Larry Gross: Charles Bukowski, Neat

If Charles Bukowski had a cousin who was slightly less self-destructive, not at all a womanizer and who lurked in the deeper shadows of Bukowski, writing in the margins, it would have been Larry Gross.

Jun 24, 2015 at 11:29 am

Larry Gross was a friend to many at CityBeat, an innovative and thoughtful author and longtime supporter of independent media. He died of a heart attack on Monday, June 15, 2015. He was 61. Find a collection of remembrances from friends and colleagues originally published in CityBeat here.

He puckered his wet pink lips in a loving, slightly open-mouthed kiss to receive the cigarette filter, then he sucked hard until the nicotine hit his lungs and he was immediately calmed and temporarily satisfied.

He was the smoking statue, a fixture on the sidewalk in front of 811 Race Street regardless of the weather. And he spent more time there like a lax doorman than he did in his cubicle behind his desk where he kept the numbers straight for this newspaper during what I will always remember as its bad-ass heyday, the early to mid-aughts, when the staff was older by half again as its average reader and we’d all had enough life experiences to be bitter yet still productive.

Larry Gross groused over those numbers and complained mightily — about the bosses, mainly — but he wasn’t a cowardly cog about it; if he had something favorable or rife with his brand of acidic vinegar to say to you about you, believe he would say it to your face. 

A rarity then as now.

Larry was a defiant diabetic who smoked, drank, ate very little that I could tell and who lost at least two toes as a result of his medical hard-headedness.

His son has stated online that neuropathy — that nasty and debilitatingly painful degeneration of nerves and feeling and sensation in the diabetic’s feet — had left Larry immobilized.

I don’t know how he died last week.

In an early-morning daze in Kroger on Sunday, walking a step behind my partner on my own diabetic feet ravaged by neuropathy, I wondered aloud: “I wonder if Larry killed himself.”

“Huh?” said my partner, taken slightly aback by my random bluntness. It wasn’t that I was being particularly morbid or fatalistic.

It’s that I knew Larry Gross.

And he struck me as the kind of man who wouldn’t suffer long enough to be a burden to or on his loved ones.

He did have some dignity.

In my sanctified imagination I could see him gathering his family, cursing through his breath, and explaining his plans and always remaining in control of what life he had left.

I haven’t rooted around online for a cause of death because, really, what does that matter? Aren’t those details mainly for us to connect our own dots and make sense of what we know or thought we knew about the dead?

As fellow diabetics, we used to commiserate about doctors, medicine, insurance and how much erratic blood sugar kept us from our vices — refined sugar, alcohol that turned to sugar in our blood — and the bad food we loved.

But none of the come-to-Jesus conversations Larry had with his doctor that he recounted to me ever seemed to make a difference, and he soldiered on in his increasingly serious-looking, ever more orthopedic shoes.

He kept drinking and smoking, at least until he transitioned to e-cigarettes the past couple of years. 

The last time I saw Larry more than one year ago, he was the featured writer for “Word of Mouth,” the monthly writers’ night at MOTR Pub on Main Street, and he didn’t stand at the mic.

He sat at a table with a mic on it like the great monologist Spalding Gray used to do. 

And, as usual, Larry had a drink at his elbow as he told his autobiographical backstory.

I teased him when we worked together that he looked like an aging Bobby Goldsboro with his long, silver-flecked mane parted down the middle and naturally feathered to either side.

In response, he would always glare back with his classic, squinty-eyed scowl and his upturned lips that broke into a broad, red-faced laugh.

I never used that too much, though, because I’d seen him growl at people in serious anger and stomp away; then again, I’d seen him growl at people in feigned anger.

It was best to tease him sparingly.

Because he wanted to appear as a misanthrope to keep low his investments and therefore his disappointments in people, people always thought Larry was a humorless, aging old grump, but in reality he would have only been in his late 40s when we worked together, and he was not grumpy to his core.

He may have been a loner, but no grump.

He was sensitive, a thinker, a writer, an observer of the human condition, and he was generous at heart.

If Charles Bukowski had a cousin who was slightly less self-destructive, not at all a womanizer and who lurked in the deeper shadows of Bukowski, writing in the margins, it would have been Larry Gross.

Larry had that same observant, Every Man spirit to his character and, as Bukowski, I think Larry assumed the best writers owed it to themselves to be self-flagellating, to be tipsy, to be alone, to be able to get at things and to say the absurd about themselves and the world.

Larry started writing for the “Living Out Loud” space when Brandon, another staffer editing that space, was beating the bushes looking for regulars who wanted to write there. Larry gladly volunteered and kept at it long after he’d left the paper.

One of my favorites was the piece he wrote about riding the bus to some crap job interview downtown and being besieged by diarrhea before the interview and trying helplessly to find a clean public bathroom in which to vacate his soul cage.

It was a commentary on the haphazardness of bodily functions and how those functions can be barometers of how we really feel about something we don’t really want to do. 

My stomach lurches every time I’m trying to keep a commitment my soul can’t cash.

I really got to know Larry well one year when I edited the annual Women’s Issue, a responsibility I took on when it was obvious no one else was going to do the job annually and well.

Larry wrote about the emotional isolation he and his twin — a traveling musical act — felt from their mother. It was sad, poignant, dark.

I needed a drink afterward.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]