His name was Ed but I called him "The Penis That Destroyed Ventura, California". As usual, he'd grin ear to ear and nod his head in recognition of his "accomplishments" in pursuit of said title. "Yeah, that's me. Big Penis." I’d shake my head, grinning as well, thinking “All looks, no brains. God, you have a funny way of playing with people.”
I met Ed while directing theatrical productions at the Plaza Players Theatre, then (until it's closing a few years ago), the oldest non-stop continuing community theatre group west of the Rockies. Ed was mainly doing ensemble and bit parts since he wasn't the world's most accomplished or disciplined actor (evidenced by the other director’s constant bellows of "ED, YOU MISSED YOUR CUE"), and as far as I could discern, his primary reason for being in theatre was mainly to pick up girls, then pick up more girls, and when he was done, look for even more girls. One might safely infer that he liked girls. Ed used to happily repeat ad nauseum to everyone that his favorite perfume was "Estrogen". But I digress…
Now, Ed had two goals in life: the first was to be like the Patrick Swayze character in the movie "ROAD HOUSE". For those of you that haven't seen this movie, it's critically known as "splendidly bad" macho-guy action flick filled with "gratuitous sex and violence at every turn"; Patrick Swayze plays Dalton, a top-notch bouncer who's hired to clean up a den of iniquity. According to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database), "His nights are filled with fast action, hot music and beautiful women. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it." A pure rootin-tootin macho movie and Ed worked at becoming just like the Dalton/Swayze bouncer character. Now as I said, as an actor, Ed was stiff as one of the boards on the stage, but remember, he had 2 goals, one of which was to be a bouncer, and well, let's just say the 2nd wasn't to be an actor. We had a lighting director/operator who studied Kung Fu and would "teach" Ed during the odd, free moments at the theatre though I gathered it was more to have a live body to rain down half-speed blows and kicks upon. A standard staple of the Chop-Socky film genre is the tenet of learning through pain, and Ed learned a lot and quickly. As with anything practiced, Ed eventually learned how to duck and dodge as well as to strike and kick back effectively and eventually was good enough to be hired on as a bouncer downtown at the Ventura Theatre, which was an old vaudeville house converted to an over-21 dance club. Ed looked like a pushover when compared to the Samoan bouncers who were also on staff; but it was Ed who more often than not ended up being suspended or arrested for being too enthusiastic about his "bouncerly" duties. I can say Ed succeeded in reaching his first goal; he was living the real life version of "ROAD HOUSE".
Ed’s second goal in life was to add the names of as many women as possible to his little black book, a toting up of his conquests, a record of his trophy hunts. I perused said tome a few times; page after page, not listing telephone or contact information as one might think, but filled with names, statistics, details not normally talked about in polite company, along with the Ed rating based on a scale of 1 to 10.
Just for your edification, let me first describe Ed’s happy hunting grounds; said community theatre which was about thirty-minutes north of Los Angeles and the actor’s mecca of Hollywood. Now, just to remind you, there are more actors (and actresses) than there are available acting roles or jobs. To have a role in a show, even a non-paying gig, within driving range of Hollywood meant being able to invite talent and casting agents to see your talents and hopefully break into the stellar ranks of the worshipped and renumerated. Suffice to say, a big part of having a career in theater (and film) are "contacts"; we had plenty of actresses of all "talent" levels (and I’ll leave the jokes to you) attendant at the theatre, hungry to get on stage, and always looking for those that might be able to help them get that next plum role. Enter Ed, who as I might have intimated earlier, was an established member of the theatre group and on relatively good terms with the directors (myself included) and used that access to his full advantage.
Now, a quick physical description of Ed: Blonde. Black eyebrows. Miami Vice unshaven. Penetrating but twinkling eyes. Whipcord lean. Muscled. Sinewy.5'11". Mid-twenties. A ready smile served up with a side of dimples. Think of a young Sean Connery or Colin Farrell, with blond hair and you’ve got a good idea of what he looked like. One could see on a surface or physical level, why many of the actresses were attracted to him.
