I had a restaurant once, it was called Rena’s. The name
was already on the big front window; I liked the name and the way
it was painted in green with lavender and gold trim. I think
it was the best time of my life, those few years at Rena’s.
In spite of the assaults on my rather private, modest and low-energy
persona, the plain old hard repetitious work, I met the most interesting,
the most alive people. And I tried, and I think I did fix some really
Rena’s Tenth St. Delicatessen
It’s 6 PM, I’m washing up the last of the dishes, and wishing
I were somewhere else. Just about anyplace else sounds pretty
good right now. It’s not only the winter short days, gray skies,
ice snow would be welcome, at least it’s white and fluffy
and fun to walk in, but no, it doesn’t snow that much in Boise,
Idaho….you’ve got to drive out of town for it. I don’t even
like, skiing, that’s where Kevin went early this afternoon. My
helper-worker at the restaurant for the last few months…he was
going to hitch a ride up to Bogus Basin.
The compressor for the Deli case goes on, warming the kitchen
up, and the loud, whirring noise helping me think better. Let’s
see, what was I thinking oh, yes….why am I here? what’s my
raison d’etre? Well, it used to be run a business…fix really
good food…..try and please people.
I turn off the faucet, out the last glass on the wooden rack,
pour myself a little wine out of the jug of cooking white cheap wine,
and sit down to count the till. The money made today at Rena’s.
Mostly one’s and five’s. I’d gotten good at figuring how much
the pile of pennies was…didn’t even count them anymore. Not a
bad day, not a really great day $300.50, about the price of
an ounce of gold.
Which reminds me, I have an appointment with Dr. Chivers
tomorrow afternoon for a new crown.
I put the money in the green zippered pouch for merchants
from Idaho First Bank, hide it under the dirty towels and tablecloths in the basket, and take the big trash bags out to the dumpster in the alley. At first, for a while I’d tried to keep the alley clean and swept…. buying a special industrial broom; then I heard that
the City was supposed to clean the alleys downtown every week.
When I called, no, it was the County that was supposed to do that.
But the County had an erratic schedule, I kept calling for some months.
Now I didn’t really care. I just wanted to go home, but not go home….
go out for dinner with someone nice would be even better.
I lock the door, carry the big basket of stuff to wash,
the money….put it all in my oar, a VW Rabbit with good radial
tires for the icy streets, drive on out of the downtown to a 60’s
suburb house fifteen minutes away. My son and daughter are gone,
gone to college in Utah, so nobody home but my daughter’s cat and
two dogs. They’re glad to see me, and wondering where I’ve been for
so long….come in shaking ice and a bit of new snow off on the carpet.
It’s easy to please them anyway…a few words, strokes on their heads,
canned food….I shouldn’t complain.
The History of Rena’s
In the mid 1970’s a young couple moved from Chicago to Boise,
the capital of Idaho. This city was of course quite different
from Chicago, but there was a downtown area filled with interesting
old buildings from the 1860’s to the early 1900’s. There was
a Jewish synagogue built in 1885, the Temple Sydney Israel near the
downtown, but no restaurants or delicatessens like in Chicago.
When they saw a space for rent on 10th St., right in the center of
the downtown, they decided to rent it and create a real Jewish
This space on 10th St. was part of the Gem Building, a
medieval looking brick and sandstone, a two story built in 1902.
Day Realty had bought it for a cheap price in the 50’s and painted
the whole thing gray. The rent was extremely reasonable, and the
other shops around reminded them of a street in Chicago: Dial
Finance, Nick’s Boots and Shoes, Singer Pawn Shop, Ford’s Drugs.
And next door to the place they’d rented: Merle Norman’s Cosmetics
and the Four Seasons Gift Shop. And they liked the beautiful
old hotel across the street, the Idanha, built in 1899. Some
six stories with chateau like turrets at the corner of each floor
and festive awnings at each window.
The first thing they did was look for a deli case, the
old time neon lighted, glass front with white enamel sides and
top kind. The perfect one was for sale along with the rest of the
fixtures at a recent wine and cheese shop going out of business.
The fact that this shop in a picturesque old building only four
or five blocks from the City Hall and Capitol Building was calling
it quits might have been a sign or a clue to most Boiseans’
tastes at the time.
Anyway they were determined to buy this vintage deli case
and somehow get it into the small space they’d rented….the only
way was to rent a crane and take out the ten foot by eight foot
front window. Finally put in place toward the back of the
dining area with the compressor hooked up, the neon tubes
magically lighting up the recently delivered contents inside,
the Delicatessen Case was ready for business. All the way from
Chicago jars of gefeltifish, bagels, lox, pastrami, rye breads,
cheesecakes, cream cheese, knishes, and in the back pantry,
cartons of matzoh crackers, special mustards, packages of
On the big front window a new sign was painted, a surprise
for his wife….Rena’s painted in sweeping brushstrokes,
a dark wonderful green outlined in gold with embellishments and
more flowery brushstrokes of green and purple.
Unfortunately, Boise, Idaho in 1975 just wasn’t ready for a
Jewish Delicatessen, so after one year the young couple decided to
sell Rena ‘s to Wally Waters.
Wally was an Idaho native and a creative entrepreneur in various
fields like real estate, silver coins and funeral caskets. Now he
saw his chance for making it big in yet another enterprise: Deli
upstairs and a bar downstairs in Rena’s basement. Well, the plan
for the bar was squelched one week after they’d signed the lease…
the ceiling in the basement was too low. All places open to the
public had to be at least eight feet high and the basement was barely
six feet. Wally probably hadn’t noticed because he was so short, but
it seemed strange that from his funeral casket business he wouldn’t
have realized that there were a lot of people much taller than he was.
Anyway, Wally and, his brother were so set on having this bar,
knowing that it would be the big money maker, not the small profit
Deli upstairs, that they seriously considered jack-hammering the
concrete basement floor down two feet….that way the ceiling would
be high enough I’m not too sure if Day Realty cared what they did,
probably not; but the time and expense of this sub-floor was too
exorbitant, and the City told them that an outside door to the basement
was required….more jack-hammering, and that they would have to put
in another bathroom.
One of the brothers had a flash of an idea: why not go up? If
we can’t have a basement bar, why not have a second story bar with
a view? Get rid of the tenant in the apartment right above Rena’s,
drill a big hole in Rena’s ceiling and put in a spiral staircase to
the bar upstairs! Great idea, but again too expensive and even more
City codes to comply with; their insurance agent was horrified…a
spiral staircase to a bar?
Wally and his brother decided to concentrate on the Dell, or rather,
let their wives take over Rena’s.
After a year or so the wives of Wally and his brother were
getting tired of slaving away at Rena’s. Even though they
recruited all the teen-agers in the family, they did have to
pay them something, and the tiresome task of making tubs of
potato and macaroni salad every week made everyone agree that
selling the business would be the wisest and most profitable
decision they’d made in a long time.
Why did I notice the ad in the Idaho Statesman…..”Downtown
Deli for sale $16,000″? Because I was getting bored with my
job for the Boise School District. For three years I’d been doing
workshops in every 3rd and 5th grade, in every elementary school
in the city…all thirteen of them. It was fun and challenging
at first, but the repetition, the dealing with so many arrogant
or cranky teachers, the rooms full of wonderful but exhausting
children well, I’d always wanted my own business, thinking
I could be as creative as I wanted, set my own pace, my own hours
and other misguided notions.
I called the phone number in the ad and made an appointment
to meet Wally Waters in his real estate office in a house near
The meeting with Wally turned out better than I expected.
I even liked the man. He was short, plump, slightly bald,
about forty, congenially explaining his funeral casket business,
transporting empty new caskets of all descriptions from Boise
to Lewiston or Bonner’s Ferry and other places all over Idaho.
A rather strange operation, but I guessed a more or less useful
one. When we talked ‘business’, mainly that I would like a lease
arrangement instead of the outright cash. I was surprised that
Wally agreed so quickly. Maybe he figured he’d make more that
way or maybe I was the only one who’d been the least bit interested
After our chat Wally drove me downtown to see the whole inside
of the Deli as he always called it. The first thing I really liked
was the beautiful Rena’s sign on the front window and as we walked
on the old tiny octagon tiles of the narrow entry through the front
door it had a brass mail slot at the bottom, main section of glass
and a brass – old time door handle…., into the small dining area,
saw the second thing I liked best The Deli Case, I liked the
funny old shape of it and the neon tubes made it glow in kind of a
friendly way. I liked it even though the inside of it was filled
with a careless vile of boxes and debris of jars and tins.
The rest of the dining area . well, a spotted green carpet,
eleven small Formica tables with those metal with black vinyl
restaurant chairs, gloomy dark gray with streaks paneling, the ten
foot ceiling was great and the embossed radiator under the front
window ledge. As for the very tiny kitchen with tiny storage pantry….
it looked pretty makeshift to me. There was no stove or oven; Wally
said there was no 220 wiring, so they were using an early model microwave
up on the shelf above a sandwich refrigerator which I’d never seen
before it . stood waist high with a top lid that folded back to
reveal containers all lined up filled. with different things for
sandwiches and below was a regular refrigerator with a door and
a couple of shelves. It made a really strange chirping noise when
Wally opened it. Next to this was a work, serving table actually
a big Piece of Formica resting on top of the old steam table which
they never used.
There was an older model Globe slicer on a rickety Formica table,
and an enormous double door refrigerator across by some twelve inches
from the triple sink. A loud motor was on the floor at the end of the
triple sink…Wally explained that it was the compressor motor for
the Deli case. Just then it went off, and I realized how noisy
it had been. Suddenly it started briskly up again, whirring happily
like a giant round Bumblebee. So much for the kitchen…. just the
terrible floor, worn yellow linoleum with lots of big tears and holes.
Wally and I agreed to what seemed like a fair, but was probably
way too much, monthly fee to rent all of Rena’s kitchen and dining
room equipment and furniture…two hundred and fifty dollars.
Plus three hundred and fifty dollars per month. to Day Realty.
Considering the formula I’d learned from the bakery shop owner
I’d interviewed so I could have a realistic food business activity
for the fifth grade…I’d learned fast that anything to do with food
had major appeal….this was in the one-third range of the monthly
intake of cash at Rena’s, if Wally hadn’t padded the figures.
So, yes, I’d try it; I could do it. Wally and I shook hands,
smiling and excited, each for our own reasons, and the next day
I signed the paper.
I Work For Free and Find Out What’s Upstairs
Soon I would be paying Wally Waters two hundred and fifty
dollars and. Day Realty three hundred and fifty dollars per month.
I better learn fast. oust the basics of the food operation at Rena’s.
I offered to help for free. Playing novice, I first wanted to learn
how things were done here, then I could do them differently. First,
I would clean out the Deli case, but not change too quickly because
there was cash flow the way it was, money to pay the rent.
I knew that soon I would replace the commercial cheesecake
and carrot-cake…the list of chemistry class ingredients was
troublesome; the frozen shrimp made to thaw quickly in hot water;
the iceberg lettuce salads; the beef brisket simmered in the aluminium
pan for pastrami sandwiches; I could tolerate the lox in the tin,
the Orowheat breads, the wholesale mayonnaise and pickles….but
I couldn’t wait to do it all differently.
One hot August morning about eleven-thirty, right before the
lunch rush, a fire truck pulled 111, in front of Rena’s, several police
cars; policemen and firemen coming in for a quick 7-Up or Coke. I asked
the young manager what was going on. She told me in a low voice,
“Don’t say anything, but someone’s died upstairs ” It was too
busy with customers to find out any more.
In the Idaho Statesman the next day I read about the dead man
in the upstairs apartment in the Gem Building on 10th St.
The man had been dead for several weeks, died from a beating,
or a fall down the stairs. The body was so decayed and infested
with maggots that it would take the coroner days to identify him.
I thought, “This happened upstairs over Rena’s…what else
is going on up there?” Somehow I hadn’t considered the apartments
upstairs at all.
Saturday afternoon I walked across the street from Rena’s,
by the Idanha Hotel, and noticed the dumpster in the alley under
the window of the upstairs apartment; it was overflowing with stuff,
a couch, a chair, a roll of carpet, a table upended; the things
from the dead man’s place.
Now Under New Management
I suppose if the dead man had been found in Rena’s basement
instead of upstairs I would have called Wally Waters and told him
that I certainly wasn’t going to make sandwiches for the public with
a swarm of maggots only a few feet away. Break the lease and go
back to teaching or see if you can turn this eyesore into a festive
good food place?
This had to be a freak isolated. accident. Besides Alan and Beth,
my son and daughter, were all excited about working at Rena’s, getting
paid real money for helping out for the first month, and my mother
was flying in from San Diego. Don’t tell them, that was my final
decision, cowardly but sensible.
One day we just cleaned up Rena’s, threw stuff out like the out
dated havlah, the crumpled cardboard boxes of old Danish, the dried
out smeared bottles of mustard and horseradish. Vacuumed, shined up
the Deli case, washed windows. Then job assignments for tomorrow,
Monday, first day on our own Alan knew what he wanted to do, be
the sandwich maker, at seventeen he was always hungry, plus he
thought it would be fun to be in charge of the orders; his posts
the sandwich refrigerator with its narrow counter to make the sandwiches.
Beth really liked the fancy cash register with the menu programmed
in so you just had to push the right menu item button and magically
the tax was figured in and you had the total. I didn’t want to tell
her then that I was getting rid of it as soon as possible…it cost
ninety-one dollars a month!
Beth also liked the mini soft drink soda fountain a few steps
from the cash register, by the coffee machine. there were four
different drinks, each with its own spigot and a big red ice bin
below Diet Coke, Regular Coke, Sprite and Hoot Beer.. Beth and
her friends who’d been in before had tried them all. OK, Beth’s post:
behind the cash register taking orders and giving change and fixing
the soda fountain drinks.
My mother and I would do everything else; get all the sandwich
and salad things ready and during the lunch rush, take orders out,
clear tables, make coffee, cut pieces of cheesecake and carrot-cake
and the hundreds of other things you do in restaurants.
Monday morning and we were ready. Strange that it had been slow,
hardly anyone in for coffee and it was eleven-thirty. When I’d been
helping for free the lunch rush always started about now. I told
Alan and Beth to have something to eat, an early lunch because they
wouldn’t get a chance til two or two-thirty.
“It was that busy?” Alan asked, looking at the empty dining area
then at the clock, it was eleven forty-five. “Well, where is everybody
then?” He went back into the kitchen and sat dejectedly on the stool
in the pantry. My mother peered out the front window, looking up
10th St., then down toward Main. I poured myself another cup of coffee;
Beth leaned with her back against the cash register, sighing big sighs
Suddenly at twelve o’clock sharp everyone in every office
building in Boise decided to come to Rena’s for lunch; they were
pouring in through the narrow door, lining up in front of the cash
register, bunching up out on the sidewalk.
“Alan” I called, “Man your station, we’ve got a huge line up
“Oh, my gosh!!” he said looking out quickly from the kitchen,
then hurrying back to his post at the sandwich refrigerator, turning
up the rock station music and checking all his sandwich making equipment.
Beth’s expression went from boredom to panic. I thought,
“Oh, God, we’re never going to make it.”
Pretend you’re a customer coming into Rena’s for lunch on that first day
of ‘new management’ ….You work in an office three blocks
away, for the phone company. You have a mean headache from an inter-
office memo that suggests you have done a lousy job clarifying the
financial spread sheet for the vice-president of the phone company.
You have a meeting with him at two this afternoon. You’re hungry,
in a grim mood and are contemplating going back to teaching high
school math. Finally it’s your turn to stand in front of the cash
register, facing a Young girl who might be in one of your math classes
“What would you like, sir?” she asks nervously. You vaguely
remember a green wood sign with gold letters hanging over the door
when you walked in. It must have been the menu.
“Oh, let’s see…how about a ham and swiss?”
“What kind of bread would you like, sir? Plain white, sourdough,
wheat, dark rye or light rye?” Beth looks at her crib notes by the
“I guess dark rye,” you decide and hope that is the last decision
you’ll have to make. More people are coming in and lining up behind
You, scuffling and breathing loud, some mumbling to hurry up, or
gosh, I’m hungry.
“OK,” Beth says, “and what kind of salad would you like? Potato,
macaroni or green?”
You decide hurriedly on the green salad.
“What kind of salad dressing would you like? Blue cheese,
Thousand Island or French?”
“Oh, God, just, well…how about Blue Cheese.”
“And do you want something to drink?” Now Beth is looking
nervously at the new long line going out the door.
Finally, you pay.and head for a corner table, hoping someone
will eventually appear with this lunch you’ve spent five minutes
Three hours later we were all exhausted, except Alan who loved
every minute. White towel apron tied over Ocean Pacific shorts,
quickly reading each ticket, brandishing the long knife for cutting
sandwiches, exclaiming, singing, rushing out with orders. He was a
natural for a New York City deli. Well, the rest of us hadn’t done
so badly, pretty good in fact. It was just the first day.
I had a restaurant now; it didn’t matter what had one on before.
The college degree, the teaching credential, belief that marriage
was supposed to last, the left-over lust for adventure. I had to
get everything ready for lunch at Rena’s. It was a discipline that
I was attracted to, but occasionally rebelled against.
Things had to be ready by eleven-thirty; the cheeses and meats
sliced, the salads made, the desserts ready to slice, the bagels
ordered, the lox and pastrami ready, frozen shrimp ready to thaw out,
ice for the soft drinks, sugar and cream for the coffee, straws and
napkins, foil and paper bags for ‘take-out’, iced tea made, plenty of
paper twos and lids, soap, Windex, cash register tape, order pads,
trash bags, vacuum cleaner bags, plastic wrap, salad dressings,
towels, eggs for the egg salad, tuna for the tuna salad, tomatoes
and lettuce, mayonnaise and mustard.
Some things magically appeared, like the bread from Orowheat,
the coffee from Farmers’ Brothers, the soft drinks from the man who
could fix the hissing and fizzing from the spigots and replaced at
just the right time the metal cylinders of sweet syrup soft drinks.
Idaho Fish delivered the lox and shrimp; only one distributor
delivered the roast beef; another delivered the turkey; someone had
to go pick up the ham at the slaughterhouse-packing plant off Chinden
Blvd.; the cheese and cream cheese from the dairy some thirty miles
west of Boise; I tried different Produce companies, finally deciding
to buy it myself at the grocery store. No matter how many lists I
made, I always forgot something.
I found out fast that a small informal restaurant in an old
building downtown attracted a variety of strange people.
Like Iris, the panhandler who lugged around huge heavy suitcases,
hanging out on street corners and in front of respectable office buildings
asking for change so she could buy a bus ticket. But she never left
town. Sometimes she lived in a cheap room in the Idanha Hotel across
the street.from Rena’s. At first when she came in dragging along her
cumbersome, hefty baggage, sat down at the closest table by the front
door, and asked sorrowfully what she could have for fifteen cents,
because that’s all she had, I gave her free coffee and toast and
fresh fruit, and felt sorry for her.
Many free coffees later I found out that she was earning quite
a lot of money with her overloaded suitcases and bags and the bus ticket
story. Fifty to sixty dollars a day. That’s what was in all those –
bulging suitcases, money’ Still, that was a tough way to earn it,
I had to admire the effort, but hoped she wouldn’t come in too often.
Like Nick the Basque who lived in one of the apartments upstairs.
A grizzled ex-sheepherder who looked like an old boxer or tug boat
captain, he came in once or twice for morning coffee. I guess he
felt more at home at the Cactus Bar where he could have a shot of
rum or brandy with his coffee because he never came into Rena’s again.
Just as well since Nick was so disheveled, baggy ripped pants with the
fly left open, torn tattered shirt, stubbly gray beard, rather twinkly
alert eves though. I could never understand a word he said since he
spoke in a thick Basque-English dialect. I wondered if he lived in the
apartment right over Rena’s.
And there was the old frail man with bleary eyes and the
shakes who spilled packets of sugar all over the table and floor
trying to get the right amount in his coffee cup. Just sitting
there for a couple of hours, staring blankly at his coffee cup,
smoking. After a few months I didn’t see him again, which I’m
sorry to say, I was rather happy about. Maybe he was spending
his mornings at the Cactus Bar too.
Since Rena’s was within walking distance of the Greyhound Bus
Station and the Salvation Army Rescue Mission, there were always
a few encounters with completely crazed individuals. Like the
young man with piercing Charles Manson eyes and big heavy mountain
climbing boots. Luckily he only came in a few times and had endless
refills of coffee…. they were free in those days…..and sat
at the front table so he could warm up next to the radiator.
One morning he stayed and stayed, taking up the nicest most popular
table in front of the big window looking out on 10th St. and the
Idanha Hotel. As the lunch customers started coming in and the
tables were filling up, I noticed the young man still at the
front table, now gesturing and talking wildly to himself, then
he came up to me at the cash register, pushing aside a customer
and asking for another refill….his fifth or sixth by now.
I told him firmly, “No. I’m sorry but you’ll have to leave.
No more refills.”
He looked at me, stared at me like he was going to strangle
me in a second, started cursing and howling with rage. I was
surprised to hear myself say, “Get out now, or I’m calling the
The word ‘police’ must have triggered some dim memory, because
he immediately turned and headed for the door, looking back at me
one last time, a parting hateful stare and a swear word and he was
gone. I hoped forever.
The Boise symphony director who was from New York City and
probably used to this sort of thing gave me an understanding smile,
“You handled that like a real prof”
“He’s not exactly my favorite customer,” I laughed, “I just hope
he’s getting on a bus out of town.”
“To New York City, he’d fit right in.” The director returned
to his bagel with cream cheese and lox, and I took the next customer’s
It only took a few months to lose most of the hard-core
crazies, drunks and criminals, and pathetic but dismal, unwashed,
rumpled, end-of-the-line vagrants as customers at Rena’s. I think
the word was out that I might call the police, or maybe because it was
cheaper to .get the twenty-five cent watery coffee at the Sav-On Cafe,
or maybe all the office people, judges and lawyers scared them off.
Not that I wanted only office workers and ‘professionals’….
the slightly eccentric,, the colorful, the different lifestyle people
were most of the time interesting and fun to meet. Jack, however, I
couldn’t put into any particular category.
