There is something uniquely good about the donut. In its most skeletal form, it is fried dough, sugared and glazed and filled perhaps. But I’ve always imagined the donut to be so much more romantic than that. Ever present at PTO meetings and police stations, it is America’s beloved morning comfort. But also one of my own favorite foods.
As it were, my roommate and I were in Portland killing time before my flight home for Thanksgiving. As we wandered up and down avenues of brick, he pointed out the hanging blue sign of donut shop and I insisted that we visit.
The Holy Donut was crowded into a hip little avenue halfway up a cobblestone hill. It’s cozied between an exotic jerky store (selling snapping turtle and kangaroo and other formerly dangerous animals) and a little artisanal shop where you might pick up a hand-painted mug in curiosity, but return it carefully to its spot after peeking at its price tag. Outside, sitting at the slant of the street, were three plastic chairs for patrons to ponder in and chew upon their pastries.
Inside was colored in brick and oaken boards. The shop was small and dimly lit by the mid-morning shine. There was a wall of donuts affront of us, sixteen flavors stacked into stainless steel baskets, each flavor as enticing as its many neighbors. They are all baked fresh within the store, with Maine-sourced ingredients. There were also vegan and gluten-free options so everybody in the world could have a donut. After some panicked thought, I settled on something covered in coffee and brandy; my roommate opted for the lemon zest flavor.
There was a small grizzled man behind the counter and he wrapped our donuts in a flourish of wax paper and enthusiasm. He rang us up with a smile and it was fine to see somebody exist so pleasantly. Deep in the sweet haze of cinnamon and sugar, it would be hard to go about the day unhappy here.
We ate outside, our bodies tilted towards the sea in the unsteady angle of the chairs. The donuts were wonders, covered in a generous shell of glaze. The sweet stuck to you like bonfire smoke and the chewiness let you ponder: life, loss and love. A cathartic experience would not have been an over-exaggeration. Many misspent mornings had been wasted in search of the right donut, but it was right there clutched in my shivering hands.
Across the street, a rock pigeon, ruffled and plump, took notice of my roommate and me and hopped in our direction. He climbed off of the curb into traffic and waddled over in confidence, crossing between cars and the hurried step of boots. Eventually, he arrived at our feet and cooed expectantly. I rewarded him for his stunt with a thumb-sized hunk of dough. How could I not? Here was a bird that stared death in its hollow sockets for crumbs. If I were half as brave as this pigeon I might live a life without regret.
I watched a mailman share a cigarette with a street sweeper and my instincts told me life should spin about like this: pedestrian and pleasant, bundled in wool and warmed by smoke. Though the air bit at my wrists, there was optimism and the homey feeling of safety here, filled with sweet, among the cobblestones, surrounded by purring little doves.