In the neighborhood where I was growing up there were sidewalks lined with trees — Rugby Road had Maples and Argyle road had what we called Sycamores, though they were really London Planes. The “Sycamores” made itchy balls as their fruit, the maples made two-lobed flat fruit that were played with as either helicopters or mustaches. Melissa hugged the sycamores for comfort, Sam hugged maples. Both of them would have received a diagnosis had they been alive today — standing in the street for hours hugging a tree is not normal. Sam was roughed up a little and socially shunned and teased, Melissa was just socially shunned and teased. Their lives were pretty unhappy. They’re both dead, Melissa’s tree was cut down when it dropped a limb and crushed a mini-van, though Sam’s tree is still there.
Laurence — at the time he went for Larry — knew this story about Sam and Melissa and the trees and he brought it to his puppetry workshop which he joined after college, because he was lonely and wanted to do something to get out of the house. He had made himself take it seriously and typed up something on his Dad’s selectric and copied it at the local copy shop. Martha who was taking the class because she couldn’t stand her mother read it and said “It’s not real.” Laurence had to agree that her point was true. In his puppet show the trees had protected little Sam and Melissa from their tormentors. “What would you do, Martha?” asked the instructor, Marcus who was earning credits towards a combined theater and social work degree at Hunter College. “I’d have them fall in love.” said Martha.
“That’s not real either.” said Larry.
Larry’s younger brother Phil in his last year after he broke his hip got very wandering and I’d go into his room to try to cheer him up. That’s when I heard this story. “Is any of it real? Hugging trees. Wandering through the days and nights. Looking for something? What were they doing? What was I doing?”
“Not really, grandpa.” I told him.
I sometimes regret telling him that and wish I could have been the kind of person who knew what was real or was able to say “it’s all real grandpa”.
But I’m not.