Larry was a rare one. Very nice and helpful – he would expertly fix the leaky faucets when my landlord didn’t get around to it. Unfortunately when it came to most everything else, Larry was like the many nomads who had previously lived in that apartment across the way. There are those who will do whatever it takes to get the job done and those who will stop and smoke a joint. They almost get there but not quite.
But Larry liked old books, Genet in particular; gave me his extra copy of “Querelle.” And in return I gave him a few beers that had been sitting far too long in the fridge. I was probably contributing to the problem, but it made Larry happy that night his electricity was shut off.
Larry had moved into the neighborhood just a few months earlier, making several trips up and down Hyperion Avenue, lugging his stuff with a hand cart or loading what he could into a red wagon attached to his bike. He took ten years of living in a two bedroom apartment and tried to stuff it into a tiny one bedroom on the second floor of an auto body shop in Silver Lake. Advertised as “a loft,” the front window offered an eye-level view of the body shop’s billboard that cast a rectangular shade on the mechanics working below. A barred back window overlooked a narrow gravel parking lot stuffed with working and non-working cars, and across the way houses sat on morning glory-tangled hillsides.
At first looking like a yard sale, Larry’s ten years of stuff (well, 20, as he brought some of it when he moved here from Texas) flowed out his back door onto the gravel lot. He transformed an area beneath his window into a garden with potted plants, a money tree planted in a whiskey barrel, and a St. Francis statue. A ceramic squirrel hung off the barred back window, as did a plastic King Kong doll.
The landlord greeting his new tenant complained quickly that he had “better move that mess of stuff outta the way!” Larry tried to comply, hanging more of it off the bars of the window and the adjacent brick wall.
He had no car so rode his bike every morning at 7:45 a.m. to work at the local hardware store up the street. He had a knack for gadgets; putting things together, pulling them apart and reassembling them. Like a blacksmith or a printer in an old time shop, he wore a work apron. If you went into the hardware store and referred to some item you didn’t quite know how to describe as, “you know, that doo-hickey,” he’d show you an actual doohickey.
At night he’d pedal home with a sack of groceries in the basket, sometimes spilling over with wine bottles. Or, more often, a new thing he’d found on the ground or by a garbage can. With the new thing set next to his other things, every night Larry spent a few hours trying to stuff more of his things that still lingered outside his back door into the apartment. He’d bring out boxes of stuff and empty them into the trash cans and bring in another item to put inside. Empty a box of items into the trash, back in with another item, on and on into the night. The next morning his artistic statement seemed to be made, with various items hanging from the barred windows. And no matter how late he stayed up, Larry was on his bicycle pedaling to work at 7:45 a.m.
It was only a matter of time before the neighbors, not seeing enough progress with his stuff making its way into the apartment, voiced their concern to the landlord, who paid his new tenant a visit every Thursday when he stopped by for his weekly check on things. “You’re on my short list,” the landlord informed Larry and couldn’t believe that “you unscrewed my cabinet from the floor!” as Larry had replaced it with a much nicer credenza that he bought at a neighbor’s garage sale. It didn’t help to complain about Larry’s stuff sitting around, if the neighbors were just going to sell him their own stuff. Larry promised the landlord to put the cabinet back when he moved. “You need to get rid of some of your stuff,” the landlord ordered.
In an effort to tidy up, Larry hung his chaise lounge off the barred back window, and the neighbors woke up to four semi-circular aluminum pieces perched against the wall outside his door. Nobody could figure out what they were or how he lugged them home on his bicycle.
And his finds grew. An odd piece of wood, a chair needing a base, a patio table with an umbrella sat by the brick wall, and at night Larry and a friend drank a couple of beers while barbecuing on a tiny makeshift Hibachi – that is, an old refrigerator grill over a coffee can of burning coals.
Or sometimes at night he’d come home wearing his apron and change into (surprising those neighbors who thought him a quaint odd man who worked at a hardware store) a tight silk shirt open to the waist, a leather cap, short shorts and black boots. Lordy lord.
His stuff increased and decreased outside and with a little hardware ingenuity he finally accomplished fitting it all inside. What was once in the way was now out of the way. He made the most of his tiny apartment over the auto body shop by hanging old chairs he had collected on hooks in the ceiling. And when the landlord on his next visit saw holes in the ceiling and the array of chairs hanging as if in mid air, he left quickly. “Why?!” he yelled to nobody in particular.
Parading up and down Hyperion Avenue one night in his cowboy hat Larry remarked the neighborhood wasn’t fun like it used to be. “There’s too many strollers,” he whined. “What happened to all the leather bars?” he’d ask no one in particular. Had he moved here ten years earlier he could have lost himself in a sea of leather-clad men parading up and down the avenue to the three or four bars within a two block stretch. Neighbor petitions and gentrification eventually drove them out.
For a week Larry’s bicycle didn’t move from its usual spot and sometimes he’d be outside at night watering the plants. An ear infection in various states of oozing and configurations kept him down. Then another week went by and he developed shingles. The landlord on his weekly visit asked Larry if he needed anything from the store.
