About a Place Called Gabrielle's


The Special English program -- AMERICAN STORIES.

Our story today is called "About a Place Called Gabrielle's". It was written by Robert Paul Smith. Here is Shep O'Neal with the story.

There are a hundred places in New York like Gabriel's. Up front is a small bar, in back there are a few booths and a half of dozen tables, the husband is the cook, and the wife takes care of the bar. It has a name which is the first name of the husband or the wife or the town where they came from -- Lois, Tony's, Estelle's, or Maria's, or the Calaberian or the Belonia.

To many people in New York, one of these places is the nearest thing to home they would never know. People in New York have two neighborhoods, the one where they work, and the one where they live. The way the city is one man's office is next to another man's home. And the street that is one man's place to make a dollar is also another man's place to make a life. So, each of these little restaurants has two complete and different groups of customers, the lunch people and the dinner people. The lunch people are the ones who work in the neighborhood, they appear during the middle of the day. The dinner people are the ones who live there; they appear at night after they finish work. They never meet although to both groups, the places home. Sometimes the place means so much to some people that they are neither lunch nor dinner people. They really live there. The city is their living room; the place is their dining room. One of the people who once felt that way about Gabrielle's is a man named Jeff Cobby.

In a place like Gabrielle's the lunch people start coming into eat about twelve thirty. Gabrielle makes the drinks at the bar; she also takes the money. Every day about noon, she begins to worry. If the regular people are not regular, there will soon be no such place as Gabrielle's. It is good to have people coming in off the street, but it is the regulars those who come in everyday who are important. So Gabrielle worries until the six men from the office around the corner come in, and thank God, filled the corner table. These are the people she can depend on. Then in walks the man who comes alone. He eats whatever fish there is, reads the newspaper, and drinks a half bottle of wine everyday. And here is the young man and young woman who have been coming for two whole months now. They are in love Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They have a violent fight every Friday. Gabrielle wonders what they do on Tuesday.

There is in Gabrielle's as there is in every one of these places. One man who comes at lunchtime, sits down at the bar, and gets quietly drunk everyday. He comes to eat lunch. Each day he tells himself that he will have no more than two drinks, and then gets something to eat. But somehow, the two drinks always get to be three. And after that he stops counting. These are the regular ones. These are the lunch people. And from 12:30 to 3:00, many things happen to the lunch people. They fall in and out of love. They decide to live fully and enjoy it, to save money and spend it, to be nicer to people than ever before. Some promise themselves to eat less, and lose a little weight.

Two men become business partners and have a drink to celebrate it. A man at the bar has been waiting for a girl, but she never comes, he decides never to see her again, no matter what, and he has a drink, to celebrate his decision. The man in the second booth is trying hard not to ask the other man in the same booth for the job. He puts his hand in his pocket, and discovers that he has spent all his money. These are the things that keep happening at Gabrielle's between twelve thirty and three. By three, most of the lunch people have gone back to their offices, their studios, their adding machines and business meetings. Except for Jeff Cobby who has not been in Gabrielle's for five years because he has not been in New York for five years.

When you come to a town for the first time, it is strange. But Jeff Cobby was at home as long as it was a new town. Since the United States is full of new towns, he did very well for five years. But then, what happened was that there were no more new towns. He wanted to come home.

He came back to New York, and everything was strange. This was his hometown where everything was supposed to be in a certain place, and was not. All the corners looked like corners he used to know, but not exactly. There was supposed to be a movie theatre here, but it now was an automobile garage. This was where there was that bar and grill, but it now was a place to park cars.

Everything was bigger, or smaller, or in the wrong place. Two days of this were twenty, then he was walking down the street, and he saw the sign-Gabrielle. Well, he thought, let me get this over with walk in, and find out that all that is left is the name.

As he went down the steps, he remembered why he had forgotten Gabrielle's. He had remembered Helen, and when they were lunch people, and cocktail people, and dinner people, and clothing time people. It was a long time ago.

He opened the door. No, it could not be the same one, but it was. The nice middle-aged lady who took care of people's hats and coats was still at Gabrielle's. She knew his name and kissed him. She took him into the kitchen where Gabrielle's husband was still the cook and still shy.

Jeff came back and sat at the bar, and watched the people in the restaurant, he talked to Gabrielle when it became quiet, and not so busy. He sat down in a booth with Gabrielle and her husband, and had something to eat and to drink. He was home. New York was his hometown, some things did not change.

He came back the next day for lunch, and the next, and that evening he came back for dinner. He had walked all over the city; he had seen too many movies. He had slept too much, and had drunk too much. Except for the small talk-the good mornings and good nights and isn't it a nice day. He had not really talked to anybody in three days.

The third evening he was sitting at the bar, telling Gabrielle what Santa Fe was like when he saw a girl, sitting at the far end of the room. She had just come in. While she leaned forward, she looked very closely at the man across the table. Then she took her short white gloves, one finger at a time, in the way some women do. It hardly seemed possible that after all these years a little thing like that could mean so much.

For the time it took her to get off her gloves, everything stopped for Jeff. It was as if all these years, and all these towns had not happened, all because he saw a girl in Gabrielle's leaning forward, listening, taking off short gloves, one finger at a time. Gabrielle saw him watching, and she nodded her head, yes. It made no difference though, if it was Helen, or if it was a girl who leaned forward, listening like Helen.

What made the difference was that he was still such a fool, that he was still in love with a girl who did not love him. It was something he could never tell anyone. They would think he was lying, or was insane, or both. But it was true. He wanted to get out fast, before he saw Helen and she saw him.

Once they saw each other, he knew he would try once again to make her love him. And if there was one thing he knew, she did not and would not love him. Just as it was true that he had loved her, and always would. Just so it was true, that she never did and never would love him. He said goodbye to Gabrielle, and told her he did not feel like having dinner after all, He said he would be back. He went out into the street, and shivered. He would not come back; it was time to find a new town.

You have just heard the American story "About a Place Called Gabrielle's". It was written by Robert Paul Smith. It was published in 1958 by Esquire Incorporated. Your Narrator was Shep O'Neal. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week at this time for another American story told in Special English. This is Shirley Griffith.