He was called an inside out oreo cookie -- pasty white on the outside but culturally African American on the inside. He was also a Chicano who spoke fluent Spanish. He was a cowboy who loved country and western music and wore a cowboy hat. He was politically a radical. He was an ex Marine who when I last saw him had re-enlisted. He read poetry and literary fiction. He drank beer copiously. He was soccer goalie on his college team. He had one testicle. He didn’t just march to the beat of a different drummer, he followed an entire percussion section. His name was just plain old Ed Burns and he was one of the most unique characters I’ve ever known and one of the best friends I ever had.
I knew Ed vaguely before college. We played for a short time on the same soccer team. He looked like a pretty square dude and your first impression of him would be that he was an ordinary joe who was more likely to be pumping gas and fixing trucks than anything else. I can still hear his voice. It was uninflected and fairly flat, a little high pitched. I’d have guessed he was from Oklahoma. Ed was a likable sort but seemingly dull as dishwater. He was anything but.
A few years later he came to Chico State where I was variously matriculating and partying, he was the backup goalkeeper on the soccer team. It was then I got to know him. Ed was good time waiting to happen. Every party he showed up at was more fun for his presence. Every bar he walked into got a little livelier and more interesting. Every conversation he had could go into any number of directions. He would extoll the Black Panthers and discuss soul music. He would then talk baseball. Then Latino heroes. Then the US Marine Corps. Then he’d just laugh. Ed loved to laugh. His was a delightful cackle, more like a child’s laugh. Ed was the least boring person I ever met.
We once hitchhiked all the way from Chico to Orange Country to attend a wedding. It’s an entire story in and of itself. I wouldn’t have thumbed such a long way with anyone else. We actually got dropped off by a truck driver in the heart of Compton. We called our friends and asked them to pick us up there. It was a long haul for them and so we sat, at night, at a bus stop, the only white people around. Ed had a greater sense of the possible dangers than I did and was clearly nervous. Several suspicious cars offered us rides that we politely turned down. When our friends arrived after nearly an hour, they begged us to get in the car quickly because they wanted to get the hell out of there.
Ed was a party animal and an intellectual who could hold opposing political views in his mind at the same time and understand both. He was not dogmatic or an ideologue. Most of all Ed was an enthusiast who pursued life with vigor. But he was also troubled. Ed was of so many types, so rich in character that he could never settle into life. He lacked direction and focus. Thus he was unable to settle on a major in college. He wanted to learn about and do everything so the notion of a single field of study, a single pursuit, was totally unappealing. For all that Ed did and thought and cared about he was also sad. I don’t remember what his home life had been. I just knew that he’d grown up fairly poor in Richmond in an unstable home. Ed had to fend for himself at an early age. He could never manage a long term successful romantic relationship. For all Ed’s vitality he was shy around women and clearly had some insecurities.
It took me years to understand why he went back to the Marines before finishing college. Ed had always spoken of the Corps as an awful experience. This despite his appreciation for the Marines which came despite his predominantly left wing political views. I finally realized that Ed needed the structure of the marines. Outside the service he couldn’t function effectively. There was too much freedom and he had too many directions to go. He needed stability and structure and the marines gave him that. Perhaps his second tour gave Ed time to find himself, to settle on one overriding passion. Maybe he just hid out there. I don't know. Life is like that. There's a lot we don't ever get to know.
Ed was in some ways a creature of his times. He grew up in the Sixties and was heavily influenced by political and social movements and the ethnic groups he was surrounded by. He was a potpourri, adopting what he liked of this and what he liked of that and what he liked of those things over there and these things here. Mostly he appreciated people and absorbed what they knew and listened to their perspectives. Ed Burns thought for himself but he partied with everyone.
It’s been over 35 years since I last heard from or of Ed and I haven’t the foggiest notion what became of him. I’ve tried to google him but with such a common name, and one shared with a famous actor at that, it is next to impossible to dig up anything that is conclusively about him, not everyone leaves a cyber trail like I do. I’m ridiculously easy to find. there is currently no one on the planet who shares my name and I have a blog with my email address on it. I couldn’t be easier to track down. I look forward to continuing to hear from you long lost friends and associates and co-workers and classmates and teammates, especially you, Ed.
I hope that Ed used has used his intellect and found a focus in life. He would have made a good partner for someone and been a good father. I’m pretty sure that he needed counseling and I hope he got it. I hope he is happy and still making others around him happy. The world needs more Eds. But not too many, we wouldn't his type to be common place.
For my part I wish that I could have stayed in touch with Ed. He was special. To quote Jack Kerouac: “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” That was Ed to a tee.