Monday, March 10, 2014

Rube's Place

This is a repost. This story originally appeared in the Naked Sunfish a few years ago. I am working on another piece, which may be a companion to this one. I reserve the right to revise this one. For now-- this is as it was written a few years ago.


I know it has been awhile since I have written a letter. Email hardly counts or a quick text from the blackberry. So tonight I am at my normal place, Rube’s Place. I stowed the laptop and brought along the notebook you bought me in Paris. Well you know the one, since you are holding some of its pages in your hands now and smelling my perfume as you read the ramblings I have set to paper. I cannot believe I have been here for three months already; the semester is quickly coming to a close.

Maybe I have not mentioned Rube’s Place to you. Well it is a lovely little coffee shop. She serves sandwiches and the like and the place, well I think it is easily my new home away from home. I feel a sense of peace here. It is homey, like my Aunt Mabel’s, well it would be if I had an Aunt Mabel but you get the idea. The windows have charming blue gingham cafĂ© curtains (you know the short valance across the top and then the curtain that covers the center of the window.) The entire place is decked out in Danish White and Blue; all sorts of china, little Dutch boy figures, geese and their broods, little houses, like the ones KLM used to give away, and small plates. It is homey but not overly kitschy. The coffee comes in mixed matched mugs and there is a lot of it. The tea is brewed right and she has begun to stock my favorite cookies. I did not ask for them mind you, they just appeared one day, on the plate beside my coffee one afternoon and they have remained here ever since.

Now she does not have WiFi exactly. But the big name coffee house around the corner does and I poach from there and it seems everyone does, but I am a bit concerned, as there never seems to be very many people there and well all the people are at Rube’s, but I guess I am borrowing trouble and will just run with it is as the natives do. What will happen will happen. No real need to worry.
Our place is all spit spot now, well except for the boxes and the books on the floor and the DVD player which I cannot seem to get hooked up quiet right and then there is the broken shelf in the kitchen cabinet above the dishwasher, but our bedroom and office are just the way I want them and the bathroom with the big tub is excellent. I am not in love with the arrangement of the furniture in the living room but I am going to live with it for awhile and just breathe and see what happens, it is not as if I nailed it to the floor or anything. It still does not feel like home, you are not here yet and well I am lonely in the new place and while it is OUR stuff in the rooms, something is missing, your laughter and your smile. I tell myself the weeks will pass quickly and they have but still it will not be home until you are here.

So back to Rube’s Place, which does feel like home. The tables are scattered around the room and there is great natural light. In the morning it is too busy to actually work, lots of people in and out, buying coffee to go. I do like to sit and take in all the energy. I graded papers the other morning here and I wrote in my journal the other day before my class. No serious writing mind you. At lunch time there is also a lot of in and out traffic. She makes the greatest sandwiches and she knows everyone by name. When I first starting coming in she gave me the eye. Like she was a prize fighter sizing me up. I was an outsider I guess, but then on the third day as I walked in she called out my name and had my coffee ready before I even had a chance to set my stuff down at what was becoming and is now my table. (It is my table now, Rube will make people move when I come in and they are there. I even caught her moving the reserved sign as I walked up the sidewalk the other day.)

Now I know that you would have figured it out right away, but I missed this for a while. Rube is a bit different. She is very tall and a bit like Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls. I mean very tall and a bit broader than one would expect. I am tall but she is very tall, almost an imposing figure. Her voice is deep but not unlike a woman who has smoked for a number of years. I have hence learned that she has never smoked - well tobacco anyway. She is a charmer and very warm and friendly. Many a night of late I have stayed passed closing writing and talking and listening to music. She has live music many nights a week and I have once or twice on a Saturday come in a waited tables for her and made coffee, yes I have learned to make coffee; she is a most excellent teacher. She needed the help and well, I needed the company. I am slowly making friends but I am lonely and I know you will be here soon, but I am enjoying her company. She is a nurturer and a mom figure and I love that she has taken me in and made me a home away from the home I am making for us. It is hard to leave a place you have been for a long time and coming here mid year has it own unique challenges and well you know I tend to stay on the sidelines and watch and well breaking the ice is your strong suit!
What was the TV show, with the theme song about it being a place you can call home where everyone knows your name? Well you know what I mean – Rube’s Place is my place away from home and she knows my name.

The other night, while I was grading papers and getting ready to put in my hour of writing, two men walked in. They looked a bit uncomfortable. They were dressed very metro, very much like back home. Black cords, black shoes, tight black sweaters. Their hair styled just so and hipster glasses. Very slim and lanky, you know the body type. Around here it is casual to the point of sloppy sometimes, the college is laid back and well it shows. I miss the trendy stuff from the old hood and I have to say sometimes I feel over dressed, but I am not in the mood to alter my style just yet. I mean I have my books in boxes and my stuff is all over the place and I am just nesting, I am not going to stop matching my socks to my outfit and I fail to see how pjs are appropriate for anywhere but bed and well the apartment on Saturday morning. (Yes well ok maybe there too, but as far as I can tell there is none of that here so let’s just leave it at that.)

