This is Keith Benson. He’s from Bristol, and he loves Chinese food.
Benson is back in New York for the second time. He comes because his son, Rob, lives here with his (American) wife, Rachel. They live in Queens. Keith is retired and so traverses the ocean to see his expat offspring. That, or be consigned to seeing each other via Skype, or when Rob can afford to visit.
It’s 7:15 p.m. on Saturday night and he’s crowded into a small area in the front of Han Dynasty—one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in the city—where patrons wait for up to an hour for a table. He stands with his son and daughter-in-law, Michael and I, and a throng of other people, jostling, failing at patience—in a city known for anything but—also on the waiting list. Outside it’s raining. Benson is relaxed. He’s ushered to another waiting area, which a hallway, lined with chairs, leading to the bathroom. He moves each time a person walks past, and again when they leave. And he waits longer. Still, he’s cool.
Through it all, Benson doesn’t seem to mind much. In fact, he doesn’t seem to mind much, much at all. He’s an easy-go-lucky kind of guy, quick with a chuckle, some banter, and a good-natured jab if you leave yourself open to it. He is down for whatever. He sits mostly quiet, wide-eyed, soaking up everything in sight like a newborn. The only thing bigger than his curiosity—maybe—is his appetite, and in that his love of Chinese food.
Finally at the table, Benson sits down and devotes his attention to the food, ruminating over every morsel, every bite rolling over his tongue for its full flavor and texture.
Later he’s back in the rain. It’s windy and cold, but he gives no complaints. Soon he’s rewarded, sipping whiskey at the Brandy Library, telling stories of misguided youth and listening intently, without judging, at stories of our own ill-advised endeavors. He stares off. “What are you looking at?” He faces me. “Well now, I’m looking at ugly, aren’t I?” I’ve been had. We laugh. He’s quick for a good ribbing.
Soon, it’s back in rain and cold, and then a crowded subway ride. Still not one foul word about any of it.
Benson proves himself to be a good guy and easy companion. I’m sad to see him leave.