Of course, all appetizers and no main course doesn’t make for a satisfying meal. Let me fill out the picture about Ed a bit further as regards those unseen attributes normally called intelligence or common sense.
As I think I have intimated earlier, Ed was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Looks definitely were a big reason he didn’t starve to death. The recounting of Ed’s supernatural acts of density could fill volumes but we’ll stick with two examples.
Just so you know, Ed was like Blanche DuBois in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE; that is, he depended upon the kindness of strangers. His normal modus operandi was to find an unsuspecting mealticket, (remember the actresses?) who would feed him, clothe him, shelter him, and parade him around proudly until they were caught flatfooted by his tomcatting ways, whereupon Ed would be dumped and roundly reviled by said put-upon and heart-broken actress. (To forestall the inevitable "DIDN’T YOU WARN THEM?!”; we did. But who listens, eh?)
The first example of Ed’s intellectual prowess came following his latest ejection from the Life of Riley. He was in between mealtickets, living out of his van and down to his last few dollars while he was waiting out another suspension from his bouncer job at the Ventura Theatre. Now, most people with limited funds will seek to get the most "bang for the buck"; seeking out those foods that can be bought in bulk at a Costco or Smart&Final; foods that can stretch to cover several meals; spaghetti comes to mind, peanut butter is another. Obvious, right?
Ed bought a gallon tub of mayonnaise. A gallon tub of mustard. A gallon tub of catsup. A gallon tub of chopped onion. A gallon tub of relish. A gallon tub of sliced jalapenos.
“Ed, what are you going to do with those?”
Big grin. “Uh, stuff goes good with hotdogs.”
“Oh, you got hotdogs?” Looking around. There was no fridge in the van. No hotdogs.
“ You bought hotdogs right? Something go with that stuff right? Baloney? Bread?”
A day or so later, I heard that Ed had been vomiting during a rehearsal; hotdogs with all the fixings, but without the buns or dogs.
The second example of Ed’s powers of perspicacity was when I was mounting a production of "The Ritz". Now if you’ve ever done community theatre, you know that it’s a group effort and everyone pitches in to get the show up and running. Our runs averaged 9 weeks with 4 performances a week, and our sets were built like houses in order to withstand the rigors of an extended run, meaning lots of ¾” plywood and 2-by-4’ construction. I asked Ed to "rip" or saw a ¾” plywood sheet; normally 4 feet by 8 feet and weighing about 30lbs. Now, most people would secure the heavy plywood sheet atop some sawhorses, position themselves to the side, and saw downwards. At most, a ten-minute sawing job by hand; two-minute with a circular-saw. I did say Ed wasn’t the shiniest spoon at the table, didn’t I? Well, after 5 minutes, I came back onstage and lo and behold, there’s Ed sweating beneath the ¾” plywood sheet, covered in sawdust, holding it up with one hand, and sawing upwards with a handsaw. He’d gotten about three inches cut of an 8-foot long piece.
“Ed, what are you doing?”
Blink. Blink. Vacant look. “ Sawing.”
“Didn’t want to use the Skilsaw?”
Look. Spot the circular saw next to him. “Oh. Yeah.”
But let us remember, that Ed’s second goal in life was not to be a competent set builder or construction industry tradesman.
As far as tools to aid him in fulfilling his second goal in life, Ed was very well equipped (pardon the pun). I asked him once about his methodology for meeting those of the feminine persuasion who weren’t part of the theatre social group (and thus had no common ground for Ed’s attempts at future "social" interactions).
“Why, I stare at them. It’s like fishing. Some of them get freaked out and leave. Others take the bait and come over, kind of like to challenge me. Then I act all sad like my life is falling apart and I talk about wishing I could start over. Pretty soon they’re all trying to cheer me up and…”. He shrugged and grinned at this point as I recall, a big, confiding grin. “ Works everytime”. As Mozart was to music, Turing was to computing, and Aaron was to homeruns, so Ed was to the pickup; pure, natural talent.
