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.