Contributed by Josh Fryfogle
I was young when I first met Larry. My dad had done some work for him, and thought I would find his music collection interesting. Larry Head had the biggest collection of compact discs I had ever seen! Throughout his home were shelves upon shelves of 5-disc cartridges, black plastic units that Larry could locate in a moment. You name it, he had it! Such a wide collection of music, thousands upon thousands of titles, in these 5-disc cartridges - unlabeled 5-disc cartridges.
My friend Larry Head was blind.
We would spend lots of time together throughout the years that I lived within driving distance of him. He sold me my first nice guitars - a black Gibson L6-S and a red Gibson Les Paul studio with gold hardware. He also sold me a Mercury Cougar SS - yep, a blind man sold me a car. His sister would come to take him to appointments and for shopping in that car, until he decided to sell it to me. When I didn't have a car of my own, I would ask my musical friends to give me a ride to visit Larry, and admire his collection and amazing ability to remember where all those CDs were located.
He would tell me, "Small Fry," my dad was apparently Big Fry, "Go over to the hall closet, second shelf down, third row from the left, fifth cartridge down..." Or some similar directions, leading me from room to room to my friends' amazement. He would tell us what we were about to hear, as he placed the cartridge in the player and selected the disc with his remote control. His massive stereo was so impressive, using two huge speakers, along with surround sound - total immersion.
There was one steadfast rule at Larry's house. It was of the utmost importance! Put things back, exactly where you found them! He would sometimes call me after I had visited with friends to complain that something was not replaced in its proper spot. A pen, a disc cartridge, whatever. Larry would explain to everyone that they should put things back exactly where they picked them up. Moving something just a few inches was practically the same as hiding it, he would explain to us in much more coarse language.
It took Larry all of his time to learn where everything was - that ability to locate anything was tied to a strict system of everything-in-it's-place. While it was amazing to see a blind man navigate such a huge collection of things with greater ease than most people with sight, his lectures about proper placement and care of his things were a firm reminder of the effort he put into that ability. His world was his home. Outside his home he was lost, just a few feet from his fenced yard might as well have been miles. Inside he was in complete control. Unless someone moved something.
Larry had a four track recorder that we learned to use together, recording my songs. Of course, I was more interested in hearing my music on tape - like a monkey with a mirror - not realizing any practical application of these skills that this blind fellow was teaching me. He knew the concepts, but needed me to place his hands on the appropriate controls of this unfamiliar machine. I would guide his hand from left to right, as he memorized where each control was. He would simultaneously teach me what each control would do, using my own songs as a subject. Over time, we both learned so much. He slowly became masterful with the controls, while I began to understand the concepts of sound engineering.
He rarely mixed his family with his friends, but on occasion we would meet at his house. One occasion his sister and her friend were there. Four people, enough for a game of bridge! Larry invited us for a quick game, dealing out his set of Brail cards, and winning repeatedly - trash talking us like we were playing full contact sports! So much enthusiasm, he loved the company, and loved to excel at anything he could. We were all glad to lose to him, seeing what it did for his confidence.
I loved those times with Larry through the years. He was my friend, and I was a wayward youth who he told the truth. A truth that I needed to hear apparently, since he repeated it to me throughout the years.
He said it so often, I eventually noticed that he only said it to me. It wasn't something he said carelessly to everyone, but something that seemed to encapsulate his message to me. He knew I didn't want any more people telling me anything. I was free, foolish but free. So he distilled his message so that I would not get lost in an argument within myself or with others. He made our relationship possible by doing this. He made me welcome by allowing my weaknesses.
Because of his way of dealing with me, putting up with me at times, he became my trusted friend. I would vent to him, tell him all my youthful problems, and he would let me rattle on and on. Sometimes he would bring me back to reality - "I'm f'n blind!" Suddenly my problems were smaller, as he would smile into the distance. Before long, he would repeat his advice that we are all different. He reminded me to make a space for people's weaknesses, by reminding me of my own.
Larry struggled with opiate addiction, finally overdosing intentionally on his pharmaceuticals - after Hurricane Katrina took the roof off of his home, and he lost everything. For Larry, the thought of replacing all that he had lost was just too much. It wasn't indemnification of assets that was the problem. It was the relearning of everything. Katrina didn't just destroy Larry's home - she destroyed his world. From his perspective, it was the apocalypse. No insurance claim could replace what was lost, as if everything had been moved, all of it all at once. He was lost.
I miss Larry terribly sometimes. When I feel lost in life, I wish I could tell him about my problems, so that he could jar me into reality. I wish he could give me some insight, with his course language and honesty. I wish he hadn't taken all those pills, and his own life. I wish I had been within driving distance, to be there for him, perhaps I could have helped him learn where things were again. I wish I could have guided his hands, and helped him find control.
"Everybody's different," he would say. So simple, a blind man could see it.