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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Overall, great service. Coffee stays full 95% of the time. Peak hours tend to be when it gets the diciest.
EAT OR SKIP:
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!