The Society Page

Make Westbrook Stink Again

I am a thrifty (read: cheap) bastard, and August’s wet weather inspired me to stay home and save money. (Nice excuse, Scrooge!) I live in an achingly old apartment building and, like a crabby grandparent, it feels the humid weather in its bones. Doors and windows require a muscular struggle to open or close, which inspires the weak of mind or spirit to just give up. Fortunately for me, such challenges awaken my dormant competitive side, so I will gladly waste time conquering such seasonal inconveniences!

When not sitting in my den being hypnotized by a chorus of raindrops, I milked Portland of its summer glory like a happily fleeced tourist. On Aug. 10 I went to Portland House of Music to see the second installment of Ladies of the House, a showcase of local female singers and musicians. When I got there, the band Sugarbush was on stage playing a country-fried shakedown of rural Maine rock. One of the women was picking at a banjo, which made me want to jump out of my wheelchair and dance around. Another had a strap-on cello. She was lithe in the extreme, and I was impressed by her assertive handling of the big instrument. When the band finished their set and joined the audience, I asked the cellist, Camille Giglio, if wearing the instrument hurt her back. She said it didn’t, but I imagine a world tour wearing that bad boy would take its toll.

On Aug. 19 I went on a Funday Sunday expedition off the peninsula with my friends Reginald Groff and Kathy Vilnrotter. Our destination was a Cajun celebration at Lenny’s, the restaurant and music venue at Hawkes Plaza, in Westbrook. On the way there we stopped for lunch and chess at Tortilla Flat, on outer Forest Avenue. The cute waitress had a picture on her phone of me being adorable and holding one of my anarchist signs on Congress Street. I didn’t give her an autograph, but we did take a few pictures together on her phone.

After eating and flirting, we piled back into Reggie’s little jeep and continued on our musical pilgrimage. Shortly after we crossed the Westbrook line, the air in the jeep became noticeably acrid, reminiscent of the bad-old days of the S.D. Warren paper mill. However, the revamped mill, now owned by the South African company Sappi, no longer emits that foul stench. The digestive churning of my belly full of beans was the guilty culprit. Luckily, we didn’t have to marinate in the putrid vapors for long before arriving at Lenny’s to air our lungs and eyes out.

Lenny’s is named for Lenny Breau, the influential guitarist born in Auburn in 1941. When he was young, Lenny’s musical family moved to New Brunswick, where he began performing and soaking up sounds from a diverse range of genres — including country, jazz, classical and Indian music — from which he forged his unique and celebrated style. Lenny’s was opened in 2016 by the former owner of Empire Dine and Dance, Bill Umbel. A few years ago, Bill helped me with a little experiment I was conducting to gauge the feasibility of hitchhiking in a wheelchair (a tale I’ll save for another day).

Kathy, Reggie and I got a table right in front of the band and proceeded to play chess, badly, distracted as we were by the chipper twangs of the Cajun music. I lived in New Orleans for a year, but got too tangled up in the downtown jazz scene to gain much of an appreciation for the music of the bayou. At Lenny’s, we were treated to a set by the Jeanne Boyer Trio, a traditional band whose members played fiddle, guitar, washboard and accordion. Next up was Sylvain’s Cajun Aces, a five-piece, led by singer/guitarist Rob Sylvain, that also featured steel guitar, upright bass, fiddle, drums, and an ornate little techno-punk accordion that seemed to be gleaming with pride for all the attention it attracted.

Live music helps me translate my disorganized cascade of subjective impressions into solid currency, to gain and maintain perspective on the world. Life presents us all with horrors and delights beyond our comprehension. Put on your glasses, take off your diapers, and embrace the uncensored.