Falling Into Place

It was around 5:30 on a Wednesday, and Floggin’ Brews was already moderately busy. I was taking care of the far end of the bar, with Mikhel closer to the door. A guy in his mid-thirties came in with five or six contemporaries, and they huddled over the beer list near Mikhel. I didn’t pay much attention until I heard someone say “Professor Irving? Is that you?”

It had been a long time since anyone called me that, and I felt a quick spike of adrenaline.

Who, what?

I turned and took a look. He was wearing a beat-up leather jacket, needed a haircut, and had a big grin on his face as he headed down to my end of the bar.

“Professor Irving, remember me? Tom Simpson, I took your intro theatre class in Portland, oh, it must have been 15 years ago.”

He held out the hand that wasn’t holding a glass of Black Butte Porter.

I did remember him, or rather, the “him” of 15 years ago. I had been teaching intro theatre and an acting class, and probably some flavor of theatre history, at Portland Community College. He was in the acting class and was even more scruffy back then. He had distinguished himself by his enthusiasm for Moliere, and for the young woman who was playing the romantic lead in our mediocre production of Tartuffe. He’d left PCC the following year and I hadn’t seen him since.

“Tom! Of course I remember you.”

I reached over and shook his hand with a smile. A glance down the bar told me that Mikhel was looking on with interest.

Tom sat down on a bar stool and set down his glass. “What are you doing these days? How did you end up here?”

“Long story. I left PCC a couple years after you did, after finding out I could make more being a bartender than teaching Intro Theatre.”

“No shit.” Tom shook his head a bit.

“Hey, what about you? I thought you were never going to leave the west coast. What was her name, Sylvie?”

Tom gave a short laugh. “Oh wow, yeah, her. No, that didn’t last long. She got cast in a production in Louisville and didn’t bother to tell me until just before she left.”

“Excuse me for a moment.”

The couple at the end of the bar needed a refill (a blood orange ale from Flying Dog Brewery). In my absence, two others joined Tom – a young woman with long dark hair, and a guy sporting a tidy mustache.

“Cara, Brett, this is Professor Margaret Irving – she taught me all I know about Restoration comedy.”

I had to snort at that. “Oh, I sincerely hope not. And please, you can call me Ret. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Ok, maybe not everything. Cara and Brett are in my production of Lady Windermere’s Fan for Green Room Theater.” That explains the mustache.

As we chatted, I learned that Tom had a day job in the office of one of the big sports venues in town, but managed to direct a couple productions a year in the local theatre scene. Cara and Brett, having satisfied their curiosity, left to rejoin their compatriots, who had claimed a large table by the window. The group was clearly enjoying each other’s company. One of the women had spotted Boss curled up on a chair, but was wisely leaving Her in peace.

I remember that, being part of a production. I miss it sometimes. Like now.

“So why haven’t I seen you around? You should get involved with Green Room – they’re always looking for new folks.”

“I haven’t done a production in years. I kind of burned out on the off-stage drama.”

“Ha, so you became a bartender instead?” He laughed. “You probably see your share of drama.”

I smiled at that. “But from a safe distance.”

“You should at least come and see our show. Here.” He handed me a card from Green Room, good for a pair of half-price tickets. “We open in two weeks.”

“Thanks, Tom, I’ll try to make it.”

“Oh wow, I love this song,” Tom said suddenly, and started singing along. “’Somehow I always end up falling over me.’”

I listened. It was a tune by VNV Nation, strong base line, full of regrets.

“You should let Mikhel know – he’s the one who programs the music.”

Tom looked around. “It’s a great place – you’ll probably see a bunch of us after rehearsals, most of the cast and crew like a good brew before heading home.” He picked up his beer. “Good to see you! Let me know what night you can make it to the show.” As he ambled off to join the Green Room group, I slipped the card in my pocket.

“Professor?” Mikhel appeared at my elbow.

“In a previous life I taught theatre at a community college out west. But I haven’t worked in theatre for years.”

“Until now.” He gestured toward the Theatre.

I hadn’t thought of that.

“Yes, until now.” I nodded at the group. “I think they’ll be back.”

“They seem like a good crowd.”

The song Tom liked was still playing. I believe in you, will you believe in me? Or am I alone in this hall of dreams?

Boss had risen from Her chair and had walked past the group. She even deigned to let Cara pet Her. Once. Then She headed toward the bar.

I picked up Boss’ dish and scrubbed it thoroughly before filling it with cream and setting it back down. Boss waited patiently and set to work on the cream.

“Tori and Kohm said you had some great suggestions for their scene at the party. You could teach a class, there are lots of people in the community that would be interested.”

My eyebrows went up. I could. I could do that. “Maybe.”

“Think about it,” he said, and walked back to his end of the bar as a pair of new customers came in the door.

Boss finished Her task and licked Her whiskers clean. She gave me a Look that seemed to know what I was thinking.

“Ok, so yes, I’d love to do that, Boss.”

Satisfied, She headed off to check on the customers in the back booths.

The VNV Nation song finally ended. Somehow I’m always, always falling over me.

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