The View From Away: I left my heart in Portland

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I was heartbroken to miss my friend Erin Enberg’s musical play about the Beastie Boys in the Fringe Festival in Portland. Erin is one of the most talented and creative people I have met anywhere, and Portland is lucky to have her. People said it was awesome. It sold out and had to turn away many people.

But a big part of my disappointment was that the timing was just barely off. There will be less than two weeks to go in my Toronto adventure by the time you read this. Almost getting to see it hurt worse than if it had been a month ago when I was resigned to missing things.

Toronto has its own fringe festival. It’s going on right now. Dan Redican, a good guy who worked on a show in Canada that may have been my favorite TV show title of all time (“Puppets Who Kill”), wrote and is performing in a play that opened a couple of days ago. I fully expect it to be good and hope to get in to see it. But somehow I know I would like it more if it was in Portland.

I miss Portland. I mean, really miss it.

It’s surprising, because homesickness was never my thing. Summer camp was a revelation. My church camp had an ancient, steam-powered record player and a half dozen or so 45s with the grooves worn smooth (yes, record player and 45s. I am that old. Shut up.). One rainy afternoon, the kid who was too timid to speak in class picked up the mike and deejayed that handful of records with a flurry of patter that, fortunately, I can’t remember.

I do remember hopping up on a table and lip synching to Dee Dee Sharp’s immortal “Mashed Potato Time,” complete with the dance, using a Ping-Pong paddle for a “microphone.” (Attention blackmailers: if you can uncover film of this, you could probably get me to steal state secrets to avoid it getting into the hands of my wife. It would be the perfect addition to the box of old standup videos she has kept hidden from me for years. I can only imagine what she intends to do with them. The phrase “birthday surprise” comes to mind, as does the phrase, “faking your own death.”)

As a child, any opportunity I had to spend time away from my house felt like an escape. Getting out of the car on the first day at boarding school felt like somebody had lifted a 500-pound weight of expectation off my chest. On my worst day, when I believed that we scholarship boys were an anomaly, a means of satisfying noblesse oblige and permitting the classes to mix in a safe environment, I still never wanted to go home. Going home always felt like going backwards.

Before Portland it was always the same. As much as Michigan feels like it is where the roots are, I never missed it when I left for New York. New York was the most exciting place I ever lived, even when it was infuriating, which it was often. Never missed it when I was on the road as a comic, never missed it when we moved. Los Angeles: a parking lot masquerading as a city. I miss our friends and feel sorry for them for still having to be there. I could even see myself living and working there again, for economic reasons. But miss it? Don’t make me laugh.

So why did Portland, where I still felt so much like an immigrant in March when I left for this job, start pulling at me like a magnet almost as soon as I got here. And why, after four months in the surprising foreignness of Canada, can’t I wait to get back? There’s nothing wrong with Canada. Can it be the lure of The States? I doubt it; I spent a week in Chicago in June.

Some of it must simply be anticipation. Sometime in the last couple of weeks days have become interminable, like they were when I was little, and I knew we were going to my grandparents’ cottage in a couple of weeks. “Going to the lake” – or as the Bob Marley kiosk at the mall says, “Upta Camp” – was the best part of the summer, and time stood still from the time I found out we were going until we arrived.

That is how I started to feel when I realized there were only two weeks left in Toronto. My question is why am I so anxious to get back to Sebago Lake when I have never officially been to Sebago Lake? Why am I so anxious to see Becky’s Diner? Why am I looking so forward to karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights in Portland, when there are places near where I am staying in Toronto where I can sing every night?

Do cities have pheromones? I’m pretty sure they do, and somebody has been dive-bombing my hotel with Portland’s.

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Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.