I’d heard of him, of course, but we hadn’t yet met. Until Kathmandu 1976. I was walking along whatever street, when a girl calls to me saying, “Eight Finger’s in town!” ‘Nice,’ I thought. ‘Not that I’ll recognize him, mind. I haven’t a clue what he looks like.’ Some days later (my journal tells me it was Wednesday, April 14th) I was at the Spirit Catcher bookshop. Place I’d taken to hanging out in, plus on certain evenings reciting poetry; and where I met many people for the first time who would eventually become friends, colleagues: Ira Cohen (and his then ‘Kali muse’ Petra Vogt), Angus MacLise, Roberto Valenza etc. I refer to what transpired next in my memorial poem for Roberto, Irreverent Homage. Hereunder is the fuller version…
Stroll down to a big table at the end, intending to sit for a while and read, when a guy already sitting there looks up and says: “Hi, what’s your name?” “I’m Eddie,” I reply. He smiles, points at me with his three-fingered right hand and announces, “Then you must be 10-Finger Eddie!” “Always nice to meet a legend,” sez I, taking his hand and shaking it.
That summer I was in San Francisco for about three months. And while there took to writing for the Berkeley Barb and a couple or so other newspapers and magazines. Once when I had two pieces appearing in the same issue of the Bay Guardian (I think it was), I felt the need of a pseudonym for one of them. Recalling that amusing Kathmandu encounter, I immediately decided on 10-Finger Eddie. Then the following year, in London, with three of my things together in an issue of International Times (IT), an editor changed the byline on one to TFE. Thus those signature initials were born. (A third nom de plume, Woodstock Jones, came later.)
Sometime in the 1980s I got a postcard from Ira Cohen. He was in Goa and wrote: “I’m having more trouble explaining your ten fingers than Eddie’s eight!”
8-Finger Eddie passed away on October 18th 2010, in Goa. He was 85 or 86, I don’t know his exact date of birth. RIP.
Sitting in celibate pose
Dancing with the nagas
Many have known you intimately
Leaving their insanity at the foot of your ruins.
Roberto Valenza (Goa, India)
The grandfather of the freak scene was 8 Finger Eddie, an Armenian-American with only 3 fingers on his right hand. He was one of the very first freaks to arrive in Goa in 1965 and though he was the stuff of legend, in his 70´s he now seemed to be marking time. He woke up at dawn to dance for 45 minutes every day, played patience all morning and then walked into the lunchtime café at the stroke of noon without fail. He played racquet-ball on the beach in the afternoon and was the first customer in the same restaurant each night. If his luck was in someone would buy him dessert.
He’d barely left India in the past 40 years and lived humbly on the interest of some money he had stashed away somewhere.
“I consider every day of my life that I don’t work a day of success!” he once laughed as I hassled him for his stories on the beach. Eddie was friendly to me from the first and that probably went a way to easing my social acceptance among the rest. Barely a week would go by without some acquaintance from the past returning after 15 years away from the freak scene and rushing up to him with great fondness. His memory was prodigious but often he’d just smile and let them gush about the old days for a few minutes until they left him to his own devices.
“Did you remember her?” I asked him after a matronly blond woman from Switzerland had bent our ears about all the ‘masters’ she’d been studying meditation with recently.
“Nah.” he waved a 3 fingered hand dryly, “Anyway, meditation is a waste of time. There is no path.”
That was the kind of Zen simplicity that was Eddie’s trademark. He could be incredibly mundane at times – his dirty jokes on his occasional stand-up shows tested the loyalty of even his oldest friends – but there was a calm and simplicity to Eddie that charmed me. He had the air of someone who had understood his life and was now just enjoying the remaining days one at a time.
When I asked him how it felt to be old he shrugged.
“How would I know?”
His philosophy seemed to be holding up. In his mid-70’s he had a full head of chestnut hair although he was so thin and bony that you could lose him in the sun when he turned sideways.
Journalists in search of a story about Goa would sometimes track down Eddie for an interview and he might answer the questions for a hundred bucks. He was like a holy man without any religion or practice. Various people had tried to make a guru out of him through the years but he never believed in that game.
“If the Buddha was out there on my doorstep I wouldn’t go out to meet
him,” he insisted, “What can the Buddha do for me?”
from Tales of a Road Junky by Tom Thumb