Sunday, December 02, 2012



     This is a story that begins with a lucky punishment and ends with a profoundly sad phone call… but the middle part is about fifty years of fun and laughter. It all starts way back in the early sixties at Pius X High School where one skinny dude with braces met another skinny dude with braces and they became fast friends. In the beginning we were all just some kids hanging around on the blacktop; boys in their trendy Pendleton shirts, girls in their Catholic school color coded uniforms with matching ribbons in their big hair…Ray Lamont was attempting to run back punts for the Warriors with eight opponents surrounding him, the Knowlton boys had lots of hair, Disa was the co-captain of the Pi-high flag twirlers, we all wore 26 inch waist 501’s and my brother was a nice boy who went to mass on Sunday. Tim had a name that was easy to remember because they often said it over the school public address along with mine on Friday afternoons “the following students will report for Saturday detention tomorrow …Appeldoorn, Balderama, Booze, Coy, Creason etc.” Actually, that is where Tim and I became pals when Coach Heideman gave us the same punishment of cleaning the home team’s locker room during one long Saturday morning in 1963. We found we had a lot in common which included talking about sports, an admiration of Pius girls, Motown,  more talk about baseball, basketball, football and the willingness to break some rules. When we left Pius on that detention day we   both looked like the Pillsbury doughboy because we were wearing in layers the many jerseys we had swiped from that locker room.
     This bond was cemented in Junior year when Tim talked me into working a tricky transfer from Spanish 3 to Mr. Buckart’s wood shop class which was really a series of teenaged bad behavior one-upmanship taking place first in wood, then metal shop where the pranks and ensuing detentions were plentiful. Imagine two dozen, poorly supervised, irresponsible delinquents standing in front of power tools or walking around holding white-hot pieces of metal.  Neither of us were even in the same hemisphere with “handy with tools” so when we partnered up for a project it set some kind of record for incompetence in wood. The mere mention of this “project” would cause both of us to become paralyzed with laughter for decades to come since it started out as a shoeshine kit and ended as a “milking stool” that received a charitable D- from Buckart. Fans of Pius basketball may remember star player Balderama missing a St. Anthony game because some idiot came up behind him and startled him as he used a band saw in that same shop causing him to saw his thumb to the bone. Metal shop in our senior year was even worse.
     It always amazed me that Tim would consent to be my pal since he was a bona fide big man on campus by way of his basketball prowess and his dating success with several of the cutest girls in school. I, on the other hand was on the golf team, had a VW Beetle and could get beer. As was the case for his entire life he was not a big ego guy and if he liked your sense of humor you were gold but if you crossed him he was a terrible grudge holder. We also played a lot of pick-up basketball together and as confirmed gym rats we formed, with Paul Knowlton a formidable three-on-three team. Unlike me, Tim passed the ball and played good defense. Our friendship was fired in many a crucible including the time I unknowingly ripped into him for being late to a church league basketball game on the night his Dad passed away. He let me know in a very kind way that the father he loved deeply had died and he would not be playing on that night. When my embarrassment subsided it began to sink in that his life was about to change dramatically like no one I had ever known. He was eighteen years old and pretty much left to fend for himself.  Yet, Timo was never a whiner and just made a choice to join the Air Force a year after high school. Airman Balderama eventually was posted to Vietnam where he claimed to have gone to more bars than patrols but truthfully his life was in danger many times in Saigon. Mostly he spent his service in Georgia going to Allman Brothers concerts and  Northern California having a ball until he finished his tour.
     It was in Northern California where he met his first wife and proudly fathered his daughter Tandra but for reasons he never discussed with me the relationship foundered and he showed up back in LA with empty pockets and a broken heart. This was the first time when our friendship began to work like mountaineers with one of us pulling the other up by a rope and then switching roles later as we struggled up the rocky shelves we were climbing in our twenties. He had no car and had to work in his Uncle’s china factory but on weekends he would come and stay with me in West L.A. where we smoked and drank and dreamed about what might have been and what we hoped the future might hold.  After a couple of tough years for him he caught a break when John Sheehy helped him get a landscapers job with the city of South Gate and within months he was on his feet and life was looking good again. In 1976 I was lost and he tossed me the rope, pulling me up out of my personal wreckage by letting my two cats and I move into his house on Virginia Avenue.  It was one of the most important kindnesses I ever received in my life. As a matter of fact, the next few years were some of the most relaxed years of my life and I can’t imagine a person being easier to live with than Tim. We had a sad old color TV that you could not turn off, a bunch of old easy chairs from Value Village and a kitchen and bathroom most women would not even consider stepping into. Pals called the place Club Virginia and boy rules were in effect at all times. He paid the rent, I cooked and neither one of us cleaned.  Our relationship reached the pinnacle of guy-communication when we passed a number of entire days by merely snapping our fingers at each other. I am serious.
