Leftovers: Good friends and the way life is

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Life took a time warp tumble when BFF and my partner in crime finally met over Sunday brunch at my tiny condo. It was as if two gossamer webs connected and the result was a synapse of pure, unbridled joy. There was a golden aura with cherubs strumming lyres; and the whole of an Italian Renaissance art fresco. Of course by Sunday morning, I was exhausted, hung over and the music in my ears was more like John Bonham’s exuberant Stairway to Heaven drum solo than a chorus of angels.

Cosmic references aside, my friend Bruce and his husband Doug (also my friend) finally came to Maine. Never believing they’d really make it, the trip had been years in the fanciful-making so we did all the things one does when guests from away come to Portland.

Natalie LaddWe took an abbreviated tour of the city, comparing and contrasting the West End to Munjoy Hill. We marveled at Fort Gorges in Casco Bay, built of granite not brick.

We went to L.L. Bean and had pictures taken with the Big Boot. We took the ferry to Peaks Island and gladly paid $45 each for lobster rolls at the Inn on Peaks Island. We fine-dined at Fore Street and ate three different desserts al fresco on Exchange Street at Gross. We posed for more pictures on our iconic wharf, poked in locally-owned shops and drank beer while listening to the Dapper Gents at Portland Lobster Company.

I was happy to double-park so Bruce and Doug could run into the Holy Donut on Commercial Street for a chocolate caramel sea salted potato donut. They were delighted by our infamous hidden speakeasy, the location of which I’ll never openly share. We hit Rose Mary Jane, one of Portland’s many legal recreational marijuana dispensaries just prior to enjoying oysters, street corn and seafood paella at Local 188. And, of course, we collectively raved over the corned beef hash at the Front Room and Chef Harding’s always entertaining open-kitchen counter at the Grille Room.

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Natalie, Bruce Preston and Doug Ignasis strike a pose in front of Portland’s most photographed spot. (Courtesy Bruce Preston)

Bruce and Doug sat in row A of the Grand Terrace at Merrill Auditorium for guitar legend Joe Bonamassa; having seen Mr. Holland’s Opus, a world-premiere play directed by B.D. Wong at the Ogunquit Playhouse the day before. All of this happened over a long weekend, with still so much more to see, do, and eat.

As we walked to rev up our appetites, I was awed by Portland and what a perfect backdrop it offered to reconnect with my twin flame (which is a phrase for all-time favorite hellion) and his loving husband. Thankfully, I could have picked no better rest-of-his-life-partner for Bruce.

But, reality is I wasn’t the one on holiday and am an established resident here. I’m caustic and jaded by the obnoxious Old Port traffic, rising costs, and things we shoulder as the price of living in Vacationland. But those realities were set aside when seeing our city through the eyes of my oldest friend. And believe me, those eyes have seen a lot.

By Sunday morning, Bruce, Doug and I had built a whole new set of memories. New, all-inclusive private jokes to share over an absurd moment on Peak’s Island and random singing of Neil Diamond show tunes. Add in my dear BFF, who ran with the torch of friendship over 20 years ago, and all of a sudden, the hangover didn’t matter.

It also didn’t matter that my kitchen was a hot mess, or that I could have (and did) make three very different lobster dishes for $45. When old met new, it instantly became so comfortable and happy.

I became acutely aware of all the positives in my world. Everyone melded together and conversation flew as if we had all known each other since before the beginning of time. There was no awkwardness or unattainable frames of reference. Instead, it was branches of my soul tree showing their true colors. I thought of my mother, The Betty, (may she rest in peace) who knew Bruce well and also came to love BFF. The Betty would have enjoyed Doug’s charming balancing effects on Bruce. And, she would have loved the fact that all of this took place here in Portland, a paradise she couldn’t get enough of.

The next time I’ll have these magical people together in one place is unknown. Bruce and Doug have full, productive lives in Cincinnati, and BFF, who is a life-long Mainer, is busy planning a wedding for someone I still think of as being 5-years old.

What I do know is the next time my soul tree branches sway in the wind, it’ll be a heavenly, gentle southeast breeze off the coast of Maine. A place known as The Way Life Should Be, and very often is.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].

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