Written by Heidi Wendel
The Super Bowl is the playing field for the Port City Chronicle, the continuing story of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense attorney, and her friends and family, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
"The advantage of beer over the Patriots is it's always playing," Ethan said, as Tim and Milagros came over to watch the game. It was Ethan's excuse for missing 15 minutes of pre-game build-up for an even greater cause.
"I'm so thirsty I'm going to have to run out and get beer and drink it right in the store."
He saw no reason to be sober after 6 o'clock, half time in the game of daily life. By 6 every day, he made a play for beer and started working his way toward the end zone until 9 or 10, when the buzz was over until the earth spun back around to 6 the next day. He was guaranteed to get a touchdown, and since it was a pick-up game, Tim and Charles could always play too if they happened to be around.
Except this time Charles was left out because he was trying to quit drinking, despite the difficulties. "It feels different to be sober," he said grimly, when Ethan returned with two 64-ounce growlers of beer.
"I know, it's sobering," I said, trying to cut back myself.
For the first time ever, Angela wanted Ethan to copy Charles.
"Why don't you try cutting back too?" she asked him. "You're planning to drink all this on top of whatever else you had today? You're already red faced, you know."
Ethan shrugged. "That's just a sunburn."
"How could you have a sunburn when you've barely been outside?"
"I must have been burned by the lamp in here."
Angela sighed in disgust and Ethan ratcheted it up a notch.
"Listen Miss Muffet," he said. He always called her that when she was nagging him about something. "I'm not cutting back during the Superbowl."
"What do you have against Miss Muffet, anyway?" Milagros asked.
It was a good question considering Miss Muffet is fairly innocuous to most people. She doesn't do much but sit on a tuffet.
"I can't stand her complacency," Ethan said.
He was already annoyed with Angela because she nixed going out to a bar to watch the game.
"I thought we'd go to Gritty's for your beers today," he said to her at lunch. But she didn't go for it.
Ethan couldn't see a problem with getting a buzz every day, whether through beer or other chemical substances. "That's the reason we're so much water," he said.
It wasn't a good atmosphere for Charles to try to reform himself.
"What'd you get?" he asked, eying the growlers.
"A 9%," Ethan said. Those were all the details he'd absorbed.
"How do you know you're going to like the taste?"
"I like the taste of 9%."
He applied that same philosophy at bars that failed to display their ABVs. We'd recently faced off with an innocent young bartender in front of a chalkboard showing the list of craft beers with their poetry and geography, but without their crucial weight and height.
"Which is the strongest?" Ethan asked, squinting at the writing for the sake of appearances like a guy scanning women's faces when all he's really after are big boobs.
The bartender nodded as if he totally knew where Ethan was coming from.
"This Thirsty Dog is really strong — hoppy but not acidic, big bass tones, intense flavor, great finish. Definitely the strongest beer in this line up. I highly, highly recommend it."
Ethan was unmoved. "Uh, huh," he said pensively, trying to piece together an ABV from that description. Just because a beer acts strong doesn't mean it is strong, as he's often told me.
While the bartender gave a detailed description of every beer on the list, Ethan was plotting his escape to avoid unwittingly drinking a mere 5%. Finally I opted to shame myself by asking point-blank how big the Thirsty Dog's boobs were or Ethan would have walked out despite all that effort by the bartender.
With the growlers, on the other hand, we knew only the boob size and nothing else.
"I think it's a sour," Tim said, sniffing one of them thoughtfully. He likes to have a little poetry with his buzz.
"What does a sour taste like again?" I asked, not liking the sound of it.
"Like a samurai just buried a sword in your tongue."
That didn't stop anybody except Charles, who was still sticking to his New Year's resolution to cut back. "I feel like it's affecting my memory," he said glumly.
Ethan took a big gulp to punish Charles for being a spoil-sport.
"That's why I need to drink more," he said. "I have too much memory left."
But Charles wasn't dissuaded. "I'm so pickled it feels more drunk to be sober," he added gloomily. Not that it looked like a fun drunk.
"My New Year's resolution is to hike the Appalachian Trail," Ethan said. He was making a point of some kind to Charles about New Year's resolutions. Of course, considering Ethan would have to quit his job and leave his wife and kids for six months to hike the AT, it was obviously impossible, but I figured it was still more likely than him cutting back on beer.
Anyway, it backfired right away.
"Me too," Tim said. "I made the same New Year's resolution. If you're going to do it too, we might as well do it together."
"No, you go ahead," Ethan said. "I'm going to start 10 minutes later than you."
It wasn't a great start to the new year for anyone who was hoping for world peace. Or even peace of mind. Apparently Ethan had good reasons for wanting to take a hike that had something to do with the 9% ABV and maybe a few other things.