He looked like a neatly dressed street-person, a vintage cab driver
or race track employee. A mixture of plaid clothes, a cap like British
golfers and sports car drivers wear, a worn but agreeable face. I
guessed Jack was sixty plus years old, medium height and build.
Sam, Jack’s barber who’d been in a few times before, introduced
us. “I told Jack that you had the best coffee in’ town.”
What was this about the coffee? A lot of people had been commenting
on how much better the coffee_was…how good it was. Could it be that
I was simply making it with a fuller scoop of coffee than before?
Apparently so, because it was the same commercial brand, Farmers’ Brothers
Jack liked the coffee so much that he became an habitue
at Rena’s, coming in at least once or twice a day, settling
in at a table close to the coffee pot. “This is the best
coffee in Boise” he declared one day in a husky voice, lighting
another Lucky Strike cigarette. “Mind if I have a wee bit more,
“No, not at all,” I said coming from the kitchen, “here I’ll
pour some for you.”
“Thank you, Rena….and two more packets of sugar please to
go with this wonderful coffee. Thanks, Rena,” he smiled, tidying
up a few crumbs of tobacco and bits of paper from the sugar
°You’re welcome, glad you like the coffee. By the way, my
name is Sandy I really like the name Rena though. She was
the wife of the couple who opened this place as a Jewish Deli…
they were from Chicago.”
“Hmmmmmmmmmml° commented Jack, “I’ve been to Chi….as we
used to call it. I’m from Pennsylvania myself….Pennsylvania
Dutch, Ben Sandy. I guess that’s a pretty good name, too.
I knew a Sandy once….let’s see, back in ’43 or ’44…it was in
the big battle…”
“World War II,you mean?” I leaned against the table
the cash register was on, kind of interested. I was definitely
a history buff, but I was also extremely tired. It was almost
time to close.
“Right.. riiiiight. That Big War. I was in it alright.
Could speak the deutsch almost like a German…..that’s what we
spoke at home.”
It turned out that ‘home’ was a farm owned by a German couple;
Jack’s real parents had indentured him out at an early age to live
and work on this farm.
“Anyway, this Sandy guy couldn’t speak a word of that deutsch…
that’s why he got it.”
“Got it? You mean he was shot or…..?”
“That’s it….you said it perfect. Sandy was shot down right
beside me,” Jack paused for another sip of coffee and then a leisurely
inhale of his Lucky Strike, “and it was a woman who caused it…
maybe a hausfrau…I couldn’t see too clear. It was night time,
about ten or thereabouts we were on patrol, sort of, looking
for our squad there in Mannheim…and this woman in a
window of a building we were walking by, leans out and asks in
deutsch if we have her radio ’cause it’d been stolen. And I say
in my Pennsylvania Dutch, ‘no, we don’t have her radio’, but Sandy
he has to say in American,
“Hey, Lady, stop yelling at usti”
and then this big gunshot and down went Sandy. I saw he was a goner,
so I just ran as fast as I could. He should have kept his mouth
And so Jack decided he liked Rena’s good coffee,
ham sandwiches and someone to listen to his stories; some true,
some not so true….I was never completely sure. But they were
interesting enough to listen to most of the time.
If he was there around four, I’d turn the OPEN sign
around to CLOSED, pour myself the dregs of the coffee pot, light
a cigarette, sit down at the table with Jack and listen to maybe
another World War II adventure, a boyhood trauma or fun time
on the farm, about one of his off-beat jobs, or an old-time recipe
for crab-apple jelly or a homemade medicine for quince..(a vintage
term for sore or strep throat). He seemed to have a fantastic
memory for everything, even all the names of the cows on the farm
and his third grade classmates and all his teachers up to the sixth
grade when he stopped going to school.
As I said,’ was intrigued with history and with hearing first-
hand long ago bits and pieces of information, so I really did like
talking to Jack. But sometimes, I had to fabricate headaches..not
too difficult since I often had one by the end of the day, or
important immediate reasons to shoo him out of Rena’s, so I
could go home.
Redecorating at Rena’s
Whatever I did to brighten up Rena’s dim and depressing decor,
it had to be cheap and fast. what do you do with dark dreary paneling?
Cover it up with cheery small black print on mostly white contact paper.
The eleven mud brown Formica table tops with green and white checked
tablecloths; my sewing skills were barely up to this. Eleven little
glass containers for flowers on each table.
Light fixtures….luckily I had a whole slew of them from my
antique auction days. A huge one from a schoolhouse in the 1890’s
went in the dining area; three assorted smaller old time ones went
in the kitchen. A replica ceiling fan by the front door, and one
by the big front window; they created some breeze in the hot summer,
and in the winter stirred around the heat from the radiator and kept
the cigarette smoke up near the ten foot ceiling. A very fine
American 1870’s clock with weights went on the wall; unfortunately –
it only ran for fifteen hours at a stretch so I was always forgetting
to wind it up….I would have to sleep at Rena’s to keep it running
continuously since it always stopped in the middle of the night, and
you couldn’t just wind it up any old time. You had to carefully go
through each hour-and half-hour, letting the gongs ring, until you
finally reached the correct time. Anyway, it looked great on the
wall in the ‘room..
The big project, the most important to me, was to cut down
the wooden partition between the kitchen and dining area, cut it
in half actually, so I could see out. I guess we could have done it
ourselves, but the only tools I had for that kind of job didn’t seem
adequate….I wasn’t sure a large hand saw or an axe would work here.
Maybe there was wiring or plumbing in there between the two by fours.
It seemed a gift from the gods or some good natured spirit; I mean the
maintenance man from the Idanha Hotel. Why else would he have
come in the very day I was thinking about cutting the partition down?
He was tall, thirties, a Southerner from Tennessee just arrived
in Boise and delighted to find this restaurant across the street, and
“Yes, mam, I’d be glad to help you out with that partition!”
I was so excited. I couldn’t wait until that Saturday he’d promised
to cut the wall in half. But at the agreed upon hour, he didn’t show up.
Not much of a southern gentleman after all, I thought grimly, looking
at the Idanha across the street. Maybe something drastic had happened
over there…the main water heater had blown up, old copper pipes
broken on the third floor. Hours went by, I was ready to go home,
when I saw him walking jauntily by with a few friends, right across
I ran outside and called his name, loudly, “Remember your
appointment with me!” ‘I looked accusingly at him, perhaps like Scarlett
had looked at Rhett when he left.
He was startled at my loud voice; I thought briefly that
should have some composure, some Southern decorum. After all, I
had been to a boarding school in the South, Fairfax Hall in Virginia,
but this was the West and dammit we’d made an agreement.
The maintenance man sensed the danger, the anger in my voice, and
although he was no doubt selfish, a cad and just wanted to make his
baseball game in one hour, he knew what he had to do. I knew people
at the Idanha, maybe he could lose his job.
Whatever his reasons, he cut down the partition with two sizes
of chain saws…quickly and with a grim expression. I didn’t
care; I paid him and said good-bye; I could see out now from the
kitchen, see out through the big front window. The colorful flowers
on each table, the curley-que Rena sign on the window, the Idanha
Hotel with the green and white striped awnings at each window; the
people walking by and the sunshine.
New Workers at Rena’s
Just when everyone was getting really good at their jobs, they
had to leave. Alan and Beth had to go back to school; my mother
left for San Diego after a grueling month of working at Rena’s
and doing all our laundry and mending, taking us out to dinner.
They were gone, and I needed to find new workers fast. Luckily
I had several married and unemployed women friends who were surprisingly
delighted with the idea of working part-time at Rena’s.
None of them had ever worked in a restaurant before, but maybe
that was good. I could mold them more easily into the Rena way of
doing things. And I could play ‘benevolent boss’, doling out suggestions,
rules, money and compliments at the appropriate times. But being Boss,
even though attractive and appealing at first, wasn’t for me. No,
forget the Boss part; we were going to be ‘worker-friends’ at Rena’s,
with the emphasis on ‘friends.’
It was lucky I came to that conclusion because I doubt if Dee,
the rancher’s daughter; her sister, the actress and beautiful Joyce;
Margie, the Japanese-Italian artist and Bonnie, farmer’s daughter and
mother of one of my son’s best friends would have put up with me for
more than ten minutes if I’d started ordering them around.
We even decided to share our tips, meager as they were at Rena’s.
We stashed all the coins and the one, perhaps left accidentally, five
dollar bill, in a cup behind the coffee machine. When there was
enough, we’d go out for dinner or maybe just a glass of wine.
At the last count there was sixty.!-five dollars! Maybe almost
enough for a dinner out after all. Too bad it was stolen before
we had a chance to use it for anything.
The one robbery at Rena’s had to have been an inside job. It
happened on a Friday night, the only time I’d left the start-of-the-
day one hundred dollars in the cash register. Saturday morning there
was nothing to warn me; the front door was locked, nothing was broken
or messed up, no muddy footprints. When Mike from the record store
around the corner came in and ordered a sandwich, I rang up the
amount; the cash drawer opened and it was empty. Not a penny.
I looked in our hidden tip stash; it was all gone. ‘ It had to
be someone with a key….Wally Waters? or Day Realty? Both were
suspect, but I never did find out who did it.
The Rhubarb Patch
Jack never asked for anything directly; he always took a very
round about pattern to the final request, a request you had to guess
or interpret, like a foreign language. All Jack really wanted was
a piece of rhubarb pie….I finally figured that out;
“Those apples on the farm were sure tasty…mmmmm, mmmmmm,”
Jack smiled at the memory.
“What kinds of apples did you have….probably some you never
see or hear about today?” I asked as I brought a fresh cheesecake out
from the kitchen, placed it inside the Deli case.
“Oh sure, there were some cross breeds that didn’t have any
special name that I recall…they were small, green and red swirled,
pretty tart too, made delicious applesauce. And then those pumpkins
we had…. oh boy, did they make good pies!”
I told him about the one pumpkin pie I’d made from scratch….it
was terrible….and shrank down to about an eighth of an inch. What
had I done wrong?
” Weill” he considered taking a leisurely inhale of his Lucky
Strike, “maybe you didn’t beat those egg whites enough….did you
use milk or cream?”
I was trying to make a list of things to order, “I don’t remember,
Jack, it was about twenty years ago I probably did everything
wrong….I was a fairly lousy cook then…so is pumpkin pie your
“It sure is on the top part of the list, with real whipping
cream….delectable,” Jack took another sip of coffee. “How about
you, what’s your favorite?”
“Pumpkin for sure…and apple, ,fresh peach!”
“well, my all time number one favorite is,” he paused for a second
of .suspense, “Rhubarb!”
“Rhubarb pie…” I’d almost forgotten about that kind….”Hmmmm
rhubarb pie, that is good”
“And, you know where we can find some fresh rhubarb? Any time
we want to pick some?….” Jack said triumphantly.
“Really, where? Is it far away?” By now I almost wanted to make
a rhubarb pie so I could have some.
“Nah, it’s not far at all,” Jack said quickly, ” Madeleine, you know
the one I told you about from the Salvation Army, lives just a ways from
here, off Hill Road there’s a creek in -her -backyard and she told me
there’s a bunch of rhubarb plants down there, said to come any time
and pick some. Want to go today?”
Sure, why not, I thought…it might be a fun outing, besides I’d
never seen a whole rhubarb plant actually growing… only the red stalks
in the produce section. I’d seen apple trees, pumpkins growing, berry
bushes. I should certainly know what a rhubarb plant looked like.
Jack suggested we take a couple of ham and swiss on rye sandwiches
for Madeleine and her husband, and maybe a sack of cookies and candies
for any kids around, and of course we needed several giant trash bags
for all the rhubarb, and a large kitchen knife for cutting the stalks.
It was getting complicated like I was afraid it would, but I got
everything we needed and we were on our way to Madelaine’s.
It took us a while to find the right house in the deteriorating
fast neighborhood, parked in a small driveway next to a rusting
out of commission junk car. The yard was littered with an assortment
of empty beer cans; I wanted to wait in the car while Jack went
to the door with our trade goods for the rhubarb. No, he insisted
I come with him.
Jack knocked on the door, greeted Madelaine in her house-dress and
slippers, long greasy hair. I got a brief glimpse of the inside, the
glow of the TV, the husband sprawled on the couch, the grandmother
and teen-age daughter sitting at the kitchen table having a beer.
Jack enthusiastically offered the sandwiches ‘from the best deli in
town’ and the bag of cookies and candy. Madelaine took the bags
without comment, “I suppose you’re here for the rhubarb?”
“That’s right!” said Jack still excited, “Hope it’s all right
to go and pick some, like you said.”
“Sure,” she said listlessly, “I’ll show you the way,” she set
the bags down on the kitchen table, “back in a minute,” she called
to the husband, who made no response.
Madelaine led us through a backyard littered with more beer cans,
a died-out end of last summer’s garden and a large dog with two
puppies who growled as we walked by down to the creek. We were left
there to forage on our own, walking along the small creek looking for
something like lots of rhubarb plants.
“Here’s one Jack called, bending over a sad splotched elephant
“Are you sure that’s rhubarb?” T asked, expecting something different,
“Sure it is,” he spread the leaves back to reveal the familiar
crimson stalks, “but there’s not much of it, guess we’ll Make do
with what’s here.” Which was about five stalks.
Barely enough for one pie according to my mother’s 1946 copy
of The Joy of Cooking; Beth helped me, she could make the best pie
crust. And this rhubarb pie smelled so good baking, we had to have
a piece before it barely cooled off.
I knew Jack would come into Rena ‘s early the next morning,
and the first thing he would notice….the rhubarb pie on top of the
Deli case. “Want a piece, Jack, with your coffee? It’s really good,
Beth and I shared a piece last night.”
Of course, he did, “That is scrumptious!” he declared after
the first bite, his coffee cup full and steaming, the ashtray nearby.
“You and Beth did magnificent!” He smiled, happy as the boy on the
farm eating homemade applesauce or pie.
The rest of it was gone by early afternoon; everyone enjoyed it,
but when Jack told me the following summer that there was a bumper
crop of rhubarb at Madelaine’s; this time I said, No.
The new owners of the Idanha Hotel had big plans for
renovating all five stories and the basement, turning the
hotel back into its original 1899 splendor. So far they’d
only re-done the lobby and a few of the corner apartments with
bay window turrets. Like many old hotels in downtowns this one
had become rather run down; the lobby dark and musty with one
drooping palm and the rooms rented by the week or month mostly
to the elderly and impoverished.
Some of the ‘deluxe’ rooms at the ends of the halls had their own
sitting room and bathroom and kitchenette. One of these had been occupied
for twenty years by the widow of a wealthy Idaho rancher who still
dressed up every morning for her daily stroll around the block,
in a suit or dress, stockings, gloves, hat and handbag. The owners decided that she could
certainly stay on, but they wanted to get rid of everyone
else; the scruffy, scroungy, old and sick or old and poor,
But after spending so much on the new lobby and one floor
of nicer rooms for their offices and out of state tourists, the
original vintage ,tenants on the rest of the floors could stay put
after all….at least until new financing was found which
didn’t look too promising at the moment.
And so every so often if you were in the now posh lobby
with its shiny brass, soft gray carpet, comfy peach colored armchairs,
and high-tech chrome, mirrored bar, you’d catch a glimpse of
someone in drooping mismatched clothes, shuffling along to the
elevator in back of the bar.
Diners in the elegant gourmet restaurant run by an Austrian
chef, Peter Schott, might be somewhat startled to see through
the French doors leading to the lobby, one or many of the worn-out
crumpled people who lived upstairs peering with sad eyes and
morose, grimy faces. You couldn’t tell if they were looking
with nostalgia, with contempt, with jealousy or curiosity. Or
perhaps they just missed the old coffee shop that once took
up that space.. Now they had to walk clear down to the Sav-On
Cafe or over to Vic’s Diner.
Before the money ran out, the basement Barber Shop with its
original tile stairway and low sidewalk level window and antique
barber chairs was spruced up and was busy again. And the
big laundry room machines more or less mechanically sound,
but basement basement once for-men-only bar seemed dark and uninteresting.
A series of managers for the bar tried to entice more customers
to come in installing a pool table just attracted a rowdy
beer bottle throwing group; the free lunch like the old bar used to
have got too expensive; the daily ‘happy hour’ was popular for a while.
That’s where I got ice for Rena’s, so I can honestly say, the place
was never busy and the owners finally forgot about it.
It was a truly fine idea of the owners to have two beautiful 35
vintage cars parked in front of the hotel ready to pick up
guests at the airport or train station and transport them
in grand style to. the Idanha. For a time there was only one
car a 1936 Rolls Royce it was the most wonderful car
I’d ever seen. It was so delightful to see it parked across the
street from Rena’s or once in a while right in front.
One afternoon when it was parked there several of us
rushed out to chase away the meter-maid who had the audacity
to give the Rolls a parking ticket. She ignored my pleas for
more respect toward this elegant machine, didn’t she know that
this was the car they used in the film, The Great Gatsby? ….I made
that up but she hadn’t heard of the film or the book anyway.
Refusing to take our money for the meter, she slapped the
ticket on the windshield and marched away.
This prompted me to investigate the parking meter situation
downtown. The meters were patrolled by first just one or two
and then all women dressed in black, studded belts and boots,
stomping about like neo-Nazis. I found out that the whole
parking meter income only covered the expenses of the department …..
in other words, something else for Jon to get the Citizens’ Alliance
After the Rolls developed major mechanical problems,
the owners decided to get the 1948 Packard, a totally
different looking car, not as spectacular as the Rolls, but
certainly impressive in its own low-slung powerful way.
Sometimes both cars were running and parked across the
street; one day delivering many exotically dressed ballet
dancers who were staying at the Idanha for their one night
performance in Boise.
It was fun when a lot of them came into Rena’s for a quick
snack….the male dancer in a long fur coat, the commotion
getting luggage in and out of the cars, up and down the steps
of the hotel, striding across the street into Rena’s, back to
the hotel all beautiful ballet limbs and faces and postures
and hairstyles. It seemed like a big city for a while there.
One of the Idanha owners looked like a mysterious Dickens
character… Stephen was his name. ..extremely tall and thin,
always dressed in dark, European clothing, often wearing a flowing
black cape and hat. His long face showed little emotion,
absolutely no smiles. Even though he came into Rena’s fairly
often, we remained reserved, polite as diplomats from feuding
countries. Part of the time Stephen taught French at the University,
…he was horrible, one of my young workers confided in me, he made
some of the students cry from his heartless critiques.
The rest of the time he was developing with a friend from
Germany, a sort of Trans-Atlantic-Idaho wilderness adventure
package. Germans would be enticed to come to Idaho, stay at the
Idanha of course, eat in the gourmet Peter Schott restaurant,
head out on various excursions on the Salmon River (the ‘river
of no return’) or into the Sawtooth Wilderness area or to go
north into Big Game country.
Luckily Stephen’s German partner was extremely congenial,
attractive, outdoor healthy look, enthusiastic; he was
staying at the Idanha to help set up the various tours.
Of course he,Hans, would be leading the tours, not Stephen
who would do all the paperwork, advertising and other tasks
that didn’t require;camaraderie.
Hans came into Rena’s a lot in that interim before he headed
out into the field. Be and the other sporadic Germans who’d come
to see Idaho, couldn’t understand why I didn’t have really good
homemade German rye bread I agreed that a German bakery would
be absolutely the best thing that could happen, but meanwhile
I had to settle for Orowheat Breads my attempts at making
rye bread had been extremely sad. They understood, kind of, but
they did like the bagels, a friend had started the Bagel Bakery
a few blocks away, and the soup and the desserts. Especially the
a recipe in cheesecake and a three-layer Mocha cake Beth had made from Gourmet
Magazine. One day before they all left for the Salmon River, two
of the younger Germans had a piece of every dessert on and in the
Deli Case….I think they had five or six things apiece. It was
great; I couldn’t wait to tell Beth.
Jack Works at Rena’s
The dining; area, full of crumbs and debris, not that difficult
to clean up… but who wanted to do it at the end of the day. I
certainly didn’t. But maybe Jack would, since he came in every
day about closing time.
I asked him, “Vacuum, clean off the . tables and chairs,”
“Sure, I’d like to do that….”, Jack said. Five dollars
per day, one hundred dollars- per month to add on to
his meager social security and veteran’s pension. Plus free coffee
and ham sandwiches.
And it was great for me not to have to work that extra hour
after I cleaned up the kitchen, no simple quick job.
Clean sandwich refrigerator, clean Globe slicer,
clean counters, wash all things left, clean sinks,
sweep and mop floor, take out trash, wipe off the
You might be wondering why Alan and Beth weren’t down at Rena’s
helping out with these onerous chores. Well, there was after school
tennis practice or cross country or choir or football games. Besides,
Beth wasn’t quite As interested since I’d taken out the soft drink
soda fountain and replaced the 491.00 dollar a month electric
cash register with a huge old clunker, the Dalton Cash Drawer.
This formidable object I’d found in a second-hand store,
was from the 1930’s and though it would add up the same items
differently every time so I had to use a separate hand adding machine,
the Dalton was a solid piece of Americana with a workable cash
drawer. It was also a nice barrier between the customers, especially
the few irritating customers, and the person taking the orders,
Jack Moves Into the Gem Building
Jack was delighted with his new apartment in the Gem Building,
the one in back, upstairs by the alley. And he didn’t seem to
mind that this was the very same apartment where the dead man
had been found infested with maggots. No one had wanted to rent
it since. Of course Day Realty hadn’t lowered the rent any…..
maybe they’d raised it since they had to have the place fumigated
and painted. Three hundred a month seemed kind of high even if
it was the largest apartment upstairs.
Maybe it was selfish, but I was glad Jack would be living
up there so he could keep tabs on the other occupants and perhaps
help me solve some of the plumbing problems causing leaks into
Rena’s. One or possibly all of them might have been the source
of the leakage: Nick the Basque, Sharon the doll-faced, sweet
tempered hospital worker; Betty the age 60’s dyed red hair, longest
tenant upstairs…15 years…laundry room hospital worker who
collected the rent for Day Realty; and, old Joe, an almost
comatose elderly man whose relatives came to visit and take him
for a car ride once a month. The apartment over the corner of
10th and Main, the one with the bay window painted gray, was
vacant at the time.
