Charles Bukowski once wrote a poem called Nirvana. I discovered it many years ago via Tom Waits reading it on his Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Saints album. I don’t know what it is about this poem – but I’ve listened to Waits’ recording over and over again, and like to pretend I’ve found some piece of it a few times (although maybe I’m not as lost, not as adrift, as Bukowski’s protagonist). Here’s one of them.
Unlike in Bukowski’s poem, the place is downtown – it is already in the somewhere, and I was already somewhere.
It was unseasonably warm for late February. I walked in around lunchtime (having arrived the night before). It was a place I hadn’t been to in ages – I can’t even remember the last time. A buddy of mine raves about their fried chicken; I was surprised to see them open on this day in February, so I went in for lunch. I sat in a small booth towards the back of the front room (about 5 feet away from the counter, where there are three useable seats, two of which were occupied – by regulars, I would come to discover). It was their first day open in 2017; they weren’t ready to do their famous fried chicken yet. I had an Italian sausage sandwich instead. It was particularly good, as were the fries. I didn’t try the coffee until the following morning, when I came back for pancakes. Both were excellent. I am not sure how much of that was the coffee, or the atmosphere.
There were three people working that first day – the two guys working the grills and carry-out windows, and the Ukrainian woman working the room. That’s the thing about Rehoboth – a lot of young Eastern European and, back in the day, Irish folks working the more “casual” restaurant scene. But there was a naturalness about her – how comfortably she explained that there was no chicken yet, but the all the breakfast options were available, and some of the lunch options on the board overhead. She easily and fluently joked with the two regulars and anyone else who came in (if they were up for it). She laughed with the younger of the two men behind the counter. She – and the two men – just…went with the flow of the surprising weather, and the people who came in or ordered from the window, with an easiness of people who have been behind the griddle forever. They didn’t “say crazy things” exactly – they just greeted and fed people. It was comfortable.
From my booth, I watched people walk by on the Boardwalk through the open front door. I listened to the two regulars talk to one of the two men – I learned his name is Billy. The sun was out, and the passersby were out in it. The wallpaper was faded; the old photos on the wall were faded; the jukeboxes – on the tables and in the corner – were faded. But it is unchanged. And it is beautiful in its comfortableness, in its unaffected, unchanged nostalgia.
The sun was calling me; I had to move on, go make use of this unseasonable February day. I went back for breakfast two more times; but after the second time, it was time to head back. My long weekend was coming to an end. I had to go back to work on Tuesday.
A lot of the people who came in were just looking for a place to grab a bite on the boardwalk, without breaking the bank. But I think a lot of people notice the magic of this place. There are the regulars at the counter, and my buddy who raves about the fried chicken, even the Rehoboth Foodie. It might be the type of place someone discovers by accident, wandering down the Boardwalk, looking for a place to get out of the sun for a minute and have a burger – but it might also be the type of place people discover – or even seek out – that magic. Maybe some people are more attuned to noticing it. I was probably seeking it out – but I think I found it here. (There are two other places I almost tried to superimpose onto this poem – but this was it for this weekend trip. I noticed the magic.)
I had to leave – but this place, Gus & Gus Place (at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and the Boardwalk), had that pull for me. (Let’s be honest – Rehoboth itself has that pull, too.) Billy mentioned a shortcut, to circumvent the roadwork; we both knew we’d see each other again. But not this weekend.
My car made its way back west, through the farms, over the Bridge, away from the shore. I had noticed the magic, and I wanted to stay at that counter this morning (the regulars were cleaning out their garage, Billy told me); but I couldn’t, not this time.
But I know – I certainly hope – that Billy, and the faded wallpaper, and the faded photos, jukeboxes, and Elvis memorabilia – and the pork sandwich – will be there when I get back, when I’m on my way to that somewhere.