Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another round of "Who are the people in YOUR neighborhood?"

You know, when you grow up in a small town, you have your share of "characters".

Actually, it doesn't have to be a small town - if you live in a big city, you've probably got a character or two in your neighborhood. Bill Cosby did whole comedy routines and a television show about some of the people in his neighborhood.

I didn't really live in town until I was an adult, but I spent enough time in town that these characters soon became apparent.

The reason I picked out a photo of Burger King's "Chicken Man" for this post is to tell you about one of them. I don't know what his first and last name were, but I knew him only by his "stage name" for lack of a better term.

His "stage name"?

Larry the Chicken Man.

I don't know how Larry came to be associated with poultry. It was WAY before my time. But let me tell you, if you didn't know who Larry was right away, you would soon enough.

Larry was a hard drinker in his day. Between his drinking and a stroke he'd had, his brain turned into scrambled eggs through the years. He used to be able to drive, but he was barred from it after a while - that's what happens when you have enough DUIs under your belt, I guess.

Therefore, Larry turned to other modes of transportation. His choice: a bicycle. It didn't have gears or anything was just a basic, bare-bones bike. No big deal, though, right? An old man, riding his bicycle around town, wearing an old windbreaker and a John Deere hat...what's the fuss?

Let's just say that Larry was - for lack of a better phrase - not of this world. With all the drinking he did through the years, I think he was in a constant state of hallucination. In short, Larry didn't see what we saw. He rode through the streets of Washington just like us, but I think he saw things from 50 years before.

In addition to that, Larry had a rather colorful vocabulary. Yep, he swore...a LOT. He could turn the air indigo at times. When I still lived in my small town, I'd leave my apartment building in the morning and there he'd be, riding his bike. He'd look at me and say "Mornin'". When I responded, he'd explode with "God-damn, sonofabitch, bastard..." and whatever litany he'd been building up from the corner to the front of my building woud spill out.

The funny thing about it, though, was I don't think he was really addressing me. Again, he was seeing something completely different from what I saw. Sometimes I could understand his mutterings...he'd be griping about the state taking his license away, his mother (I don't even want to go there), or "dem sumbitches" in general.

Of course, other stories about him and his behavior buzzed through the town. Among my favorites:

  • Once, Larry the Chicken Man went to our local graveyard to (supposedly) dig up his mother...I assume to chew her out about why he can't drive anymore. (I believe this is nothing more than a tall tale, but hey - stranger things have happened.)
Larry's weekend activities consisted of riding his bike across town, making change.

You see, there were two convenience stores in my town once - one on each end. (Things have expanded since then, but hey - I live here, what do I know?) Anyway, he'd ride to one convenience store on one side of town and have a dollar broken into quarters. Then he'd ride to the OTHER side of town and the OTHER convenience store and exchange his quarters for a dollar. He did this all night, into the next day, and the next night. Now I know sometimes that small towns are a bit hard up for entertainment, but this was just too much. But it was what Larry wanted to do. So do it he did.

Anyway, I don't recall him getting picked up by the cops for anything...I think he was generally tolerated.

My dad had dealt with Larry on a few occasions...he'd come into Mom & Dad's shop to buy little things like shoelaces. One time, he started up with the swearing and cursing of whoever had done him wrong while in Dad's shop, with a customer present as well. Dad told him, "Now that'll be enough of that!"

Apparently, there was something in Dad's voice that broke through the alcoholic haze, and he stopped.

Larry was also a fixture on the garage/yard sale scene. He'd ride around the town and look around at the different sales going on. He'd gripe about prices, and he'd usually find something weird to buy, like warped Tupperware lids or baby shoes. Then he'd be on his way to the next sale, and the next and the next. Some people tolerated it, some didn't. I think he was at a yard sale my sister held, and we just didn't pay attention to his rants.

Some fought back against his ways...and the best story was when he rode past my sister's house another time and the kids were in the front yard. He started his muttering/cursing bit. The oldest kid (Courtney) picked up a dirt clod and threw it, pegging him good on the side of the knee.

Oh, Larry was PISSED. He started swearing even more and shaking his fist at the kids, and that's when Momma Ruth came out and started giving him what for. Larry gave up and rode away.

One thing I'll always remember about Larry, though? He gave one of my college buddies a complete set of the willies. My friend, Brian W., was no stranger to big city life. He's a Chicago native, and spent his grad school years in Boston. We were undergrads together at U of Iowa. So he's not ignorant of medium to large town ways.

However, Brian got an education from Larry.

Brian came to visit me once in my hometown. He and I hadn't seen each other since graduation, and he stayed with me in my apartment, just a couple of blocks from the town square. On Sunday morning, Brian wanted some fresh air and decided to walk to one of the convenience stores to get a Chicago Tribune. He figured he'd be wasn't a far walk, things were quiet, etc.

Brian didn't count on Larry.

Larry was doing his weekend "making change" thing, and came upon Brian. They made eye contact, and Larry said, "Mornin'". Brian responded, "Good morning."

Oh...Brian got a full dose of Larry. More than a human being should have, really.

Brian quickly got his paper and came back to my apartment. When he got back, he said, "You won't believe this but some man cursed me out at the Kum and Go and I didn't even DO anything to him!"

I looked at him and replied, " met Larry."

Brian sputtered, "Why didn't you tell me?"

I replied, "Uh...I'm not the keeper of Larry's schedule, hon. This is just what he does."

That's the best way to explain it. This is just what he does.

So tell me if you have "characters" in your town or neighborhood...I wanna know, peeps!