There wasn’t just the upstairs to worry about, but the
basement under the Gem Building…there was a door open to
all who cared to enter, to the right of the entry to the
stairs leading up to the apartments. Long ago there must have
been a doorman or at least the Gem Apartments door which was
now off its hinges and leaning against the wall, was intact
Luckily for me, someone. ..maybe Rena and her husband…
had managed to put a once jewelry shop safe door down in the
basement, propped up against the flimsy wooden door leading to
the catacombs of the rest of the basement. I felt somewhat
safer seeing it there, this huge iron thing you couldn’t budge,
saving Rena’s from intruders, but what about the rest of the
basement dark open area.
Jack persisted in going down there if he heard any
strange sounds, or saw flickering lights. “Please, don’t go
down there, Jack who knows what’s going on…what might
happen to .you!” I told him in honestly worried tones and expression.
“Don’t worry I’ll be ready for them….anybody dangerous
and ready to fight….I’m ready for ’em,” Jack said feisty as
a guerrilla commander. He took off his sporty cap, “Look what
I’ve got here….” and he pulled out a long stick pin, like an
antique lady’s hat pin, hidden under the brim. It was a formidable
stick pin, some ten inches long.
Still, I told him, “unhealthy and unwise to venture into the dark
basement alone.” “Please, don’t, Jack.” I’m sure he didn’t pay
any attention to these remarks. I finally resigned myself to the
fact that Jack was probably keeping the place from burning down,
from mayhem, from all sorts of violence.
Once in a while, when Jack’s descriptions of basement goings on
were especially scary…like the candles left burning, the knife
fights….I would telephone Day Realty, owners of the Gem Building:
“Hello. Day Realty.”
“Yes, may I speak with Ben Day, please.”
“Just one moment. I’ll see if he’s here.”
“Hello, this is Ben Day.”
“Hi. This is Sandra Sousin, at Rena’s Deli. I just
wanted to let you know about some problems in the basement….not
Rena’s basement, but the basement in the rest of the building. Uhmmm..
well, there’ve been some people sleeping down there, lighting candles,
fighting, and. Well, I think….Would you agree to closing the
basement off so people couldn’t just walk down there?”
“Hmmmmm…That sounds.well, you know that Day Realty would
never shut people out in the dead of winter. This is January and
we at Day Realty wouldn’t want anyone to freeze to death out there.”
“But, your building might burn down, sir. I mean, there
might be criminals with runs or ” I knew it was hopeless but I
kept on talking.
“Do call the police if there is any real trouble. Thanks for
calling. Good-bye.” Ben had hung up. It was definite sign that
we were on our own here, like the old West, the frontier. It did occur
to me that Day Realty might collect a huge sum if the Gem Building did
burn down; it wasn’t too far fetched to believe that they’d hired homeless
people to burn candles down in the basement, to leave them burning
and coo spend the night at the best hotel in town, compliments of
Even though the Idanha Hotel had the two vintage cars,
the Rolls Royce was in the shop more and more until finally
it was garaged until a new clutch could be found. And the
1948 Packard also had frequent mechanical problems, so as a
final back up car for transporting Idanha _ guests to their
destinations, an Orange Cab Co. taxi was allowed to park in front
of the Idanha.
The shiny bright orange 70’s Ford belonged to Robert and
his friend Jim, #33 to the dispatch office of the Orange Cab Co.
Jim usually drove nights; Robert took the days…a 2k hour
business; the only way they could make enough money to pay
for city licenses, = the Orange Cab Co. fees, car repairs
and upkeep, charges from the Airport to park there while
waiting for customers, some salary for themselves.
Robert spent a lot of time waiting around in the orange
cab parked in front of the Idanha, so of course, he came into
Rena’s right across the street…for coffee to go, for salads
to go, for sandwiches to go. And one day to help me change
a light bulb in the big schoolroom light fixture I’d put in,
a big, cumbersome, fragile, mushroom shaped white glass anchored
to the rim by small screws,.
“Here, let me do that,” Robert said as he came into Rena’s
and saw me standing on one of the restaurant chairs, reaching
up to loosen a screw and trying to hold onto the glass dome
at the same time.
“Robert! Thanks,” as he pulled up another chair,
loosened the rest of the screws, held the glass dome; I handed
him the new bulb. He took the old bulb out, screwed the new one
in, held the glass fixture in place while , tightening the screws
into the rim.
“Hey, Robert, thanks,” I pushed back the chair I’d been
standing on, pushed up the light switch , “Look,” the new light
burned brightly above us, “300 watt bulb up there, thanks to
Robert smiled, “You’re welcome, maim, glad to help out,” he
said, not kidding at all, serious smile in his
trim levis, white shirt, cowboy boots, nice looking, street
wise experience behind that nice smile to me.
“Sandy, could you fix me a big chef salad with everything
to go, I’ve got this great ride to Sun Valley in about 20 minutes..
and can I use the phone for a minute?”
“Sure,” I answered, gibing into the kitchen to start fixing
“You don’t happen to know the number for Central District
Health do you?”
I laughed, “Central District Health….what are you calling
them for?” I knew the place; I’d worked there as a volunteer
for Planned Parenthood, and it was where you got inoculations
for foreign travel: malaria, typhus, typhoid, cholera.
He reached for the phone book under the cash register-,
“Oh, just one of those love diseases,” he smiled at me while
looking up the number.
“Robert…”, This could be serious, syphilis or…( of
course this was all before Aids)
“Don’t worry,” he said, dialing the number, “some penicillin
and everything’s fine.”
I finished making the salad; he’d made the appointment,
hung up the phone. “That looks great, Sandy, thanks,” he took
the salad on the paper plate, “don’t bother to wrap it up, I’ll
just eat it right now,” he handed me a five dollar bill, ”
thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he walked jauntily out the
door eating the salad, crossed the street, got into the cab,
ate the rest of the salad while waiting for the businessman
who wanted to go to Sun Valley.
Besides the Idanha businessmen and guests, people from
the airport, there were the pimps and girls from the ‘massage
parlours’, drug dealers and Torch Cafe, Cub Bar, Cactus Bar,
and Bouquet Bar customers who needed rides.
Maybe just to balance the day or to forget about it
completely he rode his motorcycle a lot. Up Bogus Basin
Road at night and “I was really going fast last night back
down into that turn; I just slid off the road and wound
up …under the bike…”
“Hey, don’t worry,” he smiled at Jack and me, ” I just
propped the bike back up and rode…not even a scratch, lucky,
huh,…. on back to Boise.”
“Was Patti with you on that ride?” Jack asked, meaning
_ “No, another girl, but she wasn’t hurt…just shook
up a little,” Robert smiled like nothing really too serious
had happened. “You two should come to the Bouquet tonight,
walk around the corner and hear the Sunshine Band, they’re
from Seattle…I’m bartending tonight…so come over when
you’re through here at Rena’s.”
“Nah,” said Jack, “I don’t want nothin’ to do with
all that carousing at the Bouquet.”
“Oh, come on, Jack,” I said, “it’ll be too early for
any of that what time do they start playing?”
“Oh, about six, so come over Sandy, you know
how much I like the Bouquet…look at this,” Robert rolled
up his shirt sleeve,:and said proudly…. “I just got this
tattoo …the Bouquet Rose,” showing us a replica of the rose in the
stained glass window over the Bouquet Bar front door…
a rose on Robert’s upper arm, near the small smallpox scar,
“Robert, it’s beautiful…it really is,” it was an
intricate reproduction, but Jack thought the whole thing
I knew the Sunshine Band because most of them had been
coming into Rena’s for lunch or something to eat for the last
couple of days. An interesting mixture of Negro-American,
Jamaican, white Northwest, and now it was different…they
were playing a variety of instruments and singing in the
Of course, it was quiet, not many people there at six o’clock;
Robert was behind the long wood bay, two other bartenders
were getting. things ready at their sections of- the bar.
Robert insisted on paying for my glass of wine; I sipped it
at a front table, enjoying the warm up practice, adjustment of
speakers and the first few songs….a mixture of reggae,
Caribbean and tribal African…It was really good – music.
Suddenly . lots more people coming into the Bouquet, couples,
young and well dressed…the men black; the women white…
dancing and looking good , sedately dancing though, not
carried away with the music, dancing together like they knew
each other but not passionate or romantic. I asked Robert
the next day who they were,
“The pimps of Boise and their women,” he said matter of
factly; “they were about the only ones who liked that music,
not too many people came after you left…. ..which was about 7.
But most of the nights at the Bouquet were louder and
more dangerous, as Jack described them. Since his room was
upstairs over the alley near the back door of the Bouquet, he
had lost sleep on the week-ends when more popular bands
played. This was a minor aggravation though, because
Clint Eastwood was making a movie in Boise and both Jack
and Robert wanted to be in it.
The auditions were held in a near-by hotel; I thought
they both had a pretty good chance to be in the film…Robert
with his lean, western good looks; Jack the grizzled old timer
necessary in every Western. But, no, they were never called
back…a very big disappointment for a few days. A happy surprise
though, a plump friend of mine… local little theatre actor
and antique shop owner got a small speaking part in the film…
Anyway, Jack was busy looking for a new apartment, and
Robert was trying to smooth out his on and off romance with
Patti. She was now vowing her true love for Robert, no more
flirting and only drinking white wine.
Robert thought Patti might be worth another try; he was
in a good mood after an especially fine day driving
the orange cab, #33….many rides from the Idanha and from the
Airport the one with the two boot camp Marines who told
Robert that he drove just like Steve McQueen!
So, he asked her to go go the Bouquet with him that same
The evening started so much better than Robert thought
it would; he and Patti danced, no one was drunk, they got
along great. But as the evening went on, more white wine,
more dancing, louder music…Patti was flirting: again,
this time with a very tall, wide-shouldered, strong and already
drunk logger man from Oregon….Robert relentlessly accused him
of trying to steal his girl; getting mad at Patti at the same
time the logger man throws a fist into Robert’s stomach,
Robert punches to the jaw the two of them end up out the back
door of the Bouquet; the logger suddenly has Robert down,
is beating his head against the concrete curb. One of the
bartenders has called the police.
This was not good news to hear at Rena’s the next
morning when Jack came in and told me about the fight.
Robert in the hospital with massive head wounds…Robert
who was always so sure of himself, knew how to handle the
worst of the drunks he picked up in the orange cab; never
had been beaten up before even with all his interaction
with drug dealers, competitive cab drivers, massage parlour
owners…Robert in the hospital. l couldn’t believe it.
The concussion was serious enough to keep Robert from
driving the cab for a couple of months. It was sad to see
him when he came into Rena’s, walking so slowly and with white
bandages wrapped around his head. He was lucky to have
Patti as his constant nurse and helper and Jim to take him places
Finally Robert felt up to driving again; there he was across
the street, polishing up the crane cab so it was even
brighter and shinier, or sitting on the trunk getting some
sunshine. Sitting behind the wheel reading or eating the Rena’s
salad or sandwich. Things were back to normal.
Unfortunately the ‘economy’ wasn’t quite normal….it was
down, gas prices were high so not as many tourists and the city
had closed up the massage parlours so the best cab customers
had left town…the pimps and prostitutes. And the city and county
kept raising the prices, more fees and licenses and permits to run
a cab. And another Cab Co. moved to town….Royal Cabs. They
had a fleet of new blue and grey sedans and station wagons, suddenly
they were everywhere downtown. I had to admit they made the Orange
60’s, early 70’s cabs with their identifying dents and dings
look a bit on the shabby side.
They did try, or rather Robert really tried to have
the cab looking good vacuumed out, dusted, winder-cleaned
windows, a fresh flower on the dash. Jim could care less
about how the cab looked, he just wanted it running, not using
gallons of oil or making loud clanking sounds. Sometimes he
would stay up all night fixing something or early mornings
after his shift, so they wouldn’t lose too much driving time.
Like most couples or partners, one would get fed up with
the other’s sloppy habits; one would be resentful because he
did all the real work….repairs. Well, Jim did leave the cab
looking like he did, sloppy with his long straggly uncombed hair
and drooping uneven mustache, his crumpled straw hat with charms
dangling from it.
And Robert did help with the repairs, when he could, when he
wasn’t out on his motorcycle of just out somewhere.
More important than those understandable human shortcomings
was the fact that the money coming in was only enough for one
driver, not two. And Robert was getting tired of the late night
or early morning, even afternoon seedy drunks from the Cactus Bar,
the Cub and the Emerald Club throwing up all over the inside of
the cab and then not having enough money to pay for fare home
to a dingy apt. way out on State St. Patti was going out with
somebody else,there wasn’t enough money driving anymore, even the
Bouquet had lost its attraction.
So I wasn’t too surprised when Robert told Jack and me
that he was heading out of town learn to drive an 18-
wheeler, there was a school in Vancouver, Wash….a two week
session and he’d get his license and then go home to Chicago
and look for a truck driving job. “It’ll be great driving one of
those big rigs….I can’t wait…lucky my folks sent me a birthday
check to pay for the school I’ll miss you two, though…maybe
I’ll be driving through Boise one day and I’ll stop and see youl”
Jack said gruffly, “Well, you just watch where you park that
thing…..and don’t go tearing up the roads too fast in it, Robert,
be careful now.” Jack was going to miss him more than I was.
“Don’t worry, old timer,” laughed Robert, “hey, come on,
let’s go have a game of pool at Mountain Billiards I’ll buy
you a 7-Up.
“All right!” said Jack happily, “Bye Sandy, see you later
after I win this game of pool!”
“Bye you two, have fun.”
Robert sent a postcard from Chicago, but I never heard from
him or saw him again. I thought some time I might see him on
a highway, up high in the cab of a big truck. I was pretty sure
I’d recognize him, and we’d wave and honk our horns, out on a
There had always been sporadic leaks from the plumbing upstairs,
drips of water from the ceiling into the kitchen or behind the Deli
case, but this one particular afternoon there was an especially bad
steady flow of water. Right where we poured the drinks and cut slices
of cake. When Jack came in at 4 O’clock, I told him about it and
wondered if he’d go upstairs with me to investigate.-
“Sure,” he said ,” let’s see if Betty’s home, she has all the
keys for the apartments . You know, she collects the rent from
everybody up there, she told me she’d been collecting it for 15 years.
Let’s go see, Betty. Lock up and I’ll show you the way.”
“Do you think,” I said, looking up at the ceiling where the water
was still dripping down, ” we could figure out whose apartment it is,
right up there yours is over and behind Four Seasons Gifts, Sharon’s
is right over Four Seasons; who lives next to Sharon, right over my
“Let’s see, that would be Nick the Basque….no, his apt. is behind
more….maybe that’s Joe’s,” Jack was pacing off the steps by the leak.
“Let’s go find Betty….she’ll know.”
So, I followed Jack out of Rena’s, locking the door of course,
out on the sidewalk, then turning in to the stairs leading to the Gem
Apartments. The old door lay propped up against the wall, gold letters
on the glass, GEM APARTMENTS; we continued on up the dark stairway that
broadened into an .even darker-hallway ….”Here, this way,” Jack
turned right , “Betty’s place is at the end of the hall.” I was glad
Jack was with me because it was a forlorn, dark dismal place, musty,
“Are you sure it’s alright to disturb her?” I asked Jack, recalling
his description of a rather surly woman who insisted, not trusting him,
that he’d better pay the rent on time or Day Realty would kick him out.
“Sure” he answered confidently. “She gets home from the
hospital laundry by 2 in the afternoon…goes in on the
We stood before a door at the end of the hall, Jack knocked.
“Who the hell is that?” we hear clearly.
I look at Jack; he whispers….she’s probably been drinking again.
I decide to try and explain the problem
“I’m awfully sorry to disturb you, Betty, but there’s this leak
from one of the apartments…. there’s water dripping into Rena’s, my
Betty opens the door a few inches.
“That damn Basque, Nick,” she glares at us. “Well, come on in,”
she commands, opening the door all the way. Betty is slight, in her
60’s, with hennaed short hair and angular, worn face. We follow
her into a surprisingly pleasant apartment, larger than I expected….
Into the living room with a couch and afghan, TV on softly, large
window looking to upstairs buildings on Main Street, than to the
kitchen…small 1930’s, neat and tidy. Supper smells coming from the
oven, a kitchenette table and 2 chairs by the window looking out to
the backs of that side of apartments.
“No, I don’t have the key to Nick’s apt. for Christ’s sake” Betty
says to Jack’s question.
“Hmmmm..something surely smells good in here, Betty,” Jack says
“Ohhh,” she says back, “it’s just the dinner I had….chicken soup
and those frozen rolls.” Betty’s putting on her sweater and opening
the kitchen window, leading out to the breezily by the other apartments.
“Hell, I’ll climb out there and see what’s going on. That damn Basque.”
She pushes the table aside and climbs out the window, onto a-flimsy
snow covered ledge, it’s already getting dark. Jack insists on following
her, and I lean out the window hearing Betty’s curses, and the light
of her flashlight flickering here and there.
“Be Careful,” I call out to them. I hear a window being raised,
scuffling sounds, I wish I could see what’s going on, but I do not
want to climb out there. Suddenly here they are, crunching steps,
climbing .pack through the window. I move out of the way. “What was it,
did you see anything?”
Jack reaches out a hand to help Betty through the window, but she
brushes it aside and climbs in on her own….”That dumb Nick,” she
scowled, “he left the faucet running, water all over the floor; Jack
here turned it off. Of all the stupid things to do, this is one of
the stupidest Nick’s done!”
She shrugged, she grimaced, she slammed the window shut. “Thanks,
Betty,” I told her, I don’t know what I would have done….the water
was really dripping down Well, it’s OK for now, Thanks, I really
appreciate your doing this.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, don’t worry about it,” Betty said harshly, she
turned toward the stove, “There’s some leftover soup and a couple of
rolls, do want some, Jack?”
Jack looks a bit embarrassed, he hesitates.
“Damn it, man, yes or no, do you want it?”
“Thank you kindly,” Jack mumbles, “yes…thanks.” He takes the pan
of soup and -tins With 2 rolls on it.
We leave and I say, “thanks, Betty,” a couple more times. Jack goes
to his apartment at the other end of the hail. I grope my way down the
broad wooden staircase, back to Rena’s to see if the leak has really zone
Why couldn’t the workers just stay put? Why didn’t their lives
revolve around Rena’s like mine did? Didn’t they like it here’?
What was I doing wrong? Joyce was leaving to marry a rancher and move
to Salmon, Dee left to work in her husband’s architecture business, Margie
decided to go back to art school. Only Bonnie had heart and courage!
She wanted to stay on and agreed to be my main lunch hour person, making
the sandwiches and helping with any and all kitchen stuff. We also agreed
on $15.00 per day for three to four hours each day, not too bad a wage in
1979. Anyway, she was worth a lot more someone solid and dependable
and cheery, who put up with my moods and often alarming ideas for new
complicated menu items and. deleting old stand-bys that I was bored with.
“Why do you want to make Ratatouille? Nobody knows what it is and
it always sticks to the bottom of the soup pot” She said this kiddingly
though, in good humor, and I had to admit it was kind of a dumb idea.
But, I reminded her, “The symphony conductor liked it and, and
oh, you know the architect who rehabs old buildings and, well, I
think Jon had it.” Jon was a regular who tried everything and ate anything
with hungry enjoyment.
“OK, the soup pot is a mess…hey, I’ll let it soak and wash it before
I leave. Don’t touch it, Bonnie!”
But there she was scrubbing it out before she left.
“Let’s have a Salade Nicoise tomorrow!” I told the empty kitchen
at 5 o’clock when I was getting ready to leave.
Basically my creative ideas just caused problems and more work.
Like having glasses and plates instead of paper cups and unraveling
straw baskets; silverware instead of plastic. Can you believe that I
actually first used old mismatched silverware I’d bought at a thrift
shop that not only needed washing, but polishing too? This silverware
was very quickly replaced by an on-sale, Danish designed stainless steel
set. Luckily, or unluckily as it turned out, there was a fabulous kitchen
shop just down the street. All their wonderful glassware, all sorts of
cooking and baking ware and colorful European things went to my head.
Now we definitely needed a third person, not only to take orders out,
but to help wash dishes. And when I started making the cheesecake and
other desserts, and then quiches and frittatas, soups and the salad
dressings; well, a third person became the number one necessity. I had
to find someone soon.
I didn’t know or even expect to find that someone in the Boise Sheraton
coffee shop, especially on a Sunday morning, I was sitting at the counter
eating a rather tasty crisp waffle and sort of staring at the newspaper.
A busboy came out from the kitchen, placed fresh glasses on a shelf behind
the counter, leaned over to pick up a bin of dirty dishes, he smiled
and said, “Hi.”
He had a bright appealing smile, blue eyes that looked self-confident
and friendly, blond hair that fell to one side of his forehead, “Hi,”
I smiled back, “kind of a busy job, huh?” or some such question.
He brushed the hair back from his forehead with a long slender hand,
“Oh, not too bad,” he answered cheerfully, lugging the load of dishes
back through the swinging doors into the kitchen. For a second I got a
glimpse of the gigantic kitchen, the huge pots hanging up, immense stove,
a cook with a tall white hat on. All I could think of was the time and
work it would take to clean the place.
The swinging: doors opened again, the same busboy with another
tray of clean glasses. “Would you like some more coffee?” He put
the tray down and reached for the fresher of the two pots on the
Farmer Brothers coffee maker.
“Sure, that would be great, thanks,” as he carefully but quickly
filled my cup and replaced the pot. “I suppose I should get a lamer
coffee maker like that one for my restaurant,” I said looking over
at the shiny chrome machine. “mine only makes one pot at a time
and there’s only one heating unit. Oh well, I guess Rena’s isn’t a
high priority with Farmer Brothers….maybe if we can double our
order we can have a better machine, but then we’d need twice the
customers in the morning and I wouldn’t have time to make things for
lunch. Oh well…” I smiled and even laughed at the craziness of
the restaurant business.
He laughed appreciatively, “What kind. of restaurant do you have?”
“You’re not going to get in trouble taking time out to talk to
a customer, are you?” I asked him. Even though it was slow in the
coffee shop at the moment, large restaurants, especially hotels have
rather strict codes of behavior, enforced; overly enforced probably.