"I won't go into it but I've had a stomach ache for months and recently it hurts to drink beer," Ethan admitted to me, after making me promise not to tell Charles.
"For the last week I haven't been able to have my beers before dinner or my nightcap before bed. I've missed it, but on the other hand, I've lost weight and I've noticed I feel a lot better in the mornings. That said, this is the night Mr. and Mrs. Reingren usually drink heavily on the prospect of spending another whole evening together."
I could see why he didn't want Charles to know any of that. As bad as it might be to hike the Appalachian Trail with Tim, it'd be worse to dry out with Charles, especially if you had to do it sober.
Even more important, he didn't want to give in to Angela.
"Who spilled wine on the cat?" she asked, heading through to the kitchen to make dinner.
Ethan was caught red-handed. He'd switched over to wine to avoid a stomachache from the beer.
"You stained her," Angela said.
She looked at the near-empty growlers and the half-drunk bottle of wine.
"I'm surprised you can even stand any more."
I worried there was going to be a fight despite it being game day. But Ethan was no longer bothered by Miss Muffet as he downed his third glass of wine. Even Charles had stopped annoying him, though Ethan was still bugging Charles. That's one of the great side-effects of beer and the major reason it's always playing.
"The trick is to pace yourself," Ethan said. "First I only had 2 pints, then only 2 12-ouncers. So if you think about it, I only had 56 ounces of beer today."
He took another drink to demonstrate.
Then, wobbling a little, he had to sit down on a tuffet.
Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 18:46
Written by Mark Guerringue
No one can say we didn't try.
But after nearly six years, The Portland Sun has run its course.
It is, however, a bittersweet experience as the three people who have worked tirelessly on the paper since it first rolled off the press in February 2009 — editor David Carkhuff, sales manager Joanne Alfiero and Jeff Spofford, who distributes the paper — will be moving to the Phoenix.
And it is and isn't a coincidence the demise of the Sun coincides with last month's purchase of the Phoenix.
As publishers of three successful free daily newspapers in New Hampshire, it seemed like a good idea back in the summer of 2008 to try one in Portland.
The economy was strong and the Portland Press Herald was in serious financial trouble and ceding coverage of local news. The door was open for a gritty little daily to establish a foothold by covering basics like city government and police, and finding the stories that matter to people.
To be clear, we failed because we miscalculated the market and didn't execute our plan properly.
But some bad luck didn't help.
By the time we launched in the winter of 2009, the economy was in free fall and the stock market was a few months away from the bottom of an historic swoon. Soon after the Herald was saved by Donald Sussman, and the paper improved dramatically.
The Sun has always enjoyed a healthy following from readers, but as is most often true when publications go under, it's more about the profit and loss statement than the number of readers.
Last spring we reduced publishing days from four to two in an attempt to stabilize its flagging financial situation.
When the opportunity to buy the Phoenix came along, it was obvious our resources would be much better allocated to a paper that has a much bigger presence in Portland than the Sun, and lots more potential.
To our loyal readers and advertisers, I thank you for your loyalty and patronage, and ask for your continued support as David, Joanne and Jeff move down the street to the Phoenix, where they will bring the same energy, enthusiasm and commitment you've come to know.
(Mark Guerringue is the Portland Sun's publisher and owner of the Portland Phoenix.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 11:17
Written by Tony Payne
Think about this. If accidents caused by distracted driving are making travel somewhat more hazardous, doesn't it make sense to buy safer cars to protect yourself from potential perpetrators? Who hasn't seen the driver ahead of you or one coming the other way swerve across the center line or toward the shoulder while texting or messing with onboard electronics? So to protect yourself, what new cars get the best safety ratings for 2015?
Before we jump to the safety ratings of the most recent model year, let's talk about the elephant in the room. It seems that auto manufacturers are beginning to treat their products as cell phones or computers around which a transport system is designed — think wide screen entertainment at 70 miles per hour. A good example is the enormous display screen in the pricey Tesla vehicles that appears to be larger than a tablet and comes complete with a touch qwerty board. That's like putting a Lindt Truffle in front of a chocoholic.
Driverless cars (not that far off in the future) will one day feature all the electronics imaginable but until the vehicle owner becomes merely a passenger, tempting drivers to be distracted rather than focused on safety is just asking for trouble.
Now, to protect you and the others in your car, doesn't it makes sense to consider those makes and models that have been tested and rated on the basis of safety?
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) routinely takes new models of cars and runs them through punishing crash tests to determine how safe a driver and passengers will be in the event of crashes at the front end, side, rollovers and roof strength.
As they state on their web site "IIHS tests evaluate two aspects of safety: crashworthiness — how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash — and crash avoidance and mitigation — technology that can prevent a crash or lessen its severity."
