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My Eugene | davelovell.net
Feb 032011

Start­ing another short story to add to the col­lec­tion I started with “Joy Of Painting.”

Eugene had a par­tic­u­lar way about every­thing, some­times it got in his way, some­times it con­fused oth­ers and some­times it moved from the par­tic­u­lar to the pecu­liar, although not to Eugene.  He had grown up on the high open prairie of the Amer­i­can West, some peo­ple said all that space had given Eugene his par­tic­u­lar­i­ties, not me, I’m sure it was some­thing else.   I liked Eugene the moment I saw him, as I am par­tic­u­lar too.  I run a diner built in the 1920’s, have a one-eyed cat named Four-eyes and still wear the boots my father had on when he got shot in Korea, well he actu­ally got shot in the ass, but it was in Korea at the time.

I first noticed Eugene a cou­ple of Augusts ago, he came in about 5:00am look­ing like some­one you would pic­ture walk­ing into a lec­ture hall at Oxford circa 1958; school-striped tie, tweed vest and a thread­bare cor­duroy blazer.  He took a stool at the counter, but as I walked over I saw him glance at the two tables in the back cor­ner.  He had seen the ash­trays and his entire demeanor bright­ened, “Do you really allow peo­ple to smoke in here?” he asked. I under­stood the look of imma­nent joy on his face, as I had once been a smoker myself.  I told him that I did, and that the city health depart­ment never both­ered with my old place any­way.  I watched Eugene prac­ti­cally glide his way to the fur­ther of the two tables, take some old legal pads and an even older foun­tain pen from his bag and light-up his morn­ing smoke.  I arrived with cof­fee and was offered the hand of the par­tic­u­lar man I have come to know as Eugene.

Eugene is now part of my col­lec­tion.  By col­lec­tion I am of course refer­ring to my reg­u­lar cus­tomers, not all of them by any means, for I am spe­cific about the peo­ple I col­lect.  Like any col­lec­tor, I hunt for the rare, the unique and in Eugene’s case; the dam­aged.  I have a rather good col­lec­tion in that I believe most of the arche­types of west­ern lit­er­a­ture eat here.  I have a brash young stock­bro­ker, the kind of man that Tom Wolfe called a “mas­ter of the Uni­verse,” that is until his wife calls him.  When he answers his entire manor changes into that of a small guilty boy.  I think he keeps his phone in his sock; thus he is my Achilles.  I have an aging pub­lic defender, com­pletely con­vinced of his skills and awed at his self-sacrifice – but no one has ever heard of him actu­ally win­ning a case; he is my Don Quixote.  I have some oth­ers of inter­est, I may intro­duce them along our way, I even had an Odysseus once, but he finally made it home, although I hear that didn’t go so well.

As for me, cause I know you’re won­der­ing, I have no arche­type other than voyeur.  I am enthralled by human­ity; every aspect of it, but my mother taught me that it’s rude to stare so I run a diner and stare and lis­ten under the guise of good ser­vice.  So you can think of me as the cho­rus in one of William’s tales, it’s even the name of my diner, The Cho­rus Café.

After that first morn­ing with Eugene I knew he would become a new acqui­si­tion, as mine is the only smoker friendly eatery left down­town.  Sure enough there he was the next morn­ing, and the one after that, etc.  I men­tioned before that Eugene was par­tic­u­lar but I need to explain that more as some take that adjec­tive as a pejo­ra­tive, which is not my mean­ing at all.  He was par­tic­u­lar about time, 5:04am every school day.  I open at 5:00am, but Eugene seemed to worry about not hit­ting the door until he thought I had time to pre­pare.  He was par­tic­u­lar about what he wrote with, and he was always writ­ing, he used a beau­ti­ful Parker foun­tain pen that I believe belonged to his grand­fa­ther.  I should clar­ify some­thing else here; I came to know almost noth­ing about Eugene directly, he was not a man that offered per­sonal details, what I think I know about him came from his writ­ing.  And even that came indi­rectly, for I have no knowl­edge of Eugene ever pub­lish­ing any­thing, but he would occa­sion­ally leave bits of dis­carded sto­ries crum­pled up under his table.  Whether he meant for me to read them I will never know, but I liked to imag­ine that he was telling me bits about him­self, through the bits of sto­ries that he left behind.  I have kept them all, and have done my best with them to come to under­stand this par­tic­u­lar part of my collection.

Dur­ing my first few weeks with Eugene I was not imme­di­ately sure that he was col­lec­tion wor­thy.  I liked him, which is not a require­ment, and I noticed some points of inter­est; the clothes, the pen and the con­stant scrib­bling.  But it wasn’t until the first balled-up scrap of paper that I knew he was one of mine.

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