So they come in and they are so out of place in Aunt Rube’s parlor, with the little Dutch Blue tea sets and the gingham table clothes. It was like Vogue meets Country Living and it was not a smooth integration. They sat down and looked very uncomfortable in the wooden chairs. They shot me a look, which if any icier could have frozen me where I sat. I could see them in the city on velour couches or in a Bistro on a banquette, but these cute little chairs and the tea house seemed to cause some disease. Or was it something else. I will say that at this point I had pulled out my journal and abandoned the papers I had been grading. I wanted to record the scene unfolding in front of me. I felt a bit like a voyeur, but something was making me watch this attentively. I knew if we had been sitting together, you would have moved your chair to my side of the table and begun narrating what we were watching.

Rube came out from behind the counter and said, “What do you want, boys?” Now I must say they were men and not boys. Not really. Plus Rube was using a rough, course tone I could not identify. I will say it was this interlude that caused the light bulb in my head to click on. I finally figured out what should have been obvious, but was not.

The taller one asked about the specials. Rube announced there were none. Now that was not true, as I had eaten it for dinner. The shorter one asked about the wine list. Rube has some house wine and it changes every few days, depending on her mood, but there is no list. She replies that there is no list.
So then Rube says that they can have cheese burgers and fries and some southern slaw with vanilla Cokes and walks off. Now I did not even know she made cheese burgers. Killer warm sandwiches but I had never seen burgers. With a flourish she retreats to the kitchen and the door slams behind her. Like a DIVA exciting the stage.

Then it hits me. Are these guys metro or are the a couple? They are dressed very sharp and well they were together. Not that any of this matters one bit and I know I should be working but I am intrigued, both by her reaction and their obvious disease. Then the total picture hits me. Rube is not a she, she is a he being a she which makes her she – but well what does it matter and why was she being rude?
Then I pause – because I know by now you are grasping this paper so hard as you laugh from deep within yourself. My crazy brain – I used to say and shake my head. It is literally like that – the ideas zing around and I write them down. I so hoped I could write this story so that you would feel as if you were there with me.

So after much clanging and banging in the kitchen, which is also not usual, in general it is quiet and peaceful a Rube’s. Everything runs smoothly and is controlled, she emerges from the kitchen disheveled and sweaty, with two platters heavily laden with the largest burgers I have ever seen and a mountain of fresh cut French fries. It smelled lovely. Then Rube sat down with the men and they began to talk in quiet hushed tones and I decided that I was so very much an outsider, and that this scene was a private moment and I should leave them to their time, whatever it was. A reunion, old friends come to visit, I did know nor was it really my affair.

I quietly gathered my belongings and stood and slung my bag over my shoulder and made my way to the door. Just as I reached for the handle I heard the familiar voice of motherly authority, “And where do you think you are sneaking off to young lady?”

I gulped and half whispered, “Home?”

“No you are going to come over here, pull up a chair and enjoy my boys with me.” She commanded.
So I crept, rather cautiously over to the table, where the “boys” where eating. Rube pushed a chair out and I sat down on the edge, balancing and feeling rather like one would when sitting in the tiger display at the zoo.

“Claire, I want you to met Byron Landis and his partner. They have come out from the city to visit with me. It has been a long time since we have seen one another. Life sometimes gets in the way. Byron was the owner of your table years ago. Showed up like you did one winter and well stayed until it was time to go.” She says with an air of wistful calmness. The tone carried acceptance and understanding, and curiously not a trace of bitterness as one would have expected, at his long absence. (Yes sweetheart I was sitting with the Byron Landis. I gathered he was filming in the area and no I did not think to ask for an autograph!)

I nod and take a sip of the tea, which had just appeared in front of me.

“Boys, this is Claire, she is a new faculty member in the English Department and her special someone will be joining her soon. She has rented the Peterson Place, doing nice things to it as I can see. She helps out from time to time and I think she is going to be camped out at that table for years to come.”

The men slowly turn to the table, which has become mine, turn back and smile broadly at me and nod.

I just stare back, still rather unsure of exactly what it is I am seeing and experiencing. Then Rube’s son, as she calls him, smiles at me and says, “Claire, welcome to the family. It is nice to see that the table is once again occupied by someone who will care for it as it should be cared for.”
I blink. I sit at the table, I hardly care for it. I write on it, eat my meals on it, and stare out the window from the table. I fail to see the connection, but the other three do – for they are smiling like cats who have sipped some delicious cream.

Then Rube says to me, “Claire, life is a puzzle and sometimes sweetie the pieces just fall together. Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly but when the time is right, one knows.”

With that she gets ups, takes my half drunk tea away and says, “You best be getting on home. I expect you will have a special someone calling you soon.”

I nod and get up, the boys shake my hand and Byron walks me to the door and whispers lowly, “Take care of her, she has taken the long road and has found peace. Even years from now you will hold a place in her heart as her daughter. She has not had children of her own, but those of us lucky enough to know her and be taken in for a piece, well what is better than to be chosen and accepted? Good night Claire.”

As I walk home, my mind full of questions it hits me, acceptance, is a priceless gift. One rarely offered, but when offered with an open heart, there is no richer gift.

Good Night, my love, I cannot wait until you arrive in a few weeks. Rube has a table set for us.