THE DOOR TO 1B
There was always a door I could knock on when coming home after a taxing
day on the run. It was 1B—ground floor rear of the aging midtown
Manhattan building where I live—Otto's apartment. Or, I'd find him
installed on the front stoop, tipping his hat (so often left behind) to
passers-by, flirting, spilling coffee and dispensing wisdom.
By 2004, Otto could barely make it to his outdoor perch. I had begun to
seek him out, listening at the door first to avoid barging in on the lucky
members of his heterogeneous fan club who had beat me to his doorstep:
admirers of his intense multimedia paintings depicting every conceivable
trial and triumph of his life in the passionate facial lines of his famed
Otto had stories to inspire courage and make you laugh at the same time.
He had become my living proof of the old adage, “Whatever doesn't
kill you makes you stronger.” Every nugget of wisdom he shot out
was not so much advice as an order to just let go of it.
We liked to barter the contents of our cozy dens with each other. He taught
me computer functions and swapped colored crayons, tattered books, and
business schemes with me, all the while showing that the brain stays young
indefinitely if you just keep using it. His was a toothpaste tube you
could squeeze daily for endless spurts of creativity. And all this while
his body was painfully collapsing under it.
How did he get up every morning? He said he had to. He confessed to being
wedded to some mystical obligation to keep this contribution going. I
can remember sighting him occasionally a decade ago on a distant corner
of the neighborhood hawking pictures, or in a far-off part of town bent
on some venture partnering business and the arts, my neighbor and ultimate
Renaissance man. Now, he was virtually confined to a crescent of floor
in 1B connecting his bed to his desk. I often wondered if that decline
could possibly mean we'd soon lose him, but always concluded that could
Otto was fading. One day he was gone. What our friendship was about was
an existential joy over every experience of life. That communication gives
me a boost when I confront the inevitable onset of despair, the aches
and pains to be overcome as I age myself. How I'll miss the extra support
of that powerful example supplied by my neighbor in Apt. 1B.
Remembrance by Laura Eglis