Saturday, April 14, 2007

Farewell Buddy Boy

Ed Carroll

I feel humbled to speak about Ed Carroll since he was such an extraordinarily fine man who should merit the words of a master. He deserves Vin Scully speaking his name and great poets praising his deeds. Yet, he was like me; just a boy from South Gate who grew up on Annetta avenue and I think he would be comfortable with my telling a few simple stories about his world, one I understand quite well. I grew up with Ed in that little slice of the American dream and remember him before he was allowed to cross the street by himself to visit the Knowlton household, where we all met back in the mid-50’s. This will be the story of many Ed Carrolls and the first, is that small boy on Annetta who was just known as “little Eddie.” He was a cherubic, rosy-cheeked kid who was unusually good-natured and even-tempered. You may have seen the old cartoon where just three people sit in a cavernous auditorium festooned with a banner reading “meeting of the children of normal parents.” Ed would have been one of those people. He was just plain good from the crest of his brillcreamed hair to the tips of his high-top Keds. “Good boy Eddie” that was another name and he earned it by being nice to everyone, not just the Moms who seemed to run the kids world but to other squirts who weren’t as big or as smart as he was on our blocks. It’s no secret why he was so kind, so generous, and so infinitely patient with other brats. He was Cathy’s son. And everybody near the family knew Cathy as hands down the nicest person who ever drew a breath. Ed just followed her lead.
Being an only child, Ed soon sidled into the world of 9604 Annetta where, as Tim Balderama said he became the “10th Knowlton.” The little guy was sharp as a tack, a great sport and a Cracker Jack athlete which was the currency of all prestige on the street. He was well nourished and could be called “Pudgie Dumpling” but his skill and coordination was such that he could play with the big guys named Johnny, Paul and visitor from far away 9400 answering to Glen. Without embellishment I can say he was the best hitter in Pee Wee baseball at the South Gate Park I ever saw, hands down. There he starred as a 7-Up Yankee, coached by the great Gil Montano forming one of the most fearsome batteries in history, teaming as Pitcher/Catcher with Bobby Cunningham. On the diamonds of South Gate Summers he battled the likes of the dreaded Bombers featuring Niall White and the scrappy Comets with Greg Sheehy. Little Eddie was a team guy just like in the rest of his forty-plus years, never bragging, never bullying and always sharing the glory. Ed would have probably gone on to further athletic glories but for an unfortunate tangle with a sprinkler head on the front lawn out on Annetta while playing pickle with a tennis ball. After that Ed had all the foot speed of a veteran catcher.
Eddie was the model citizen, getting good grades, obeying his parents and teachers and serving 6:30 mass on Sundays for Father Kelly down at St. Helen’s parish. He always excelled at St. Helen School and was a quick study in a wide variety of subjects. He was a cute little guy, looking something like a Hummel and it was early on that girls noticed the rosy cheeked lad and everybody gave him Valentines on the day of love. He was the soul of affability and was liked by big and little kids alike. By the time little Ed reached double figures in age he took on the appellation “Tuss Boy” which will go unexplained here but it stuck like glue to him up to and including recent history. Indeed, in adulthood he was called the transmogrified versions as “Tuzzle-Tozzle, Tozzle and Doc Tozz.” Whatever the squirts on Annetta cooked up Ed joined in. If it were “red light green light” or “draw the magic circle” or “wee-gee ball” he was there and playing fair. Cathy didn’t even have to call him home, she just stood out on the porch of 9601 Annetta, the tidiest home in America and Eddie reported for supper. He joined the Knowltons in their long-time Sunday at dawn pursuit of fortune called “the paper route,” pulling the old wooden wagons along in the early morning with Kevin and Mike, calling out Exaaaaaminer-Times Paaaaper!!” He was like blood-kin and to this day the Knowlton sisters call him a brother.
