Larry was clinging to the fence for support when we found him this afternoon, knees buckled, dog trembling at his feet. He professed bewilderment why he couldn’t stand, as though his own legs had been swapped out when he wasn’t looking and replaced with celery stalks.
Neither of us had seen him around the neighborhood before.
“I just need to get to Sepulveda. I can walk.”
But he couldn’t. I hoisted him to his feet twice, and he was unable to manage a step. Purplish and gnarled toes poked from a pair of hospital-issue orthopedic slippers. I asked him where he was headed to on Sepulveda.
He didn’t have a plan. A rolling suitcase and a tremulous whippet constituted his world entire.
A woman crossed the street and told us Larry had been staying at a sober living house at the end of the block. Today was his last day. Larry, as you might already have guessed, was not sober. Yet one sensed his frailties were larger than could be resolved by a stay in a drunk tank.
On the way to the “sober house” the woman told us the neighbors had been discussing whether the facility was in legal compliance with residential zoning. They were not happy to have it on their block.
A guy named Gary opened the door before we even knocked.
“Theres a guy collapsed on the corner…”
Gary offered to call the paramedics. The four of us walked back to the Dickensian tableau at the corner and I asked if Larry was being evicted for drinking. No, he was being evicted for non-payment of rent.
A fire department ambulance rolled up ten minutes later. They were weary of Larry at the sight of him. Not that they weren’t entirely professional about it, but you could see they had scraped one derelict too many off the sidewalk already on this tour and were in no mood for another.
There was just one problem: Larry didn’t want to go anywhere. There was nothing wrong with him, you see. He didn’t want to be billed. He didn’t want to lose his dog. He was fine, and just needed to get to Sepulveda and didn’t know why everyone was making such a fuss, “why we were all doing this to him”.
“I’m going to ask you three questions Larry, if you can answer them, we’ll leave you alone.”
Larry didn’t know his own birthdate. He all also couldn’t stand. They hoisted him on to the stretcher. The dog climbed up into his lap and the firemen tucked them together into the bus.
Mrs. UpintheValley went into a minor panic about the dog. Would it be impounded when they got to the hospital? The firemen didn’t know.
Later she tracked them down at Valley Presbyterian. A kindly nurse explained Larry and the dog were fine, “Don’t worry. He’s here all the time.”
As a taxpayer, I was not happy to hear this. As a Christian, I am conflicted. Many people seem to know a lot about Larry while wanting nothing to do with him. After today, that would include Mr. and Mrs. U. There’s a brigade of Larrys wandering the Valley now. Middle-aged, not elderly. Bereft of family. Unemployable, but not crazy. Intoxicated, but not completely cracked out. My first inclination is to take a harsh stand against the shiftless and the parasitical. That might work when someone is 25. But these guys? I don’t know.
Perhaps the answer is a return of the alms house. A place, neither hospital nor jail, where the spiritually broken can tend to the garden of their own souls. What the French called Hotel-Dieu. God’s Hotel.