He smiled, “No, no, it’s OK, for a minute. I’m all caught up.
Anyway, my name’s Tom,” he held out his hand, which to me seemed
terribly polite, gallant, and reminded me of living’ in other countries
where people were always shaking hands or hugging. So we shook
hands over the counter, and I told him briefly about Rena’s
“Sounds like a great place. I’ll have to try it. In fact,
would you happen to need someone part-time because I’m looking for
another part-time job? I’m trying to save some money for school
in London this fall.”
I couldn’t believe this, did I hear right? This pleasant,
seemingly honest and polite person was asking for employment?
°Going to school in London! How exciting, how terrific!
what will you be studying?” I was anxious to talk about work schedules,
but London was much more intriguing.
“English Literature and theatre design…costumes and sets.”
Tom looked back through the small window in the swinging door to
the kitchen. “Well, I guess I’d better zet back to work….”
“Oh, before you go, can you come by Hena’s because I do need
someone part-time. Maybe you could come by tomorrow afternoon
and see if you’d like to work there, and…”
“Sure, how about three? I could come by on my way to work
here.” He looked expectantly at me. I smiled too, and we said
good-byes and I’ll see you tomorrow. He waved another good-bye
as he disappeared through the swinging doors.
As I left the Boise Sheraton Coffee Shop, I thought how much
fun it would be to tell Bonnie the next morning that we might not
have to do all the dishwashing much longer. Actually, I was more
excited about the prospect of having someone to talk with about
authors and books. Maybe Tom liked Fitzgerald and Hemingway too
Tom came into Rena’s about three as he’d sail, loo’ in7 very
collegiate and attractive in a non-busboy outfit. I especially liked
the olive-grey pants, kind of an interesting wool material. “Those
are great pants, they really look nice on you,” I said to him as I came out
from the kitchen into the empty dining area.
“Oh, thanks,” he smiled, “they’re from LL Bean. I get all my
clothes from them…..it’s fun sending away and getting these packages.
And their clothes last forever… ,and aren’t too expensive.*
I’d always thought of LL Bean clothes as purely for the hard-core
wood choppers and hunters in Maine. The idea that a literary
college student would be interested in them, “You certainly must
be better than I am at sending away for clothes….nothing I’ve ever
ordered from a catalog fit. Those pants and shirt, are
extremely handsome. I have to admit..I thought LL Bean was only
for fishermen and hunters,” we both laughed, “but, obviously I’m wrong!”
“Anyway, here it is, Rena’s,” I stood aside so he could get a
full look at the dining area.
“I love it! It’s charming,” Tom said as he walked around examining
everything in front, walking up to the big window, “and this table’s great,
right here by the window, looking out, kind of Private, but close to all
the bustle of the street and the hotel across the street….it’s really
I smiled at Tom’s enthusiasm,; somehow I’d gotten used to all these
pleasant things and hardly noticed the view anymore. “It is a nice
spot,” we both sat down at the round table and looked out the window.
“And, these flowers,” he picked up the little bouquet on the table
by the salt and pepper shakers and the glass ashtray.
“I’ve been bringing some flowers from home, but I’ve about run out…
only marigolds which smell rather badly and pansies.”
“Well, almost any kind of flower brightens up a room!”
“Hmmmmmmm,” I agreed, “they really do” I stood up and looked back
toward the kitchen, “I guess I should show you the rest the real heart
of the whole operation: the kitchen. Promise you won’t be too dismayed!”
Tom laughed and followed me to the back, through the doorway and into
the very small kitchen space, still somewhat of a mess after the lunch
rush. “It’s not so bad….very compact and….organized.”
“Sort of organized you mean,” I laughed. “There’s the sandwich making
area, the toaster oven for the bagels and heating things, the oven…
portable and small as it is for baking all sorts of things like
cheesecakes and applecakes and corn pies and
“I can’t wait to try everything on the menu!” Tom said exuberantly.
“Well, if you work here, you cant I mean, if you work here, you
should know what everything tastes like, right?”
“Right, ritht. I agree completely!”
I guessed he was probably hungry now. “OK, anyway on with the
tour there’s the Globe slicer, which you can learn how to use, but
probably won’t need to use that often, and here’s the hot plate for
the soup and teapot, and then the required three sinks I’m sure you’re
familiar with those And down there is the motor for the Deli case, which
is a bit noisy, but does shut off once in a while, and of course, the
refrigerator. So, what you’d be doing if it works out with your Sheraton
schedule, and you do decide, Yes,….is mainly taking orders out to people,
and helping make things and, sorry to say, washing some dishes….oh, and
clearing tables and I’ve been paying $5.00 an hour. How does it
Tom was amused by my quick description, and without hesitating,
told me that he would love to work at Rena’s.
“Great!” I said, “I’m so glad you can work here. Whv don’t we
sit don, maybe you’d like something…?”
“A piece of cheesecake! It looks absolutely grand!”
As I took the cheesecake out of the Deli, put it on the counter
by the sandwich refrigerator and found a knife “I have to admit..
this is a terrific cheesecake…I tried all kinds of recipes…. it’s
not the New York style…not so rich as that. Anyway, here you are,”
I handed him the plate and a fork, “hope you like it. Want some coffee,
“No, thanks, this is perfect it really is good!'” We sat
down at a table in the middle of the dining room.
While Tom studied the menu, I poured myself a cup of coffee and
was glad that no one had come in. It was just nice not to have any
interruptions for a change, and good to sit down after standing up
ever since 7:30 that morning. So we agreed on the times Tom could work…
several afternoon a week; he worked most nights and week-ends at the
Luckily I had found a fill in helper, Danelle, the daughter of a
regular customer. Since Bonnie was taking the whole next month off
for a family vacation, next month..August, we now had the necessary
three workers: myself and two college students, Danelle the nice
but not too imaginative business major and Tom.
I realized that I didn’t even know Tom’s last name or where I
could reach him besides the Sheraton. So, before he left he filled
me in with some of the details last name was Kerr, he was staying
with his mother in her small apartment in the North End, the older
residential section near downtown; his father was a professor in a small
college in Washington….his parents were divorced when he was 14…his older sister with a little boy lived in Boise, and he was going to Grinnell College in Iowa. “How did you happen to go there?” I wondered.
It seemed that a great-great-grandfather had started the college and
it had a good reputation for theatre design and English Literature.
“Well, you can tell me about your favorite authors and plays!”
I happily told him as he was leaving. “Good luck tonight at the
Sheraton, I’ll see you Wednesday!”
Of course, Tom and I did have a lot fun talking aboutfavorite authors yes, he liked Fitzgerald and Hemingway too,and we exchanged some writing„ we’d done. A few things I’d written and was too hesitant to let anyone read before, and he let me read the journal he’d been keeping for a couple of years. I asked him if I could copy some of the entries.
March 17 …. I promise myself that when I return from break, I won’t
ask a single person.. “How was your break?” Not once!
March 18….5 o’clock: New York, New York! Oh, after 25 hours, to see
that smokey skyline…the Empire State Building, the bridges!
Somehow we hit a traffic jam and spent the better part
of an hour on the G. Washington Bridge. Gary drove us
through Spanish Harlem..even the hookers and guttered
filth were pleasing…all part op the city I know I’ll
love. After dropping off Kathy at Grand Central, John
and I made our way to Penn Station °A foot where he
caught his train. We went to Macy’s…every counter
was plump with potted flowers, geraniums, carnations,
lillies stretching up to the chandeliers. New York is
THE haven for mil people watching tendencies.
If anything will sober me up that looming humanities
paper is it. What can one write about this huge thing?
A comparison of something and something else. College
is simply a bit of ..too much of..comparing and
interpreting.. every damn thing in sight.
Double knits are terrible!
April 9….I’m back to walking again. I’m not sure why I do go for
these walks. I tell them a walk clears my head, but really
it just gets me away from the stereos and puts good air
through my nose. And, of course, there’s the procrastination
But why isn’t there someone there to say…what a great guy..
April 13…I must remember to keep faith in myself in all I do.
Though I do feel alone much of the time, I have to believe
that I’m not a freak. Also, I have to keep writing in this
book even though it feels so awkward these da7s. It’s odd
that both my thoughts and my writing are chaotic collages
of impressions….and I too quickly put them away and don’t
even try to organize them. I want to leave out verbs…
..check sentence structure altogether and put down a bunch of
words that collectively mean April 13. But this is silly…
I must write…i must be able to communicate with myself, for
God’s sake, or my hair will start R.rowing at odd rates and I’ll
look like a Punk Rock Groupie.
And NO, Wes and Muri, I do not want to get high in the park!
I’m at rehearsal……blah, blah, blah “You witless hussy.”
Where is this dramatic fraternity that will inevitably result
from the weeks of working together? Opening night 2 weeks away
and I don’t know half their names. Why is everyone so snooty?
so smearing in their scowls…I feel like-a fat person who tells
a bad joke among strangers. And this class consciousness…
not just sophomore and junior class, but first class..”can I
hold your script?” second class…”How was the Pub last
Why can’t I finish either of these Humanities papers? Up
all nizht last, I’ve got only 2 paragraphs down on Agamemnon..
the Prose comes so slowly.
My Wilson whipcord pants finally arrived, but am I a better
person for them?
Two all nighters this week, but I’ve completed my paper
for Humanities, but the hours and hours of agony. I Dace,
I Froan and I bang the table as if to scare out inspiration.
I have Virginia Woolfe’s ‘room of my own’, Katherine Mansefield’s
love for thingoast and a sufficient vocabulary to Dass My SAT..
still I’m without that imperceptible touch… the maFic.
The last performance ! I swiped my chin clean of that last bit
of paint with relish, then took such pleasure in NOT going to
the cast party. No, with my shirttails flying, a clip sill
in my hair, I paraded past them all… into the night like
BUB Ride Home ……
A year….a summer again in Boise
This is all so damned bleak….why now? How could this Boise
be so painful in just 5 days? This is only now….this is
the mean world, but it is usually agreeable.
I need desperately to talk to Dad….and he’s off at a
disco lesson! This is wonderful for him, but God! Geez,
help me….just a sympathetic voice!
Only Fisher-Price, Tuperware and no-name brands.
(Tom’s staving with his sister and her little boy)
Employed again at the Sheraton arrogant cooks, rare birds
with white hats and dim futures who NEVER condescend.
…the waitresses: generally flirtacious and bored/with
rosters of tragedies.
must effect an earr.er servitude, God!
►iork loses its charm…
Why must people be either sophisticated and mean or genuine
It turned out that Tom was the first one to exclaim over the glasses
I’d chosen, the Fiesta ware cake platter, the bottles of Perrier, the serving
of wedges of watermelon with all the menu items. He even thought the
butter curler I’d just found would be fun to use—, shells of butter
served with the bread and soup instead of plain uneven chunks of butter.
We did have to give up on that idea though the first few attempts with
the butter curler were magically successful, but after that the butter
was either too hard or too soft, or we were just too busy to do it at all.
A more workable idea was to out thin slices of lemon in the water
classes of course, this took a little more time, I explained to
Bonnie and Danelle, but it looked so attractive and the Boise water tasted
a lot better. “If the Bistro can do it, then Rena’s can tool” I said
enthusiastically. The Bistro was a fairly new restaurant in a building
a few blocks away, re-done in the California cuisine manner open, light,
fresh flowers, slices of lemon in the ice water, an espresso machine,
simple but creatively done food and reasonable.
Tom and I had gone there for dinner the night before. We probably
wouldn’t have gone there except for the fact
that it had been an exceptionally busy day and it was the only night Tom
had off from the Sheraton. I always felt like going out to dinner when
it had been a really busy day at Rena’s, but I never did. I always went
home, did Rena’s laundry, baked cookies for Rena’s, fixed dinner for Alan
and Beth, but now here was the chance.
“Tom, would you like to go out for dinner since you don’t have
to work tonight?…….maybe we could go to the Bistro I think you’d
like it?” We were washing up the last of the late lunch dishes; Jack
had already cleaned up the front and had left quickly for a pinochle
game with some friends.
Tom was delighted with the idea, he hadn’t had a free evening in
two months and hadn’t been out to dinner since coming to Boise. The
Bistro sounded like a fine place…. “Let’s finish up with these dishes
and got ‘
We spent four hours having dinner at the Bistro yes, four hours
of eating and talking, talking about all the things I’d always thought
were vital and important, but no one else since college had until now.
Different styles of architecture, certain plays we’d seen, ballets,
various artwork and artists, our ongoing conversation about short stories,
novels, writing of all kinds and their authors, places in Europe I
especially remembered from my summer there. We had an after dinner coffee
and talked more. We finally realized that it was getting late, the
restaurant was closing soon, and the waiter would probably like us
to finish our coffee and pay the bill.
I asked Tom if he wanted a ride home, but he felt like a walk, and
it wasn’t that far to his mother’s apartment ‘I’m taking care of
Trevor, my nephew, this Sunday afternoon I thought maybe I’d take 1
him to Julia Davis Park….would you like to come with us?”
“You know, that sounds really_nice„…..I’d like to meet Trevor…
he’s about four? ” Tom nodded. “That’s a great age that’ll be
fun. I’ll see you tomorrow at Rena’s, have a fine walk home!”
That Sunday afternoon in the park was fun and kind of nostalgic
of Park outings with Alan and Beth when they were Trevor’s age. And there
was a special atmosphere that’s always in a big park with lots of huge
shade trees on a warm summer afternoon. This park was near the downtown,
about a 15 minute walk from Rena’s, there was a small playground with the
older climbing bars and swings and whirley-gig I remembered at my elementary
school. Trevor was blond, looked a bit like Tom and enjoyed all this
attention and fun on the swings and slide. A walk along the river and
then an ice-cream cone. Tom told me about his sister who lived, to him,
a dismal life in the suburbs, with a truck driving husband who drank beer
and watched TV. “So sad, what’s to become of him?” Tom asked looking
at Trevor who just smiled at us and enjoyed his dripping vanilla ice-cream.
It did sound rather grim, I thought too. No wonder Tom only stayed there
a couple of weeks.
But then living with his mother wasn’t all that great either.
He slept on the couch in the living room, he told me, and his mother was
frequently asking him when he was going to get his own place. And
Tom didn’t like her boyfriend. He’d overheard him telling his mother
that it would be so nice when Tom was gone.
I drove Tom and Trevor home after our outing, first to Tom’s sister’s
house, in an ugly subdivision I’d never been in before or knew existed.
A flat plane of boxey houses and garages, squares of lawn, squares of
aluminum windows. Oh well, oh boy just glad I don’t live here…
snood-luck, little Trevor, I thought. Then I took Tom home to his mother’s
place at the opposite end of town, a tree lined street, shaded with the
trees’ arched leafy branches. But then a rather uninteresting apartment
behind an older house on 21st Street. We agreed that it was a wonderful
street. We said good-bye at the door, “Bye, Tom,” we shook hands, “see
you on Tues. It was really nice to meet your nephew….Bye.”
‘Ale stood on the small porch in front of the door, “You know,” he said,
“it would be fun to so for a walk some night under these trees…. it’s
so warm and like somewhere in the South…..fun to be out when no one
“Let’s do that, one night….maybe a full moan…. sort of spooky,
yes, let’s do go for a walk. You can call me after your work at the
Sheraton, and I’ll come down and meet you.”
“Well, I don’t Fet home until midniglt, but that would be
a great time for a walk, it’s still so warm out then. Is that too late
for you though, I know you have to be at Rena ‘s early in the morning?”
“Oh, no,” I kind of lied, knowing it would probably be way too late,
but it sounded too tempting, definitely worth losing a few hours sleep.
“Call me, on what day?, Wednesday? It’ll be fun and wonderful! Good-night..
Bye.” I went down the stairs to my car, down the tree lined street,
light now, thinking how pleasant and mysterious it would be, this street
Of course, as enjoyable and delightful as these midnight walks were,
they couldn’t go on for too long. After a week and a half with only three
or four hours of sleep on those late nights, I had to admit that I couldn’t
survive much longer. Tom understood; he could sleep in_ until 10 or 119
while I had to get up at 6:30 and spent the whole day trying to really
And so, August was slipping away quickly like good months do,
and just when everything was going smoothly and even profitably at
Rena’s, one of the workers had to leave…Danelle. i4eid all grown
fond of each other by this time, but I’m sure Danelle was rather
glad to get away from our frequent put-downs of K–Mart shoppers,
the suburb life, the, to us, humorous renditions of various styles
of writing, the general craziness of the work-a-day lives of most
Americans; forget about the lunch hour when Danelle told me that
we were almost out of bread and I said, “Let them eat cakel”
Tom and I both laughed, but I knew, business like that we could
make do somehow, slicing the end crusts off the last pieces of the
loaf or run up the street to the neighborhood market downtown and
buy a loaf of bread. But Danelle didn’t know these thoughts and
merely smiled at us and shook her head.
We said good-bye to Danelle; I hugged her close for a moment
and wished her luck with business school at the University of Idaho
and her soon to be husband; Tom also gave her a hug and best wishes.
Oh, gosh, we were on our own here at Rena’s…just two people
when I knew it worked best with three. But for a while, I thought,
“Let’s try it this way; come in earlier; it will be simpler,
less complicated….Tom can take the orders, I’ll make the sandwiches
and get the other orders ready; we can both take orders out, or if
it’s really busy, call out the first name on the ticket, put the plate
or bowl of soup or whatever on top of the Deli and let the customer
come and get it.” This was the way Rena’s had worked before I took
over; it would work again.
It all worked surprisingly well, although some of our regular
every day, lunch at Rena’s People, looked startled when Tom or I
called out their names. They were used to someone bringing everything
to their table; now they had to pour their own coffee, and water, there
was a. pitcher . filled with water, ice and lemon slices by the coffee
machine. Special customers like the symphony conductor, the federal
court judge, or my dentist, Dr. Chivers we made extra efforts
to not call out their names to take their orders to them with the
usual Politeness and agreeable, though briefer now, comments about
the weather, their business , hope it was going well, would you like
Actually, it would have been impossible to run Rena’s if Tom
hadn’t quit his Sheraton Hotel job two weeks early. He was delighted.
to leave the place. “Something interesting must have happened there?
At least one memorable occasion?” I : kidded him, when he told me
that he was going to Quit.
“Let’s see well, besides meeting you there and getting to work
at Rena’s Hmrrnmnmmm, oh, I took a room service order to Art Garfunkel.”
“You mean Simon and Garfunkel?”
Tom nodded yes.
“Well, that was kind of exciting….I wonder what he was doing
in Boise? Did you talk to him? What did he have to eat?”
Tom laughed, “You know, I don’t remember what the order was.
When I knocked on the door, he called out to come on in He was on
the phone and didn’t pay any attention to me, lust signed the bill,
and I left. He was only there one night, probably on his way
to a concert.”
about itl*”Maybe he sang at the Sheraton Cocktail Lounge and you didn’t know
We both laughed at the “picture of Art Garfunkel singing in the
Sheraton’s tacky lounge, red vinyl chairs, walls painted with glitter,
candles in those red glass containers, the piano bar.
“Maybe he loved the coc,tail lounge he probably spent hours in
there at the piano bar, singing, and we missed it”
I said that I would even go to the Sheraton Lounge, but only if
Art Garfunkel sang “Bridge Over Troubled ‘waters.° Tom agreed, he would
go too, but not if he had to work as a busboy in the Lounge.
“I think,” I said more seriously, remembering Simon and Garfunkel
songs I’d especially liked, ” that Art Garfunkel had the best voice of
the two really sweet and Pure, but he kind of disappeared….you
only hear about Dick Simon now. I guess he must have been on some
sort of small town tour It would have been fun to hear him sing
in Boise at least you got to see him!” I felt my mood. going from
cheerful kidding to morose over talent unappreciated and lost in the
whims and machinations of America. I was also tired, extremely tired
from the extra hours of work. Just to go home, fix a light dinner,
a glass of wine, listen to me of Tom’s classical records he’d lent
me….go to bed.
But the thought of the empty house, Alan and Beth were visiting my
folks…had been for the whole month of August,….
“Tom, would you like to go to the suburbs for dinner and…well,
this suburb isn’t too bad….I’ll fix an omelet or something.?”
Tom laughed, “You mean your house ?”
“Yes….it’s a 1950’s suburb with trees and shrubs and not
– too far from downtown…about 15 minutes….”
“Of course! I’d love to and I’m sure your house even if it is in
a suburb is wonderful!” I was afraid Tom was too enthusiastic over this
avocado green, ranch style house….well, there was the Victorian pump
organ I knew he would like and the collection of old waffle irons, ice
cream scoops and Blue Willow china.
Tom wasn’t too dismayed when we drove up to-the house; the green
shade of paint and the intense purple of the petunias overflowing the
planter in front was alarming to me though……I’d picked all the other
flowers to put in Rena’s. In spite of the other garish colors of the
70’s like the gold carpeting, the green plaid upholstery of the couch and
chairs, and the ubiquitous sliding door to the patio (I’d always liked
French doors much better), we had a pleasant evening. played the
organ and looked at some of my books, we sat in the patio sipping wine
sodas and enjoying the late warm summer evening.
The next morning- about 9 Tom walked cheerfully into Rena’s,
I called out from the kitchen,”How are you this morning? No ill effects
from all those biscuits you ate last night?” I asked kiddingly, “Let’s
see, was it 7 or 8 of them you had?”
Tom laughed as he came in the kitchen, No ill effects,
they were the best biscuits I’ve ever had and the omelet and salad..
really a great dinner. Thanks again!”
He finished putting on the long blue and white striped Paris Bistro
apron; I’d bought one for everyone to wear, but we were the only ones
who would wear them… Bonnie Preferred the old Rena’s white short apron,
a plain dish towel looking thing, and most of the others didn’t want to
wear an apron at all.
“So, I’ll fix dinner for you, Sandy Mom’s going out on a date
Thursday evening, if you want to come over?” Tom asked as he washed his
hands, getting ready to cut up some vegetables for the salads..
“Ohhhhh, how nice of you Yes, that would be fun, Alan and Beth
and my mother are coming back this week-end ….maybe we can wet together,
and next week is your last week here….I can’t believe it, this month’s
gone by so fast. I’m really going to miss you.”
