these tacky Grecian murals on the walls that were probably painted by some friend of somebody who owns the place... the vibe is a little… put on. And I’m here in my black leather skirt and high boots and it’s probably three degrees outside.

 

I’m definitely alone. I feel like such a skeeve.

 

Forty five minutes now.  He’s not here yet. Not even a text. I’ve already nursed down two coffees. Maybe he got held up. It is snowing outside. And maybe his phone is out of battery. Or maybe he turned it off? I think I’ll order a gyro.

 

Food photography is difficult.

C/O Urban Spoon


 

I pretty much have to keep shifting around because the plastic booth-cushion is sticking my leathered ass to the seat. The gyro was tasty, but in a regretful way. I know the garlic-filled Greek dressing is stinking up my breath. And the soft, vaguely-sweet pita it was wrapped in probably is, as we speak, settling into my waist.

 

Why do I even think about things like this? Why can’t I just enjoy anything without overthinking it? Is it just me?

 

It’s been an hour. I have a “Famous” Greek Salad in front of me. It’s probably 2/3 feta. Most of the teens have left. So, I guess this guy might not be coming. No big deal. It’s not like this is the first time. Who knows, though. I feel stupid. Maybe he just got held up? Maybe… 


I ordered a plate of fries.


Why is it so hard to be alone? I like myself, most of the time. I think I look good and my friends think I look great. And they don’t know how I can eat so much and still be so skinny. I tried to call his phone and it went right to that stupid answering-machine woman’s voice. So I don’t even know if it’s his number. Maybe his phone did run out of battery. But it’s been like an hour and a half.

 

I do feel lonely almost all the time now. When you work with people all day, like I do at the coffee shop, it makes it harder to be alone. I just want to touch somebody, to have them hold me back. It’s weird that we need that. That people need actual physical touch.

 


"You aren't a Michigan teen until you've snorted Sierra Mist in Leo's."

C/O Flickr user Aaron Gillespie


It’s still snowing so hard outside and every time a couple walks by I can’t help but inspect if the guy is my guy. I can’t even really remember what he looked like. Short brown hair with that little ski-jump spiky-swoosh in the front. He had on a polo that was either light green or blue. I think it had stripes. And that was pretty much it. But that’s all I need at this point: a person. A human. I keep sinking deeper down into my side of the bed while the other side has lost any hint of an imprint.

 

Two and a half hours and I now have a milkshake in front of me. I’m not even a bit tipsy any more. Except for me, two middle-aged women talking in hushed tones and this crusty guy two booths over who keeps leveling his eyes just below my chin, the place is empty. I should have left two hours ago. More. But the alternative is a cold, silent apartment. The alternative is work in six hours.

 

I don’t know if this is making me stronger. Everybody talks about how hardship makes you a stronger, more independent person. But when your problem is not wanting to be independent – not wanting to be alone – does it still work that way? Like, am I building up a giant wound in some part of me that will develop into massive psychic scar tissue that’ll cover the aching need for company that I’m feeling? Can a person ever learn to be fully alone, forever? I don’t think so. Just by the simple fact that a person’s first impulse after doing something they’re proud of is to want to tell somebody about it. You want other people to know about what you’ve done. It’s why a lot of successful criminals eventually get caught. Who wants to be great at something if nobody else knows about it? If you’re completely alone? It’s really hard to do something purely for yourself.

 

Only four and a half hours to work now. I got another coffee. The waitress is past concern. She just keeps looking at me with a mixture of “what’s next” and “give it up.” I could tell her all this stuff that I’m writing but I don’t want to. I don’t want to spread around my alone-ness. I just want to hold it close. Maybe I can smother it, like a flame without air. Or maybe it’ll smother me?

 

The snow stopped. I’ve become one with this bench. Maybe this is it? Maybe I’ll just go home and lock the doors and drink myself to death. It’s funny (maybe not funny, but more interesting) that that’s always an option. That it’s easy for me to just go home and drink all the alcohol I’ve legally bought and die. And it’s weird that I’m thinking about that now. No, I don’t really think I want to do that. But I could. Is it weird to think stuff like this? Is it weirder to write it down? To share it in some private way? I think it’s weird that we don’t share it more often.

 

A crash course in capitalism.

C/O Urban Spoon


But we don’t share much with anyone, do we? We don’t share thoughts like, when I’m driving, the thought that I could just flick the wheel to the left and kill at least a couple people. Or how, in the mall, I could just hurl myself from the escalator and scar, at least, 40 people for life.

