He died Saturday morning, June 27th while I was working a brunch shift and I cracked. I yelled no, no, no, as I ran behind the door and down the stairs leading away from anyone who could hear and into our basement. I cried for a minute or two, composed myself and shut it down again. Numb. But it didn’t last long. When a friend asked what was wrong I told her;
“My friend just died. I was expecting it, but it still hurts. He wouldn’t want anyone to be sad. So it’s hard to not laugh.”
That was Larry. He’d be mad at you for being upset, because he was so incredibly sentimental. People may not understand that because he didn’t seem it or mention it, but he absolutely was. He was sentimental about the things worth being sentimental over, the things that were actually worth our sentiments. Larry made me glad I yelled and got into screaming matches with him. He made me proud of the nickname “Blobbo”, and made me forever remember lemon ginger sandwich cookies with the same sort of warmth and glowing divinity that would make Proust run back to editing again. He taught me to do hospital corners on my bed, how to breathe (I’m not kidding, most of us don’t really breathe), how to eat properly, when to eat, how to treat strangers, when to laugh (always, always, always). Most importantly, he taught me how to behave in every situation you can find imaginable: with kindness. I can’t say I always do it, and neither did he for that matter, but he tried.
There was one time that I was trying to explain to him that I knew what I was doing, he just didn’t explain himself very well. He called me “fuckface squared” and I’ll never be able to forget it. It’s still one of my favorite insults, like something a child believes is the insult to end all insults. The last time I saw Larry, his wife Susan said “our boy is growing up” and he corrected her, “he’s not our boy, he’s a man”. I think they were both right to some degree. He was happy. Right until the very end, when cancer and medication left him bed-ridden and his once boisterous and cantankerous demeanor was reduced to a whisper that he still tried to shout with. He was skin and bones, but the smile was still Larry Fagin. That smile that had laughed at so many cheap jokes with me, pined over Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters sketches, and taught me how to teach myself.
For the past three weeks I’ve cried like I haven’t cried in years. That spontaneous sort of crying where you feel fine one second and it’s complete vision-blurring tears the next. I don’t know how to grieve, because the last time I genuinely did it I was about twenty years old. Before that, I was nine. I’ve learned to endure loss pretty well, so it all ends up coming out on the major ones. I’m not selfish enough to think I’m alone in this loss. The world lost someone wonderful. There are people who’ve known Larry longer than I’ve been alive. I envy them. I had five years with Lawrence Henry Fagin. I know that I would never be satisfied, so I’m just thankful for the time I had. He knew that too. “You just consume, everything, don’t you blobbo?” He understood people and loved them as they were. It was a beautiful thing that we could all learn to do and better the world in doing so (myself included).
The few poems I wrote and shared with him, he barely edited. I’ll always be proud of that. The thing about learning from him was he didn’t just teach people, he invigorated them. He had this special way of bringing out the You, in You. But you wouldn’t stop being his student once he did, because that really pissed him off. I’m laughing through all my tears after that one. He taught by conversation and direction. He’d give you a list and then you’d talk to him about it, but you were never done. There was never a sense of a “course completion” or getting an A. With Larry, you just learned. That was all there was to it. You didn’t need to be the best at anything or even teach some college course on the subject at hand. You just did whatever your day job was, and kept on going with art and history whenever you could, because you could; we all have to, need to, want to. I learned through him that we don’t make art as our sole purpose. Instead we live, and the art comes from what we’ve lived. I met him as a bookish, sheltered video gamer. If I wasn’t trying to read something above my comprehension, I was probably overanalyzing whatever I could read and retain. He made a point to tell me constantly how juvenile what I was reading was. I didn’t believe him then, but I see the importance of it now. I’m sure the scattered essences of him are laughing in molecular languages right now knowing that it took me this long to understand. Then again, knowing Larry he probably would’ve just told me to pick up another author and try them on for size.
I will miss him every time I read a new book, see a new movie, eat a new meal, meet a new girl. I will miss him when I get married and only invite his wife. I’ll miss him when I have kids and they don’t get to meet the man that taught me how best to treat and respect their genius little minds. I’ll miss him when I make tomato soup, when I stop to breathe and meditate, when I take out the garbage, when I’m late for work, when I’m eating a burrito and no one says “YOU’RE a burrito”.
You can miss someone and not want them to be alive again, just by remembering them fondly. You can learn anything you want to as long as you go at your pace and stop trying to impress anyone, chances are they’re not paying attention and you’re stressing for no reason. You can go out into the world and treat strangers like they’re your closest friends, it will confuse them and make them believe in humanity. You can be mad at the world and still love it, with all your heart if you decide to. You can pretty much do anything you want to, even if you think you’re not capable of it, as long as you decide to and focus on that one thing, with both hands.
Thanks for reading, fuckface squared.