Ed's Neighborhood

Craig Lassig

Ed Taylor is on the injured reserve this season for the first time in a half century. A plantar wart, the same affliction that sidelined the Timberwolves' Micheal Williams for three years, has put Ed out of the game. Too bad. Some say Ed the Wormdigger was to fishing what Wally the Beerman is to baseball.

Year-round for more than 40 years, Ed would leave home each day at dawn with two 5-gallon buckets, a spade, and a backpack. After a day mining peat bogs, sloughs, and disposal sites along the Mississippi in St. Paul, he would deliver full buckets of fat, fresh bait to dealers like Gimp or Jack Frost out on Rice, or to private customers like the Koran print shop by the cemetery on Front, and Dick's Second Hand, a thrift shop long since gone from the corner of Smith and Grand.

But Ed's going to be 88 this September and he admits he no longer has the moves he once had. Each morning he still leaves the efficiency he shares with Wanda Draper on lower Grand. But now he totes two Hefty bags and a broomstick with a nail on the end--standard gear for the rovers who pick the streets clean of yesterday's soft drink and beer cans. He walks slowly in a huge pair of white Reeboks with blue trim, as far as DiGidio's down on West Seventh, where they sometimes keep cans for him. He no longer makes it the next half mile to Mancini's. After a week or so, he'll take about 3000 cans to Alter Scrap Processing down off Concord and get half a buck a pound for them.

Along Grand Avenue there are people who will ask each other, "You seen Ed lately?" That's partly because Ed's been a fixture on the 3A bus for four decades, and partly because it is impossible for him to speak in a normal voice. For years on any given morning, on a 3A packed with Crocus Hill judges, bankers, and brokers, a voice more suited to mustering a cavalry charge might blare out: "Yah, no wonder Charlie Manson don't want parole. You wouldn't either if you were in there all juiced up every day shooting porno movies." Eminent commuters have begun their workdays with Ed's elemental news and commentary ringing in their ears.

Drop in on Ed and Wanda in their efficiency and you first have to get past the conflicting messages neatly printed on 35 cards on the door. "Diet Coke 40 Cents. Pop for Sale. We Are Out. Please Don't Come to the Door and Ask for Anything like Cigarettes or Anything Else. I'm Taking a Bath so Come Back Later." Once you're inside, however, a chair gets cleared off, Wanda plies you with spearmint Tic-Tacs, and Ed needs only one question: "Tell me about the worms?"

"You got your red worms or, some say, leaf worms around Pig's Eye Lake and the St. Paul disposal plant, and red-striped manure worms in back of the South St. Paul disposal plant. I'd get night crawlers all over--from Crosby Park and Battle Creek Park in warm weather, to the peat bogs under the High Bridge and Lilydale in the dead of winter.

"Nights what you do is wear a helmet with a light and walk the golf courses like Town & Country and Keller. I'd get a hundred dozen crawlers a day easy. Sometimes you could find what they call wire or hog worms between the river and Pig's Eye Lake. They're blue-gray and as big as crawlers, but they last longer on a hook. Tough worms."

Ed warms to the topic and leans back in his armchair. "Then there are the grubs. Golden grubs--some call them mealworms--from the moldy grain behind the elevators below the bluffs at Mounds Park. Manure grubs--not too good, too soft and squishy--from around the disposal plants. And the best of them--sod grubs, which are the larvae of june bugs. White with brown heads. Great for panfish year-round. Especially sunnies. My sod grub place was up on Davern near the old WLOL site.

"There was places where you could find any bait you wanted. Like the slough along Parker's Creek at the end of Belvedere Street out at the end of Holman Airport. Not just wireworms, but crayfish, leeches, and sometimes frogs. All that's gone now, of course, and even then the leeches weren't very big.

"I picked up a rash out behind the South St. Paul disposal center," Ed recalls. "Had it for three weeks and it kept getting worse, so I went into St. Joe's and nobody could figure out what to do. Then some Japanese doc took a look at it and two days later it was completely gone. Helluva thing. Other than that, worm-digging was a healthy way to live. Lots of times I'd put in a line myself and bring home dinner."

One of those times was about a dozen years ago. The 3A had taken on a moderate cargo of downtown office workers when Ed got on and situated himself in the sideways seat at the front entrance. He set down his two buckets, both full and with newspapers fitted on top to keep moisture in the presumably worm-packed soil. He had his big canvas backpack on, and he pulled his small, gleaming spade from its harness along his back and leaned it next to himself. Then he took a rolled-up newspaper from under his arm, laid it across his lap, and looked up as if he had just taken his seat in the choir at St. Luke's.

The bus pulled out, and we had all returned to our thoughts when the newspaper on Ed's lap gave a series of violent thrashes. Ed quickly patted the paper down. A few blocks later the newspaper thrashed again. Again Ed calmed it, but now he had gathered some attention, even as he concentrated on reading the ads on the bus wall across from him, moving his lips as he went. Finally the paper flopped once more, opened up, and revealed a sizable northern pike, mouth open and gills lamely opening and closing. It was at least a 7-pounder. Nobody said anything. Ed wrapped the fish tightly and got off three blocks later, the choirboy smile still plastered on his face.

When I bring up the incident as we talk in his room, Ed looks at me with eyes as shiny as the buttons on the soft leather seats of an old Roadmaster. "That was a pretty good northern," he says. "The thing was, it was out of season and I had two more in my backpack. That big one wouldn't fit. Got them down at Crosby Lake."

Wanda offers me another spearmint Tic-Tac and says, "Say, did Sharon Tate ever get paroled?"

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