11th Street – Upper Front Unit
11:45 am

 

Larry lives upstairs on the second floor of this 4-unit apartment complex. He is connected to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day – a thin, clear plastic tube runs through his nose to his lungs, tethered at the other end to the tank.

When he comes outside in his tee shirt and sweat pants, the long plastic tube trails down the stairs behind him. He has a condition in which his lungs have hardened over the years, making it impossible to breathe without help.  Sometimes I am home when the white van comes to replenish the tank. Sometimes, with a nod and smile, I can catch the eye of the man driving the van and he nods back.

Larry comes outside primarily to let his dog, Skipper, out, or to get groceries or to retrieve his mail. He has said that if his mail has not been removed from the mailbox for more than 24 hours, we should go upstairs and check on him.

When Skipper occasionally strays too far down the street, Larry disconnects himself from his tank, climbs down the stairs and slowly makes his way down the block after his dog. He can only be unattached for a few minutes.

Luckily, Skipper’s a good companion and only needs to be instructed one time to do something – time to come home, boy, time to go upstairs, boy – and in a beat, the dog agreeably glides up the stairs.

Yesterday, Larry leaned off his balcony railing wearing a red tee shirt, setting off his thin, strong frame, head of white hair and the frames of his large round silver glasses. I have never before seen him in red.

He smiled down at me in his characteristic gentleness and told me with a twinkle in his eyes that he had been watching a fight in the street. I quipped, Who needs TV when you have the street?

I first imagined a video game gang fight in which two hoards of street fighters walk in V-formations from opposite ends.

He told me, no, it was a domestic fight, without a distinct winner. A man and a woman. The woman finally got so pissed she drove off in her car.

Larry missed the very end of the fight, as he had gone inside to answer the phone.

When he came back out on the balcony, the fighting lovers were gone without a trace. No trail of smoke, no skid marks.  The street was quiet and vaguely picturesque once again.