Larry Rosenthal

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.

An unannounced welcome

This is a placeholder. A beginning of profound visions, to be sure. No one who gives it any thought doubts that the internet is the home of the next great real estate boom. Westward expansion damn near into the 20th Century left land in the United States cheap enough that it was devalued to the point many who could decided not to pursue its acquisition.

Today, I purchased the domain name for $10.19. Cheap enough that internet space couldn’t be valuable. Yet, still people sit on domain names. I hear there isn’t a three-letter combination .com website that isn’t already purchased.

What I am suggesting is that I don’t know what I want to do with this website. I have tried before and found it self-indulgent. To be true, paying for an address with my own name still seems it, but I press on because I can’t help but think the inevitable progression of things will force everyone to need a home online. This is mine. Waiting for things to put in the attic… and living room… and kitchen

So, I plan on tinkering and learning and making the best looking “Seat Reserved” sign I can. I am particularly unsure of this whole weblog thing. I don’t have the time, interest or belief that anyone cares enough to warrant me updating daily on my life or even what happens around me. I might chronicle the important events of my life, expecting this to, someday, be a means to communicate with those who time won’t allow me to in person.

For now, I see this as the wordiest resume or largest business card I could ever give to potential employers. I will treat it as such. Check back, maybe that won’t be as lame as it seems.

Hurricane Katrina volunteering in New Orleans

I went to New Orleans with Common Ground to offer some post-Hurricane Katrina support. Mostly, I stayed with a hundred other volunteers on cots in a high school gymnasium and worked in small teams to salvage homes in the Ninth Ward.

I was driven to provide some service, having worked in a shelter in Philadelphia of victims.

Continue reading Hurricane Katrina volunteering in New Orleans

Africa (My summer abroad in Ghana, West Africa)

Posing alongside children after playing soccer with them in Nkwantanan.

I spent this summer in the West African country of Ghana, living in East Legon, a hamlet outside the capital city of Accra. (Read up on the fairly stable democracy here.)

I lived in a hostel on the campus of the University of Ghana, where I was studying politics and the West African aesthetic.

Continue reading Africa (My summer abroad in Ghana, West Africa)