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The Ballad of Eugene Henderson – by Jonah Levy

NYC Story

He was already going full tilt when we entered the train. We were only going two stops, so we weren’t jonesing for a peaceful ride. That’s why, when we found the right space to stand for our rapid transit, we settled right in front of the boisterous man.

He was barking over his shoulder down to the other end of the train. Of course he wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular. But when he turned his head, he saw us; tall, well-dressed and just begging to be approached.

Now, before I divulge our conversation, I have to describe one specific detail of this man. He was eating a 99-cent bag of peanuts, but “eating” is a very loose term. Chewing, churning, and spewing are all much better descriptors. But the grainy plaster developed in his mouth via various acts of grinding, folding and mixing peanut plus saliva ran down his chin in a diluted and watery trickle.

He spoke to us,

“Well hello, excuse me, excuse me, my name is Eugene Henderson. How are you doing this fine day?” He addressed my friend. It was eight o’clock in the evening.

“Fine. How are you?” She politely replied.

“I’m just great, thank you, thank you, thank you for asking,” He leaned forward slightly, releasing the neighboring seat from his wide grasp. He then framed his hands, about to ask another repetitive question. The bag of peanuts crinkled in his grasp.

“Let me ask, let me ask…may I ask you…” He stalled “I would like to ask you a question.”

“OK” She smiled authentically, pleased at the polite request.

“Do you think that you are better looking than all the people of my family?” He returned to a reclining position on the subway bench.

“No, I can’t imagine I am.” Her eyes were well-aimed lasers of sincerity.

A moment elapsed and he chortled happily, rocking lightly back and forth, bringing his closed fists together in muted applause.

“Thank you, thank you, that’s wonderful, that’s wonderful” He reclined again, rolled onto his side and addressed me “Now let me ask you this, young man, let me ask you this.” He paused and put a finger to his mouth, which was slightly less volcanic than it was a few minutes ago. “Do you think that you are more handsome than me?”

I allowed a short moment to pass before replying “Absolutely not.”

“That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful, thank you!” He resumed his jubilation “That’s terrific, y’all have a wonderful day, y’all have a great day”

“Same to you!” My friend replied as the train slowed to our stop.

“That’s fantastic, y’all just made my day!”

We went toward the exit, doing our best to mask our joyous bewilderment when he spoke again. “Let me ask you one last question!”

“OK, but this is our stop” I said, stepping off the train.

“OK, OK…did y’all see that movie ‘Crazy Heart’?”

“Yeah” we both nodded.

“Man, I LOVE that movie!”

The doors closed.

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