Hey Tom Frew, wherever you may be. Thinking of you with an enormous smile, wishing we were, again, sitting across from one another at some fly-rich burrito-o-torium in Camarillo, exchanging insults as only old friends can do. You departed this comic veil last month at the age of 94. Pal? You don’t look a day over 393. Most swear you’re presently just north of here, in the clouds, in a drafty underwearless mu-mu. Not to offer advice on how to dress, amigo, I note that, as thin as you are, a fire-engine red leotard is not really a good look on a man of your advanced age, although the small pointy horns and flickering tail seem appropriate, especially for someone with a sketchy theatrical background.
It’s never been my position in our friendship that I should tell you where to live (although, “…far, far away from me” comes to mind). Tom Frew. I can find no man better suited for Heaven. I just don’t think it’s the right fit for you. I worry you might be bored up there, or, worse, the angels discover their mistake and punt you back to Earth where you’d land, wrong orifice, atop an alp.
Earth, this annoying parenthesis. Some of us are round holes, forever hammered into square pegs. You were the town’s last blacksmith and if anyone didn’t remotely look like a blacksmith, it was you. It was like seeing Fred Astaire shoveling coal on a tramp steamer. You were, and are, one of the toughest S.O.B. Scotsmen I’ve met.
And yet, so suspiciously and always so tuxedo squeaky clean.
Remember me almost having a heart attack when you showed up to take one of my SCV history classes a few thousand eons ago? First day, I almost fell out of my seat when you walked up to the front of the class, placed an apple on my desk and were polite to offer the warning, “It’s poisoned.”
I made a big production of daintily examining said crisp fruit, then offering what everyone in town knows about your fiscal conservatism: “Well. I know you didn’t buy it …”
You had enough money to fund Medicare, and yet, you did your washing over at the Laundromat by the bookstore on Lyons. Cripes. Finally, you broke down and bought a brand-new washer and dryer for your estate, then threw a wild christening party for said appliances. The party made the local paper, for all the wrong reasons.
Your family has been in Santa Clarita since 1900, opening the blacksmith shop on today’s Main Street near Market. I always loved wandering in, to get something twisted straightened out, something straight, bent. Loved that steel, sooty smell and if I were lucky, your dad or a junior smithy would be shaping molten horse shoes with a big hammer. I loved sitting in your kitchen, sipping tea, staring at all the photos on the walls that some would call historical. To you, they were just family.
Remember? Remember that time I was speaking at the city’s Cowboy Fest? I was up on the elevated wooden sidewalk at Melody Ranch, spouting gee-whiz local history tales, boring to perdition some 150 people. This is where you’d dryly interrupt, “There were just — three …”
“… me, your mom and your dad …”
I’m cowboyed up, blab-blab-blabbing to the tourists, trying to liven up a story essentially about dirt. I spot you on the other side of the street. The crowd’s back is to you. You’re lightly dancing in place, Tom, a man of your age and community standing, flipping me the bird from a variety of Cupid-like positions.
Rare for me? I couldn’t think of a thing to say, other than stuttering, “Hamina-hamina-hamina.” You stopped the show, Frew, which, thinking back, was probably an act of kindness and public service to the out-of-towners, broiling in Santa Clarita’s unforgiving sun.
I miss our years, both in Newhall and Camarillo, of lunches at 3 in the afternoon in empty restaurants, laughing our heads off, exchanging stories about who, back in our boyhood home, was sleeping with whom and doing it completely wrong, what prominent local and two-faced figures were complete asses and our beautiful and imperfect pastime of recalling how things used to be.
Heavens, Tommy MacFrewski. I’m smiling again, just thinking of you. I remember you telling me about being a boy. It was the tail-end of the 1930s. You and your friends would ride your bikes up and over Market Street. There was a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients there off Cross Street. On a dare, you wildcats would pedal a million miles an hour past the recovery hospice, back and forth, holding your breaths. My pal. My pal. You were, and are, a real-life Norman Rockwell. I wish you were sitting across from me right now because I’d have to tell you that you LOOK spitting image like Norman Rockwell. That would bounce you out of your kitchen chair to the nearest mirror.
Now hold onto your oversized sombrero (that comic topper you wore around the nursery?). I want to thank you for a gift. I’m not talking about that stolen apple probably injected with salt peter and estrogen.
I’m not talking about you answering the phone with the badly delivered fake message machine voice: “I’m sorry. We don’t take calls from people like you.”
The decades of laughing until it hurt, treasured conversations, monkey business and slander on the heads of SCV Inner Circle of High Holy & Smug, we got to say our good-byes after gout-inducing lunches with a brief, contrite and shared observation:
“I’m so glad you’re in my life …”
It’s something all of us should say to one another on a daily basis, don’t you agree, dear Tommy, you blankety-blank pinchpenny poor excuse for a Scotsman so-&-so?
John Boston is a local writer and lifelong denier of knowing Tom Frew. While a notorious cheapskate, Frew actually once bought one of my books (the one with mostly pictures). If Tom could do it, you can, too. Visit johnbostonbooks.com.