- Flight Officer Carl George Larsen (Feb 22, 1921–Aug 31, 1943)Union Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
First off, he was not this man: a different Carl G. Larsen, also from Ohio, although more recently from Seattle, and nearly 50 when America declared its second war-to-end-all-wars. The Carl George Larsen I was looking for—the flight officer, the one buried in Columbus—had never lived past his 20s. This other man, though, this other Carl G. Larsen, I found him first. He was an aging inmate at the Narcotic Farm in Fort Worth, Texas, except the U.S. Public Health Service hospital said patients, not inmates, never mind those bars, son. Never mind the two-year mandatory minimum sentence. Even the medical students there on their psychology residencies slept behind parallel lines.
I can see a Seattle judge in his courtroom tower, and though I have only ever heard a gavel on television, there go the billiards-smack in the stateliest room that the wrong Carl G. Larsen has ever entered. Shipped from rain to desert—and wasn’t he lucky, the judge might have said to him, that he was shipping anywhere outside of a pine box, let alone to vocational therapy in as salubrious and bucolic a setting as Narco South. They might not have called it Narco South. Before America said Narc, we said Narco, but that meant the other, larger prison-cum-hospital on 1,000 acres in Kentucky, the one where they tested methadone on inmates and worked on MK-ULTRA. So yes, the judge made sure Carl G. understood his luck—only two of these institutions in the whole country. I wonder if Carl G. Larsen imagined the viscosity of luck in his veins.
I am imagining Carl G. imagining, because I don’t know how or when he got to the Fort Worth Narcotic Farm or whether he was assigned to fieldwork [End Page 191] or animal work, and if so, which animals. Goats, I think. Milking. All I know is that he was sitting on his government-assigned bed when the census taker came, or maybe it was the mess hall, or maybe he got called from the fields, because I’m thinking cotton, not goats. It was Texas, after all. But possibly Carl G. wasn’t working, or else the census taker didn’t believe that the type of work drug addicts do to no longer be drug addicts counted as work, because he wrote a “1” in the box for number of hours labored this week. Mr. Louis Lively marked “1” for all 624 inmates. “Look lively,” the warden might have said to the next man in the line that snaked around the room.
It was 1940, and Carl G. Larsen was indeed lucky, because after the war, the Farms wouldn’t accept the older addicts. America’s youth were the dope fiends worth saving. I had no intention of posthumously saving him either, because he was not the Ohio Carl G. Larsen I was hunting for, and I have no other records of this particular man.
Seventy-five years after the wrong Carl G. Larsen gave the Texas census taker his specifics, I was pushing 30 and shoving horse chestnuts into the pockets of my too-short skirt as I wandered my new neighborhood’s cemetery. I didn’t think they were chestnuts at the time; I thought they were Ohio buckeyes. I was new to the state, new to Columbus and these beautiful trees, and I couldn’t yet tell the difference between the species. A tree of each type grew along the riverbank, their branches hanging over the compact graves of the city’s blue babies. Their massive, blood-brown seeds in their fleshy husks felt like lacquer when I held them against my lips. The husks dried and split away. I worked the conker’s nucleus like a worry stone and the seed held against my fingers’ pressure.
Past the fruiting trees, there was Isham B. Jones, 1908–1951, and Hazel Confer Alexander, who died the same year. The chestnuts kept my skirt down as the October wind slapped...