By the time puberty hit Ed did as all Annetta kids did in that day: rebelled at warp speed from his parent’s values. He learned to smoke by cadging Pall Malls and Newports from the Knowlton household and took up other vices evidenced by one of the most delightful bits of Annetta street lore. An older Knowlton brother (John and Paul) hosted camping trip for the boys was just an excuse for underage suds sipping. The jig was up for all when little Kevin exhuberantly exclaimed while describing one night’s events to his Mom “…and a spider crawled right across Eddie’s beer can!!!” I don’t know if Margaret ever busted Ed to Cathy Carroll but from that day forward the nickname “Spiders” was added to the lengthening list of Eddie appellations. Yet the man himself tried to beg off from his own shenanigans recently in an e-mail when he wrote “Niall and I were once as pure as the Indianapolis God driven
snow. Certain candidates for seminary school..until the OGs (Older Gators) hit the scene and sullied our purity !!!… We were led down the red ant infested dirt hill road to hell and our unsullied good Christian souls !!! Yes, we were led astray by the OGs and no amount of our mother's prayers
could save us !!! EC
PS I believe one of the culprits was named " Zeke" and I forget the other's name but do remember he
was named after an athletic shoe !!!” Translation: “Zeke” was Paul Knowlton and the athletic shoe guy was me.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Eddie’s acumen at the pinochle table in the Knowlton’s front room. Sitting in a cloud of smoke, hearing the bids he would sit motionless until the exact moment of weakness in an opponent and then strike. Because of his inscrutability and the way he let bids pass like a bump on a log he was known at that table as “Bumps.”
Despite straying a bit from the path and straining at the bounds of Tommy and Cathy propriety Ed continued to do well in school and eventually graduated with honors from St. Helen, then as a CSF winner from Pius X High School in 1969 and was admitted to UCLA as a freshman.
Ed’s further corruption took place at a dorm known as Weyburn Hall and the stories of the hi-jinks there are too many for me to tackle but there are many here who will regale you of a book thicker than “Gone With the Wind” on this stage of Ed’s debauchery. Ed was now a hippie with long-hair and whiskers who managed to excel in the Psych department despite his constant time-wasting in the quad, hurling Frisbees and hobnobbing with ne’r do wells like fellow student revolutionaries Niall, Derrick, Barney and Maxine. I was finishing off my foot-dragging, draft-dodging, college career at Westwood and in 1970 Ed and I used to have flesh burger lunches in the old bomb shelter and fantasize about all the free love we never seemed to be getting on campus. We took trips together, both in cars and on the back of Don Juan’s raven in that mind-expanding time. Memories of camping in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, the pine forests of Northern California and Grateful Dead concerts are fantastic in more ways than one. There was a real riot in that final quarter of 1970 and when the police stormed the campus Ed had the bad luck to get caught in a stairwell with an overzealous LAPD officer who gave him seventeen stitches under his chin.
The final road to perdition for young Eddie was a stay at Midvale Street in Palms, a hippie crash pad he shared with three other gents in 1971 including myself, Paul Knowlton and Bruce Alpert. That era may be like the decade of the 60’s in that if you lived through it you probably can’t remember it anyway. I do recall that we had tons of fun and were hated by the neighbors since our main activities involved listening to loud rock and roll music and the playing indoor basketball in the front room at all hours of the early morning. Ed was a terrific roommate except for the part about never doing any housework or cooking a single meal. How anybody ever studied in that house I don’t know but Ed managed to forge ahead and gain his Bachelors, then after his escape from Midvale and a long stay at the Colby avenue crow’s nest, there was a Masters and lastly he became one of the rarest birds in all of South Gate annals: a PhD. Thus, he became “Doc Tozzle” I never told him but I was very proud to have an Annetta homeboy earn such a grand scholarly achievement. I think we all were proud just to have him as a friend. It didn’t change him; he was still just the “Tuss Boy” to us.
