Is he man or myth? Good Samaritan wandering the suburbs of San Jacinto or an illusion within a sunstroked brain? For those with the kind of peculiar luck that crosses your path with him, Crazy Larry will change your life forever. I am one such person. And this is our story.
Sometime, 2000. After six hours of school, I was walking back to the parking lot in heat that made everything beyond one hundred yards swim in my vision through invisible sultry tendrils. I got to my car and the dull amber hue seeping from my headlights reminded me all too late that I should have turned my headlights off after exiting the daytime headlights zone on my way to school. I was fifty miles away from home and friends were just as far.
The amount of people without jumper cables–myself included–is staggering. After an hour of approaching people heading to class, I finally convinced a tall lanky white guy with glasses and a bushy moustache to jump my car. He drove his truck over–which looked like it had been assembled from old tank and airplane scraps–and parked it in front of my Toyota Camry. He undid the chain with links fatter than my fist that held his hood down and set up the cables, while I inconspicuously gave his vehicle a once over for any confederate flag bumper stickers. I should have paid more attention to what he was doing, I see that now, but at the time I was too dazed with heat exhaustion to realize something was wrong with his setup until I saw sparks flying from my battery. Needless to say, he didn’t get my car running. Truck Guy put his hood back together and took off, leaving me to plead for help once more.
And then I met Crazy Larry. I saw him walking down the concrete path from whatever class he had come from. His thin body was outlined against a backdrop of brightly sunlit cement and stucco. He wore shorts that ended mid-thigh and a Hawaiian shirt that was unbuttoned to reveal the tan skin of his beer belly. Being an older guy, easily in his early fifties, I thought he would be a bit more competent. When I waved to him and explained my situation, he regarded me through his dark sunglasses and ran a few bony fingers up to his scalp, unsettling the white garland of what was left of his hair. He agreed to help me and told me he would pull his car around. Larry’s car wasn’t much better than Truck Guy’s. Without its front bumper and its grill, Larry’s car looked like a cadaver with its face dissected. Nevertheless, his cable setup looked correct. Sadly, it was to no avail. My car didn’t even play the annoying “ding” of my door open with the key in the ignition.
I was defeated and ready to call a tow truck, but Larry really wanted to get me going and on my way, it seemed. He told me that he was really low on gas and wouldn’t be able to keep his car running much longer…but if I gave him a few bucks, he’d be able to fill up and take his time.
This was probably the best offer Id get all day so I agreed. Larry fiddled around with my engine for a bit then said that he needed his tools. I figured he was going to go fill up and then run home and get them, but then he told me to come along. Despite all of the admonitions I had received as a child not to get into the cars of strangers and despite countless milk cartons and slips of junk mail asking if I had seen the person depicted, I felt an adventure calling me so I hopped in. It beat standing in the heat. We got introductions out of the way as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“My name’s René.”
“I’m Crazy Larry. Nice to meet you.”
“You’re name’s Crazy Larry?”
“Yeah. I had a teacher last semester and she was like, ‘Damn, that old man is cool, but he’s crazy.'” His voice, ripped and torn from smoking too many GPC’s, had a gravelly Rod Stewart quality to it, which made me constantly clear my throat. Then, to prepare me for the red light he was about to run, he told me that he’s an aggressive driver, but he’s never had a ticket. Luckily, we cruised into a nearby gas station in one piece. As we got out of the car, Larry noticed the corpulent female attendant working on one of the pumps.
“Hey!” Larry shouted at the woman who was no more than five feet away from him, “How are your juices flowing?” She stared wide-eyed at him. “I can get your juices flowing for you if you’d like!”
“They’re doing just fine,” she replied, slowly walking away.
Larry grinned at me as he filled up. I noticed he didn’t use all of the five dollars I gave him. Before we left, Larry made a quick stop at a nearby liquor store where he emerged with a forty ounce King Cobra. As we drove, he ripped off the cap and took hefty swigs, all the while asking me questions about myself.
“Where you from?” he asked, lighting a GPC cigarette.
“Ah, I was there once. During Nam. Girls down there got some tight pussies. Don’t ever get involved with a girl who’s had four kids.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“You’ll waste money investing in stitches so you don’t keep falling out of her.” I laughed, but he wasn’t joking.
Where does Crazy Larry live?
So we drove a bit longer and I became more and more aware that the road was leading up into the hills. I tried to remain calm, but I’m also a rational human being and I’ve seen enough true crime stories in my time. The idea that Larry was taking me into the woods to hack me into little pieces did cross my mind. The setting was perfect for it, too: unnamed dirt roads, small slummy area surrounded by trees, no city maintained lights, virtually nothing to attract anyone who didn’t already belong in this area to come snooping by before I was tossed into the chipper. My macabre reverie was interrupted as we passed by a Jewish synagogue.
“I got the Jews to my left and the scientologists to my right. How’s that for religious diversity?”