“And I too…. very much..”
A customer came in then, and I went out to see what he wanted. It
was Jon who always came in early and wondered if the quiche or frittata
was done yet they hardly ever were, so he usually had
a piece of carrotcake and coffee. He was always pretty congenial about
Actually, I was behind schedule this morning, I’d only started the
soup…Yes, even in the hottest month of the year people still asked for
soup..I sliced the cheeses, ham and turkey, washed the lettuce for the
salads, and would let Tom finish those and the rest of the things for
the sandwiches, while I made….maybe just the frittata today-, that took
less time than the quiche. a little luck and not too many customers
to interrupt us, we’d be ready by 11:30.
“Oh, Tom, I guess you can make the egg salad and tuna salad for the
sandwiches, make sure we have all the other things ready…sprouts,
mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato slices, avocado, cucumber, and ohhh, here
comes another customer…I’ll go see what she wants to.
The whole week was like that, busy all morning…. extremely busy
lunch hours that didn’t end until 2 or 2:30, and then we’d have – huge
piles of dishes to wash, and almost all the cakes and cookies were gone,
so I’d have to bake . something that afternoon.
This would be the time Dr. Chivers, my dentist, would come in with several
friends from San Francisco, all eager to have the cheesecake they’d heard
was so good, and I’d have to tell them, I’m sorry trey ended up
having to eat the only dessert left banana bread. “Come back tomorrow
and there’ll be a fresh whole cheesecake….I’ll save some just for you!”
But no, they had to go back to San Francisco in the morning. Darn,
why couldn’t they have come in yesterday?
“Just think, Tom…I might have had a following in San Francisco”
“Let them eat bread,” he laughed, “banana bread! Besides that’s really
Food too,” we were hiding in the kitchen so we’d avoid any more of the
croup’s disappointing looks. “Oh,oh…..here comes one of them now,”
said Tom. I continued to wash dishes, Tom went out
to ask what he’d like. I overheard the San Franciscan ask if he could
buy the rest of the banana bread loaf to take back with him.
That was a pleasant surprise, a real compliment, but now there were
absolutely no desserts left, and that’s what People who came in the
afternoon always wanted.
“I’m going to sit down for a minute, …have a cup of coffee and
then make an apple cake or how about a pine apple upside down cake? I
wonder if I have the recipe down here warm with whipped cream….”
“iimrImmmm,” said Tom, “that does sound good. I’ll go up to the store
and get some whipping, cream and do you have a pineapple?”
“No, I just thought of making it get a fresh pineapple, if they
have one; if not, a large can of the slices. Here’s some money,” I wave
him a 5 dollar bill from the cash register, “keep the receipt, Thanks,
I’ll see YOU in a while.”
And so the afternoons would go, no wonder we were still cleaning up
the kitchen and washing dishes at 6 o’clock.
It was Thursday evening and I was standing on the porch of Tom’s
mother’s apartment, ready to knock on the door. I’d gone home first
and taken a shower, out on a cool dress….feeling revived and happy
to join Tom for dinner. When I knocked lightly on the door, I
heard a woman’s voice…..”Oh, Tom, that must be your sweetheart!”
I didn’t hear a response; the door opened in a few seconds with
Tom welcoming me with a big smile.
“Hi, Tom, I :guess your mother’s still home?” I asked softly.
“Yes,” he looked a bit annoyed, “She’s just leaving… come on in.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t, …we can get together another time.” I
didn’t want to cause any problems….I wondered if his mother thought
I was some femme fatale ready to seduce her son, or just cruelly
kidding him about his friendship with me.
“No, no, I want you to come in, “field the door open for me,
and as I walked into the living room, his mother came in
from what I supposed was the bedroom. She looked like a middle-aged
matron, pretty face made up and hair done at a salon, she smiled
at me as Tom introduced us.
“Bye, have a nice time, I’ll see you later,” as she picked up
a handbag and sweater on the kitchen counter and left, closing the
door behind her.
“Well, I hope she doesn’t mind my being here.”
Tom went into the small tidy kitchen separated from the living
room by a low counter, “No, she doesn’t, and we don’t really care if
she does or not, do we?” He was getting some dishes from the cupboard,
“We’re going to have a really good dinner I have all these fresh
vegetables, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms,tomatoes,” he showed
me a, big skillet of these all sliced up, which he started to sautee, “and
some rice and French bread oh, there’s a bottle of wine on the
counter. Here are 2 wine glasses and an opener….I’m surprised Mom
“Tom! This looks wonderful really nice of you to do this…I
haven’t had someone fix dinner for me in a long time… years. Ntmm, the
wine’s good is there anything I can do?”
“Why don’t we sit on the floor in the living room? This is just about
ready.” So we sat on the floor, on the brown carpet, wine glasses on the
maple end table,Pate Tom’s good cooking. Somehow it wasn’t as relaxed
and fun as the dinner at my house, perhaps because Tom and his mother
had been arguing or maybe he felt uncomfortable with me there.
But, no, that wasn’t because I asked him and Tom told me he was
tired of camping in her apartment, just feeling a bit sad that he didn’t
have a home, and that his dad was never home when he called and never
After dinner we took a quiet walk around 21st. St., the wonderful
trees, older houses with flower gardens, 1908 sidewalks uneven and
hazardous at night, back to my car. “Everything will work out fine,
Tom, you’ll love London….I know you will…just think about all
that wonderful art and architecture youte going to see. Oh…that
sounds like a required course ‘Wonderful Art and Architecture of
We laughed together, ….. ….hushed laughter; neither one of us
wanted to be too loud on this silent dark street….a few house windows
glowed yellow from inside lights, once in a while a voice, clear for a
second then gone. “I know I will love that ‘course’ and I’ll love
London said Tom softly, “but, will London like me?”
I was hoping when Alan, Beth and my mother came to Boise that they
would like Tom, and we would have some congenial times together, but..
as I should have known….no, they didn’t like him one bit. As a
worker at Rena’s…well, OK, they put up with him there, but the one
dinner get together I asked Tom to at my house was terrible. Everyone
looked at him accusingly, the conversation was stilted and uncomfortable
all around. I couldn’t understand it; I was hurt. I guess they were
jealous of my friendship with Tom, they wanted all my attention
understandable now, but not then.
There was one redeeming day, a Saturday, when my mother, Tom and
visited some of the largest, oldest and loveliest homes in Boise. An
Open House Tour on Harrison Blvd., one of the two wide streets with lots
of elegant old homes in Boise. It was after we closed Rena’s early on
Saturday….at 2, no one was downtown on the week-ends then. I’d read
about the open houses and knew my mother would want to go, and since Tom
was there working that day, and he loved old houses , we all ended up
walking together to Harrison Blvd. and going through some of these
One was our favorite, a two storey ‘Mission’ style,
…although it looked more Italian to me….early 1900’s
house with immense rooms. Spacious entryway, living room with fireplace
and glass door enclosed bookshelves; dining room with huge wood table
and chairs, a mirrored sideboard, and a buffet window to the kitchen.
I said to Tom as we walked through the rooms, A wonderful, elegant
boarding house…lovely meals served in the dining room, espresso
around the fireplace after dinner!” As we walked up the wide stairway,
we exclaimed over the expanse and charm of the two rooms on either
side of the stairway.
“I’ll have this room,” Tom pointed grandly toward one of the
bedrooms, “And, you, this one”
“And, the boarders will have the rooms down the hall…look,
there’s five of them And two bathrooms and that sun-porch..”
“The charming, overgrown garden with a fountain!”
It seemed almost possible…there might be a problem scheduling
meals, could the fountain be fixed?…..It was possible; the house was
for sale. In a burst of enthusiasm I asked my mother if we could buy
this wonderful house even though the price, $150,000, wasn’t exorbitant
even then, she was completely horrified at the basement. There had
once been a swimming pool which had been cemented in sometime in the
’30’s and., “Who knows what leakage problems remained ,” she said to me, “so.
‘dark and dismal down there.” No matter, it had been a grand boarding
house for a while, anyway.
Tom was leaving tomorrow, going to Washington first to visit
his father and Lisa, his father’s companion and research assistant,
not much older than Tom, and then the big trip to London for six months.
He was apprehensive about both. So, to celebrate his last day at Rena’s
as festively as possible, we decided to go to the same restaurant where
we’d had such a fine time enjoying good food. and talking for hours.
But, this time, it was a rather subdued occasion, and he was anxious
to leave when we’d finished dinner he had a lot of packing to do,
and. wanted to visit Trevor before it got too late.
In the parking lot as we were ready to zet in my car, I reached
for a box in the back seat…”Here, Ton, a little something for London!”
He smiled. in a surprised, happy way, opened the box quickly, took out
the vintage black silk smoking jacket with a black velvet collar, red
silk lining, black silk sash….
“Sandyll…It’s wonderful!” Exuberantly he hugged me, “I love it
he hurridly put on the jacket
Oh, it’s way too big, I thought…… “0h, Tom, it looks so
handsome, but I’m sorry…it’q so bi..• • 0
“I don’t care, I love it!” He tied the sash; it was still to
long and too big in the shoulders, but I was happy that he was so
thrilled, so enthused. When I saw it in the vintage clothes shop
I thought, …a smoking jacket, just the perfect thins; for a young
writer in London. He’d already given me, that afternoon, a journal
for me to write in.
I didn’t know what ‘Paraphenalia’ was until Big Al opened his
shoo, the Red Eye Hut, at the end of 10th St. in an old brick building
on the fringe of the main downtown area. He came into Rena’s one
morning about 11, you couldn’t help noticing him, he filled up the
whole doorway. Just big all over, not fat though, probably 6′ 5″ tall,
had a beard and was dressed in a small town, country manner…jeans,
plaid shirt, work boots, and wore a cap like a baseball cap that
said…. “Love those ludes”
“I’d like a bagel sandwich to go, please, and a piece of that
good looking coffeecake and a few of those oatmeal cookies….boy,
they sure look like the ones my mom used to make…”
“They probably are like hers if she used the recipe on the Quaker
Oatmeal round container…with the string at the top.” I smiled as
wrote down the order, although it wasn’t that busy vet in Rena’s…
actually Al was the only customer at the moment…it was a habit to write
everything down. “What would you like on the bagel?”
“Whatever you’ve got would be great…cheese, ham, tomato, sprouts,
avocado..the works. I don’t mind paying extra!” he smiled and got
out his wallet.
“OK,” 1 handed the order to Bonnie, “bagel with everything, Bonnie.”
“It’s going to be hard to eat it, so full like that,” Bonnie
Big Al laughed, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll manage just fine!
Here’s five dollars, that should cover everything…”
*Well, it’s more like three-fifty, so here’s your change.”
“No, now keep it… it’s plenty fair to me. That bagel sure looks
good,” he was watching Bonnie wrap it up, “thank you, mam; he said
as she handed him the paper bag. full with his lunch. He took out
an oatmeal cookie and popped it in his mouth, “Nmmmmmmm, awfully good,
“Oh, I forgot to ask you, would you like something to drink?”
Al was eating the third oatmeal cookie, “Nothing, thanks, I’ve
got my own coffee pot down at the shop….The Red Eye Hut….just
down the street a few blocks from you. I’m getting her ready to open
up next week, so you’ll have to come down.”
“What kind of shop?” I asked, the name was certainly no clue to me.
“Oh, you know, smoking things, pipes, all sorts of handmade stuff..
you’ll just have to come down and see. I’ll let you know when I’m
open….and I’m sure I’ll be back to Rena’s for another bagel lunch,
probably tomorrow.” He turned to leave, but stopped when I asked,
“I have to ask you about the word on your cap….what are nudes’?”
He smiled, “You mean, you don’t know what qualudes are?”
When Jon Robertson came in for coffee later that afternoon,
I told him the big news, “Jon, your dad’s shop is in for some competition.
I met somebody this morning…31.7 Al…who’s opening a pipe shop,
The Red Eye Hut in that brick building at the end of 10th, by Grove St.”
Jon worked part-time helping his dad make hand carved pipes….House
of Robertson Pipe and Tobacco Shop on 8th St.
Jon laughed and chuckled as he poured his own coffee and stirred
in lots of cream. “Some competition! It’s a paraphernalia shop, Sandy..
you know, pipes and things for smoking marijuana and hash and who knows
what else. Probably be a back room for selling the stuff, too.”
So, that was the beginning of Rena’s rather innocent relationship
with drug dealing in Boise. Even after seeing the inside of the
Red Eye, one afternoon I left Bonnie in charge for an hour and
took Al up on his opening week invitation, I couldn’t relate Al
to the nefarious goods he was selling. He’d come to Boise from
Portland, which seemed pretty wholesome compared to Chicago or
Miami or Las Vegas. He did drive a mean looking car though, a black
Trans-Am with a big gold Germanic eagle like bird on the hood, but
continued to dress in farm style clothes and have a Pleasant mid-west
Although it was bright and, sunny outside the day I checked out
Al’s shop, I noticed it was next door to The Emerald Club, it
was extremely dark inside…. the only light came from
several glowing lava-lamp like things. There were no windows except
the one in the front door which was covered by the hand-drawn and
printed Red Eye Hut sign, a large eye was drawn in black and red felt
pen. Al genially pointed out the exotic merchandise filling the glass
display cases I recognized some kind of opium Pipe, other Turkish
or Arabic looking water pipes, but most everything else was a mystery
wereto me.’. ‘lier’e different strange lamps and shades, boxes and containersof all sizes and shapes, printed unusual materials from other lands,funky pillows covered in sateen or velvet depicting various scenes in
Moorish tents and gardens. One metal display rack held a mixture of
packets, oils and Perfumes in small vials, leaning closer to read the
labels I saw that their main purpose was to enhance all types of
lovemaking. I stepped back from the stand, a little overcome by it all,
perhaps it was the incense burning there on the counter.
“Here, let me give you one of these,” said Al jovially, reaching
for one of the packets from the metal rack.
“Oh, no, Al ,” he Probably couldn’t see that I was blushing,
“thanks, but I
“No boyfriend at the moment, huh,” he said matter of factly, “well,
you know, you can enjoy these by yourself just pour this packet
of powder in the bath, and it’s greatt”
“what does it do?” I asked, looking at the plain brown packet with
tiny lettering at the bottom.
“It fizzes up the water,’ really makes it all zesty and tingly, and,”
“You mean sort of like those tablets to fizz up kids’ drinks?”
I asked kiddingly. “No, really, Al maybe sometime I’ll be
brave and try one of these things, but. Hey, the shop’s really
neat….ummmm, what are your hours going to be?” I was trying to
ease out the door, I held the knob and turned.
Al replaced the packet in the rack, ” for now, I think
try noon to midnight. See how that works out.”
“Hmmmmrr kind of long hours, but well…Food luck anyway…
I better be getting back to Rena’s soe you soon, Al, bye.”
“Bye, Sandy, thanks for coming in Oh, by the way, on your
way home this evening, after you close, could you drop by my usual
bagel order Bagel with everything you’ve got left in the sandwich
xHtrx 7nakinz trays…don’t make up anything special, just use what
you have left-over and a few oatmeal cookies? I know you drive right
by here on your way home….here’s the money now….here’s five.
Gosh, thanks a lot …I really appreciate it.”
“Sure, I don’t mind, you are kind of stuck here all afternoon
and evening. I’ll be by sometime between and 6. Bye.” I opened the
door, walked by the equally dark Emerald Club. their door was open
so I could see how dark, smoky and dreary it was in there, the sounds
of billiards and card shuffling and ice clinking and low murmurs of
husky conversation didn’t do much to cheer up the place. It was just
good to be outside walking up 10th street.
Over the next year and a half or so Al ate lots of bageldy-bagels,
as he called his special ones piled high with different left-overs
from the regular lunch. If the phone rang at Rena’s after 3 o’clock,
it was usually Al ordering his to go bagel and a piece of cake or
cookies…….. It was always an adventure for the person working
at Rena’s at the time to take an order down the street to Big Al at
the Red Eye Hut he’d asked us to call him Big Al, that’s whathe
everybody’d called him, explained, even his mom and dad.
The first time my son, Alan, took the order, I felt a brief
explanation was necessary; how basically nice and agreeable Big Al
was even though his shop was a bit strange; just deliver the lunch
and come right back. I felt a little guilty sending him off to
such an underground place, but he wanted to go, he was 17 and in
good shape, enthusiastic and extremely competent in a variety of
situations. Still, he came back a bit awed by the Red Eye liked
Big Al who’d been friendly as usual and thankful for the food,
gave Alan a couple of dollars for a tip.
Many times Al came to Rena’s in the late morning; we’d talk
about cash flow, employee problems, workman’s COMP, and insurance;
parking requirements by the city, a new business tax, and his
mother’s chocolate cake. He’d tried all the desserts by then, and
since I’d never had a chocolate cake at Rena’, I told him I’d make
one soon and wive him a niece to try. Somehow this . • chocolate cake
wasn’t quite like his mother’s, but he liked it. Not as much as the
oatmeal cookies though.
About the same time the Boise City Council decided to do away with
the massage parlours, they decided to get rid of any drug related
shops too. The Record Exchange couldn’t sell pipes and bowls anymore
and the Redeye Hut was definitely out of business. Big Al came by
Rena’s one day.
“I guess go tack to Portland for a while. It was really
nice here though, I like Boise.”
°Al” I shook hands with his large outstretched one, “well, I’m
sorry you have to leave…but mood luck, bye, take care!”
“Good luck to you too….bye.” He walked out the door, to 10th St.
and :at into the black Trans-Am, easily settled into the driver’s
seat, turned the key, the engine throbbed and rumbled; disappeared.
down the street, out of sight as I looked out through the window
The Fantasy Shop
“There’s going to be thousands of things you’ve never seen
before”, she said exuberantly to me. The Fantasy Shop would be
open in time for Christmas shopping and it was right around the
corner. It was great to have someone young and lively with what
sounded like adventuresome plans for a shop. The rest of the
business owners near Rena’s were all without imagination, had
their business for years and years….had settled in comfortably
with the routine.
Merle Norman’s Cosmetics, I hadn’t heard of that brand since .
the 1950’s, was run by an attractive, well corseted, older than
mid-life woman who had re-decorated the frumpy old Merle Norman’s
with walls of mirror, thick carpet, black and chrome chairs. She
was married to the head of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association, a big
paunchy individual who always wore cowboy boots and hat, self assured
in an aggravating way, especially after I knew more about the
ranching business…..practically free land and water, cruel nature
of the whole thing from branding to the packed feedlots to the
slaughterhouses…the power of ranchers in state and federal government.
These two rarely came into Rena’s, and I only went into Merle
. These two rarely came into Rena’s, and I only went into Merle
Norman’s to bring, a salad, or diet-type lunch to the owner, which
I disliked doing because I had to see myself in those damned mirrors.
Not that I looked too terrible, but my casual attire and Famolare
sandals definitely didn’t fit in with the place.
“Thanks, dDar,” Merle Norman’s owner would say regally.
I always tried to rush out as quickly as possible before she
tried to talk me into…again…a new lipstick, or….”some
powder base would do wonders for your skin, and we can make
those cheekbones more attractive and define the chin and….”
No thanks, I’ll just stay my own ugly self. I hated make-up.
Everyone was always trying to foist make-up on me, didn’t they
know by now that it only looked good on people who were already
so beautiful they didn’t need it.
Dorothy had turned her father’s small appliance repair shop
that had gone on for decades until he died in the 50’s into the
Four Seasons Gift Shop. She wasn’t there that often anymore,
preferring to spend rugged winters and other seasons at the family
cabin in the Sawtooth Wilderness area, She was chatty and rustic
like many hard-core pioneers, drove a pick-up. Once even making it
to the closest town to the cabin after she’d wrenched off her
right thumb trying to pour gas up into the truck’s gas tank. I
really had to respect her for that; I would have passed out in the
snow and frozen to death.
Dorothy had found two elderly women to run the Gift Shop,
they’d been doing it for fifteen Years. It was hard to imagine
how anyone could stand working there that long….all those cuckoo
clocks and the incredible array of glass and china stuff filling shelves
from floor to ceiling and big tables of it in the middle of the room…
it was a dusting hell as far as I was concerned.
The perfect Norman Rockwell old- time pharmacist was the
Ford’s Drugs owner conservative and polite in his cubby-hole
with an opening and ledge for prescription customers, and always
a friendly older woman to ring up the card, talcum powder, comb
or toothbrush. It was the only drugstore downtown so it was
busy all day; unfortunately at night the big corner windows made
easy targets and barbarian types were always breaking or chipping
the beautiful old green-marble and tile facings.
Nick the owner of Nick’s Boots and Shoes was an attractive,
dapper Greek in his forties, and he didn’t like me,
especially after I suggested that we take turns keeping the alley
swept up….not that he himself would have to do it, he had several
young men, some were latin, the rest Greek, working in the
back polishing shoes and boots perhaps one of them could
Nick rather glared at me after that idea of mine, didn’t even
answer, just strode deliberately back into his shop. Obviously
he wasn’t going to let a woman tell him what to do. So, guess
who sweat the alley? once in a while when it was really a mess,
finally, not at all.
Singer’s Pawn Shop did a lively business, I never did
figure out exactly how any pawn shop could….it seemed that a lot
more people sold stuff to them than the other way around. .ut since
there were about five pawn shops in a 2 block area, I guessed that
there had to be some profit in it. I never did know the name of
the older Jewish man who either worked at Singer’s Pawn Shop or
He always ordered the same thing bagel with cream
cheese and lox and slices of onion, but I never had much of a
conversation with him….he usually didn’t stay too long for
one thing:, and I just wasn’t sure what to chat about it didn’t
seem very polite to ask him, *How do you make money over there,
As the Fantasy Shop emptied big boxes and arranged the thousands
of things for the Christmas rush….and someone painted two enormous
jester faces on the front window, Liz, the owner, was getting more
and more excited. Chuckling merrily like Mrs. Claus herself,
pleasantly rotund and dressed in a full long red dress and —
high boots, carrying a black leather briefcase, pretty and animated
face the panache of growing up and living in San Francisco definitely
showed. The funding for the shop in fact came from old San Francisco
money, a favorite grandmother no one else in the family liked had
left Liz all her money. I had no idea how much money, but Liz
had already bought a giant Victorian in the North End; I’d heard
it was the setting for many get togethers with Liz’ widening group
of friends, including Odelle and Will Braniff who was going to
work for her at the Fantasy shop.