 

And if I did tell someone those things they’d cringe and tell me how weird it was and how unnatural. But unnatural? Weird? They’re such a small step away from normal. They’re not difficult in practice or in imagination. They’re sitting there in plain sight every single day. But I guess they are weird, if weird, by definition, means something that’s uncomfortable to think about. But I don’t think I’m alone in thinking them. It’s just not OK to talk about.

 

Maybe that’s why I’m still in this booth. I need to do something weird. Do anything for long enough and you become an oddity. That’s how easy it really is to go outside the bounds of our culture. It’s as simple as too much, too long, too little, too anything. So I’m just going to keep sitting here. I’m going to find power in something that’s not my own loneliness.

 

And is this so weird? I’m just sitting here, enjoying some food. But the waitress probably thinks I’m crazy. And all the people who have come and gone have probably looked at the dressed up girl alone in her booth, scribbling away in some book and thought that she was either super depressing or probably screwed up. But I don’t feel screwed up. I feel good, actually. I feel in control.

 

I could kill myself at any moment. Any of us could. But we don’t. It’s the truth. The morbid truth. The unsettling truth. But it’s the truth nonetheless. The truth is the reality we live in, rather than the reality we choose to acknowledge.

 

And I think the fact that I’m thinking about it now makes me appreciate it a little bit more. Makes me appreciate life a little bit more. Like, I’ve had all these escape routes all this time from my sorrows and loneliness but I’ve never taken them. Like I’m stronger than I thought I was without even knowing it.

 

Within these walls, anything is possible.

C/O Yelp

 

Well it’s an hour from work. I guess I’d never have written any of this down if that guy had come. I guess I’d never have thought about any of this stuff if I’d had company. I probably would have just gone into the comfortable mode of “where do you work?” and “do you watch Game of Thrones” and everything else that we can ask anybody without fear. Maybe that’s the point of being alone? To think past everything you think of otherwise. To find something you originally thought was bad – or at least unsettling – and look into why it was bad. Why you thought it was the way it was. What is it that makes you uncomfortable? What is it that drives you away from that thing? Maybe being alone is about finding that the instinctual aversions to "weird" things are thinner than you previously thought.

 

 And find yourself expanding. Find yourself growing from the inside. Find yourself able to encompass and comprehend and appreciate ideas for what they are rather than what you’re societally-programmed to think they are.

 

Maybe being alone isn’t about armoring yourself against the world, but becoming more accepting to it? Maybe being alone is about finding peace with more and more ideas and thoughts and realities until you can never be uncomfortable. You can never feel weird. You simply feel that what you think and feel is fine because you know -- truly know -- everybody else thinks and feels the same exact things. That we’re really all alike and thus never truly alone. That we’re all just people trying to find some way to get through this day and the one after that, all the while struggling to find our own versions of success, learning and re-learning to let the petty injustices of reality slide off of us and holding onto the small joys that life affords us every single day if we only take the time to find them.

 

Then again, I really do want a boyfriend.

 

 

FOOD: 

3.0 Stars

It’s a chain Coney Island and not even the best chain (that would be National Coney Island). But it’s tasty as all heck if you’re hankering for some AM munching. A late (boozy) night in Royal Oak is always boosted by a trip to Leo’s.

PRICE: 

End of the month

You can find a heck of a lot for under $10.

AMBIENCE: 

Tacky/Friendly

Imagine a diner: pleather seats, linoleum tabletops, menu-at-the-table, now add an afterthought of ancient Greece. Odd? Yes. Endearing? Meh.

SERVICE: 

Working for the weekend (or whatever days they have off)

Nearly always solid and friendly, but it’ll depend on what type of day your waiter/waitress had.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Skip

The reasons to enter Leo’s Coney Island are few: late nights, laziness, quick bites and meeting a cheap friend. Not an essential part of the Michigan experience, but certainly one that doesn’t hurt it.

 

Harvest - Simsbury, CT

Did you have a bounty-laden Urmas? Were gifts given as freely as the plentiful turds of Uk-Bong the Feral Nutkin? Oooh-Wakooo, I pray they were.

 

Did your kin find themselves fraught with holiday fear? Surely in the wind you could imagine Uk-Bong’s howling gut-hunger. And in the trees his razor nails scraping at the windows? I know well the horror the jingle and jangle of metal blood-spheres brings to a child’s weak mind.


Know your Uk-Bong 


Indeed, good friend, this year’s Urmas may well have been our most festive yet. Grandfather dressed up as Uk-Bong himself and emerged from his earthen coffin on Urmas night. From the freezing dirt maw he threatened the children with hexes and blood-stink. Oh how their eyes lit with fear to know that Uk-Bong had not forgotten them!

 

But following the arcane instructions of Urmas like good little Nutkins, the children took their coal-laden bag-socks and stoned Uk-Bong back into the darkness of under-veld. Grandfather had so much fun he did not even mind the bruises!

