How do you know when you’re really being dumped? Could it just be a test of the emergency break-up system to make sure you can leave the relationship in an orderly fashion in the event of a real break-up?
For Gretchen Reingren, a 44-year old, divorced, criminal defense lawyer, living with her teenage daughter and extended family in Portland, Maine, it’s the real thing. Her long-term boyfriend takes off with a 22-year old Russian ballet dancer.
Not that he doesn’t check in with her now and then.
“Let’s run away together somewhere we can read and make love all day,” he texts her one evening a couple of months later as she’s about to head home from work.
“Do we have to read?” she texts back.
But they only run as far as The Snug, the bar around the corner, on the East End of the peninsula.
The Port City Chronicle is the hilarious, heart-warming story of a woman and her family finding love and happiness in Portland the midst of the recession. In Season 1, which ran last year on this page, the Reingrens went through a lot of ups and downs and barely ended up together in their three-family house on Munjoy Hill.
You can buy Season 1 in book form, Getting Off the Earth, with many never-before-seen episodes from GettingOfftheEarth.com or from Longfellow Books on Monument Square.
Tune in now for the first episode of Season 2 of The Port City Chronicle and find out what’s happened since last year with Gretchen, her brother Ethan, his wife Angela, their kids Henry and Marcus, her daughter Grace, her mother, and her friends Tim and Charles, and all the other characters you’ve come to know and love in THE PORT CITY CHRONICLE:
What to Do When You’re Falling Off the Dashboard
“It’s great you finally quit that law job,” my brother Ethan said to our friend Tim. “But what are you going to do now? Eventually you might need some petty cash.”
Ethan has become more practical since he and his wife Angela split up a few months ago and he moved into the apartment of my former office-mate, Charles. Among other things, he’s learned about the life cycle of food.
“Everything in here is totally rotten,” he told Charles, after drinking sour milk from the fridge for the tenth time.
That didn’t come as a surprise to Charles.
“Isn’t that the purpose of a frig?” he said. “You put things in there to go bad.”
But despite those defects, a few weeks after Tim quit his job, he also moved in with Charles.
So Charles finally got the family he’d always wanted without changing any diapers or paying for college. And Tim got a free place to stay and an office to sit in during the day if he felt like dressing up.
Because much as he hated being a lawyer, Tim worried things might be even worse at an entry-level job in some other profession.
“I don’t want anyone putting training wheels on me,” he said.
In fact, as usual, he was traveling as light as possible. When Charles asked him how much furniture he planned to bring with him from his old apartment, he scoffed at the question.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said. “The only reason I have furniture there now is for other people.”
But Tim’s presence was felt in Charles’ apartment even though he’d brought nothing with him except his neuroses.
First he tried to get rid of the cats.
“How did you handle it?” he asked me, when Chicken was purring particularly loudly. “And how can we make it stop?”
It was obvious why Angela let Ethan take the cats with him when he moved out of the three-family house on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine he had lived in with his wife and two sons, me and my daughter Grace, and our mother.
“And all the other one ever does is stare at the kitchen sink hoping a waterbug will crawl out,” Tim said, pointing to Barbados. “They’re very bored here.”
But Ethan shook his head.
“That’s not boredom,” he said. “Don’t think for a second that a cat waiting for a waterbug is like us waiting to become rich.”
“And where are we going to put the box of poop?” Tim asked, assuming that would dissuade Charles from keeping the cats.
But Charles didn’t care about the litter box. As long as the cats didn’t steal from him he wasn’t bothered by them.
“They’re always staring at me,” Tim complained.
Ethan shook his head.
“They’re just looking to you for advice and guidance.”
Tim made one last effort.
“I just don’t see what the point is. They take time we could spend doing other things.”
But Ethan wasn’t concerned about that.
“Since the goldfish died I’ve had a lot more time on my hands.”
So much for goldfish being low maintenance.
Then Tim turned his energies to clearing out the kitchen cabinets.
“All we really need are plates, bowls, glasses and mugs,” he said, separating them into different cupboards. “Everything else should go.”