With the application safety technology, the steering and braking systems are becoming evermore sophisticated trying to keep us out of harm's way. So which vehicles scored the best for passenger cars?
Among "minicars", the Honda Fit earned a Top Safety Pick (TSP) based on its upgrade of the front bumper beam that reduced the degree of overlap when the vehicle was crashed.
The Suburu Impreza WRX also earned the TSP designation. According to wallstcheatsheet.com, had this vehicle demonstrated collision avoidance capabilities, it could have been even higher in the top rated cars. As it is, the manufacturer's Legacy and Outback models for this coming year nailed the top honor of TSP+. The web site article went on to say, "With more IIHS Top Safety Picks than any other auto brand, Subaru could claim the title as safest car company on the road, should it choose to do so."
Hyundai put two vehicles among the top of the 2015 model year: the mid-sized Sonata and the luxury Genesis. Both vehicles are building on previous years' high performance in the safety tests. The Genesis, however, was cited for its superior crash avoidance system. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also conferred a five star rating for this brand's outstanding performance.
Volkswagen also brought home TSP honors for its Passat while its Golf/GTI models earned the coveted TSP+ (plus), the highest designation for safety offered by the Institute.
The Chrysler 200 with a SafetyTec package that automatically avoids crashes earned the company a TSP+. Visibly absent from the wallstcheetsheet.com article were vehicles manufactured by General motors and Ford. That may be because the full Institute list has not yet been released on this latest model year.
No matter what vehicle you choose in the months and years ahead, your choice should be informed not simply based on safety but by the absence of in-vehicle distractions. It's hard enough avoiding other drivers who are distracted. None of us should be the reason another driver is placed in harm's way. Here's to happy and safe driving New Year!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 01:56
Written by Kate Goldfield
I heard him before I saw him — someone singing loudly and off key, but with gusto — in the corner of the coffee shop I was sitting in. There was something familiar about that voice. It was the unmistakable sound of someone not afraid to be themselves.
Not wanting to embarrass him, but wanting to know more, I slowly walked towards him.
"Good choice of music," I said, commenting on the country songs he was playing.
"Do you like rock music?" he asked me.
And so a conversation ensued, between a baby-faced 20-year-old exhibiting signs of a developmental disability, and me, a 30-year-old with Asperger's who searches for pieces of herself in the face of every person that goes by.
His joy and enthusiasm over his music touched me. He had a speech impediment and I could only understand a few words out of every sentence, yet he communicated more of himself in those few words than most people do in hours of conversation.
I thought, not for the first time, about how much less lonely we can make others feel when we share the gift of who we are.
I had a conversation at a book reading a few months ago that stuck with me. I asked the author, with all of my sensory issues — I'm sensitive to smells, sounds, light and touch — "how can I find a role model to help me figure out how to cope with my world?"
"You will have to be a role model for others," she said. In the months before and since, I have tried very hard to live up to her advice.
When I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome 10 years ago, it answered so many of the questions that had been haunting me all my life.
Asperger's, a high functioning form of autism, is marked by difficulty reading social cues, difficulty integrating oneself into social environments, strong, often obsessive or narrow interests, and sensory integration difficulties.
Following the diagnosis, I immediately looked for community, on online message boards and in in-person support groups.
Life can be so incredibly lonely when you don't see anyone around you who looks like you, thinks like you, or acts like you. You start to believe that you don't exist, that you were a mistake. You need someone to bolster you, to show you that you're not alone and to give you the courage to make your own unique mark on this world.
When you proudly show who you are, you give someone else the courage to do so too.
One by one, we can all step forward and show who we are. One by one, we can build a world where we walk around saying "Hey! I know you! You're just like me!" instead of "Did you see what she was wearing?" or "I can't possibly be liked by another person unless I have those diamond earrings."
Social life seems to me to be all about putting up walls and projecting carefully curated versions of ourselves to other people. But I don't want to get to know fake people. I want to understand what makes people tick.
People put walls up and then wonder why they're so lonely. That can't be healthy.
People with developmental disabilities are just like anyone else when it comes to self-esteem.
But for people with developmental disabilities to thrive, it's important that we have others to point out our strengths in a world that sometimes only wants to point out our differences.
We need to feel like we matter.
This is, unfortunately, the Sun's last issue. I have enjoyed, to name just a couple, Natalie Ladd's engaging tales of empty-nested parenthood and Chris Shorr's informative accounts of history, politics and the world in general.
Let's take this legacy and keep it alive. Let's create a community that transcends these pages.
Let's share the story of our lives and let the light shine bright enough to light the way for another.
As I write this, it is the last night of Hanukkah, which is a holiday that I celebrate.
There was a debate, once, about whether the menorah should start with eight candles and subtract until we get down to one — to symbolize removing evil from the world — or start with one and work our way up to eight — to symbolize adding light to the world.
