Harold "Henny" Henderson uses the stage name of Henny as an homage to Henny Youngman. He makes a serviceable living on tour and I used to wonder is it really worth it going down that road if you don't make the big time. But doing what you love for peanuts is infinitely more rewarding than doing what you hate for any amount of money. I've learned hard lessons on the meaning of success.
But now Henny's wife has died. I was loath to see him in the aftermath knowing that he loved her dearly but the mood struck me one day to go see him regardless of my concerns; que será, será. All I had to offer was a sympathetic ear and not much else. It would have to be others who could offer hugs and fine wine and substance. But I was right to follow my feelings as Henny somehow knew to trust my open ear as I, being always the greater sinner, am shook by no confession on God's green earth.
"I'm heading out next month on the dead wife joke tour." There was no humor in his flat voice, only a bitter commentary on life. "Maybe that's what this is all about."
Henny's home is modest and comfortable with pleasant sings of life. But how many of those signs would come to haunt him, reminders of things lost? I peered around the room at items I knew to be Helen's. Would he keep them or store them or throw them out? It seems so simple on the surface but life and death in its nature. Sometimes I think life is rushing around us while we only catch glimpses of the true picture.
He'd had his back to me while speaking, making a drink for himself. Henny sat down in a chair, hardly recognizing I was even in the room - just as I wished. I wanted him to feel the freedom to be "impolite" and vent the "wrong" things to say.
"Life isn't life anymore." He rattled the ice in his highball glass, looking down into it as if he could surmise some sort of wisdom. But it was clear his hope was misplaced. "I mean, who gives a fuck? Who gives a fuck what I do? What difference does anything make? I was just fooling myself."
He raised the glass to his mouth and took a swallow. I felt as if all Heaven was watching. "Know what we were doing...before?" He looked up at me without seeing me. "Looking at these new car brochures. I wanted something solid to show for my years of hard touring and I had this...anger. Angry at what I don't know. But this stupid fucking car was going to make the difference. God, what an idiot!"
Then he stopped. I sensed he had slipped underwater and was half considering letting himself drown. In this non-descript house in a non-descript neighborhood the problems of one man amounted to a mountain of importance in this derailed world. I was there to witness it and wanted to scream out at the top of my lungs. Where was his audience now? Let them see all sides of the funny man. It's no fucking joke.
"I have nightmares every night. I'm afraid to close my eyes. Everything is blackness with no color. I keep thinking she's there or coming back, like a faint dream on the wind. Then I wake up. And that's another nightmare."
I knew Henny hadn't shared this with anyone. I prayed to God my presence and open ear were enough because God knows I had no words for him. He was striking too close to my own personal grief and hellish existence. Wrong time to start feeding him my constant self-talk of negativity. I had to hope he knew this through osmosis.
We were both silent. A channel of communication had been established, making words obsolete. Stupid reactions ran through my mind. How do you think them Cowboys will do this year? The President was a jerk again today - want to hear the details?? Guess you'll be stocking up on frozen dinners now, eh? (an oblique reference to my own life) How trivial the world seemed at that moment. I knew if I turned on the TV to the latest news that it could only be insignificant in comparison. I felt I was witnessing the true future of the world here and now, in that living room.
I almost started laughing. We were both silently defiant. Two lonely souls - one from circumstance, one as a condition - were glad to have the other's company. To have to chitchat would only demean it. But I always feel what an outsider would think watching a situation. Only those who understood we didn't need to speak could ever enter my circle of trust.
Part of me was elated. I'd had something to offer after all! Would we be doing stuff together now? I shared my free passes to the Asian Film festival with Henny and his wife and we attended a couple films together. I'd be open to doing other stuff like that especially during his recovery period. Lord knows I know the roller coaster ride of emotions he's going to experience. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
We couldn't sit there forever. We just wanted to. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. My empty, gray-filled apartment awaited me, the gaping hole picturing in my mind. At the end of the day guess we really are resigned to ourselves, to live with ourselves right or wrong. I thought of relationships I'd screwed up and ones I'd lost. This was like a wonderful time out from life.
Blah, blah, blah
Henny knew I didn't drink liquor and he looked relieved to be getting up and doing something, glad to retrieve a Dos Equis from the fridge. He wasn't exactly happy when he handed it to me but he'd definitely made it up to non-miserable, which was certainly progress. He was grateful for my presence but it was clear he sensed the looming vacuum after it came time for me to go. That's when you have no choice but to just take it, the price of having taken a breath back to life.
I talked a little of my own travails, of how my finances are strangling me and of my long term fears. I made it obvious I was trying to distract him and give him a chance to be outside of himself if he so chose. Henny thought he was being daring when he suggested (sincerely) that I should have been a lawyer. "What? So I can confine myself to the confinable? I've already got that, thanks." I could ramble about my self-pity for hours!
The air started going out of the room and it came time to leave as I put my empty bottle in Henny's kitchen. I suddenly remembered Helen chopping vegetables in there and had to fight the urge to share that memory. Don't know why but that one little spark did a lot to ruin my good feeling and plunge me back into my usual confusion.
Heading out the door I felt obliged to ask about the tour he'd already booked even though I winced at having to ask something I knew he must have been pestered about. But we were still on the same wavelength as Henny anticipated my question.
"My agent says work would be good for me. 'Don't stay in the house and rot!' Know what I said to him?" I got this big shit-eating grin on my face in delicious appreciation. "I said I don't feel fucking funny. Someone else has to entertain the world."
My dancing eyes told him I loved it as I stepped out into the warm evening air. Who needs a world that doesn't take care of you? Preservation starts from within.
"Hey, man, if you ever want to do anything, just let me know," I offered without any sense of obligation."
"I will," he sincerely replied and with those two innocuous words I felt as if I'd won a battle for survival in our perpetual earthly war. I was halfway to my car when Henny called out as an idea suddenly came to him as he rushed back inside.
"Hey, Harry, wait up! Thought you might need these." He handed them to me and left to go back inside. It was new car brochures. Funny.