I was not much of a Christmas shopper….I usually gave a
odds and ends to my family and friends….homemade fruitcakes,
something I’d written (not very often), pads of notepaper with my
drawincs on them….that sort of thing. American Christmas retail
wouldn’t last long with customers like me. But I did want to see
the Fantasy Shop. It wouldn’t hurt to go and look, I’d promised Liz.
It was festive and wonderful, no doubt about it a huge
‘Xmas tree with probably three thousand ornaments on it….every
nera1vb1P type…all small and dearly made, …there were Christmas
ornaments everywhere you looked…in boxes on shelves, hanging from
the ceiling, the walls, special nooks there were ceramic ornaments,
wooden ones, metal, painted, unpainted, glass, brass and from every
country in the world-..,or so it seemed.
There were loads of cards, candles and finely made, but inexpensive
glass candle holders, there was wonderful jewelry…whimsical and
gala. 1, who rarely wore any jewelry, already wanted this
outrageous necklace composed of giant Blast is ‘jewels’….each a
different wonderful color. And only twelve dollars. And 1 really
should buy at least one thing from a fellow shopkeeper, …Liz
had been eating. a lot of sandwiches and salads from Rena’s. 1 bought
it along with many, many other things….that Christmas everybody
in my family got a Fantasy gift and the next Christmas too.
But the following Christmas wasn’t that festive for Liz
and her shop; she was broke. All those dinners out that she
treated friends and employees to, the expensive upkeep of the
Big Victorian House… just to heat the place in a winter month cost
three to four hundred dollars…, the parties and buffets she gave,
splurging on the biggest most wonderful Christmas trees. Two,
one for the shop and one to stand in the large bay window of her
house. It really was a special thing, that beautiful tree full
of tiny ornaments and sparkling with hundreds of tiny lights….
seeing it one December cold night, lots of snow all around, happening
to walk by her house and seeing that tree. It was a perfect
Victorian Christmas scene, unexpected and unforgettable.
And so the money disappeared and Liz declared bankruptcy,
had to have a month of Christmas Sales, things marked down more
and more. So low that I felt guilty buying just the few things
I did. Finally everything was ,Tone, the shop space empty, the
big Victorian was sold and Liz moved to Sun Valley. She hoped
to open a little coffeehouse there with a friend; she called me
one day at Hena’s asking how I priced the coffee and espresso,
how many cups per pound. But I don’t think she ever managed to
open one, Probably the rents were too high; she did have a party
balloon and festive occasion business for a while. Then later,
I heard from a friend of hers that she was back in San Francisco
working in a designer dress shop for…shall I say..voluptuous women,
large sounds so mundane,..near Union Square.
Desmond and Mollie’s
Some regulars at Rena’s asked for favors that on the surface
seemed like business like catering jobs, but really turned out to
be after hours, more work for me. Like Jon Robertson asking if
I wanted to do the dinner for his Citizens’ Alliance meeting;
there would be some money for me..twenty dollars.
I baked a big lasagna, fixed a green salad, made loaves of
French bread, took it to the Community Church basement and served
this dinner on paper plates, buffet style. Everyone seemed to like
the dinner, they loved it in fact; but, I didn’t get home until
midnight, a sixteen hour day wasn’t something I would want to
repeat ever again.
But several months later, Jon asked if I would do the snacks
and desserts and coffee for the anti-nuclear group he belonged to,
a lame get together….a rally with a well known folk singer,
Rosalie Sorrels, a group from Seattle to sing and do skits.
How could I refuse to help out a benefit like this?…against
nuclear weapons, bombs and war? Sure, I told him, already thinking
about the things I’d fix: veggie tray, triangles of different kinds
of sandwiches, wedges of woplecake.
I wore a slim-cut 27rev wool jacket, black pants, black boots,
but I hardly heard the folk singing and barely got a glimpse
of the group from Seattle. I was too busy making fresh coffee,
replenishing the platters of food. Jon came over occasionally
to tell me how great everything was, Pour a cup of coffee, have
another sandwich. It was kind of fun and exciting though, being
part of this group I’d known nothing about before.
And, it also made me realize that I knew nothing about
nuclear reactors or plants….all I knew was Hiroshima and Robert.
Oppenheimer. This rally with so many people filling the auditorium,
made me remember the explosions I’d seen as a child in the newsreels,
in the documentaries.
I asked Jon what books I could read to learn more about the
nuclear power and weapons RoinF on now. He mentioned a couple
of books I could let at the library, or I could go to the Snake
River Alliance office at the YWCA on 8th St. and yet some books
and information sheets there. I’he next Sunday I went to the
library and found several books, not recipe books or books about
how to run a restaurant, but about bombs, fission, the radioactive
results of nuclear tests and nuclear plants for power.
Another catering job came from an ex-customer who’d worked
at the Bouquet ear, a waiter during the lunch hour who spent after
work afternoons at Rena’s, drinking tea, smokinkg, hand-rolled
cigarettes and writing in a notebook. Paul Rio was his name.
He had curly short hair, in his mid-twenties, friendly, and
he told. me he was about to open his own place Desmond and Mollie’s,
a coffee house that would serve Food coffee by the cup with Melitta
filter, French wine by the glass, beer….music by whoever wanted
to perform. Sounded like a 60’s sort of place…unlike any place
in Boise at the time. I was really enthused about it; I’d never
liked regular bars, this would be a fun place to go).
Desmond and Mollie’s finally did open, thanks mainly to
Paul Rio’s mother, Ellen, who bought the Suds and Brew Bar,
a motorcyclists’ hang out across from the University stadium.
Paul and his friends re-did the inside, left the small neon Bud
beer sign in the front window, left the bar/counter and stools….
added rustic square plank tables and backless square matching
stools. The sign over the front door was taken down; the new
wooden Desmond and Mollie’s hand carved one up in its place.
fhe old customers of the Suds and Brew were not too pleased
about losing their drinking hang out, and even made some threats,
acted surly at the counter, made fun of the wine and coffee, and
sat outside Desmond and Mollie’s revving up their motorcycle
engines in deafening roars. After the police were called a few
times, the bikers gave up and gradually moved in on the next bar
down the road, the Broadway Bar and Grill.
It turned out that Desmond and Mollie’s was my third and
last catering job; Paul Rio talked to me about making muffins,
he’d had homemade woes of muffins in various coffee houses on
a recent visit to San Francisco, and thought it would be rather
avant-garde to have them at his place. And miniature quiches too,
wonderful snacks to go with individually brewed cups of coffee,
glasses of wine or beer or tea. Great ideas if I’d had a regular
restaurant set-up with a real oven and a dishwashing machine.
I didn’t even have a heavy duty mixer, like a Kitchen Aid
which cost three hundred dollars, so I mixed up muffin batter
by hand like the pioneers; now I was sure they’d been stronger
and more energetic then me. But this was at the end of the day,
at home, after I’d already mixed up several things by hand… the
cheesecake, the applecake, the carrotcake at home, this was
dangerous. The Health Department could shut Paul’s place down.
Not likely, but possible.
And the miniature quiches…a nightmare. The crusts stuck
to the little fluted miniature tins which I’d bought especially
for this lob. A brilliant idea… cookie sheets of quiches Crust
pastry rolled out, filled with eggs, cream, cheese, mushrooms, maybe
spinach or tomatoes….cut in squares to serve. I felt like I was
breaking some kind of culinary frontier….Square quiche; It tasted
just as Food, but after the excitement wore off, it was too damn
exhausting to make it at all.
Why was I always saying ‘Yes’ when I really wanted to say,
no. 1 liked going to Desmond and Mollie’s once in a while, loved
to hear the music and low-key repartee at the counter; how was I
going to tell Paul Rio? Luckily I didn’t have to tell him that
couldn’t, wouldn’t bake one more thing he decided that it was
getting too expensive, especially when his workers would find a
tray of days old quiche and dry muffins in the back room…. someone
had forgotten to serve them, to display them, to sell them.
Hooray! No more catering jobs….I could be just one of
the customers there.
I don’t know why I fell in love with Jon Robertson. There
certainly wasn’t any spontaneous mutual interest in art, European
cities, romantic parks. As far as Jon was concerned most art
was hopelessly decadent and a waste of time and paint; European
cities were only interesting as battlesites and other historical
events; and Darks were for jogging or running…maybe a place
to read a book or eat your lunch.
But, I felt a basic trust for him, especially admiring his
good deeds with the Citizen’s Alliance group he worked part-time
for, and his volunteer research for snake River Alliance, an anti-
nuclear group. He always knew what was going on at City Hall and
in the Capitol Building. And we shared a real interest in history,
especially World War II and European and American history in general.
Only Jon had a much more thorough knowledge than I did and a much
better memory for specifics; that’s why I enjoyed talking to him…
I always learned something interesting.
Well, I just liked the guy. He was always telling me some
amusing anecdote about his days as a college student working summers
at a big resort hotel or goings on at his house, actually his parents’
house where he’d grown up and now shared with his sister, Roseanne
and her long time bi-sexual companion, Odelle. His account of
answering a census taker’s questions about the household left me
crying with laughter.
And he loved the food at Rena’s. He came in three or four
times a week, and he didn’t ask me out or scare me with romantic
looks or sexual inferences. No, I was the aggressive one; asking
him if he’d mind my giving him this paper with a short verse saving
how much I liked him and thanks for coming to Rena’s. This was
while he sat at his usual corner table with his pile of notebooks,
folders, newspapers and cup of coffee and bowl of soup.
I hurried back into the kitchen after I handed him the folded
paper. Maybe that was stupid, I thought, why hadn’t I just told
him that I really enjoyed his coming in….why did I have to write
something? I didn’t want to go out of the kitchen, but I finally
had to wait on a customer. Jon was gathering up all his papers
and folders, bringing the empty SOUD bowl and coffee cup and putting
them on top of the Dell case.
“Thanks,” he said to me, “that was very nice.”
Our first ‘date’ was a movie and I drove since Jon didn’t
have a car. I drove the TR-4….Alan wanted to borrow my car for
that evening, but I probably would have taken the TR anyway. It
was kind of dashing and sporty, not that Jon cared….he wasn’t
the least bit Interested in cars, going everywhere on his old
bicycle or on foot. But he did think it was amusing that Alan
had loaned me his car for our ‘date.’
Once inside the movie theatre, the 1922 Egyptian Theatre
downtown, and in our seats toward the back, Jon pulled out from
his coat pocket the largest Hershey’s chocolate bar •I’d ever seen.
“I always eat one of these at the movies,” he explained, offering
me a piece. I broke off the smallest possible bit. I’d never
really liked chocolate after working a couple of summers at a
See ‘s candy shop.
“Thanks,” I said, wondering if he could actually eat the
enormous rest of the candy bar by himself. It was already going
fast, I knew that he went to the movies two or three times a week,
so he must eat a lot of those things. But he wasn’t fat….Jon was
pleasantly solid, about my height and getting a little bald. I
looked affectionately at him, at his worn brown corduroy jacket and
his obvious enjoyment.
“I can get away with eating a few of these a week,” he smiled
as he polished off the last square, “because of my running….about
thirty-five miles a week… every morning at Ann Morrison park.
You should start runnina- with me…you could eat all you want and
never worry about gaining weight.” He crumpled up the big wrapper
from the candy bar and tossed it nonchalantly on the floor.
“Joni” I laughed.
“Oh, it helps create jobs. If no one threw stuff on the floor,
they wouldn’t need. to hire that person who comes along and sweeps
up after every movie.”
“That’s the strangest solution to unemployment I’ve ever
heard,” I laughed, “and that idea for me to start running so I’ll
lose weight….is that a subtle hint that I’m too fat right now?”
I asked him kiddingly.
“No, no, I think you look great just the way you are; I only….”
Luckily the movie started up, ‘Yanks’ with Vanessa Redgrave, an
English movie during World War II.
When I took Jon home after the movie, we sat for a moment in the
TR, both of us leaned over at the same time to say good-night and
give each other a friendly kiss. Well, it started as a light friendly
kiss, but quickly became a very Passionate one, and the embrace was
passionate too in spite of the TA’s brake handle, stick shift and
rounded housing for the transmission between us. There was no way
we could continue this unexpected outpouring of affection in the
bucket seats of a TR-4.
Jon suggested we go in the house, but, we can’t go down to my
room in the basement, it’s a mess….full of books and papers all
over the floor, and I haven’t made my bed in weeks. We can use
Roseanne’s room, she probably won’t be home for a while,” Jon kissed
Roseanne I knew as a customer at Rena’s; I also knew Roseanne’s
long time companion, Odelle. Use her bedroom? No way…I could
imagine being nude on top of her bed with Jon making love to me,
with me making love to him; the door would suddenly open…no, no.
“You’re right,” Jon said straightening his jacket; I rearranged
my sweater, “maybe it’s better not to be too passionate too quickly.
I guess I’ll have to clean up my room.”
We said good-night again, this time he was safely out of the
car. He walked up the driveway to the front door, I turned the key
In the ignition. The TR’s four cylinder engine sounded awfully
loud, backed into the street and shifted into first. Jon turned
slightly and waved once; I reached over and wound down the passenger
side window and called out, “Good-night, see you tomorrow.”
It seemed our romance revolved a lot around food. Besides
Jon coming into Rena’s almost every day, we got together for Sunday
breakfasts at his favorite places. One was the fresh fruit, fresh
flowers, tablecloths and bright open windows of the Old 3olse Bar
in the turn of the century German Tuverein Building. Because it
was a bar I’d never considered ‘breakfast’ there or that it would
be so good. Jon liked scouting out all the ‘good food and lots of
it for very reasonable Prices’ he considered five dollars as
the extreme top price he would pay for any meal.
At the other end of town was another of his favorites, out on
one of those disagreeable busy streets lined with all kinds of stores
and restaurants….chains like Wendy’s and King’s Table and Midas
Muffler, but our destination was definitely not a franchise,
Mabel’s Pies and Coffee Shop. It was the basic, no frills diner,
not too different from the ones thirty years ago; it looked like
Mabel’s could have been that old. It certainly needed a hearty
clean-up and refurbishing, but then I couldn’t be too critical;
Rena’s was in need of a major clean-up too.
The waitresses at Mabel’s were mostly middle aged, been at the
job a long time, you could tell; a few teen-agers they enjoyed
bossing around. You could even catch glimpses of Mabel herself
if the door to her office was open behind the Pie counter. A
dressed up stout lady with lots of jewelry, short permmed hair,
round pretty face. Her desk was full of paperwork, the adding
machine with its tape rolling out along the desk.
It was always busy in there; maybe the pies were the big
attraction…there were enough kinds including some rather horrible
combinations like the Peanut-butter-chocolate pie or the lime-
custard with gobs of green meringue. Luckily Jon didn’t want
to go there too often, because I was way over the cusp of discovering
much better food tastes….things made with butter, not margarine
or oil; romaine and red-leaf lettuce instead of iceberg; soup
made from scratch, not mixes or cans; real bread; real orange juice;
icing on the cake mixed together in a double boiler with butter,
Baker’s chocolate, powdered sugar, true vanilla, cream; and the
jam in packets just couldn’t compare to simmered down fresh fruit
with honey; even maple syrup from giant plastic jugs was only
tolerable compared to Vermont maple syrup in small glass jars or
brown sugar boiled with Plain old water.
Even Jon admitted one Sunday at Mabel’s that the omelet he
was eating was too greasy. “I really like the food at Rena’s the
best,” he said. “Why don’t you get a loan and re-do the kitchen,
get a regular stove with a grill…fix breakfasts!”….Jon’s
favorite meal of the day.
I smiled, probably like the Cheshire Cat ….how nice of Jon
to say how much he liked the food at Rena’s….although he was
finishing up the greasy omelet and eating the last piece of toast
with a packet of grape jelly spread on it. I was ahead of him
on the kitchen idea anyway; I’d already gotten an estimate on the
venting and wiring for a commercial stove and it was impossible,
not only financially, but structurally. The hood/ventilator alone
cost one thousand dollars, and the exhaust pipes would have to go
up through Nick the Basque’s apartment.
So, the breakfasts at Rena’s would have to be the same fare
of bagels toasted with cream cheese and lox, coffeecake, banana
bread, maybe fritatta or quiche if they were ready early enough.
Our romance continued with other of ‘dates’ not relating
to food, but politics. Like the meeting we went to at someone’s
house; people sat on the floor, filled up what furniture there
was; I sat on the piano bench. This was a reactionary meeting of
sorts, but I couldn’t figure out the focus or true purpose of it all:
there were attractive people who spoke interestingly about going to
Pine Ridge; this .-zot some attention; others who spoke of Nevada
Test Site demonstration, Jon took notes for the Citizens’ Alliance
Newsletter; I just listened and tried to figure out what people were
Jon gave me a brief summary of what these people were all about,
as we drove back to his house in a friend’s borrowed pick-up…this
borrowed pick-up, older model with wooden slat sides,was also for
a recycling drive…newspapers, mainly ..aluminum cans , to fund the
Citizens’ Alliance for another few months. AIM….I’d never heard
of it…. Indian reservations taken over by military tribal police
and the FBI….uranium mined for Nuclear Bomb tests…all on Indian
land….I didn’t know what was going on here, I’d been so immersed
in Rena’s food preparation and ledger? bookkeeping. I’d barely
started re-,din=s about nuclear power Plants, radiation….now
wanted to know what was doing on with Lakota Sioux, with Navajo,
I couldn’t help It. I kept giving Jon these poems I’d write.
He was pleased, but embarrassed at the same time. “No-one’s ever
written ‘poems for me,” he said one evening as we sat in his house,
on the couch in front of the fire. Roseanne and Odelle were out
for the moment.
“I know, it’s totally decadent and ridiculous,” I said, sitting
next to him, but actually I felt rather poetic and romantic.
Maybe it was the dress I had on. A low cut, wrap around Diane
Von Furstenberg dress, black jersey with red roses, on sale for
thirty dollars in the bargain basement of the Mode Department Store,
black hose and black heels. We’d been to Desmond and Mollie ‘s
to hear some music and now, sitting comfortably close enjoying the
warmth from the small fire, I couldn’t watt for Jon to read this
poem I’d just given him. All in Spanish, especially for him.
I watched him unfold the paper and scan the lines. “You know,”
Jon said as he put the Parer down on his outstretched leas, “I’ve
forgotten all the Spanish, I mean…I recognize some of the words.
You better translate it for me.” The only reason I’d written it
in Spanish was because he’d been telling me about the months he
lived in Cuba in the 60’s….the Freedom Brigade, working in the
So, I read it aloud. The Spanish sounded beautiful, but the
English translation…dumb and sappy. “Santiago de mi alma”, almost
non-translateable withe first city of my soul’….(Santiago the
oldest city in Cuba),..ohhhhh. “..la Puente de mi casa” was the
fountain of my house. In English, totally ridiculous since Americans
didn’t have center courtyards with fountains like most Latin countries
After I read the lines, “las horas con ellos son horas sin tu”
‘the hours with others are hours without you’, Jon sighed, kind of
a resigned sigh. I crumpled up the taper and threw it into the fire,
I watched. it disappear forever, sad and poignant and romantic poem
that was too sad, too Poignant and too romantic for Jon.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said, “it was beautiful….I
liked it….” He put his hand on my Von Furstenberg covered knee,
I wondered what she was doing now…probably designing more dresses
in her castle in Austria, maybe writing some poetry.
“Oh, it was kind of ridiculous to keep forcing all these notes and
poems on you I guess I got carried away.”
Jon moved his hand to get up and reach for a piece of wood to
out on the fire. “Well, I think it’s all been too exciting for me,”
Jon laughed as he sat down on the couch. “Maybe we could go kind of
slow have to tell you,” he said seriously, “that I still love
and probably always will….this woman I fell in love with when I
knew her in college I don’t think she ever really loved me, but
the last time I saw her was about eight years ago she’s a journalist..
writes for the Sacramento Bee….but her folks live here in Boise, so
maybe I’ll see her again
I could appreciate unrequited love, in fact I’d written a lot on
the subject, “Well, that’s sad, Jon….sad that she doesn’t care more,
there’s always the chance she will though.”
Jon shrugged his shoulders, “I doubt it. I guess I’m just a
“You won’t believe this, Jon, but I was seeing this picture of all
of us you and me, Roseanne and Odelle, all living here together,
and our having a child…and we’d all be happy living in this house!”
He laughed and I laughed at the nicety of that thought and at the
hopelessness of it too. Of course, it was impossible…Jon still
hadn’t cleared up his room for a second I saw us making love on
Roseanne’s bed…my washing and then pressing dry the pillowcase on
the ironing board Jon had finally found and put up in the dining room,
hoping Roseanne wouldn’t come home before I finished.
“Well, I guess I’d better be going, Jon….I’ll see you at Rena’s
soon ” I put on my coat, reached for my purse, took out the
“Bye, Sandy thanks again for the poem…I’m really sorry I….”
“Don’t worry about it I’ll see you soon.”
“See you tomorrow come over for lunch.” He opened the
front door for me.
Here’s the poem I wrote for Jon…maybe you’d like to read it.
Para Ti For You
Tu eres el hombre You are the man
de mi corazon, of my heart,
de mi vida. of my life.
La fuente The fountain of my house,
de mi Gaga, the first city of my soul,
la Santiago the sugarcane field
de mi alma, of my island,
la canamiel the sunrise of my day.
de mi isla, Without any change,
la sonrisa my affection now
de mi dia. and for the tomorrows,
Irremediablemente your ideas
mi carino with me always,
ahora y por las mananas, The others are important,
tus ideas I enjoy the hours with them,
conmigo -por siempre. but they are hours without you.
Importantes los otros;
me los gozaria las horas con ellos;
son horas sin tu.
I really wrote this poem not only for Jon, but because it was
enjoyable to write something in Spanish again. It reminded me of
Puerto Rico where I’d lived for a while; the lines of some of the
popular songs then.
Jack’s New Apartment and New Plumbing Problems
Jack had found another apartment in the same building where
his pinochle friends, Lila and her elderly husband, Joe, lived.
