I hadn’t seen my friend Larry in nearly four years. We had a lot of catching up to do and spending July 4th with him was perfect timing. That’s what it was when we met 27 years ago, as well. We were both single. A mutual friend said to me, “You have to meet Larry.” I didn’t know why I needed to meet Larry, but followed Oliver’s orders. Oliver gave me his address on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. One day after work, I stopped by. I remember facing his door, ringing his doorbell, and not knowing what to expect.
When he opened the door, he might have said hello, but I’m not sure. He spotted the button bracelet I was wearing. He directed me to the back of his flat where there was a table filled with button jewelry, all of it from vintage buttons that he’d collected to create these striking pieces. I don’t remember looking at his face; the buttons had my full attention. Back in Fairfax, in a studio behind my rented home (post-divorce), I had a work bench where I created button jewelry that I made for myself and sold to customers. They were all one-of-a-kind.
I’d been collecting buttons during my married years when my ex, an antique dealer, would bring batches of them home quite regularly. I loved the front sides of buttons and the back sides. I loved layering buttons. All that fine hand sewing I did to create them was great medicine while facing the depression of divorce.
In Larry I had met my craft/art soulmate.
Here’s a story I wrote about Larry 23 years ago. When my friend Molly Fisk and I did live readings of Poems and Prose on Sex and Clothes, this was always the piece I ended the show with. It had a way of taking the air out of the room. Here it is for you to “hear” for the first time.
Meet the Larry I wrote about 23 years ago (not much has changed!)
I was driving the kids to school one February morning. From the backseat, Trev who was twelve at the time, said, “Mom, who can wear puke green?” I caught his hazel eyes in my rear view mirror and said cheerily, “We can, Honey.” He slumped, relaxed against the seat, satisfied.
I told this story to my friend Larry who can wear puke green, too. He was visiting me from Santa Fe last week and I made dinner with his favorite colors in mind: split pea soup, pureed yams nestled in orange half shells, spinach salad with tomatoes and mushrooms and veggie burgers on sprouted barley buns. He’s a vegetarian, no dairy. He eats like a horse.
While clearing the dishes we caught up on our favorite subject, spicy autumn colors. He told me about a vest he picked up in San Francisco the other day. I told him about the new bra I got. “See?” and I pulled my T-shirt across my shoulder to show him the bronzed olive strap. “Finally, something sexy in lingerie that’s not black,” I said.
He laughed. “Better stock up!”
Larry’s gay and from Iowa. I’m straight and from North Dakota. We met years ago at Larry’s flat on Divisadero Street through a mutual friend. We wore the same short haircut buzzed close to our heads. Larry’s first words to me were about the button bracelet I was wearing. He led me to his kitchen table. It was loaded with jewelry he’d designed out of buttons from the ’40s in warm colors: rich brown, harvest gold and tomato red. I knew right then we were soul mates.
After that it was like Christmas every time we saw each other. I showed him the button bracelets I’d made. We started trading supplies back and forth like kids trading baseball cards. “I’ll give you this ’50s watermelon button for this ’30s cloisonné cherry button.”
Larry has a last name but I hardly remember it. He’s Larry Buttons to me. He left San Francisco three years ago to “get away from the dead and the dying.” Almost every friend of his has died from AIDS.
He told me on our after dinner walk to the coffee shop that people are dying in Santa Fe too, but he said, “It’s a small town. It makes it seem like AIDS isn’t everywhere. I’m healing there.”
We passed through a narrow alley and Larry’s honey brown hair and greenish eyes glowed under the street light. He changed the subject. He told me about this guy he works with in Santa Fe. Larry said, “When I get to work mark says ‘Oh Larry, you’re wearing your decaying colors again.’ He’s just jealous. When he tries to wear our colors, he looks like death.”
Not us. We look splendid in decaying colors. We gloat. We’re obnoxious, but we don’t care.
I treated him to apple pie at the coffee shop. It was his birthday last week. Forty-five. He had trouble reading the tea selections off the small print at the counter and I gave him a friendly jab in his side. “That’s okay, Larry, I’ll read them for you,” I said like he was an old fogey. Never mind I’m only a few years younger.
Back at home we talked about the new art on my wall. “I like it,” he said. “Of course you do. It’s in your colors!” I chided him. He leaned next to the big painting and stretched his jacket sleeve to almost touch the spot of matching coral red. He said, “I like this part the best” and grinned at me.
It was time to go. We hugged at the door. I watched him hard as he left the porch. I held tight to his image as he headed for the front gate: Larry in his leaf green jeans, his brown lace-up shoes, his coral jean jacket; Larry who has survived his friends. He put his hand on the gate, looked over his shoulder as he stepped into the darkness. He called back softly, “Bye, Brenda.”
I want to know Larry forever.
And now, 27 years later…
When Russ saw the bracelet on my wrist on Tuesday he said, “Are you wearing that because Larry Buttons is coming over?” “Absolutely!” I said.
While we were visiting at home and at the Girl and the Fig we were reminiscing. He asked about the kids. He said, “Do you realize Erin is the age you were when I met you?” That was an amazing thought! He was an instant member of the family. He came to the house a lot. He attended the kids’ events, came to Thanksgiving (he makes a mean salad!), Christmas, book events, Oscar parties, you name it. When I met Russ he told me in no uncertain terms, “He’s a keeper.”
One thing I noticed but didn’t mention is that Larry was wearing a shirt that had black in it. Ah, some things do change with time! With the change in my coloring, I’m definitely wearing colors other than olive green and burnished gold. We talked about the deaths of his father and my mother and brother. He gave me insights that I’m still thinking about.
Our next plan is to visit him in Portland before October and maybe again in Mexico this winter during his extended stay there.
I use this term a lot now…
since I’m getting older
…but it’s true: Since I’m getting older, these longterm friendships are the true treasures in my life. Whether we see each other once a year or once every four years, we pick up where we were without missing a step.
One thing remains the same: I want to know Larry forever…and I know I will.
I bet you have friends like that too. Tell me about them, would you?