Rogue of the month: Ed Frawley
What I did was offer anybody a hundred bucks in cash if they’d hang their dong in that tank with the piranha for a minute.
This woman comes in, a stern, middle-aged woman, and she sees the monkey, goes over to meet him, and the damn monkey, he starts whacking off.
The pawn broker
By Dell Franklin
“There was this guy,” says Ed Frawley, now retired, “he came into my pawnshop one day in Whittier, hanging around, talking, and I knew he was sizing me up, feeling me out, probing for my weakness, and sure enough the bugger found it—a soft spot for animals. Now I had a little area roped off from the shop, off to the side, with a chain link fence, and over the years I’d had a goat chewing on the grass, I had a horse in there, a mule, and a goose. I got the goose from this guy who comes in holding the goose by the neck, and the damn thing was going crazy, thrashing around, so I took the goose from the guy and put it out in my little area. He wanted five bucks for that goose, but I gave him three. Helluva goose. Like a watch-goose. Every time somebody walked by on the sidewalk, that goose honked his head off, gave ‘em hell. I finally sold the goose and made a few bucks. Everything sells, in time.”
A real Irishman with New York City roots doesn’t need to be drunk to tell a story, though Ed Frawley, now nearing 80, has had a few in his prime, and even if he can’t find his shoes in the morning and can’t remember what he had for dinner the night before, he can narrate a tale dating back fifty years in meticulous detail, as if it happened yesterday. Of course, it helps that Ed spent thirty years running and owning pawnshops in East L.A. and Whittier before moving up here to Cayucos in 1977. But in a white, affluent area like San Luis Obispo, where the economy thrives, there is little use for pawnshops, and so Ed became a watchsmith and a locksmith.
“Ed,” I say, “about that pawnshop?”
“So, anyway, this guy who keeps showing up and hanging around finally comes in one day with a cage with a monkey in it. He wants $25 for it and guarantees I’ll make $75 off it. Well, it’s the 1950s, and $75 dollars is a lotta money. So I buy the monkey. Now, I had all these cases up front, behind the bars. Out front it was like a shit-house, appliances and lawn mowers and such, so you had to find a path through them. In these cases, though, I had the good stuff, So what I did was put the monkey cage up on a couple stacks, near the register, so he was above everybody. I had him about an hour when this little Italian guy, around 70, one of these vain guys who liked to come in and take his shirt off and show me his muscles, a guy who was really full of himself, like that guy on TV…”
“Jack La Lanne.”
“Right. So he comes in, and he sees the monkey, and he’s got his shirt open, and he goes up to that monkey, and the monkey pees on him. What a scene, the guy’s jumping around, violated, yelling his head off, so yeah, that monkey, he’s doing his job, he’s running out the people who don't want anything but just hang around.”
Ed now has a belly and his beard is white. He’s a bit pasty-faced, like most Irishmen, but he’s got a twinkle in his eye. Ed could be on his death bed, getting last rites, but if you asked him to tell you a story he’d jump up, animated, moving around.
“So now this woman comes in, a stern, middle-aged woman, and she sees the monkey, goes over to meet him, and the damn monkey, he starts whacking off. Jesus, she goes screaming out of the place, and now I realize having this damn monkey’s not going to be that simple…he’s got a mind of his own.
“So I move the monkey away from the area near the register, be-cause there’s no telling what he’ll do next. That evening my wife and I wanted to go down the road to this little pub, where they had a good band, to do a little dancing and cocktailing. So we get hold of Patti’s brother, who lives nearby, and he’s gonna watch the shop for us and close it up early in the evening. Well, we go out and have a helluva good time, and when we get home after midnight, the babysitter is all worked up, and has me call my brother-in-law. Well, his wife tells me to come right over, they got the monkey. I guess there’d been one helluva scene. The cops called the babysitter, who called my brother, and told him to come down to the pawnshop, because they thought somebody was in there robbing the place. What happened was that damn monkey, he was strong as hell, and smart, and he got his arm through the cage and opened the lock and got out, and he was jumping and swinging around the place, causing a ruckus. When my brother-in-law opened the door, the monkey tore out and climbed the chain link fence, clear to the top, and he stood up there, and he had raided the till and put all these quarters in the little pouch they have under their chin, and he’s tossing them at the squad car, making a helluva racket—pink, pink, pink. Well, they couldn’t get him down, so my brother-in-law goes in the store and gets a bunch of quarters, and when the monkey runs out of quarters, he rattles them around in his hand, and the monkey jumps down, and he grabs him and throws him in his car and takes him home.