The decision was made to build up from one to eight candles because we value adding light to the world. This holiday season, let us be a light for each other.
(Writer's note: I want to bring people together. People with similar interests, similar struggles, similar stories. Email me with your name, town, and any identifying information about a particular interest group you might be a part of, and I'll create email groups with like-minded people to arrange for meetings in real life. So, for example, people with Asperger's that want to meet each other — email me. Parents of kids with developmental disabilities, people with an interest in wood carving, people with ADD or mental health issues, people with physical disabilities — email me. Let's hold each other up.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 01:55
Written by Natalie Ladd
The annual "Best and Worst of Tips: 2014" column was slated for this week. Those who work in the business send fist bumps when reading of douches who leave glossy invitations to a financial planning seminar instead of a proper tip (eighth worst tip of 2014). Folks outside the hospitality fishbowl, who tip according to protocol and case-by-case scenarios, are often incredulous at the behavior of fellow diners who compensate inappropriately. Aside from being snarky fun, the true mission of sharing the "worst of" is so the bad tip offenders become aware and uncomfortable when recognizing their antics.
The "best of" are shared as glowing tributes and not so subtle hints to others. Sure, the annual "Best and Worst of Tips" list is an established tradition, but it's also a public service.
"Come on financial planner dude with the horrible comb over?" I said to myself. "Is that how you got rich? By stiffing servers with invitations to dinner at DiMillo's, accompanied by a presentation aimed at taking us away from all this glitz and pageantry? How badly do you need to fill that function room anyway? Do I look like a candidate for early retirement? No. I look like a hard working, career restaurant person who needs the $20 tip more than a free meal."
While discussing that very thing at a Washington Avenue watering hole, the bar owner was entertaining the idea of being a celebrity guest columnist. It pains him, he explained, to see servers and bartenders leave the business with nothing to show except a few tattoos and bartenders elbow. We need structure, he said, and a realistic growth plan starting with a cash stash. He also said we need to curb the party lifestyle associated with late night shifts and working too many hours with the same people. Unsure if he'll get his Suze Orman/Dr. Phil moment, the barkeep has a point.
Perks of the business often end up being hindrances. Unreported tips may result in fat tax returns and more FAFSA money, but showing low income on paper can squelch dreams of a car loan or homeownership. A flexible schedule allows for the pursuit of hobbies and personal growth, but working nights and weekends often sucks. Outside, personal relationships suffer for career hospitality people, typically resulting in sad and scandalous affairs. Having been an outsider of one such dalliance, it crashed my marriage. Eventually, that landed in my perk category, but not everyone fares as well.
The wise bar owner is right. Unless we're in big box restaurant management, we probably don't have a 401K. We don't have life insurance and if it wasn't for Obamacare, we wouldn't even be thinking about health insurance. Without an industry union opportunity (I'm not opening that can of worms), it's how we roll. He also said it's a counterintuitive process for mindsets like ours, and I agree.
Rolling (not in a Wes Welker at the Kentucky Derby kind of way), I'm starting small.
Last year, my gallon-sized pickle jars of coins had over $1,000, and that's after I robbed them for laundromat quarters. What if we all saved our coins, or 10 percent of our weekly tips? Maybe someone will develop a realistic, accessible, minimum investment program that doesn't require a maximum buy in. Maybe comb over guy will create one for our mindsets, skipping the meal at the floating restaurant and kicking the savings into the pot.
As the year draws to close, those of us in the business will be savoring the holiday season's heavy tips and awaiting our W2's. Until then, I encourage my hospitality brothers and sisters to think on down the road. Skip that third beer and find other tiny places to cut back. Things will be tight come late January, but give it a shot. Our perks don't have to be hindrances, and then we can go to DiMillo's.
The Down Low: That's my final rant in the Portland Sun.
Planning to resurface and reincarnate, hopefully in print, I am indebted to my readers. That includes the guy who stalked me the first year, the woman who said it's obvious I've never really worked in the business and the multi-operational peninsula restaurant mogul who said I do the industry a "grave disservice."
The rest of you are a wildly diverse bunch of quirky, nutty fans, and I freakin' love you all. You've supported me with emails (they'll make a great little bathroom book someday), weird gifts and the ultimate compliment of empty red newspaper boxes and countless online clicks. You provided cheap drinks in fancy places, gave destructive criticism and monitored my love life. You've thanked me for combining my passion for restaurants and writing, and you're the reason I'll always do both.
It may be "last call," but keep your eyes and ears open because I still owe you the "Best and Worst Tips: 2014." The kitchen is closing but there's just no way I'm punching out.
(Natalie Ladd is a columnist with over 30 continuous years of corporate and fine-dining experience in all front-of-the-house management, hourly and under-the-table positions.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 01:55