Disclaimer: I don't know how much of "Vern's" story is true. He's dead now. I only remember the wild rumors and I've been told that my memory can be a bit inventive at times, too... :)
Vern was a large man with slurred speech and a drooling problem. He was missing most of his fingers on his right hand, yet he insisted on rolling his own cigarettes. The result was a thick brown slime on the formica table consisting of slobber and tobacco. Had he been a sweet man, these things would be forgiven quite easily, but his personality is what made the other setbacks so disgusting. The wait staff was constantly being yelled at by him--they couldn’t understand most of it, but the message was clear between the “goddamn”s and the way he urgently grabbed their arms. Other customers never understood why his abusive behavior was accepted--why he wasn’t kicked out of there or even arrested for disorderly conduct.
That is, until the day Vern didn’t come in. The whole place seemed quiet and restless. Jeff, the schizophrenic dishwasher, sat down for a cigarette break.
“He’s not so bad, you know,” he said as he sparked up his Kool. “Vern. You know, in a lifetime, you come across one or two people who are really special. It’s rare, damnit. Every day people just pass him by like he’s scum.” Jeff exhaled hard and started flicking his ashes where he must have remembered there being an ashtray.
“Did you know he was a concert pianist? Well he was, and goddamn brilliant, too. He made grown men weep, you know. He touched souls. He had a full scholarship at LU but he worked at the mill to support his parents--both drunks by the way. He was in love with a pretty young girl who saw the star in him, and they were engaged. It breaks my heart to think of. Shit, “ he lit another Kool and looked over both shoulders. “One day at the mill he cuts his damn fingers off. Everything over. No concert pianist life, no lovely wife. She couldn’t invest in a man who had no future. Hell, he couldn’t even work at the mill anymore. I saw him a week later and his hair was white. He was a sensitive type, you know, it just crushed him completely. Shit. I never saw anything so damn sad,” Jeff blinked hard as he lit a third cigarette, “He stopped talking, stopped doing anything. It wasn't long before he was committed. So, here we are today, and he’ll never leave that halfway house, everyone knows that. They give him five dollars a week and he gets to come down here and have his cup of coffee. I mean, coming down here and cussing us all out puts a smile on his face, and I don’t mind because I’ll never forget that blank stare he used to have. Truth is it warms our hearts to see him get lively. You know what I mean?"
And with that, Jeff bolted up and was back in the kitchen with his headphones on.