Alone, again. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and you’ve destroyed another fledgling relationship with your neediness, your jealousy, your poor judgement and lack of underpants during a night of drinking with his coworkers, or your unnerving penchant for dressing up your dog in period costumes. You suck. In another scenario, that childish bastard has cheated on you, dumped you via text or Twitter, or gone out for milk and never returned. You changed your status from “it’s complicated” to “single.” Men suck. In a third hackneyed scenario, you are alone by choice, mostly feeling like a badass single lady and reveling in not shaving your legs, watching every episode of Downton Abbey without interruption, and getting ever bolder venturing to the basement by yourself. You go, girl.
You know Valentine’s Day is going to happen whether you like it or not. Mostly you’ve made your peace with the phony holiday. You consider its origins in sylvan Roman orgies and snicker at the teddy bears and paper hearts that oversaccharine what was once a most debauched occasion. In this spirit you decide you go out on the town alone in Portland. All your girlfriends are out with men who don’t deserve them.Your guy friends have flown to Las Vegas for a four day bender at the Spearmint Rhino. Even your dog has a date with the dachshund in 4A. What are you going to do and where are you going to go when every single soul is coupled up shooting stars into one another’s eyes with soppy love leaking through their sweaters like a wet, red stain? You, my friend, are going to J’s.
J’s Oyster is seedy, salty, grimy, noisy, and perfect. There is nothing romantic about it. It’s not a place to hold hands, make plans or declarations of boundless, heedless love. It’s Romantic with a capitol R, if you want to wear an oatmeal-colored Irish sweater and drink whiskey and look out to sea thinking of The Second Coming of Yeats. This is my prescription. Walk in and around the bar to the dark back corner. Order your liquor neat. Eat a dozen oysters without ceremony or decorum, ’cause let’s face it, oysters aren’t sexy. Order a cup of haddock chowder. It is always soul satisfying. Then, have the decades-deep waitress bring you a lobster. The reddest they’ve got. The one that was angry going into the pot. Twist off its claws and tail with abandon. Because you don’t care who sees you, because really, no one is looking. Slosh some of the liquid around. Get it on your sweater. Get up to your elbows in butter and the green goo from within. Demand mussels with lots of doughy rolls for dunking up the garlic broth. And finally, just to really grind down your solitude and fill your belly, ask for a big bucket of gritty steamers.
All of this will likely cost you half what it would anywhere else in the city. The preparation is basic, but seafood this fresh requires little more. You won’t be the drunkest person there. You won’t be the only one who is lonely, raw, and bitterly sad, whose heart aches and who has lost it all and expects to lose it all again. You go to J’s not because you have no hope, but because you have too much. Love hurts. Life hurts. J’s is there to help. It heals all, with its elixers of the cask and the sea. They do not take reservations. This Valentine’s Day, stay home if you are superficially bitter. If you are childish and annoyed, if you are going to heckle the happy lovers and invoke the phrase “Hallmark Holiday,” stay home and read your Nicholas Sparks novel. Stay home and eat your fro-yo. Stay home and stalk ex-boyfriends online, write vitriolic blog posts about how their loss is your gain and how they will never find another girl like you. But if you want to be a bit cooler than that and have a hell of a meal in the process, put on your boots and walk the plank to J’s. Tell them love sent you.