When he was back on his feet Larry alternated between walking to work and riding his bike, still loading the basket with some irresistible find.
When Larry got back on track he had jury duty. The day came to go and he got a call from a friend that a mutual friend was dying. So for Larry there went jury duty and, when asked for his slip of proof of service, the hardware store owner fired him upon hearing he didn’t go and hadn’t bothered to come into work. “What do they expect,” Larry remarked. “I heard a close friend was sick.”
Larry figured he could pick up work quickly helping out a friend who was building a house. So he watered his plants, cleaned up his apartment and walked up the street to buy some pot from a friend.
A week went by, then two, and three days before rent was due he called the landlord. Larry never got around to working with his friend and he didn’t look for work. And he never took anyone’s money if he fixed their leaky faucet.
Larry told the landlord he was moving to Chicago. “Don’t think you can just use your deposit to pay your rent,” the landlord informed him and fretted Larry would leave all his “mess of stuff” behind. “I wouldn’t do that!” Larry said as he shook his head in disgust.
Moving Sale – Everything Must Go signs were soon posted on every tree and telephone pole up and down Hyperion Avenue. Gotta Get Out of L.A. the signs screamed. And a smaller sign said, “Remember when Silver Lake was cool?”
Hoping to cash in on increased foot traffic during the weekend of the annual Silver Lake Street Scene, the great garage sale began. Larry placed his lion statue at the end of the lot with a sign pointing the way. It started out well with the usual early arrivals and calls coming in from his Craig’s List posting for his red velvet couch, antique safe, contour chairs, refrigerator and stove.
Professional junk hunters drove by and surveyed the stuff from the safe distance of their cars. Some got out and nosed around. Being a narrow street, one yelled, “Why have a sale if you have nowhere to park?!” A Middle Eastern man looked through the jewelry, asked how much for a gold bracelet and a few chains. Larry said 25. The man, “Mm, 20.” Larry said, “Come on man, I’m moving! 25!” The man paid $25. By 10:30 a.m. he had made $32; by noon $50. A woman called and wanted the frig and the bed. More people came by and picked through what he had out. Neighbors bought books.
The heat increased, there was no shade on the lot and by afternoon there were no takers for anything. Larry brought out a canopy he’d found somewhere, but realized he didn’t have any poles. So he donned his cowboy hat, took off his shirt and sweated it out. All that time it took to get that stuff into his apartment, it was almost all back out on the lot. By the time evening came he just covered it all up with a sheet and went to bed.
An electric cord ran from his window into a neighbor’s. The electricity had been shut off; so Larry just figured he’d borrow the neighbor’s electricity during the day and go to bed early at night. He gave his frozen vegetables to the neighbors.
The garage sale continued, or tried to, going on into the week and the week after that. He gave up and started giving things away. “Here! Just take it!” he yelled. As people walked past and didn’t stop to look or buy, Larry expressed his disappointment. “Fuck this town! Fuck you all!”
Larry felt L.A. had let him down. It was lonely here, he said, as he fired up his makeshift Hibachi. His two-week severance pay was almost gone, and the landlord told him he was “hopeful for last month’s rent.” As Larry barbecued a steak outside the darkened apartment that was only lit by an oil lamp on a balmy August night, it didn’t seem likely that any more rent was going to be paid.
Ever hopeful to make enough money to get out of town, Larry walked up the street to see about selling a broken mandolin to a local merchant.
Things started getting picked over and few items were stolen. Someone had helped themselves to the lion statue, and then a chair disappeared. His beloved King Kong doll was gone. It seemed it could go on forever, and then one morning the landlord drove up with a flatbed hooked up to his car. He’d called Larry ahead of time and told him that was it, he had to be out in two days. Larry said he felt he could clear all that stuff out in a day. It wasn’t to be.
With three steamer trunks packed and loaded into a friend’s truck, Larry’s garage sale had netted him just enough to buy a train ticket to Chicago. Before he left he ran around and gave away a few items as goodbye gifts. “You were nice to me, I’ll never forget you.”
The landlord and a former resident of that same apartment, Crazy Ned, took to throwing the rest in the garbage cans and the bigger stuff on the flatbed. Neighbors were invited in and picked what they wanted. As the day went on they threw more stuff out of the apartment. And more stuff, stuff and more stuff. Within a few days the apartment was rented out and the new tenant started clearing the space, and the next day more stuff came out of Larry’s now old apartment: milk crates and boards that served as shelves, tools, Larry’s phallic paintings, mismatched dressers, a white cabinet, more boards, and more odds and ends. Homeless men pushing shopping carts came by and picked through what was tossed out; one took the money tree. St. Francis was carried by two men to an adjacent yard facing what used to be Larry’s back door.
A week went by and then Larry’s bed was thrown out, sitting alongside his various treasures, now discarded and flowing out of the garbage cans or piled up against the wall. And there everything sat, again, for a week, until trash day. From whence the garbage much of it came, to the garbage it was returned.