As we drove up the bumpy road to what I can only assume was Larry’s neighborhood, we passed a young black girl, probably around seven years old. Larry leaned over me and yelled out something unintelligible yet friendly at her. The young black girl started after his car. A few moments later, Larry yanked the wheel sharply to the left, taking us off the road and up a steep, leaf-covered slope where his “home” was. What I suppose would have been considered his front yard was littered with old machine parts and derelict appliances. Next to a pile of worn tires stood a rusted oven range with a pair of shears stabbed straight through the range top. As for Larry’s house, the entire place had the dimensions of my bedroom. From the outside I mistook it for a large tool shed. But when he opened the door, I was amazed to see all the furnishings of a home inside–albeit much more compressed than would be considered comfortable. For instance, the distance between the couch and the television was only a few inches. On the other hand, this arrangement facilitated changing the channels since the television was one of those sets with knobs just to the right of the screen.
By this time the black girl had caught up and she started talking to Larry. He introduced her to me as Miesha (my-EE-sha).
“Hey Larry,” she began, her voice full of childlike innocence, “I passed that spelling test in school today.”
“Spelling?” Larry replied while he looked for his tools, “They teaching you to spell ‘too’ and ‘there’ and ‘where?'” The walls of Larry’s place were plastered with paper covered in basic spelling rules and letter pronunciation. It was obvious that the man had had to start from the bottom recently. This, however, was in stark contrast to the pages of complex medical terms covering the opposite wall like wallpaper. Larry would later mention something about trying to be a medical transcriptionist. That was of course right before he told me he was 5150, which is a legal designation usually reserved for people in homes and mental institutions. Larry must have been hard pressed for a filing cabinet, because he pasted or taped all of his documents on the wall. This included his eviction notice and what looked like a restraining order.
“I got an ‘A’ on the test, Larry,” Miesha continued.
“Can you spell ‘vagina?'” Larry asked, grinning.
“Yes, but I’m not going to.”
“How about ‘penis?!’ Can you spell ‘penis?!'” Normally, I would have been creeped out by that little exchange, but there was something about how Larry delivered his lines and how unflinchingly Miesha received them that made the scene seem very commonplace. In fact, save for that short repartee, Larry disregarded Miesha’s presence. Instead he rummaged about his home, looking intently for his tools. Finally, Larry took a swig of his King Cobra, handed me the set of wrenches and ratchets he discovered in a cabinet, said goodbye to Miesha and we were off. We returned to my car and did our best to charge it up. During this time Larry finished his beer and tossed it into a dirt patch. My car still wouldn’t start so we decided it was time to check if the battery was even taking the charge. We strolled into a local auto parts store and Larry immediately made a scene.
“Where do I go to check a battery?!” he yelled. The attendant, a man approaching middle age, sporting a neat moustache and longish brown hair, waved him over to the counter and Larry hoisted the battery up. While the attendant, Robert, performed the test, Larry busied himself with the hefty female attendant on duty. “Do you need a personal fitness trainer?” Larry asked, “I supply the pink leotard.” He grinned a toothy grin. The woman said no and moved away accordingly. Robert finished his test and told me that the battery was “bad.”
“Aha!” Larry cried, “What did I tell you? Am I good or what?”
“You’re all right, Larry,” I replied.
“Shit, I don’t want to be ‘all right.’ I want to be good, man!”
“You’re good Larry. You’re good.” Just shut the fuck up already.
So I bought a new battery, courtesy of Master Card and Lady Visa, and we took it back to my car and installed the sucker. Still no go. Upon closer inspection, Larry found that my alternator fuse was burned out. He surmised that Truck Guy crossed the cables and blew my fuse.
I had to hand it to Larry. He knew what he was doing. We tried to pull out the alternator fuse, but it kept disintegrating in our hands. We figured that it had melted together with the surrounding fuse box during the fiasco with Truck Guy. Instead, we pulled out the two fuses next to the burned out alternator fuse so that we would have a reference. So, with these two female fuses in hand, Larry and I left the parking lot in search of a female 80-amp alternator fuse.
As we got into his car, Larry turned to me and said, “Life’s a bitch, ain’t it?”
Where does Crazy Larry eat?
As it turned out, no auto parts store in town carried an 80-amp female fuse. And everyplace we went to kept referring us to other places that might carry it. And each time we went to some place, Larry became less and less agreeable. He had also purchased another forty ounce King Cobra and was at this point sloshing it around the car, all over his shorts and my leg. He seemed totally oblivious to the frothy liquid soaking into his lap. Instead, he graced me with more of his urbane comments when we pulled up to a stoplight.
“Fuck! Fuck these fucking fucked up lights! All you fucking do is fucking bake in this fucking heat! Fuck. Fuck! FUCK!!!”
