Growing up semi-feral, I spent as much time in the woods as possible, and September and October were my two favorite months to lose myself in sylvan revelry. It was warm enough to scurry through the pucker brush with relative comfort, but the nights got so cool that you never wanted to be too far from a campfire or a sleeping bag. During my castaway twenties I lived in Arizona and Louisiana, places that felt incomplete without the arrival of a New England autumn.
In late August I hit SPACE Gallery for the release of Brzowski’s album, Enmityville. The venue lent the evening an artsy aftertaste, but Brzo kept things down-to-earth with his usual humor and hard-won grit. He balances the dark and hazardous subject matter of his raps with a wink that tells you not to take yourself so damn seriously.
On September 10th, my friend Reggie Groff carted my hide to the 4th annual Deering Center Porchfest. Homeowners hosted mini-concerts on their porches while neighbors and strangers migrated from house to house eating free food and digging the tunes. I went to Mary Allen and Alina’s Porch Party, where they had two bands: Aki Music with Maisha and Viva and The Reinforcements.
Hostess Mary Allen Lindemann and her husband, Alan Spear, own Coffee by Design (Alina is their daughter). Mary Allen had recently met Maisha at CBD’s Diamond Street coffeehouse, in the company of local horn player and bandmate Allen Price, and learned that he’s from Burundi, an East African nation she’s visited on business. Maisha made a name for himself as a musician in Burundi (his playing can be heard on a Putumayo World Music release). Mary Allen is on the board of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, a hub for organizations working with new Mainers that opened on Preble Street this summer. She has strong ties with Portland’s Burundian community, which numbers around 1,500. Many Burundians were at the Porch Party, which gave the gathering a feeling of neighborly internationalism.
After Aki, Viva and her band took the porch-stage. Her chipper seduction was like being brought to the brink of a long-awaited kiss. As the music played and my glutton’s stomach digested the fancy finger-food catered for the event, I noticed the leaves along the suburban streets were showing the first signs of their inevitable defeat.
In the next chapter of our adventures, our hero paints the town red — with blood from a busted knee. A few days after Porchfest I set out for Tandoor, the Indian restaurant on upper Exchange Street, to meet my friend Natalie Crupi. I was navigating the one-way stretch of Federal Street between Monument Square and Temple Street, which looks like the scene of a World War I trench-warfare reenactment, when an approaching car made me careless. I hit a hole, my wheelchair flipped and my body flew. I stained the broken pavement with some fresh blood, but being a brain-damaged goofball I couldn’t stop laughing at the blessed absurdity of my conundrum. A cute lady ran out of the car and asked me if I was OK. I told her my flesh was weakened but my humor was strengthened.
Natalie and I both lack tact, so conversations during our platonic “dates” tend to drift into the realm of the ridiculous. At Tandoor I ordered a deliciously indulgent mango lassi (a yogurt-based beverage) and a tray of vegetarian delights. The bean and vegetable curries came with some nutritious naan. For dessert, a little cup of kheer: milky rice pudding flavored with raisins and cardamom.
I managed to avoid further spills on the way back, and stopped at Slab to see the “salsacore” band El Malo. I’d enjoyed the music on Slab’s patio all summer and wanted to catch one more show. Stuffed with Indian food, I ordered a root beer just to be a patron and justify my presence. Mademoiselle Viva was there too, and because she wasn’t on stage she got to gerrymander the air above the dance floor. The sight of everyone so determined to enjoy one of the last warm nights of summer brought to mind other last stands, like the Alamo, and Passchendaele — one of the bloodiest battles of “The ‘Great’ War.” And, inevitably, Wounded Knee.