     It was in South Gate that Tim caught his second great break when he wandered into the Bank of America down on Alexander and spotted a cute young lady who had gone to Pius with us back in the day. When he came home and said the name “Disa” I could hear a little choir of angels in his voice and knew his days as my roommate were numbered. Luckily, I had managed to find a job in late 1979 when Timo left me stewardship of club Virginia and put a gold band on the hand of that same Pius girl. I will say it with the greatest amount of pride that I was his best man at the wedding and was Tim’s best friend for all those many years. But truthfully, his best friend from that day forward was Disa and this was a love story as sweet as any told in the movies. He settled into life on Alexander and their home was a place I grew to love deeply, even with the repeated bed-time shouts of “Goodnight Ian!!” Tim and Disa’s home with the tree growing out of the wall in the den was as welcoming and nurturing a pad as the rosiest in the American dream.  It was a also the home base of the Strange Heads softball team that grew out of basketball teams Tim and I played on called “Straw Hat Pizza Guys” and the “Hula Gal Tavern.” Slow pitch was taking hold around South Gate Park and Tim, Billy Hogan and I decided we wanted to be part of that action and Bill got us a sponsor (C&H Auto) and we picked up guys we played with in Pee Wee league and started to learn the game. Eventually, C&H became “the Base Sages” and finally the “Strange Heads,” the name little seven-year-old Erin came up with when she saw we all wore different baseball hats.  We weren’t bad but we were great after games over at Flories Pizza on Abbot road where the kids begged quarters for the video games and our exploits were magnified exponentially by the number of pitchers of beer consumed. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Timo’s two out, three-run walk-off tater to beat the top-ranked Shetler team, two league championships and of course beating the Post Office team twice for the J-boy. There are many old Heads here today and the team continues to play right on up to a couple of weeks ago, continuing an amazing tradition of thirty-plus years playing ball…now into a third generation!
      We also had great fun on “Card Night” where the old gang tried to pick the winners of college and pro-football games while altering their consciousness enough to have something to blame for their failures on Monday morning. Tim’s amazing creativity was brought to light as we developed a ritual of composing small poem’s to emphasize our picks for the consensus card of the week. He called his “Timo’s Touts The Butcher’s Best Bets” and they read like: “Woody Hayes-a man, a maniac, or a monster. Call him anything you like but call him gone. The Buckeyes can raise their heads at last. They will look up and pick oranges from Syracuse and gobble the sweet fruits of victory…#19 on your card Ohio State!”  He also was a clever songwriter using the music of jingles and creating his own lyrics. All of this was just part of his considerable and quick wit that just got better as he got older. Once, at a party when I said “I was best man at his wedding…both of them! He zinged me in return “I knew his girl friends…both of them!” Yet, it was a badge of Timo honor to be the target of one of his zingers because it meant he cared about you.
    He was also a fine coach of youth basketball and won league titles with a group of kids who responded to his John Wooden inspired schemes including the zone trap and fast break offense. He was a sound teacher and never yelled at his players ever.  No one understood the game of basketball better than Tim and as he told it if he was coaching Pius in 1964 they would have won CIF going away…. So went the 70’s and then the beginning of the 80’s and as time passed many of the fellas left “the Gate” and spread out across the west. We mostly kept in touch and despite being a man of few words Timo remained at the center of our circle. Thanks to a start from Jim Grimes he put in an honorable career as a meat cutter and retired after thirty years of very hard work without ever complaining about the job or the places he had to toil.  In his welcomed retirement he made his personal appearances on golf courses, at Bruin games at the Rose Bowl and on Opening Day at Dodger stadium, a tradition we shared for twenty glorious years. He brought the steaks, the wine and the optimism for every season we celebrated up at my old shack in the hills. Still, in sizing up our relationship we did celebrate 11 Laker, 4 Dodger and 11 Bruin world or national championships. Yes we did. There were also plenty of rough patches and more than a few gallons of tears that we also shared over the years but he was always there to say, “lean on me.” There were pleasant surprises along the way, he was amazed and elated by the discovery of a sister he had never known, a blood link from his Dad who managed to make a connection via the Internet. All the stars seemed to be aligned for living happily ever after.
      In the last few years the knee problems that plagued him from decades standing on concrete at the job slowed him to a standstill but that is when technology came to the rescue and we old dinosaurs discovered texting. Actually, I think his grandkids taught him.  I have spent a goodly amount of time sitting and reading all of the exchanges we had, mostly ones taking place during Dodger games and they were amazing haikus of moments in time. For a guy who really wasn’t too much into long phone conversations or even extended discussions he was a real poet with his text compositions. I could literally read these for an hour and for sports fans they all would be funny and meaningful. I will just share a dozen to give a flavor but I have four pages just of baseball season alone. Some were typical Timo:

“Swing the f---ng bat!” or “can of corn with the bases full!” or “where is the strike zone with this guy?”

When James Loney got traded to Boston: “wicked bum!”

“Ethier…the man who forgot how to hit”

When ineffective Dodger reliever Mike McDougal was summoned
“Here comes McBum!”

During one of many Dodger hitting droughts and other team scored first run

Describing the Pittsburgh Pirates failure to beat the hated Giants

When I sent him a photo of my brother’s medicinal photo ID
“Tell Nick Nolte to slow down!”

When I suggested D’Andre Thomas should have gone to UCLA instead of Oregon “ Thomas can’t spell UCLA!”

During the Olympics
Mexico just beat Brazil for the gold…look out Huntington Park!”

While he could not attend my brother’s birthday party so I sent him a few photos on his phone
First one-a group shot: “who ARE all those old people?”

…and his last text to me during the UCLA-Arizona game
“Bruins are HOT!”

  Tim was not a man who shared his feelings easily and never wore his heart on his sleeve but in between the lines of our rather brief conversations I came to understand his sensitive but very private nature. He most certainly had his dark moods but would just withdraw until he felt like rejoining the world.  We talked mostly about sports, politics, friends and family but within those little pauses when our guards were down we made our secrets known about how we were sometimes scared and weak and always striving to be the men our fathers were before us. It was then that we revealed how much we meant to each other.  In those small asides we also passed to each other the essence of our happiness in being able to use that E-ticket we were given to take a wonderful ride. The single, beautiful truths of riding our bikes as kids through familiar streets, the pride of wearing a uniform and being part of a team, the miracle of falling in love, of being overwhelmed by the touch of our children and hearing ourselves called “babe” or “buddy” or “dad.” There are so many things I never really knew about Tim, things in his heart that only Disa knows but I can pass witness to his great happiness in his last years of finally getting to closely share in Tandra’s life who was in his heart every single day of her life no matter how near or far he was from her. There was a seemingly boundless joy he enjoyed in the presence of his children Ian and Erin and absolute delight in his healthy and lively grandchildren: Savannah, Emma, Bailey and Zoe. I never saw him more content than when Haledon was filled with his family’s laughter. You will hear it a hundred times today but family was absolutely everything to this man. In looking back at how many great times I had with Tim I am overwhelmed by the terrible truth of just how quickly it all passed.  This too short life, a time that literally flew because we were having so much fun is over but we must celebrate our good fortune even today. We were all blessed to know such a first-class man who earned the kind of success every sane man on the planet strives for…to be respected and loved.
      Although I would like this terrible ache to go away I will not stop composing texts in my heart to him during Bruin or Dodger games, I will continue to feel the need to tell him when my fortunes are good or bad and I will still love the guy just like I always have until we meet again. And we will meet again when I hear the voice of Vin Scully call a Dodger win, in the eight clap roaring at Pauley, in the continuing laughter of his family at Haledon and in the thousands of stories we will continue to tell about the great guy we called Timo.


Blogger Vidya said...

What a wonderful tribute to an incredible friend. Give a big hug to Disa for me the next time you see her.

9:05 AM  
Blogger perfervid said...

Glen that was beautiful

8:52 PM  

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