Ed also had an innate ability to zero in on women who had at some point posed for men’s magazines. This was at the time when Hustler magazine (among others) was located in Los Angeles ( before the Internet explosion decimated the adult magazine industry) and the center of the American pornography industry was based out of the San Fernando Valley which was about 15 minutes south via the 101 freeway. I’d see Ed on Main Street (yes, the City of San Buenaventura’s main street is called Main Street), proudly escorting any number of eye-popping, jaw-dropping, fist-biting, pneumatically-endowed "models and actresses" someplace or another but generally one would assume to his "pad" (translation for our more youthful readers: "crib") or his van with the cringe-inducing mattress in the back.
Of course, along with this ability of Ed’s to "count coup" in this carnal game as many times as possible was his singular inability to come to grips with the fact that there were others who did not share his enthusiasm for the game and sought to shorten, if not end it. Many were the times I’d see Ed fleeing up Main Street with an irate boyfriend, husband, or father in hot pursuit. Most of these pursuers were along the order of shaved gorillas, generally not alone nor I would assume unarmed. Once in a while, Ed would come tearing through the theatre. A few seconds later, hulking shadows would appear in the doorway:
“Hey! Did some blonde-haired sunovabitch come through here?!
” We’d generally point opposite of Ed’s flight path to give Ed a chance to put some distance between himself and his "fans". I say generally because once in a while there would happen to be an actress in the house that Ed had "crossed"; then it was “He went thataway!” Set loose the hounds!
Eventually, Ed would show up later at the theatre or at one of the post-show get-togethers, grinning like a dog and cadging beers in return for the telling of his latest exploits and brushes with near-disaster. I kept thinking of Winston Churchill’s remark as a young military officer that “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result”, as I watched Ed animatedly recount his current conquest and close call with the irate father/brother/boyfriend/husband. I think the last time was at the Sans Souci, a little bar across from Ed’s place of intermittent employment.
“Dang, Ed. Maybe you could save yourself the hassle by just asking if they’ve got an old man or boyfriend. Plenty of single women to go around, you don’t need to be messing with married women.”
He just grinned his shit-eating, horn-dog grin as he pulled out his little black book and proceeded to jot down his latest score. “ They’re all fair game”.
We all ginned back. We knew where our wives and girlfriends were, right? Have another beer, Ed. At least you’re here, where I can see you.
Well, the world turns; I married, had twin boys, changed careers and moved up to the San Francisco bay area. As is wont when one passes the 50 year life marker, one looks back and wonders "whatever happened to so-and-so" and "oh-hell-he-died-when?" Phone calls are made: The theatre had closed with the passing of the founding artistic director, all my fellow actors had moved on to work in the comedy and drama of real life despite being so close to Hollywood, hairlines receded, paunches and wrinkles magically appeared, kids were born and grew up, and Ed, still in Ventura, had gotten married and divorced.
And he had a daughter. A teenage daughter.
“That’s great Ed. Kids are the best toys I ever had.”
“Yeah”. The word was long and drawn out. “It’s great.”
“Teenage girl though, phew. I’ve got my two guys starting to look at girls, tough enough dealing with boys. Girls have got to be… well, you know…”
Beat. “Yeah, I’ve got to watch her. Got all kinds of guys sniffing around.”
“I’m sure you’re a good dad, keep an eye on her. Kids are a beautiful thing. Gives you something in worth dying for, eh?”
Beat. “Yeah.” There was a huff in the background as if he had taken a tired, deep breath.
The conversation ended a few minutes later with the usual promises to keep in touch.
And you know what? I will keep in touch. Because it’s always great to see that God has a sense of humor, especially when you’re not the punchline.