I was sorry to see him move from upstairs. He’d been my
main liaison and defender of all the goings on in the Gem Building,
but he was getting tired of all the loud music and fights at the
Bouquet Bar. And the rent. Jack had the largest therefore the
most expensive apartment in the Gem Building, and he told me…
he didn’t need all that room. Bedroom, living room, kitchen, pantry,
bathroom had only brought trouble in the form of non-paving
guests; different people Jack had met and felt sorry for and taken in.
Like the woman who cleaned rooms at the Idanha Hotel, Eleanor,
short, plump, 60 years old; who couldn’t afford her cheap room at
the Idanha…. was from Pennsylvania like Jack and had come a long
way through one tribulation after another from her career as the
head of the accounting department of a prestigious firm in New
It wasn’t long before I was hearing about all the problems
about sharing the apartment with Eleanor. She drank too much; she
quit her job at the Idanha; she wanted to fix special meals for
Jack all the time; and, wanted to go with him everywhere, even
to his favorite loner spots like the Cactus 3ar and the pinochle
After Eleanor left with her sister who’d come from back east
to retrieve her, there was .d, the house painter, who also had
a list of impossible to live with characteristics, like not paying
his share of the rent.
So, Jack was delighted to move to his ‘new’ apartment in an
old narrow brick townhouse next to a larger, also old and more
run-down brick apartment house on 5th. St., a few blocks behind
the Capitol Building.
Of course there were problems with this place. It was colder
than the one in the Gem Building, there were cockroaches, Lila
and Joe were always visiting and pestering him to play cards.
And the tenants in the apartment house next door were a rowdy bunch,
carousing til all hours, throwing stuff out of upstairs windows.
Jack and I talked about various schemes to find out who the landlord
was and persuade him to kick everyone out, or perhaps accidently
set fire to the place.
But the Idaho Statesman, the only Boise newspaper, beat us to it.
There was a small fire in that apartment house, not any doing of ours
of course…it had been fun talking about it, but neither one of us
would go that far into law breaking: a fire department investigation
turned uo as the front page headline; David Leroy, the state
Attorney General was the owner of said dilapidated, unsafe, fire
In the next day’s paper, the Statesman printed some of the
Attorney General’s flimsy excuses for not keening up the building,
and it wasn’t long before he sold the burned out, ruined place. to
some developer who spent the next Year rehabbing it for offices.
It was the beginning of the ‘rehab old building’ craze in
Boise. Suddenly everywhere you looked downtown old .dingy but
picturesque buildings were being renovated….lots of brass,
gray or green carpeting, aqua and peach and stark white paint.
Some were done with more integrity for the original design, but
soon there were more offices in Boise than it knew what to do with.
Rents zoomed up after the rehabbing, so, in a way, I was glad that
Day Realty had no intention to fix up the Gem Building, it was the
best tax deduction they ever had.
So, l still had to contend with the leaks from upstairs, mainly
from Nick the Basque’s apartment. Ben Day did finally arrange for
a real plumber to come and do a patch job on the old lead pipes
that were leaking, and Ben suggested treat I should just be patient
because Nick probably wouldn’t last the winter.
Oh, great, I thought….what a way to solve plumbing problems.
And what about the next tenant? As it turned out Nick lasted several
more winters; still rolled with his seaman’s gait down the several
blocks to the Cactus Bar for him morning aperitif.
No, the next plumbing problem wasn’t from Nick’s apartment;
it was from Sharon’s apartment over the Four Seasons Gift Shops
One mid-afternoon when Sharon was home from her early morning
shift in the hospital laundry, used the bathroom toilet, and as she
Pushed the handle to flush, water poured out in deluge amounts,
rushing into Four Seasons so copiously and so loudly that I left
Rena’s to go next door to see what in God’s name was going on.
I had just noticed a few drips ih a new place at Rena’s… in front
of the deli case, but nothing like the water pouring down from the
entire ceiling at the gift shop. Not leaking slowly or puddling
up here and there, but Pouring from every inch of the ceiling onto
the fragile thousands of glass and ceramic’ gift-ware. The two
elderly women who ran the shop were amazingly in control; one already
having called Day Realty, the Police and Fire Departments; the other
trying to lay flat or remove the more precious plates and bowls,
glass hx-ses and cuckoo clocks.
About then, Sharon came in, hysterical over what she thought
had been all her fault…of course, she said she’d turned off the
shut-off valve behind the toilet, but it had broken off in her hand,
and her apartment was filling up with water; it was flowing down
the hall and down the stairs. Before the Gem Building flooded
completely, washing down 10th St. in a topsy-turvy pile of old granite
and sandstone blocks, someone turned off the main water source.
Now Rena’s had the problem of no water at all until the
broken pipes were fixed…I really felt lucky to have escaped
with only a few wet spots on the carpet. I wondered how long
it would take Day Realty to get things repaired….where would
I zet water in the meantime?…bring jugs of it from home, I guess.
I closed early that day and Jack and I went over to the
fixed-up Idanha Hotel lounge, sat uri at the high-tech bar and
had a 7-Up for Jack and a beer for me; I asked him if I could
have one of his Lucky StriAes.
Winter months I was a steady customer at Johnson’s Floral,
six to eight dollars a week kept Rena’s in fresh flowers. Sometimes
I’d buy a whole flowering plant, cut off the blooms as needed, a few
for each bouquet on each of the eleven tables, and then wait for
new blooms to appear. Of course these hot-house plants never
bloomed again even when I planted them at home….most of my
schemes for cutting costs were losers, I should have known.
It was simple enough to run across the street and down the
alley, come back with a green tissue wrapped bouquet, and spend
fifteen minutes arranging the flowers in the eleven little glass
jars; half an hour with no interruptions for the whole operation.
Grabbing my coat for the wintry run to Johnson’s One Monday,
dodging the trucks in the alley, getting to the back door of
Johnson’s Floral, I was startled to see piles of still fresh and
lovely roses on to of two of their trash cans. Just then a worker
came out with another armload of beautiful roses of all sizes and
colors; he tossed them all casually onto the pile of already discarded
ones by the door.
“Excuse me….sir why are you throwing all these roses out?”
Maybe they were poisonous, accidentally sprayed with something radioactive..
“Oh, hi, Rena,” he looked up from collecting another armful
of throwaway roses….”Well, these roses are just about over their
peak; we got a big shipment of fresh ones this morning, so the boss
said to get rid of all the ones from last week…go ahead and take some.”
It took me four trips to wet almost all the roses; I thought
I should leave at least a few for someone else to find. It was
Summer again with all these armloads of beautiful roses….festive
like a Maypole celebration a big birthday party!
Rena’s had never looked this spectacular…Roses everywhere
in the largest glass jars I had, gallons of them….it didn’t matter
that the gallon jars said, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard…they
were filled with lovely creamy white full open roses, pale yellow,
deep yellow, pink, a few bright red ones….on the Deli case, by
the cash register, on the table with the coffee machine, all over
the ledge by the front window.
Jack took some as gifts for his friends, we gave them to
customers, everyone ohhhhd and ahhhhd, and smiled, when they came in.
Robert took a few for his cab, Bonnie took a big bouquet home with
her…by four o’clock there were still lots left…flowers for
Rena’s for that week turned out to be pretty exciting, and only
happened that one time. No more surprises at Johnson’s Floral.
Kevin told me, “You just gotta roll with the punches,” but
it wasn’t that easy for me. reacted, I couldn’t always be blase,
especially when he told me about his girlfriend getting an abortion
in Portland. He didn’t seem more upset over this abortion than
his motorcycle race in Pullman or helping his father with his surveying
business. No, I could never really understand Kevin; I responded
to him; liked him because he was so enthused about life….the wird,
the cold air, the morning sun or bleak sky…he loved them all.
In the kitchen at Berate he drove Bonnie and me crazy with
his mischievous devil-may-care antics… putting white wine in all
the sandwich spreads, even the egg salad; insisting on strange
additions to the soup like a whole lemon. That day I did get
furious because I had to throw the whole pot out it was so bitter.
Too much salt, too much pepper a can of tomato aspic in the
vegetable soup, blowing excess parsley off a customer’s frittata,
giving free cookies to his favorite customers, taking Pieces of
watermelon over to Jon Robertson’s moody father to cheer him up.
There were many times when I really wished I hadn’t hired him, but he was so full of life, so enthused and excited about everything that we all loved him like a younger brother who was always losing your stuff and breaking things. Stirring up a big batch of orange juice in a glass pitcher so hard with a metal spoon….so vigorously that the pitcher shattered apart…orange juice all over the floor and under the refrigerators…just like a ten year old. But he was twenty-two.
Part of the reason he acted so wild ….maybe because his mother had died when he was four, there were three older brothers and his father let them alone to do whatever they wanted. Kevin had loved his dad a lot and nothing but praise for hire…. he’d been helping Kevin race motorcycles since Kevin was 12. That’s why he’d some to Boise, he remembered racing there and liked the town, thought he’d come back for a while, get away from Kelso and racing and carousing.
He thought I was way too serious about Rena’s…. …”Lighten up!” he kept saying. Or giving me pieces of his sometimes outlandish, sometimes wonderful philosophy….”Look not mournfully into the past, wisely improve the present.” Or, when I said something irksome about someone I’d once loved, …”Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay, Love is not love til you give it away.”
When Alan, my son who was a senior in high school, got a carrot
juicer and started drinking gallons of carrot juice, Kevin joined
in with fervor became a vegetarian too and also drank gallons
of carrot juice he thought this was a great way to get all the
old drugs and alcohol out of his system. As usual he got carried
away, went all out with fasting and then eating too much too soon
because it tasted so good. l was ordering 25 pound sacks of carrots
every week. Actually we were all becoming vegetarians although
I was still drinking coffee and smoking a few cigarettes….when
I say ‘we’ I meant myself, my son and daughter, and Kevin…certainly
not most of Rena’s customers.
For a while Kevin lived in the basement at Rena’s.
He loved it, had his sleeping bag, his new calligraphy pen and
paper and ink…had the whole place to himself from 5 PM to the
next morning at 7:30. One morning I came in, surprised that the
front door was open, and there was Kevin in his sweat pants and
sweat shirt serving coffee to Jack and Robert and a couple of
other people they’d invited in I said ‘hi’ in a friendly enough
way, but I could feel this irritation starting to build up to a
full blown temper tantrum.
“Look what I made for you last night” exclaimed Kevin with
delight, pointing to a wonderful shelf arrangement for the coffee
maker and cups. I loved it the whole thing made from
narrow pieces of wood….whimsical looking, but definitely useful
and really nice of him to do that.
“Kevin, it’s great! 1 love itI Where did you get the wood…?
It’s really neat, thanks!” I gave him a big hug.
“In the basement….there’s that table full of stuff, old door
frames, windows…junk….I even found a hammer and used some of
the old nails.”
Oh, boy how could I get mad at him after that.
Well, there were a few other times I did get mad at Kevin,
one was on a beautiful first day of Spring…in March. And if you’ve
never lived where the winter was cold and overcast, nothing green
or blooming for 4 or 5 months except pines and juniper, you’ll just
have to imagine that first day when the air has lost its chill, there’s
an exciting warmth, blue sky with huge white clouds. I should
have known better, but I felt too exhilarated.
“Kevin, let’s close early and go for a drive… it’s so wonderful
out….I have the TR …maybe we can take the top down…”
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Kevin’s response was…
“All rights Let’s go I love the TR…. can I drive?”
“Hmmmmmmmmm… maybe…if you don’t drive too fast…let’s go
out to Arrowrock…that’s not too far…kind of pretty along the
river. It’s almost three….I’ll go put a note on the door…
saying….’gone fishing’ of course.
I had second thoughts about letting Kevin drive as we
headed out of town; so far he was going slowly, but once o?
the open road….I wasn’t sure if he knew what ‘not too fast’
meant. The one time we’d driven up to Bogus Basin to watch some
ski jumping he drove my VW up the windy- mountain icy road like
he was on a motorcycle; the poor VW’s clutch would never be the
But now on this Spring day, the top down, the fabulous sun
and air, no other cars, just the beautiful open scene, “What’s
wrong with my driving, might I ask?” When I’d driven Kevin once
before in the TR, he thought I was luging the engine.
“Well, you need to tach it out more,” he looked comfortable
but alert behind the wheel, already having shifted into fourth
a long time ago.
“Tach it out? You mean higher RPM’s? what about those
red zones on the tachometer?”
“Stay out of those red zones just get it up higher in
the lower gears,” we were by now at the reservoir behind Lucky Peak
Dam, beautifully remote, almost desolate…basalt cliffs, dry
grasses; of course it had to have been amazingly beautiful before
they built the dam
“Here, I’ll show you what I mean,” he said shifting quickly
into low, then fast into reverse and straight down the boat-ramp,
steeply down, screeching to a stop about two inches from the
water. It was like riding a roller coaster backwards into the
ocean it took me a few seconds to speak….
“Jesus, Kevin”….I rarely swore “Dammit What if
we’d gone in the water….the car would have sunk….Why did you
do that” I really was furious this time, as Kevin shifted slowly
into first, without outting us ir the water like I would have done…
it was hard to put the TR in first or a steep hill without sliding
back a little….and drove very slowly back up the ramp.
“OK, drive back to Boise.”
Kevin got meekly out of the car; we exchanged sides without
a word. He did say he was sorry….I didn’t answer, but drove
moderately, not taching it out, stonily silent back to Rena’s.
Of course, I forgave him, and I didn’t have to ask him to move
out of the basement because he found a basement room to rent in
a house nearby seventy-five dollars a month.
And we had some calmer outings like seeing the outdoor
Shakespeare Festival play, “Romeo and Juliet”, and went with Jon
Robertson to Desmond and Mollie’s, once to watch old Superman
movies someone was showing and eat popcorn that Paul Rio had fixed.
Sometimes he’d meet a girl at Desmond and Mollies’, go to
an all night party, drink as much beer as he used to in Kelso….
write it off the next day as a good, but backward step experience.
He wanted me to go to the Mollie Hatchet concert with him (sorry
about those two Mollie’s, but that was the way it happened),
I’d never been to a hard core rock concert….the last ‘concert’
was the the Kingston Trio at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in
the 1960’s I was kind of intrigued sort of like to
go just to see what one was…but when I drove him to the big
outdoor stadium at the fairgrounds…”You’ll get home ok?”
“Oh, sure…don’t worry about that….don’t you want to
come though it’ll be great…you should go …”
No, I just wanted to go home and recuperate from another
busy day at Rena’s.
Kevin was ready to go home in _April he missed his Dad,
he wanted to go home to Kelso, Washington. “You wouldn’t want
to drive me home…would you…meet my Dad…see my house?”
A trip away for the week-end sounded fine….we could leave
on Friday, close Rena’s on Saturday..there wasn’t that much
business on Saturdays anyway…. and I could drive back on Sunday.
“You know, that would be fun…I’ve never seen Kelso; I haven’t
been away from Rena’s since -I’ve been working here….”
We left that late Friday afternoon, sandwiches and left-
overs to eat on the trip; highway out of Idaho, places along
the empty freeway filled with cattails and red-winged blackbirds.
We stopped for the night in a cheap motel along the Columbia River,
Kevin rolled up in his sleeping bag on one double bed, and we
ate the Rena’s sandwiches for breakfast the next morning, overlooking
the river….a quick stop excursion up to Mt. Hood, ski area all
year round with glistening, bright sun snow pack, then on to
Longview, Washington…a nuclear reactor to our left. The classic
shape spewing out a gray cloud and tiny bright lights like fireflies,
It was anytown USA, a small downtown, up to his father’s
house with big pine trees all around. Inside, a simple liveable
house, but deserted, forlorn at the same time. I slept on the
couch in my clothes; his father offering me an extra blanket;
I see his drafting table there in the space for a dining room table.
We have pancakes the next morning on paper plates, standing
out on the porch. Kevin shows me his room….a pile of clothes
and boxes…his sleeping bag like a nest in one corner.
We say good-bye in the yard, my car parked ten feet away,
his father is glad to have met me, thanks, I say for the nice
breakfast. Good-bye, Kevin….I start to walk to the car, but
can’t resist a last look….Bye, Kevin, as I leave Alma St. in
It could have been a shop in Haight Ashbury, but it was just
two doors up from House of Robertson Pipes and Tobacco on 8th St.
in Boise, Idaho. Roseanne and Odelle, companions since high school,
had been collecting old clothes for years, really fine and unusual
clothes from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. And they had a large group
of outre friends who liked buying them.
This was before the popular mania for vintage clothes; few
high school or college people in Boise were wearing them. But I
couldn’t resist buying a 40’s winter coat, belted waist, double
breasted, fur collar and cuffs thick grayish-brown extremely
warm, I felt like a Russian soldier. Then in the Spring I had to
have a long navy blue skirt from the 20’s, an old material called
twill, fastened up the sides with tiny rusty hooks and eyes. It
seemed made for riding an obsolete bicycle or driving a Deusenberg.
Once I was surprised to see a complete Gray Lady’s outfit, which
brought back this clear sudden picture of my mother during World
War II, going off to a Veterans’ Hospital to read to or write
letters for some poor incapacitated soldier.
Besides the old uniforms, tuxedos, Victorian blouses and other
long ago clothing, Odelle had a huge collection of those wide garish
ties, but he rarely wore those preferring the subdued pleated pants,
narrow ties, 40’s or 50’s jackets. And Roseanne wore more of a
thrift shop mixture, but when they went out at night for dinner or
to a play, they both dressed in elegant black and white 30’s
evening wear….with their classic unpretentious good looks it all
seemed perfectly natural.
The most outlandish thing about Cheap Chic was the front
window display, wonderfully whimsical or startling or humorous
like the authentic beach scene in the middle of an Idaho winter…..
lots of sand, many mannequins lying or standing on the ‘beach’ in
their 40’s bathing suits, umbrellas brightly unfurled. Occasionally
there was a live-model scene with one of Roseanne and Ocielle’s friends,
usually Jeanine, posing for hours in some eye catching outfit like
high black boots, tight black short skirt and black leather jacket.
Sometimes a group from Cheap Chic would come into Rena’s for
a late lunch, bringing their own bottle of wine and stemmed glasses.
Most of the time they ate at Vic’s Cafe, an old-time coffee shop
with a counter and booths where the waitresses weren’t trying to wear
vintage outfits, they were just the ones that Vic’s waitresses had
always worn. Odelle loved their liver and onions on Thursdays, but
after going there once with them, I decided that my days of liking
diner food were definitely over.
Odelle and two young women came in one late afternoon; both women prettily made up and both wearing chestnut colored fur coats with the 40’s padded shoulders, both in high heels, wearing gloves and jewelry…..chatting in a lively, happy, small-talk way. They all had tea. It made a colorful tableau…. the three dressed so attractively, the old California pottery tea pot, the cups and plates of cookies. When Odelle came up to pay, he handed me a present, something he’d found in one of the shop’s vintage coat pockets; an eye glass case, leather with gold lettering: Dr. Simmons Optical Shop 105 N. 10th., Boise, Idaho this was Rena’s address.
When Jon Robertson, Roseanne’s brother, told me that the two pretty women in the fur coats were really men, I was mildly surprised. I knew nothing about transvestites. e, brief nightclub act in a place in North Beach in 1961 and Christine Jurgensen…that was it.
I could certainly understand wanting to be someone else, or emphasizing
go one side of yourself. I would have to for it and be totally different;
actually another species might be more productive and enjoyable.
And if a man wanted to wear an uncomfortable girdle, tight hose, precarious pointed high heels, it was all right with me, but comfortable trousers with pockets and flat walking shoes had more advantages.
I just hoped they all liked the food at Rena’s.
Jack and I Go to Idaho City
It was still the time that I liked doing good deeds, thought
I should be doing them…before I realized they were expensive and usually
aggravated the _recipient or me. Bonnie’s husband Played horns… trumpet,
sax… with a ‘Rag Band’ …New Orleans style music. and they were
playing in Idaho City one Sunday, in the small park, arts and crafts
fair going on too. I thought it would be fun to go and since Jack
seldom got out of the downtown, I asked him if he’d like to go.
“Suuuure,” he said, he liked Bonnie, who’d been at Rena ‘s practically
since we’d opened, the main person who prepared the lunch orders,
a really nice, wood-humored woman who’d ci..own up in Idaho.
I picked. Jack up in the morning; we were going to make a day
of it out of town along open flat two lane highway, then up
steeper grade, past the dam and reservoir, into the mountain area
with Dine trees, fist moving Grimes Creek, up into old mining country,
“Aren’t the pine trees wonderful?” I exclaimed, ridges and
hillsides of them, such a glad sight to me after concrete and
“Aw….one tree looks like another to me…seen a pine tree,
seen enough..’l said Jack trying to open the ashtray to put out his
I guess he’d been too citified • over the years, and this
scene certainly wouldn’t look like his Old Pennsylvania farmland.
Oh, well, hopefully he’d like the old-fashioned breakfast at
Forty minutes after leaving downtown Boise we were in downtown
Idaho City, the gold mining town of the 1850’s through the 1890’s.
A couple of fires had burned down most of the original town, but
the 1870’s buildings left were mostly intact, and there were wooden
‘sidewalks’, old-time buildings with the pleasant imperfect glass
windows, the heavy iron fire doors; the sense of a real old mining
town because it hadn’t gone too touristy yet….still the pioneer
cemetery on the hill, the white church with wooden steeple just above
the main street, the saloons that looked about the same as in the
1800’s. You could picture someone in there ordering a shot of
whiskey, a Colt on his hip, a mean game of draw poker at the table
over there. In fact, these things still went on in Idaho City.
Jack and I stepped Into Calamity Jane’s, small, wood-planked
walls, counter, several tables; we sat down at the only empty one
by a window. I knew Jack would notice the biscuits and gravy on
“That looks might good,” he said as the waitress in Levis and
with a pot of coffee poured him a mugful.
“They really are good, sir….some cream for your coffee?”
It was a hearty breakfast, good to the last bite, as Jack
Polished off his plate with the last half of biscuit and I ate the
rest of my chunky potatoes and omelet. “Oh, boy that was good,”
he smiled happily, swallowing the last of the coffee and lighting
up a Lucky Strike. This made me feel good too….I forgave him for
not being more enthusiastic about the beautiful mountain pines.
