As I’ve written before, a positive side effect of the brain injury is that I’m much more socially slippery and I’m friendly to a fault. I can act like a goofball and do things that would otherwise be verboten, like using the middle finger as my standard greeting to friends. I now have most of my friends trained so that when they see me, their middle finger shoots to the sky, I reply in kind, and laughter ensues. It’s like a secret handshake that deflates the rude gesture into a lighthearted trick of anarchist mockery and contempt for control.
January’s marmalade mélange of wet and wily weather and bitter cold kept me home to hang my heart and save my gold. But though I’m just a scrapple-breathed miscreant with a negative aptitude for finance, romance or fancy dancing, I was able to have a few adventures.
New Year’s Eve 2008 was my first as a Portland resident. An unknown nobody, I went to Asylum to see ’80s cover band The Awesome. The group’s easygoing excellence won my admiration, and since then I have seen them every chance I get. On the tenth anniversary of that fateful night, I went to Portland House of Music to stalk The Awesome again.
This time, the room was peppered with familiar faces. Mary Allen Lindemann engaged me in a brief dance before dashing off to other social engagements. During the halftime set break, my man Reggie Groff and I got busy on the chessboard and were soon blessed with a spectator. The sprightly lass was thin as a whisper and pretty as a pearl. She said she was still learning the ropes of the game, so instead of partying with her friends on this most celebratory of nights she decided to watch two cruddy old fudds mind-wrestle. When Reggie and I finished our game she took his spot across from me, but we only got a few moves into the match when the band started playing again. I love chess and I love ’80s rock, but sadly the flavors don’t mix well, so I steered myself away from the babe and the board and redirected my attention to the stage.
This month’s glorious gastronomic sermon unfolds at Gross Confection Bar, the new nibble-and-sip café, at the corner of Exchange and Middle streets in the Old Port, opened by pastry chef Brant Dadaleares. The pump of my appetite is primed for the morning, so when the sun goes down my belly likes to rest. But Gross opens at 5 p.m., so my gut had to be flexible. The food sure isn’t cheap, but even a cursory look at that side of the menu got me drooling.
On the flip side of the menu is a list of cocktails, wines and a few mocktails. Teetotaler that I am, when the bespectacled waitress, Megan Cross, asked if I’d like to start with something to drink, I frowned, on the verge of pouting, and whimpered about the choice of beverages. She saved the day by telling me they had Coffee By Design brewing! When she brought the coffee I was nerdishly reading a book of short stories by Anton Chekhov. Seeing this, Megan glowed. She said she loved The Cherry Orchard and taught me how to say goodbye in Russian (a phrase I’ve since forgotten).
My mind got snagged on the idea of carrot cake French toast, but Megan gently objected. This French toast, she said, was a portion for two or more people, and I would be better served by a more modest selection. I pleaded gluttony and told her to bring the damn French toast anyway, but like a patient friend she steered me toward less onerous options: a sizable homemade éclair and a small apple pastry. My belly was very happy! Because I’m such a lovable little brat, the kitchen prepared a little taste of the French toast for me. I set a new goal of finding a cute girl to return to Gross with and share more of this delicious dish. Maybe play a little chess, too.
A week later, I was back with my friend Nicole Hill. I enthusiastically told Megan we wanted to dive into a whirlpool of carrot cake French toast. Unfortunately, the new eatery was still working out some kinks, one of which involved the discontinuation of that dish. I donned a mask of cool aplomb to hide my heartbreak, but soon Megan came back to tell us there was enough carrot cake French toast left to make one last exorbitant platter, and Brant agreed to fry it up for us! Nicole and I made short work of it while I gave her a preliminary tour around the chessboard.
Even when the weather is unwelcoming, warmth can be found when you share food with friends. Remember to savor the little things and breathe. There’s no fast train to the finish line.