When we had asked him his name he said, “Larry,” and he smiled with awkward excitement before adding, in a high pitched and self-amused giggle, “or Lorenzo if you’re in Italy.” We were not in Italy. We were in a park in Seattle, which is almost as far from Italy as you can get. We had been sitting alone on a cement block talking when we noticed Lorenzo standing beside us. He stood by himself and stared at us as hungrily as a child will ogle a stranger’ ice cream, hoping for an invitation to share.
Whichever handle you choose, Larry or Lorenzo, he was tall, and from where we sat he towered above us lofty as the ancient firs that lined the park. He had a slender, concave chest that sloped gentle as a playground slide towards a mooning stomach that drooped over his olive drab shorts before it tear-dropped down towards his dun colored sandals, into which were stuffed bright white socks that he had pulled midway up his un-tanned, liver-spotted calves. A thin mustache was tied above his upper lip like a gray frayed ribbon. Around his lips a hesitating oval of spume had gathered in thick knots and affixed itself there tight as a barnacle.
After we had noticed him standing beside us we had asked, How are you? We were trying to be nice, to break the awkward ice of his presence. This was before we asked him his name, and together these were the only questions we would be permitted to pose. He took our inquiry at face value and talked uninterruptedly for over ten minutes, our only commentary reduced to the occasional hmmh or that’s interesting.
We learned that Lorenzo is 69-years old, is divorced and has two wonderful kids who are grown and have families of their own now; that his ex-wife is now on her fourth husband, a man who, like the three prior, is probably gay or bi-sexual because that’s the only sort of man she is interested in.
We learned that for years after his divorce Lorenzo lived alone, but he has a roommate now. We learned that Lorenzo is a retired middle-school teacher who was in the park that day volunteering as a docent at the conservatory: there was no badge or uniform to ensure the validity of this claim; neither of us would have been surprised if this position was self-appointed.
As he stood above us talking he rocked anxiously on his heels, and it was easy to imagine a school-child impatiently awaiting his turn at show-and-tell. All ears tuned towards him: a moment extended to fill the absences: This is the spider I found in the wood pile; these are the flowers my mother likes to smell; here are some poems I wrote about my father. As he talked he chewed at his gums but the halo of saliva remained firmly entrenched. Unbothered, Lorenzo continued talking.
The intimate nature of Lorenzo’s divulgences seemed unworrisome to him, and for all his foot-shuffling excitements his tone remained factual. He could have been describing the root structures of impatiens in the Conservatory as easily as he told us that he was HIV-positive.
He told us that to stay in shape he climbed the nearby water-tower every day. There are over 100-steps that swirl like a helix up inside the tower, and climbing them is no small feat. We joked with him that we didn’t want to keep him from his exercise, but he did not take our hint and continued talking.
We learned that in the 1970’s Lorenzo had traveled one summer through Italy and Germany, and that he loved the Pacific Northwest because people were open and un-censorious when they saw two men kissing. We joked again about his climbing the tower and told him to call down to us once he arrived at the top, but he didn’t think that we’d be able to hear him.
Before leaving he told us his name: Larry, or Lorenzo if you’re in Italy. Alone he moved in the direction of the water tower. We continued our conversation.
“That’s him,” she said ten minutes later. Surprised we asked What?, and the woman seated beside us replied, “I couldn’t help but listen to your entire conversation with that guy earlier. And that’s him yelling now. From the water tower—he’s yelling for you.”
We turned and raised our heads towards the tower. “Lorenzo,” we cried out and waved our hands skyward. The tower is high and far and it would be difficult for him to hear us from where we were seated, but we yelled and waved anyway.
“Lorenzo,” we called again,”Yes, Lorenzo—we can hear you.”