By Christopher Wink | May 9, 2007 | Philadelphia Stories submission
Larry Rosenthal is an old man. Tired hands and worried eyes. Worried eyes and a wrinkled forehead. He was once young and awfully worried. He wasn’t worried anymore, but his forehead, his eyes, they only knew how it was. He had been inside for thirty-three years, long enough for him to not seem so dangerous anymore. His life was taken a long time ago. Thirty-three years is an awfully long time to live in a cage.
I might have met Larry Rosenthal. Seen his hands or eyes or everything else that holds them in place. But he was inside and I was outside and keep your eyes on the road when you’re passing the Fairhill Projects. So, formal introductions, you see, were indefinitely postponed.
I ride a bicycle everywhere in the 135 square miles of Philadelphia County. But mostly I ride on 11th Street, between trolley tracks and side view mirrors. I ride to save the $2.60 for a round trip subway fare. I ride to exercise and make good time and because I’ve never been able to keep from smiling when I pedal around City Hall.
In North Philadelphia, I ride past the Blue Horizon and the Church of the Advocate and down Ogontz Avenue so fast that Olney can’t stop me. I ride mostly on 11th Street, between trolley tracks and side view mirrors, but I never look up to try to find Larry Rosenthal. Of course, he wouldn’t be there, but I don’t know that.
It is dark sometimes when I want to save $2.60. I ride just as fast, contemplating real estate and chasing black alley cats. There are many black alley cats to be chased. Sometimes corner boys are out hiding from rain underneath sneakers strung up in power lines, and they ask me what I want. Other times the corners are empty. Gangsters have to sleep, too.
My life holds the fluidity of freedom. Larry Rosenthal, of course, doesn’t speak of such things. You can be happy to know, though, that he forgot years ago what that would feel like. He wears the same maroon uniform everyday, the same as everyone else, but he was allowed to choose his own shoes. A man should choose his own shoes.
There are an awful lot of Chinese stores these days. People go in with money but never seem to come out with lo mien or dumplings. Larry Rosenthal didn’t like dumplings either. That is how maroon became his least favorite and most worn color.
He was smart, had two hands, insightful eyes and, from the beginning, a determination to be independent. Anyone can see he was too capable for his neighborhood to be anything but a dismal failure in society. Larry Rosenthal, his friends used to joke, is so black he is blue. But I wouldn’t know any of that.
A man I respect once told me that you should never trust a white man with a beard or a black man without one. Larry Rosenthal didn’t have a beard, but, then, he seems now to be awfully fresh-shaven. As if his reliability had been unquestioned until this morning. As if everything changed this morning. Like I rode up 11th street in the narrow strip of pavement between the trolley tracks and side view mirrors and didn’t see Larry Rosenthal this morning. Not that I would have been looking.
As submitted to Philadelphia Stories in May 2007. See the publication here.