Remembering Freddy Herrick

The picture of Freddy Herrick I carry everywhere is in my wallet, on the back of my membership card for a retail store. It got there after I loaned my extra card to Freddy so he could use it every once in awhile. As Freddy explained it, one day, while checking out at the store, he was notified at the cash register that the card had expired. So he went to the service counter and presented the card for renewal. When the person behind the counter looked at my picture on the card and said, “This doesn’t look like you,” Freddy replied, “That was before the accident.” The person said “Okay,” and shot Freddy’s picture, which has appeared on the back of that same membership card every year it has been issued since then.

I met Freddy in 2001, when I first arrived in Santa Barbara, and he was installing something at the house we had just bought. When my wife, who had hired him for the work, introduced Freddy to me, he pointed at my face and said, “July, 1947.”

“Right,” I replied.

“Me too.” Then he added, “New York, right?”

“New Jersey, across the river in Fort Lee.”

“Well, close enough. New York for me. Long Island.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s just weird.”

Everything was weird with Freddy, who became my best friend in Santa Barbara that very day. In the years since then he has also remained one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.

Freddy was an athlete, an author, a playwright, a screenwriter and an actor, most of whose work is still unpublished, sitting in boxes and on floppies, hard drives and various laptops. These last few months, while avoiding doctors yet sick with what turned out to be liver cancer, he was working on a deal for one of his scripts. I hope it still goes through somehow, for the sake of his family and his art. The dude was exceptionally talented, smart, funny, generous and kind. He could also fix anything, which is why he mostly worked as a handyman the whole nineteen years I’ve known him.

Freddy grew up in wealth, and did his best to avoid that condition for most of his life, or at least for the nineteen years I knew him. This was manifested in a number of odd and charming ways. For example, his car was an early-’60s Volkswagen bug he drove for more than fifty years.

I last saw Freddy in late January, before I headed to New York. And, though I later learned his cancer was terminal, I did expect to find him among the living when I got back to Santa Barbara on Wednesday. Alas, I learned this morning that he died at home in his sleep last Saturday.

Freddy talked about death often, and in an almost casual and friendly way. Both his parents died in middle age, as did Jeff MacNelly, a childhood friend of Freddy’s who also happened to be—in the judgement of us both—the best cartoonist who ever lived. Measured against the short lives of those three, Freddy felt that every year he lived past their spans was a bonus.

And all those years were exactly that, for all who knew him.

Rest in Fun, old friend.

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