 

We also rented a badger to dress up as Uk-Bong’s rabid steed. The whole family took part in wishing the caged badger unhappy nights as we made a feast of steamed gourds and candied leaves. Oh we sang such powerful tunes as Cover the Halls with Uk-Bong’s Fetid Hide, Gobo the Terpsichorean Snow-Daemon and I Saw Mommy Dragged to the Breeding Room by Uk-Bong.

 

In fact, this year we left a double offering of kidney, spleen and yam-nut nectar to quell Uk-Bong’s appetites. It was a potent lesson to the children, urging them to never be like Stingy Brother Yumstun whose miserliness of viscera-giving found his extended family boiled and served in Uk-Bong’s turded yurt.

 

My heart always soars when we lit aflame the slain tree-corpse. Of course, not before decorating it in the teeth and hair of our rivals. Beneath the needled cadaver we stowed Uk-Bong’s bain: gifts! Gifts from near and far to cement our blood-pact and to celebrate the driving of Uk-Bong back to his hell-cold lair.

 

A more comprehensive list is scrawled on the walls in the tongue of goats


How good it feels to deceive the children, though! On Urmas morning our young awoke to find all the presents gone. We claimed they had been eaten by Uk-Bong. Of course we had simply buried them in the mud of the roadside. After we revealed the subterfuge and the children’s sobbing ceased, they took genuine delight in digging the gifts out.

 

Impossible, it is, to explain the joy in the stupid face of a child as he peels open the turd-covering on his Urmas toy. Nephew Vort finally received the plastic Uk-Bong scapula he’d been coveting (his wet-nurse spoils him). Brother Ut was given a two-pronged stick. Blood-sisters Tak and Pok received conjoined boar-hair dolls. And Son Vintle again received nothing.

 

But it would not be a true Urmas without it culminating in the traditional feast. Though it may seem odd, our Urmas meal is eaten at Harvest Café. The morning after Urmas, its cozy walls hold us as a brood-mare’s bosom, helping us forget the horrors of the holiday. This year, as always, many other Urmas celebrants of the Simsbury area dined there as well.


Lithuanian (Oooh-Wakooo) Eggs Benedict  


Harvest is a hosanna-land of skillfully homemade baked goods. In addition, their selection of eggs benedicts indeed would set Uk-Bong’s teeth to gnashing. I myself selected a Lithuanian Benedict (specially concocted for the holidays), which boasted cheddar hollandaise, crumbled bacon and two perfectly-poached eggs upon homemade latkes – a taste-treat obscene in its delicacy.

 

Grandfather tenderly rubbed his belly after gorging on an entire plate of pancakes. Indeed his stomach swelled like Uk-Bong's had after his legendary feast of purloined toddlers.


Grandfather's use of syrup is a point of family-wide shame


What a delight it is to visit Harvest, year in and year out, and see the smile and vigor of Scott the man-waiter. Surely he is a being without age. I swear that he may be the opposite and equal human incarnation of Uk-Bong himself – Hammus the Gleaming Toad – but let us not sully this Urmas with made-up things.


Harvest meets any tradition in the death-bog of battle and laughs. It is a consistently excellent feeding ground and the crowds that flock to it are a testament to that very fact. While we choose to drag our yew sledge there but once a year, many others make it a weekly feast. If only we had the woven bark to afford such extravagances.

 

But be forewarned, you must arrive early to rapidly procure a table. Otherwise, like Neesbock the sluggish, you will be ever-waiting (for an hour or more) in a scrap-beggar’s queue.

 

Surely next Urmas will not match this one’s festivities; considering that this time next year half the children will be away learning their mud-spells and the other half we will force into the wild to fend or perish. But it is certain that when Harvest appears in our yearly portents of loam and nest-thistle, a meal to be remembered is close at claw.

 

 

 

FOOD: 

3.9 Stars

Homemade food, New England style. Grains. Fruit. Deliciousness.

PRICE: 

Appropriate

Typical diner prices for a-typically tasty diner-fare.

AMBIENCE: 

Rustic Connecticut-ish

The room is pleasant – with some fine paintings on the wall – but when it’s packed, it really just feels like a roomful of people.

SERVICE:

 Energetic

Solid and prompt, nothing out of the ordinary; with Scott being the ever-present exception. Scott is a co-owner of the diner and is the rock of the wait-staff. Always chipper, always hustling around the floor and always a pleasure to chat with (though he can be a bit intense for a Sunday morning). Scott is a dining experience unto himself.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

This is the best breakfast you’ll find around Simsbury, CT (not a metropolis, by any means). But for those of us who have lived there, Harvest brings Simsbury pride.