“He puts him in the bathroom. Well, five minutes later he’s torn the bathroom apart. The shower curtain’s ripped down, and he’s into my sister-in-law’s powders and creams, he’s covered in powders and creams, a mess, so he takes him out before he tears the whole house apart, and he sits down on a chair and holds the monkey by his arms in his lap. He had to sit there for almost four hours like that, his wife calling our babysitter over and over, until we got home and I came and got that monkey and put him back in the cage. After that I made a new fool-proof lock to keep that little guy in there, and I rigged up a raised area outside by the fence and put the cage out there, but damn if that monkey didn’t whack off every time a lady from the beauty parlor next door walked by. Finally, I sold that monkey for $100 to a mechanic who worked at the Powerine station across the street. He had four kids. Soon as I sold it, the guy who sold me the monkey was back with three more monkeys, and he told me I’d make $225 off them, and so I bought them, and sure enough I sold ‘em for $100 apiece.”
“What else did you have beside a goat, a donkey, a horse, a goose, and monkeys? Any birds?”
“I had a piranha fish, you know, one of those man-eaters from the Amazon in South America. I had a big tank, and the piranha lived in there, and it’s funny, because he liked me. He was a male. I could stick my finger in there for a minute, and he wouldn’t do anything, but if a woman walked by, he went crazy, swimming back and forth, all worked up, acting like the devil, wanting that woman. Well, what I did was I cooked up this deal with some guys who hung around the pawnshop and lived in the area. They were all fascinated by that piranha. So what I did was offer anybody a hundred bucks in cash if they’d hang their dong in that tank for a minute. I knew I could got a lot of guys to buy tickets, and make some money, but I couldn’t find any takers, only bettors. Finally, this really tough-looking guy comes in and he scoffs at that piranha and says sure, he’ll do it.
So now everybody’s getting excited, anticipating the Saturday night when this guy’s gonna hang his dong in the tank with the piranha. I start selling tickets to the Saturday Night Dong Dipping Event.
“But first I wanna let this guy know what he’s in for. I tell him, ‘look, you better check this fish out before you try this out.’ He probably felt, well, it’s not a shark, or a barracuda, just this little fish, and he’s cocky as hell, a real tough guy, but he agrees to come down and check out the piranha on a Monday night. Now, at first I was gonna throw a rat in the tank, but that would’ve been too bloody and gory, so I found one of those long black fish, I’m not sure what it was, but here’s the guy, and I got the fish, and I drop it in there, and the piranha, his jaw opened up, like he’s all jaws, and he pounces on that fish, and in seconds that fish is disappearing, and this guy, he looks like he’s seen a ghost, he turns pale, grabs his crotch, and starts sinking to the ground, he almost passed out, and that was the end of the Dong Dipping Event.”
Ed has more stories. He had a gun, of course, but never had to use it. It seems he knew how to handle dangerous, perhaps lethal situations without panicking, though once, when a pack of twenty or so bikers tried to take over his shop, he jumped up and aimed a shotgun at the leader and threatened to “blow your goddam brains out,” if he didn’t get his boys and their molls out of there. They left. He’s dealt with other predatory personalities who take his courteous nature for weakness by placing his pistol at their heads, the pawnbroker business.
City boy, street guy, army man. The full ride. In his day, Ed could habituate any bar and be immediately surrounded, wearing his little peaked Irish drinking cap. Just had that aura.
For a decade now, his health has been plaguing him with pain so gnawing and incessant and severe that he’s had to fight off an inclination to get depressed about the situation. But lately he’s been having some good days. One will never find him in anything but good spirits. Meanwhile, the stories keep coming.
“You did the whole thing,” I say. “Raised a family and raised hell. A rare combination.”
When Ed tells a story, those eyes twinkle, and one story leads to another, and another, and you can’t leave, and you don’t want to. This article could turn into a book, a scrollwork of outrageous street characters and situations in this suburban backdrop, where everybody hides behind their garage doors and burglar alarms. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Meet some of our previously featured "rogues" here: