Monday, December 07, 2020

Love Ya, Max

I'm procrastinating. I don't want to do this. I'd rather call my best friend Max and and catch up as we always do on the weekend. Even if there was nothing new to discuss, we'd always have something to talk about-the past, the present, the future and everything in between. Whether it be trivial nonsense, deep philosophical ruminations or, more often than not, silly ass jokes at each other's expense or better yet, someone's else's, we'd fill up that time, have a laugh or two or several, maybe share a lump in the throat and always conclude that call with the words "love ya".

But I can't do that. You see, Ed Thorpe died last week. My best friend of fifty three years. My brother. 

Gone. Just like that. 

We've known each other since the sixth grade at Grover Cleveland Elementary in Stockton, CA. I believe he arrived mid-year after his dad schlepped he and his older brother up from Los Angeles. We were both in the same grade but different classes. I became aware of Ed almost immediately since he got into a fight on his first day of school. It wasn't long before we hung out together during recess, not interacting with each other too very much until one day, I wanted to make points with my comedic skills. I would sneak out of bed and catch the first half-hour of The Tonight Show. If Johnny Carson was performing his Carnac the Magnificent bit, I would write down the best jokes and repeat them to my pals during recess. Carnac was the great seer, soothsayer and sage who would mentally give answers to questions sealed inside an envelope. Typical joke: Siss, boom, bah. (opens envelope) Describe the sound made when a sheep explodes. When I read the previous night's bit the next day, I'd give the answer Carson-style when suddenly it was repeated, just like Ed McMahon did for Johnny. Surprised, I turned to see, not McMahon, but Ed Thorpe joining in. The other guys in the group didn't do it because, basically, they couldn't. But Ed did. He got it. Therefore, he got me and vice versa. From that moment on, we were off and running. 

That was the beginning of decades of in-jokes, obscure references and esoterica that formed the groundwork of our relationship, shorthand, if you will, almost a secret language in our own private club, a problem for many an outsider who felt left out of the conversation, but, hey, them's the breaks.  Keep up or keep out cuz when we were on a roll, we weren't gonna put on the brakes until we damn well felt like it.

A long-lasting friendship such as ours weathers many ups, downs and storms a'plenty. Even this year, we had a knockdown drag-out fight about this goddamn pandemic. I was fretting, as usual, over the state of things, trying to vent my frustration and fear over all this crap when he told me, flat out, there was nothing I could do about it. Me, being Mr. Irrational, took this as a dismissal of my feelings and state of mind. He felt I was doing the same to him and the shouting commenced ending with a hang-up that still resonates. The problem is, you can't disconnect a smart phone by slamming down the receiver.  The end result was a stalemate between two grumpy old men on the same page, but different paragraphs. 

Eventually, we kissed and made up and got over it like always. But his words stuck with me, especially now. 

He's dead and there's nothing I can do about it. There's a piece missing from my heart, a big hole or vacant lot where a mighty building once stood. Sorry. That's prime real estate. I have to refill it and I will try to do so with the memories we shared after fifty odd years and channel them into that empty space for as long as my brain will allow. Believe me, there's enough there for sustainability. And it isn't just the reminiscences, but their implications and significance as well, be they good, bad or ugly. In the end, it all came down to complete brotherly love. Unfortunately, it's all recyclable material and a poor substitute for the real thing. 

I will feel forever in debt to Ed for all that he's brought to my life, leading me on paths I never knew existed. Had it not been for him, I never would have ended up at Pollardville. It was he who became my Sherpa into that Shangri-La between Stockton and Lodi, leading me through the open gates of the Ghost Town and onto the magical deck of the Palace Showboat. He had such a (literally) undying passion for that place that culminated in the last reunion show back in 2007 right before the House that Pollard Built closed up shop for good. The final production on that stage was such a labor love for him and it showed from beginning until the very bittersweet, touch grand finale. It was Ed's magnum opus, an accomplishment that he was unabashedly proud.

He was so much more in his life and times. While serving in the United States Navy, he traveled the world and became a skilled and accomplished respiratory therapist. His work with AA allowed him to overcome his addictions and help so many others over the years, saving several lives in the process. He was a true force of good in this often cynical world. A little over ten years ago, he reunited with his daughter, Justine. I was so glad he was able to experience something that I myself cherish-the joy of grandpahood when he was blessed with a grandson named James. As such, the legend continues.

Through all his trials and tribulations, certainly with his health problems in the last few years, Ed knew that life was worth living. He had so many obstacles that he had to endure and through it all, he recognized himself as a survivor. "Bring it on," he once told me.

And brought upon him it was, one last time on Monday, November 30, 2020. 

Should you, whoever's reading this, have someone in your life as I have had with Ed, whether it be a friend, a sibling, mother, father or any sort of relative, a lover, husband or wife, whoever occupies a space in your heart, mind and soul, it will enrich and reward you until the day you too will pass from this earth.  You will be a better person for it just as I have been for knowing Edward Alan Thorpe.

Now I have to wrap up and I don't want to do that either. I can't say goodbye because, frankly, I don't wanna. So I will merely sign off as we always did.

I will talk to youse later.

Love ya, Max