I never learned Lang’s last name. Or maybe I never learned his first. I don’t know. No one ever called him anything but Lang.
He often spoke of his homeland. “Where I come from people live differently than they do here in America,” he once whispered to me. It was after nightfall. The stars shone down brilliantly upon us. We were up in a tree hiding from police dogs.
It’s the weirdest thing about dogs, even police dogs. The smell of bark confuses them. Bark! Of all things! You think it’d be something like turnips dipped in lye. (Which I’ve had, and cannot recommend—though my aunt Earlyne insists they make her clothes come out of the dryer so soft they keep sliding right off her body. But I think that’s just an excuse she uses.) But it’s bark that confuses dogs.
“Be quiet!” I whispered to old Lang. “They’ll be confused. Not deaf!”
“It’s like my father Lung used to say,” said Lang obliviously. “‘In America, they’ll kill you for a cheeseburger.'”
“Shhhh!” I whispered maniacally. “Your father’s name was Lung?
“Yes. Long Lung.”
“I’m not. He was very tall.”
“And he named you Lang.”
“Yes. I was Long Lung’s Lang.”
“I’m starting to hate you.”
“Ah,” said Lang, nodding sagaciously. “Then you hate yourself.”
I started pushing him. “Get out. Get out of this tree right now.”
“Stop it!” he whispered, swatting at my hands. “The dogs will get me!”
“I don’t care. You’re old. They’ll think you’re a wad of weird jerky and move on. Get out.”
“Then stop saying things like, Ah. Then you hate yourself.”
“He who abides in the shadows cannot abide by candles,” whispered old Lang.
When he hit the ground he barely made a sound. He didn’t weigh much. And there were lots of leaves down there. Plus he fell on about a dozen sleeping dogs.
“Come on down!” he called up to me. “I forgive you! They aren’t police dogs! They’re regular dogs! I woke them up! Come on down!”
Sure enough they were just regular dogs. “I thought you said police dogs were after us,” I said.
“They were. I don’t know what happened. Maybe these are the police dogs. Maybe now instead of attacking you they train police dogs to take naps until you fall on them.”
“That would be a nice approach.”
“This one here seems to be trying to lick me into submission,” said Lang. “Good boy. Good boy. Okay, stop it.” He looked at me and smiled. “And you said they wouldn’t like me.”
Old Lang was a sign-painter. Everyone in town knew one of Lang’s hand-painted signs when they came across it somewhere in their front yard.
“Love is the answer!” said the sign Lang jammed into Mrs. Waddermaker’s azaleas. “But what is the question?”
Climbing into his car Mr. Jenkins almost tripped on a Lang sign that read, “To go somewhere is to go nowhere.”
The Barnekees next door got one that said, “Troubadour pants! Who knew?!”
The sign he put on the courthouse lawn said, “We’re all guilty. Except me.”
Good old Lang. I miss his signs.
I remember the one he did for me. I found it driven into the big planting pot right outside my door. Ever since the shooting I’d let all the plants on my porch wither into nothing. I just didn’t care anymore.
“Don’t cry,” it said. “After this comes paradise.”