The night I met Benny, I was walking out of the Crazy Train, one of those trendy coffee joints that pseudo-sophisticated types like to frequent, usually sitting in a corner with their laptop computers, sipping on a mocha latté, trying to give the impression of a struggling writer working diligently on a first novel. God knows where they come from.
As I stepped outside, trying unsuccessfully to light a cigarette with flimsy matches, I saw the manager of the Crazy Train leaning over one of the patio tables. His face was as red as a baboon’s ass, and he was spraying spittle and profanity towards a nonchalant, elderly man sitting in a chair, his legs crossed and a tattered notebook resting in his lap.
“You been sitting here all night, and you ain’t bought a damn thing. Do yourself a favor and fuck off before I call the cops,” the manager said.
The man looked at the manager the way you might look at a dog turd on the sidewalk, and turned his attention back to his notebook. He held a stump of pencil loosely in his hand, and he sat with his head tilted at an angle, his brow furrowed as he studied the page, occasionally sketching lines.
“For Christ’s sake, I…,” said the manager.
“I’ll please you to keep yer Christ-saking to yerself, thank you. I don’t recall Jesus having a stake here,” the man said, his eyes still on his notebook.
The manager slammed a ham-sized fist down on the table.
“I’m telling you, you gotta leave. I can’t have a bum hanging around here. It’ll offend my customers.”
“That so?” the man said. “Hey, sonny boy,” he said, snapping his fingers at me. “Is my presence here o-fending your sensibilities?”
“No, sir,” I said. “I can’t say that it is.”
I had to grin. This guy had moxie.
“Well, there you go,” the man said to the manager. “But, just the same, if it’ll keep you from gittin yer pecker tied in a knot, I’ll leave. Cain’t git no work done here anyhow with you carryin’ on so.”
The man jammed his notebook into a rucksack sitting on the ground beside his chair and leaned forward, using the table to help push himself up. He lurched oddly to the right, off-balance. As he stood, the leg of his overalls inched up, and I could see why. Shoved into a scuffed Brogan work boot, his right leg wasn’t a leg at all, but a prosthetic. I saw the manager staring wordlessly, coldly, at the limb, and, for a moment, I felt embarrassed for the man, as though he had accidentally shown us his penis.
“Let me get that for you,” I said, picking up his rucksack and tossing it over my shoulder.
“You offering me a ride?” he asked.
“I walked. But I’ll carry this to wherever you’re going.”
“It’s ‘bout a mile and a half walk for me,” he said.
“I don’t mind.”
The man nodded.