Gather round, come one and all… for I have a story to tell that will rivet you to your seat and cast your eyes wide open to the teller. It is a story about wandering, a story about need, a story of communication and a story of clarity. But mostly, it is a story about the human spirit, perseverance, trial and tribulation, and ultimately of the Saving of a Party!
But first, a word about our honored celebrant: I, a most humble observer, am convinced that Henri truly is an old soul. Just look at him! No one would say he is fifty ~ he looks FAR beyond that in years. And when I say OLD, I mean OLD ~ I am speaking of Medieval Franco-Austrian heritage from the 1300 and 1400′s! This is a time when troubadours wandered the countryside in search of anyone who would listen to their very specific and pointed opinions and more importantly, a listener who would pay for these insightful and reasoned opinions with a morsel of food and a warm place to sleep. These wandering souls lived close to the edge… in constant search for a loophole, the way around the rules and a means to get something for free. They were always testing the system to see how close they could push the envelope and get what they needed. Roughly translated, mange le main is to “bite the hand that feeds it.” That certain Je ne sais quoi is particular to the heritage of Henri: the ability to take, accept and complain at the same time.
So: the story of Henri is about one who can test the benevolence and patience of the listener (as well as this storyteller) and still get what you want, or indeed get what you need. Over 15 years ago, and only a few months after moving to Portland, we began to inch up the Henri/Barksdale social scale. We still were ranked in the M’s and L’s, and this was long before we were considered for the long-vaunted Clubhouse, the omnipresent hors-d’oeuvres and the mythical tele-cocktail… we had a chance, if we played it correctly, a scant opportune moment to shine in the eyes of Henri
As he most likely would put it, even though we lived in the same neighborhood ~ indeed across the street ~ we were Détritus Blanc, the white trash of the Market Street. Every night, dressed in our cleanest burlap, we left our home for the night shift work needed to make ends meet. Climbing the 127 stairs to street level, we could hear the merriment just beginning in their chateau perched across the street. We would peer longingly at the invited guests arriving in their finery, armed with nothing but themselves and hostess gifts. Because to be invited to the Henri/Barksdale residence was pure simplicity itself… show up with a gift, and you were treated like kings and queens, indeed Le Roi, of Market Street. The rest of the soirée was provided by the master and mistress of the chateau. Oh, to have just a chance to feast from the gutters of this house! We even longed for the scraps left from the certainly purebred collies that roamed the grounds of the chateau with impunity.
But this magical night was special for us ~ my Mother had come from many miles to visit and she offered to work with us at the mills. That night, we left for the textile works and steel foundry and after the 20-minute climb up the stairs, we arrived on the street to find another bout of festivities well in hand at the Henri/Barksdale estate. We stared at the bright lights shining through the sheer curtains of the front window. The music was spellbinding, the food looked tempting and boundless, and certainly, the wine must be flowing. Suddenly, the front door was thrown open ~ the very same door we had never been through, much less peered into ~ and out staggered a clearly inebriated Henri. We crouched behind our small ’72 Datsun that was barely large enough for two people and watched as the ersatz troubadour wandered up and down the street. Clearly, he was looking for something, but we did not know what. Several minutes passed before I worked up the courage to approach Henri. Against the fears and protestations of my loving wife and worried Mother, I stood and confidently approached Henri. He turned to face me, with a surprised look upon his face.
“Bon Soir, Detritus Blanc!” he exclaimed and threw his arms around me. I hardly knew what to do as he mumbled on. Ellie, with her excellent knowledge of French, learned through watching old Jean Cocteau movies, translated that they seemed to be out of wine. Mon Dieu! He went on that since it was merely a D-list party, he would not consider raiding the celebrated holdings of the Henri cellar located a mere four stories below the street. And even though it was parked in the estate’s 8-vehicle garage, Henri said he could not find his car. Certainly, he would not be driving and their festivities were in grave peril!
The moment had come for our chance to shine in the eyes of our benefactor. Ellie was concerned we would be late for our shifts at the mill, but I had a plan: take Henri down to Zupans, stock up on some cheap Italian wines (red only), and quickly return him to the party before he was missed. And perhaps he would reward us with one bottle of wine to accompany our meager meal later that evening! Thus decided, the four of us piled into the Datsun with a shoehorn, thankfully the engine lurched into life, and we began our journey down the hill to Zupans. In retrospect, I should have checked Henri’s wallet before we left the street. As we approached the checkout counter with a case of cheap Italian reds, the telltale patting of the pockets ensued ~ and it was then that I realized our opportunity positively overflowed with potential and was rife with possibility!
As I signed the charge slip for the wine, I knew the Party was Saved and nothing more would be mentioned of the night’s sordid tale. We went up three levels in the Henri/Barksdale scale that evening, and all was well on Market Street once more!