After I left West LA to move back to South Gate in 1976 I saw Ed less and less but managed to keep in contact through strange news-clippings he would send in the mail or lengthy telephone calls. Those were happy days for him when he lived with Freya, probably the one true love of his life and he was full of good humor. When the old gang began to disperse across the country to New Mexico, to Oregon, to Wildomar, to San Francisco and San Diego it came to pass that Ed and I were the last of the Annetta Street Mohicans. I have looked at my photo albums of the past quarter century and it is amazing how many include this man. Ed was always at weddings where he consistently beat me to the car in escaping the demands to join the drunks on the dance floor. At every anniversary, birthday and celebration ever held in our circle Ed Carroll was as essential as laughter itself in these revelries. His dark-humored Christmas cards are legend and despite the fact I had to hide them from my young daughter I kept every one to this day. There is also a treasure chest of offbeat phone messages in which Ed cursed the vanquished Trojans or trumpeted Dodger success. They are indeed like gold today.
Before and especially after the death of his parents, Ed was adopted into several families’ holiday scenes, filling his void and giving a valuable addition to those lucky ones who were able to include him. There was the 4th of July with Grace Sheehy, Christmas dinner with Greg or Niall, Ed’s own magnificent Lawry’s Holiday feast and for thirteen, sweet years: the Opening Day of Dodger Baseball with thirteen of his closest pals. There were also UCLA games with the Bobcat, backyard barbecues, concerts, trips to Laughlin and any other excuse to bend an elbow and shoot the breeze. With e-mail came constant contact and copious ribaldry from Edocspud etc. Agent provocateur Derrick often set out the cyber-bait to bring Ed out of his electronic cave and the results were often hilarious.
It’s not that losing Ed is like losing a part of yourself because he was much more than that, he was like the very fabric of our lives, like the threads in the garment that protected us and kept us warm. Ed was not only my friend he was my advisor and buoyed me through several major crises in my life including divorce, depression, parenting a teenager and dealing with the decline of my own Mother’s health. I seriously doubt I could have made it through without him. What I feel is Ed’s greatest achievement, one that shows his extraordinary character is that I never had an argument with this man. It is well known that I am cantankerous to a fault yet I just never had occasion to exchange cross words with my friend Ed. Once, I had fibbed myself into a deep hole at work, selling them a tale that I was being treated in therapy when in fact I was sleeping in after partying. I was told to bring in an official letter to determine that the therapy was needed. After a sleepless night, an anxious phone call and a long drive I did show up at work, greatly relieved with such a note signed by the esteemed Doctor Edward M. Carroll. Still, he was a true hero in the strictest sense of the word regarding his own Mom and her struggle with cancer. He never complained and dutifully drove every single day to Downey to sit at Cathy’s bedside for month after nerve-shattering month. Right up to the end he stayed the good son and a man of exalted character.
In the past decade he was a guy who loved his solitude and routines that gave comfort. It might have been a show on HBO, his beloved cats Thunder and Lightening or a nice martini after a hard day’s work at the Veteran’s. He went to Bruin games, cheered at Opening Day, was seen at the bar in Lawry’s, and he stoked the cyber fires on the Internet. Thus he found a sweet rhythm of middle-aged contentment, cruising from one appreciated contact to another, smiling like he was in what Margaret Knowlton called “the catbird seat.” Indeed, he was like clockwork; dependable, solid, honest and sure to show up when asked to attend. Then, one Thursday morning when we all heard our clock radios harken the new day, Ed got up, poured himself a glass of juice, sat down at his desk and opened a door to eternity.
Like everyone here, I have been watching an Ed Carroll marathon movie festival for the past week. I can’t stop it and I don’t want to let go. It seems incomprehensible that he isn’t sitting out there enjoying this tribute. I’ve got a picture of him I want to keep on the mantle of my mind’s eye, I’ve told Greg about it and he agrees. It is a typical Christmastime, Ed Carroll-hosted visit to Lawry’s on restaurant row. I come in to the bar out of the December chill with Greg, Lissie and Maureen Sheehy and we search the place for a friendly face. There, up at the bar is the beaming, ruddy-countenance of Ed in his heavy, leather jacket, beckoning to us while lifting a pair of delicious looking martinis like a victorious hunter holding up the big game he had bagged. I’ll never forget you my friend.


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