We walked up the Main Street, past the General Store, Eagle
Saloon, the miner’s cabin with the original old iron stove, simple
bed, wood table and chair, to the park, now filling up with people.
The band was getting ready on the raised platform; the arts and crafts
tables were set up nearby. We talked to Bonnie for a few minutes,
listened to the music; the band wearing straw hats and ‘rag time’
clothes, Dixieland. We had an ice cream cone from a hand cranked
ice bucket. Almost like a hundred years ago, except that we got
into a modern car and drove back to Boise; didn’t take the stage-
coach like they did back then, used to be a full day’s drive by
stage from Idaho City to Boise.
If you were broke, needed food stamps, a bus Pass, special
short term housing, AFDC, emergency cash, a hot meal, a stroller
or crib, extra milk money for your child…ask Melody. She’d
applied for and gotten every possible social gratuity the city,
county, state and federal bureaucracies doled out.
Melody, her on again-off again husband and their two babies
had moved into the last empty apartment upstairs, the one with
the big bay window painted gray. A diet coke was what she came into
Rena ‘s for, but since we didn’t have soft drinks anymore, she had
an iced tea pretty girl, very lane and soft looking like she’d
had too many marshmallows, twinkles, do-nuts and fritos along the way.
Good natured though…17 or 18, out of school since she was 14,
wouldn’t take any bossing around from her 20 year old husband.
He had no personality that I could tell; he roamed the streets
for pick up or sweep jobs, got drunk quite frequently and threw things
out of their apartment’s second story window…once the cat.
Melody told him to get out after that. I suppose she thought one
of the children might be next or possibly herself….with enough
leverage and drunken strength he might be able to do it.
Actually she shot along better by herself even though she missed
his battered up old car. Without it, she had to lug the two babies
and the stroller onto an infrequent Boise Metro Bus to the Social
Security Office or the HUD Office or the SSI Office to to get the
food stamps. It was a full time job requiring a lot more patience
and persistence than I had, and tremendous energy and consistency to
fill out the thousands of forms. With a brief training period and
some new clothes, Melody could have been head of the Department
of Health and Welfare.
Only one person came into Rena’s on roller skates. …Keith
the recent Opera major now inventor of Figaro’s sin ins Telerams..
He had a happy smiling round rosy cheeked face, and on his
infrequent visits, wild, sateen, striped off beat costumes…
once an angel with lar.4e win,zs that bent dangerously as he
came in the doorway with flyers adyertisinz….Figaro, Singing
Telezrams Delivered by Phone or in Person..
Soon Keith was joined by a new addition to his business,
an Egyptian Belly Dancer, Christine Peterson…. Paul Rio’s girlfriend,
a 60’s attractive young woman, full curly brown hair, trim figure…
whose father had invented that beeping back-up alarm sounding
device for trucks and construction equipment. She was wealthy
but liked to live against family principles….and this was one
Now it was Figaro’s Singing Telegrams and Belly Dancing
Entertainment, Inc. They were actually called, and performed
all over Boise….I tried to picture the day they headed out
of town bound for a job in an outlying community…a rainy,
late fall day when their truck ran out of gas… .suddenly
stranded on Idaho 80 north to Parma, raining…Christine in
her Egvptian outfit, veil, slipoers…Figaro in winxs and striped
tights, hitchiking…in farmland outskirts of Idaho.
John Elliott was an actor who received royalty checks
every month; quite an accomplishment for someone who’d rarely
been out of Idaho. He’d been in one of my favorite plays….
Knights of the White Magnolia. A little theatre production, up
rickety steps to a part of Eddy’s Bakery that was soon to be torn
down. I hadn’t known any of the actors in the play which perhaps
made John even happier when I told him about this wonderful play
I liked so much: Knights of the White Magnolia…. so good….so
perfectsthe small southern town with racist history; a few, very
few trying to keep alive the White Society that no one
wanted to belong to anymore; there are really only three
members who the Head of this Defender for White Womanhood
and the South can preach to; the Negro custodian is asked
if he wants to join, members and funds are desperately
needed. John played the white bumpkin farmer who only
wanted fun and socializing at the end of the day
the custodian hesitates, isn’t sure he wants to join…
Now John had an antique shop on 8th St., and he also spent
much time rehearsing and being in various plays, and an occasional
film part; a Clint Eastwood movie and videos made for schoolchildren
about the Old West, mining towns like Idaho City.
His antique shop was filled with a mixture of French Provincial,
50’s garden furniture, ottomans, interesting glassware, Oriental rugs,
tramp art, beveled mirrors and stained glass windows. There was
always a comfy down filled sofa or unusual Morris chair that made
into a bed because when times were slow at the shop, John lived
there it was wonderful and homey with John’s parakeet, the
.mini-kitchen in the back, the hot plate and small refrigerator;
the large desk with the old bank ledger to keep careful recording
of the sales and outlays. Everything dusted, arranged, no clutter;
neater than my housekeeping had ever been.
As to taste in food, well, John preferred Moon’s Tackle and
Gun Shop which had a lunch counter in the back. It was just around
the corner from his shop, a handy spot to go for a Moon Burger and
a giant milkshake. He did come into Rena’s once or twice. I didn’t
mind….I had a grilled cheese and we shared a milkshake at Moon’s
on a few Saturdays, and talked about Maxfield Parrish or the Teddy
Roosevelt one-man play he wanted to do; I thought he would make a
perfect Truman Capote, maybe because he was one of my favorite
authors…. John did look a bit like him.
Culture at Rena’s
Daniel Stern came from New York City; he was now the conductor
of the Boise Symphony, and liked eating at Rena’s where he had a tab.
He’d been a violin prodigy, recently left his wife to marry the first
violinist; had two darling daughters who also played violin. Be was
charming, cherubic; no match for his ruthless business manager,
Vivian, also from New York and Jewish.
She could be alternatively curt, rude and generous; suddenly
giving me two tickets to the concert that Friday evening. The
Boise Symphony was good as far as I was concerned, and the place
where they played then, a high school auditorium, was perfectly fine
with me. The acoustics were acceptable, the seats comfortable; why
couldn’t things stay the same….
Suddenly a new ‘Performing Arts Center’, tickets twenty dollars,
dress-up required; I never went there; never heard the symphony again.
Brent Coles: Customer and Worker at Rena’s
Brent was a living proof that a diet of chocolate, coffee and
cigarettes didn’t kill, for a while anyway. He was still young,
twenty-two or twenty-three. Worked for the Telephone Company,
I never knew exactly what he did, something with yellow page
advertising. He liked coming into Rena’s because we were a block
Brent sat close by the cash register, making light conversation,
an extremely sharp mind, congenial smile. He’d grown up in a farm
town, Montour, Idaho, about an hour and a half away, and now being
flooded by a 50’s built dam decaying. This was the first time I
realized that man-made dams collapsed, broke down after forty or
fifty years…..it was flooding his hometown.
Luckily I saw it before the end. Farm towns always scared me,
so bleak, so desolate, but this one was charming, a lovely valley,
houses and an old school from the early 1900’s. All empty with signs,
‘No Trespassing….US Government Property’ what was this? Some
CIA operation? A nuclear bomb test site? A friend and I explored
around, going through old-time hollyhock, foxglove gardens, peering
into windows… insides of houses left intact; the schoolhouse, tall
brick with the large school bell…we could walk in and see old
desks and blackboards and lights. A small railroad station nearby;
we walk along tracks partially covered by encroaching pond water,
lots of frogs and algae.
A train actually appears, comes fast, sounds loud, but we
can’t go anywhere; have to crouch down by the swampy water and cover
our ears as the train rushes by. Not that close a call….we could
have jumped into the swampy water just surprised that the train
still came through this flooding town.
We walk along after the train disappears; I see a hill I want
to climb up to look out over the flooded areas; I’m almost to the
top when suddenly a huge Canada Goose on her nest inches away from
me is startled and flies abruply away, the nest so symetrical and
perfect of down with three eggs. I back down the hill feeling so
badly that I frightened this beautiful creature. I ask my friend,
do geese come back to their nests after they’ve been scared away
by humans? He was fairly sure that the Canada female goose would
Brent told me that it was Hell growing up there and having
to go to Horseshoe Bend High School, a several mile bus trip away;
I can’t wait to go to Salt Lake City, he said, where the phone
company was transferring him. By the time he left his hometown
would be under water. A recent visit proved disappointing. All the 4
buildings torn down and disappeared, even the wonderful three story
brick schoolhouse. The gardens still blooming, but sad to see this
farm town; the only small town I’d like to live in, demolished.
I wondered what would happen to the farms and orchards on the other
side of the dam when it..this dam…really collapsed.
When it was really busy at Rena’s when Brent was there, he
offered to help, take orders at the cash reqister. Ae was used
to dealing with people and could certainly add up the money needed.
“All right, Brent!…that’s so nice of you to want to help!” I told
him. No one else had ever done so; said they’d like help when we
were so busy. It took Brent about two minutes to get the main data
down. He took over the cash register and taking orders; he was
or looked especially pleased.
I was just glad he wanted to help out; wanted to give him
a bowl of soup with bread for lunch, but no, Brent only wanted
another cup of coffee; said how much fun it was.
Architectural Sophistication Comes to Rena’s
It wasn’t too often people came into Rena’s wearing well designed
suits, fine fabric and trim fit; and they were from Montana, an
unlikely spot. Well, it seemed that Helena, Montana was heavily into
rehabilitation of their 1800’s buildings and these people had a
reputation in the Northwest for doing it right.
The urbane man in charge was in his late thirties I guessed,
his two associates in their late twenties; this threesome came
in to Rena’s for lunch frequently. 1 never did find out how they
heard of Rena’s for good food. Perhaps from Alan Minskoff, New York
City wealthy person interested in keeping old buildings intact, and
who liked obscure restaurants where attempts were made…. borscht
with fresh beets, real sour cream.
I took the architects on a tour upstairs one afternoon;
the Gem Apartments, through the secret dark passageway into the
deserted Columbia Hotel full of old mattresses, same old furniture,
huge skylight. They were excited about what could be done…the
wonderful apartments. Now I know these apartments would have
been too expensive except for corporate figures and other well
off Boiseans. I just wanted to see the place saved.
I gave them Day Realty’s phone number, hoped something
would work out, but nothing ever happened. Before they left
to re–design a northern Idaho downtown, they rehabbed several
old homes in Boise, one on 2nd and Main St. I was especially
fond of, wanted in fact, even if the mansion next door had a
ghost….a ghost of a young woman who lived on the third floor,
was restless, rearranged things. I loved mysteries and old houses
kept the way they were built in the first place, with plumbing
repaired and new water heaters, solar skylights.
Rena’s Does Cross-Country
Actually the sport Alan thought Rena’s should sponsor was
baseball….a baseball team with Rena’s T-shirts and Rena’s snacks
after the game. This would have been fun, other restaurants
and businesses did it. Baseball in all its varieties was extremely
popular in Boise from the fourth grade on to elderly there
was a team for you; Atomen’s Slowpitch, Men’s Slowpitch, Co-ed
Softball, Co-ed Hardball, and all men or all women’s versions
of each; and, every child in elementary school had the chance
to be on some sort of baseball team ranging from really competitive
try-outs to yes, you can certainly play….what position would
Beth had been on the team sponsored by Vista Drugs with the
last real soda fountain in Boise ice-cream cones or sodas
for everyone after the games For three summers, 4th, 5th and 6th
grades, Beth played for Vista Drugs….outfield and first base,
red T-shirts with white letters. First the coach was the pitcher’s
mother, then the daughter of the owners of Vista Drugs, Chris who
went to the University of Idaho….slim, low-key, serious about
sports, liked the girls.
Beth’s one homerun was exciting and crazy: _Hit to close by
the pitcher, pitcher misses, then picks up the ball, throws to
first base, first baseman misses catch, Beth is running to second;
Chris the coach calls out… “Stay put, Beth”, Beth keeps running
to third, first baseman tries to throw to third baseman, the ball
hits Beth on the head, kind of lightly because it was an arched
soft throw, she keeps on running, never stops…Home Base.
I don’t think Alan realized that most of the baseball teams
for his age group were extremely competitive; fights were not
uncommon, barbed remarks and put-downs. I knew this because Jon
Robertson was a long time and enthusiastic baseball player, lately
co-ed softball which seemed to incur even more heated arguments
between the sexes.
Rena’s resolved it all by backing the Borah High Cross-Country
Team. Alan and Beth were both on it, and telling me about rigorous
practices up 8th St., into the foothills. No, Cross-Country wasn’t
what I thought….moderate speed, relaxed gait; it was all out
running as fast as you could over steep terrain, down hills, through
Sandwiches were needed for trips out of town, to Pocatello
or Twin Falls….I was glad to fix long French bread loaves of
different ingredients, vegetarian, ham and swiss, turkey and cheese
and cookies and cakes.
I only saw two races, at Ann Morrison Pa±.k near the downtown;
that’s when I realized…. they’re running flat out here. At the
end, arms up over heads or heads down to knees….exhaustion, new
oxygen needed fast, happy it’s over. And the race on the golf
course in the foothills; total dedication and purpose; I could feel
their spirit and energy, I understood now.
All through Junior High and High School I’d tried to get
away from Rena’s to see important, very important occasions:
Swing Choir concerts, tennis matches……
Borah High is playing Boise High, Alan is playing for Borah,
singles, but his serve is off, and students rooting for Boise High
where the match is being played, yell fighting phrases I hear,
I’m standing right next to them “Boy, lousy serve! Stroke it
out there”, as Alan starts to serve, raises his arm and racquet,
“Loser! Hit it out!” I’m ready to strangle these stupid kids
and restrain myself from saving what I think.
Alan finishes out the match, and if only his usually good
serve had been on, he’d won. Beth does strong in the girls’
matches, doubles and ends up playing for doubles’ state champion.
I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t there for that out-of-town match,
something I definitely should have closed Rena’s for, but….
The Cross-Country Awards Ceremony where everyone was treated
with respect and acclaim, everyone gets introduced with special
accolades from the good-hearted coach….Alan is voted one of the
most popular and excellent runners; Beth is introduced-as someone
who never gave up, kept running no matter what.
I’m feeling extremely guilty, Rena’s has taken over my life;
I must take an afternoon off and go see Alan and his best friend
Phil and their musician friends’ performance of the Blues Brothers…
they’re good, they’re awfully good. Alan as John Belushi; his friend
Phil, Dan Ackroyd…now I know why Alan wanted my father’s old
fedora hat, the suit from the vintage clothes shop. They were good
at the junior high, their old Junior High School, performance,
but Alan told me T should come to the Borah High assemblies when
they played…. everyone in the bleachers up on their feet, stomping
and shouting…The Blues Brothers!
It’s College now…BYU…I fix muffins at Rena’s to mail
to Alan; then Beth goes the next year…more muffins. Not much
singing or running anymore; Beth takes ballet, history, Alan goes
in for science.
On the edge of the parking lot where I paid thirty dollars
per month to park my VW, close to Rena’s to take in sacks of
vegetables, loaves of bread, tins of honey, chunks of cheese
and cream cheese, bags of lettuce and carrots, there were two
cement outlined shapes by the driveway to the parking lot. Empty
dirt filled forlorn things.
Where do these ideas come from? God or Satan…or Pan?
I wanted to plant things in these empty cement bunkers, and my
friend working at Rena’s agreed…Let’s do it, a vegetable-flower
garden by the dismal asphalt parking lot….maybe we could use
some of the vegetables at Rena’s? I asked the Parking Lot person,
a young woman in the ticket office who’d been there for a year
or so “Sure,” she said, “that would be great….a few plants
growing, go ahead!”
So, we troweled in a few bags of new soil; planted zucchini,
sunflower seeds, tomato plants, petunias, hollyhock, squash, cornflowers,
They were slow growing, the usual Spring in Idaho; carry buckets of
water out, see some things coming up, getting bigger; early summer,
green stalks with leaves; we keep watering. Flowers, a tall Sunflower
growing up there, real zucchini…is it all right to use these
vegetables with all the carbon monoxide?; tomatoes, fuller, now
growing to the edges of the cement planter, the Sunflowers really tall.
Customers tell us how wonderful it is, this little garden on the
One morning, late August, I drive into the parking lot, park
the Haboit, get out with a bag of goods for Rena’s…close and
lock the door, turn around. No garden, Sunflowers gone,
cornflowers gone, blank and empty like before, except there is
a person on his knees, a young man, digging out the last plant,
the zucchini, two of them succulent and green and ripe…all
empty, already demolished. “What are you doing?” I ask, anger
not really hidden, on the surface….
“I’m just doing what I’m told,” he says, as I come nearer,
too sad to be as angry as I should be.
“Who told you to do this, I already had permission from
the manager of the parking lot..to plant this garden..”
without enthusiasm, he digs up the last of the plants,
the zucchini, “Want this green vegetable, or…”
“Throw it out,” I say with venom, ” or give it to the person
who told you, ordered you….to do this. Whose your boss, I really
would like to know?” Tears are not too far away; I look at the
The young worker gets up, brushes the dirt from his knees
and hands, looks at me innocently…”The Bank right there is the
owner of this parking lot, and the President of the bank himself,
I was working in the Mail Room at the time, said… get somebody
to clear out those plants. They told me to do it….” He picked
p the sacks of what he’d dug up, gave me a glimmer of shame in
lowered eyes…walked off.
I unlock the door to Rena’s, walk in, out down the large
bag of things I’ve bought for the day, reach for the phone
book under the cash register. I dial the number for the
bank next to the parking lot, some twenty feet away.
“I’d like to speak to the President of the bank, please,”
“Who’s calling, may I have your name, please?”
“Yes, you may…. this is Rena. …Rena’s Restaurant calling
and it’s urgent.”
The bank president is actually on the line…now I wish
for erudite, Tom Wolfe H;nglish….Hemmingway’s blunt sharp and
clear description….I say, “Why did you take out the attractive
and hard worked on garden? I’d gotten permission from the parking
“I own that parking lot, Rena.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize that….why didn’t the parking, lot
manager tell me… ,still it was attractive, those plants and
“The decision was made, Rena…and”
“Well, you’re a lousy neighbor” and. I hung up, one of the
few times I said what I thought to a Bank President. I thought
of revenge, too….wished I’d had a million or five billion dollars
in his bank, and would walk in the next morning and demand
cash, now!, or send him personally bales of flowers, wildflowers
every day for the next five years….I wanted reverwe. I wondered
The Demise of Rena’s
It started with more places to eat downtown; the office
buildings now having their own cafeterias, the hot dog stands
like the one in the entryway to the Gem Apartments, the vacant
retail spots becoming eateries….I made a count of them all
one d …thirty-four places to go for lunch within a few
blocks, downtown. And this was the time I chose to go
completely vegetarian! Not too smart business-wise, although
many people thought it was especially fine and wonderful to
have a place for freshly squeezed orange juice, honey desserts
romaine lettuce salads, homemade wholewheat bread, barley or
sweet potato soup. But cash flow dropped off drastically.
I was one who didn’t compromise about most things, and perhaps
that was the best and the worst of me as a business person. Alan
kept telling me, “use sugar, no one really cares and it’s so much
cheaper”, but I had my mind made up to do the best nutritional
baking I could possibly manage .. it was like the Titantic
heading dead straight into the iceberg, think you’ve got the
course lined up straight and logical, and wham disaster.
A Reprieve came when a friend who’d been collecting vintage
and second-hand books and wanted to open a bookstore one day came
into Rena’s; we chatted, we talked….we decided to combine interests
and open a new Rena’s Rena’s.. ,Books and Cafe.
This seemed perfectly logical….books and food, ..books
and coffee or espresso, ….books and a piece of applecake. I’d
always liked eating and reading, a perfect combination.
A new sign was made, by happenstance the same sin painter
who’d done the wonderful Rena’s sign on the front window, and
hung outside the door…. bookshelves built, filled in with a
bountiful collection….my favorites, a 1910 Italian edition
of Count Abruzzi’s expediton to the Himalayas..1(2, and an
original copy of a sequel to the Wizard of Oz.
My friend had a fine selection of books and I had a
small Italian espresso machine and some good soup and bread
and desserts, but most people wanted a ham on rye and a coke;
a hot dog and quick hamburger or turkey sandwich on white with
mayonnaise. It was kind of depressing, and we should have moved
to Seattle or Portland or San. Francisco, or just found a larger
space for the books and bought a bigger espresso machine.
It’s easy to look back and see what could have been done,
but we did what we thought best at the time, not that it was so
great or anything, but not that many people even try.
It was a day in November; I couldn’t really believe I was
locking the door for the last time, putting the key through the
mail slot at the bottom of the door. I just knew that I might
have a small restaurant again somewhere, and I had no doubts
about the name….Rena’s.
Jack did not want to get cancer and go to the Veterans’
Hospital, near downtown, a few blocks away, lawn and big trees
all around. I visited him there, agreed with him that the day-
floor nurse was not nice at all, worthy of our critique. Then
as an out-patient, waiting around the pharmacy. His landlord
on Vista Ave. had kicked him out, was storing some of his stuff
in the basement.
Nursing homes did not work out…. Jack was absolutely unhappy
there; a room for smoking at certain hours, matches kept under
lock and key; people crying out and yelling at all hours.
One icy cold winter mid-night, my doorbell rings, it’s Jack,
he’s run away from the nursing hone…. pretty good shape to make
it all this way in below zero weather. “Come on in, Jack, you can
stay for a while in the bedroom downstairs..”
Soon he found a room in a house on Bannock St. I didn’t see
him for months. One day a an came into the antique shop where
I worked, asked if I was Sandy, did I know Jack Rice? What’s
happened, I asked this man I’d never met.
“I’m a friend of Jack’s…he talked about you. I just thought
you’d want to know that his funeral is next week, if you’d like
to go. I used to bring him sandwiches and things to eat….we
were friends from Mountain Billiards. I called the ambulance when
I saw him in such pain, wouldn’t last much longer.”
I thank him and go to the military, old veterans’ funeral,
casket with American flag; only a few of us sitting on metal folding
chairs, we see Pennsylvania man buried, a ceremony for Jack.