We went to at least five different places scattered inconveniently across town. Of course Larry kept his spirits up by hitting on the women at each establishment, using his “personal fitness trainer” line with masterful delivery. At one point he saw a young girl traipsing about a field and yelled, “If I were sixteen I’d take you bowling! You like bowling, don’t you?!”
Other times, if women were scarce, Larry would share his nuggets of wisdom with the male attendants. “See, I just want to make sure I buy the right fuse,” he would open, “I’ve made mistakes before. I think a woman is gonna be small and she turns out being big and I keep falling out. Don’t want to make a mistake like that, you know?” Then he would pause with a smile, like a comedian who has finely honed his craft and expectantly awaits his applause. His breath was rank with barley, so I don’t blame the guy who threatened to call the police. I should have been bothered by all this. Being well acquainted with customer service and generally being a courteous person, I should have been irritated to Hell with Larry’s behavior, but instead, I found it strangely fun and liberating. I found that I was standing on the side of the Asses of the World and I reveled in the idea that it was other people’s turns to be tossed out of their comfort zones.
Alas, we never found the fuse we sought and Larry’s good graces were spent, so I bought the closest thing to what I needed and offered to buy Larry some food. We ended up at some hole-in-the-wall taco place: one of those places with no real name, just the word “Tacos” emblazoned on the wall. I figured Larry would be in and out so I waited in the car. As Larry opened the door to the establishment, he immediately screamed “Ay yay yay!!!” at the top of his lungs, like some insane mariachi. I heard him do it several times more while in the restaurant. A few minutes later, he waved me in so I went inside and sat down with him.
“You know,” Larry said to the man working the counter and gesturing to the petite Latina bussing the tables, “I never thought about having a threesome until I saw your wife.” My mouth fell agape. “She’s one of the most beautiful older women I’ve seen.” I think the guy behind the counter didn’t speak English very well and didn’t quite understand what Larry was trying to say. So Larry stood up, went behind the counter and asked the guy if his wife needed a personal fitness trainer. Now regardless of whether or not the guy knew what Larry was getting at, he was obviously uncomfortable with hearing his wife mentioned twice in one conversation.
“She doesn’t need anything,” the guy said sternly.
“You sure?” Larry asked, “I provide the pink–”
“Just eat your tacos.” And that was that. Larry turned on his heel and sat back down without a word. While he ate, I just stared at Larry incredulously. Larry’s hair was white and had receded all the way to the back of his skull and he had liver spots covering his scalp. His forehead hung low over his eyes like an avalanche ready to cascade down onto the floor if I spoke too loudly. His eyes were beady and recessed into his sockets, yet scintillated with the vigor of a man who regards the world as his personal playground.
Two girls walked in from the medical office next door. They bought something and turned to leave, but as they did so Larry piped up and yelled, “All medical people should go to hell!”
One of the girls was brazen enough to come back in and ask, “What?!”
Larry impressively repeated himself verbatim, including inflection. The girl left, shaking her head. I found her later outside when she was getting into her truck and apologized on behalf of Larry.
“He’s old and he’s been in the heat. He doesn’t know what he’s saying,” I lied.
“I know,” she said, “He’s one of our patients.”
Final moments with Crazy Larry.
Our last stop was at a gas station. We went in to pay and Larry stepped up to the male attendant, a big guy with dark skin and glasses.
“Hey, you know what I heard?” Larry asked the guy.
“I heard all Indians are faggots!”
I dropped my face into my hand and shook my head. Larry went to fill up and spilled gasoline all over the side of his car. It was a sight to see, really, considering how easily flaming ash from his cigarette could fly back there, but I got back to my car in one piece and I told Larry that I could handle the fuse myself and that he was free to go.
“Well, nice meeting you,” he said curtly and jumped into his car and sped off. That was the last time I saw Crazy Larry. Strangely, Larry has been with me everyday since then, like the teachings of a new age mystic. During our search for the fuse, when we were almost hit by a careless driver and I voiced my anger, Larry asked me why I was getting so upset since I wasn’t driving and we weren’t hit. With that, things I had no control over ceased to bother me. In fact, the whole experience with Larry molded the way I deal with others. Larry offered to help me, but he certainly didn’t half-ass it. It wasn’t just his good deed for the day. He helped me because he wanted to. As such, I never offer anything as simply a show of my friendship. I offer something because I really want to give it. It’s strange that a few hours with one person can change a life for good.
I struggled with the alternator fuse for about half an hour, trying to pry the plastic out with some pliers. I had most of the plastic out, but the metal prongs inserted inside the fuse were tenacious beyond my skill, so I broke down and called a tow truck. The Tow Truck Guy would later tell me that female 80-amp fuses don’t exist and that what I needed was a male one, as he undid the bolt that held the alternator fuse in place. I let out an exhausted sigh, frustrated with the complexity of car engines.
To quote Larry on this matter, “Fucking cars! They’re worse than dogs!”