Larry was an urban legend to me growing up in Lawton, Oklahoma in the 1980s. I never saw him with my own eyes, but I was fascinated by others’ accounts of this paint-huffing, bicycle riding weirdo with either(depending on what color paint he was huffing)a gold or silver face.
Around 1996 or so a friend and I discovered where Larry lived, and we paid him several visits. Engaging him in any kind of lucid conversation was a fool’s errand, of course. Chicken or the egg, I sometimes wonder: Did the mental illness preceed the huffing or did the huffing Swiss cheese his brain? Either way, it was simultaneously amusing(cut me some slack, I was 19) and sad.
His mother would answer the door of their trailer, which sat on an empty lot littered with paint-splattered paper bags.
“Larry,” she’d call to him, “some of your friends are here to see you.”
He’d strum Beatles songs on his creepily out-of-tune acoustic, its body covered in silver fingerprints as we chatted about a lot of random nonsense.
I’ve been told that Larry has passed away in recent years. Frankly I don’t know how he even survived to see the new millennium at all, considering the shape he was in around ’96.
Local legend had it that Larry had been a genius who was going places in life until he threw it all away to huff paint.
I don’t know if there’s even a grain of truth to that, but his story is a tragic one no matter what his origin. Maybe it’s best that we never know for sure. Preserve his legend, his legacy. It’s all he had.