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The Problem I Have With Henry

By Larry Gross · May 21st, 2008 · Living Out Loud

I hang out a lot at Madonna's Bar and Grill downtown. Talking to regular customer Tony, trying to get inside my friend Izzy's head and giving bartender Laura a hard time are my idea of a good time.

Listening to a con artist isn't my idea of a good time. When I now see this guy sitting to the right of the bar, I make my way to the left.

He seemed nice enough at first. I'll be damned if I can remember his name. I'll call him Henry for now.

Henry is young, thin and has long black hair. He wears a baseball cap, is always in jeans and always has on a flannel shirt. He drinks Miller and, every time I see him, he has a salt shaker next to his bottle adding salt in his beer.

The first time I sat beside him, he was with an older man who didn't talk a lot but who kept going outside to smoke. Henry seemed anxious to be my friend. That was alright with me. I'll listen to and talk with anyone.

Henry told me he was born and raised in Kentucky but was thinking of moving to Cincinnati. He wanted to borrow the CityBeat I was reading so he could look through the Musicians Exchange section in the classifieds.

Henry said he was a drummer. He also volunteered that he wasn't much of a drinker.

I went outside to smoke my own cigarette. When I came back in, Henry wanted to know if I had a pen and a piece of paper, which I did. He found an ad placed by someone who was looking for a drummer.

After talking to bartender Laura for a while, Henry tapped my shoulder and told me he called that number and got an audition set up to play drums in a band. I didn't see him make the phone call, but he seemed happy.

Some days later, I was back in Madonna's. There was Henry again. This time, he was crying in his salted beer.

It seems like Henry got conned by the older man he was with a few days earlier. He told me they were staying at a Motel 6 somewhere in Kentucky. That morning, he got a phone call from his buddy who was at a bank about 15 minutes from the motel. His friend had a check Henry needed to sign.

That sounded strange to me, but Henry kept talking. He said when he reached the bank, his buddy wasn't there. When he returned to the Motel 6, his friend had checked out and cleaned out the room. He took all of Henry's processions, including his clothes.

Henry seemed understandably down and out about his situation. He also seemed a bit drunk. He said he was thinking about throwing himself off a bridge. He told me he couldn't believe now badly his life was turning out.

I listened to his woes, but something in my head kept telling me he was trying to play on my sympathies. I wasn't buying it.

I asked Henry where he was from in Kentucky. He told me he wasn't from there, that he was born and raised in Cincinnati.

That's where the lying started -- or at least the first one I actually caught him in.

In the times I've seen him since, his saga and his stories continue. I've reached the point where I don't want to hear them.

I know he wants me to give him money, shelter or both. But this con artist needs to know that I'm actually listening to everything he's telling me.

Henry, if you say you're not much of a drinker, why are you always drinking beer in Madonna's? If you're now telling me you were born and raised here, how come you had to ask me where Vine Street is?

You tell me your friend took all your processions, including your clothes. How come you have on different jeans and flannel shirts every time I see you? How come when I ask you what band you're playing in, you always find a way not to answer the question?

If you're homeless, as you sometimes tell me you are, where do you keep your drums?

I could go on some more, but there's no point. Henry's stories have more holes than Swiss cheese.

Con artists are common downtown: people saying their car is broken down with their kids inside, bogus charity or religious groups wanting donations or people simply asking for bus fare when they really need money to drink.

This kind of lying doesn't induce me to pass out any cash or to offer help. I don't like being used, and that's the problem I have with Henry.

He should have been straight with me. If he's broke, homeless or in trouble, maybe I could have helped. I'm human, after all. I respond to honesty but can usually smell a liar a mile away.

I think others in Madonna's can, too. I notice most of the customers stay clear of Henry now. Bartender Laura won't let him run up a tab -- he has to pay for his beer as he goes.

Who can blame her? If it were me, I wouldn't even give him the salt shaker.

Contact Larry Gross: lgross@citybeat.com



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