Since that included the blender Charles occasionally used to make Bloody Marys, he objected.
As a compromise, the blender and a few other non-conforming pieces of kitchenware were allowed to stay in a cabinet for miscellaneous items.
“Remember,” Tim said, pointing it out to Ethan and Charles. “Always keep this cupboard closed.”
But Tim didn’t stop there.
“I think we should replace the living room couch,” he said a couple weeks after he’d moved in. “It’s too heavy.”
“By all means, get a lighter one,” Charles said, pouring himself another glass of Scotch.
But Ethan protested, considering he lives on the couch during football season.
“Why, so it’s easier to carry around?” he asked.
So Tim got the sarcasm and backed off trying to dispose of the furniture.
But despite these kinks that had to be worked out in the living situation, there were a lot of compensating benefits.
When Charles came home from a tough day, Ethan always sympathized.
“What’s the matter?” he said one night. “You look like you’re about to fall off the dashboard.”
Charles sat in the recliner and drank Scotch until he got hungry enough to run out for food.
“What are you going to do while I’m out?” he asked Ethan, who could spend a whole evening on the couch listening to music without moving.
“I don’t know,” Ethan said. “I might just lie here or I might challenge the theory of relativity.”
I worried in that atmosphere Ethan wouldn’t miss his real family enough to shape up and get back home where he belonged.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him one day a few months after he’d moved out.
“If you’re asking specifically about this afternoon, I’ve done a little bit of work and a little bit of drinking but I’m at present more drunk than accomplished.”
Charles looked up from his book.
“What do you think he’s doing here?” he said. “He’s living his life same as he was before.”
I gave Charles a withering look, but he went on.
“The difference is he used to be caged and now he’s free-range.”
Which showed what I was up against.
“Have you at least been working, Ethan?” I asked anxiously.
He was likely to lose his place in the cage permanently if he ranged so far that he lost all commercial value.
“You could say so. But you would not be correct.”
So we really were facing a difficult situation.
But Ethan didn’t see it that way. He had other things on his mind.
“Something’s wrong with the stereo,” he said. That had the potential to put a real crimp in his plans for the afternoon.
“I’m pretty sure one of the speakers isn’t working.”
Then Tim piped up.
“I can’t stand listening to music with only one speaker working. It’s like the sound of one hand clapping. In fact, I’d rather turn the knob to the speaker that isn’t working.”
So they went out to find other entertainment, while I tagged along to see what they were up to.
But it wasn’t too exciting.
First we stopped at a coffee shop.
“I have to run in here for a napkin,” Charles said, his nose running as usual from the cats, as we strolled up to Arabica.
I’d hoped Charles’ allergies would break up the party, and Ethan and Tim would be sent home, but I hadn’t counted on what great problem-solvers those guys were.
“Wait,” Tim said, “I have napkins. I’m all about napkins.”
He’d been stuffing napkins into the pockets of his backpack for years without having any use for them.
“Do you want to choose your own?” he asked.
Charles shook his head.
“Well, tell me this,” Tim said. “Would you prefer soft or crisp?”
“I don’t care, man,” Charles said, grabbing a handful of napkins out of the backpack.
So we got past that crisis and went on to Tre Navarre where other problems awaited us.
“Our kitchen is closed just now,” the waiter said, as we sat down to an early dinner.
But that problem was also easily conquered.
“Good,” Ethan said, ordering a beer. “That way there won’t be any distractions.”
When they were all buzzed, they walked back to Charles’ apartment and played Scrabble on the kitchen table just like Ethan and I used to with our mom, Angela, Grace and the boys.
It was too much for me.
“Aren’t you the slightest bit sad to be sitting here playing Scrabble with these guys instead of with your family back home?” I asked Ethan.
The ghost of a shadow crossed Ethan’s face but Charles jumped in before he could answer.
“Whatever,” Charles said to him, “you can’t get out now. You’re in it and you’re in it to win it.”
And he wasn’t talking about the Scrabble game.