I got confirmation today that one of my neighborhood’s fixtures, a colorful character who could regularly be found parading up and down Sunset Boulevard known as “El Circo Loco,” passed away last Friday evening. I first heard about it Saturday night when word circulated that he had been found dead on the street, but no matter the dormancy of the journalist in me I just don’t give much credibility to an initial report until it can be corroborated with something official, say from a safety or law enforcement agency. And until confirmation arrived I didn’t have to believe it was true… though I must mention that I had noted El Circo Loco’s absence since the middle of last week.
[Photos of the shrine erected where he passed away
can be viewed here]
So in that strange limboland between hearsay and fact, I sent an email yesterday to the LA County Coroner’s public information office:
I apologize in advance for the lack of facts at my disposal, but I’m trying to confirm reports I’ve that a fixture in my Silver Lake neighborhood, a person who went by the name of “El Circo Loco” and could often be seen dancing and parading up and down Sunset Boulevard, may have been found dead Friday evening.
I do not know his name or any permanent address. All I know is what I’ve read: that he died in his sleep and his body was discovered Friday evening, presumably somewhere on Sunset Boulevard (or an adjacent side street) in the 10 blocks or so west of the 2800 block.
I’m hoping he wasn’t and that reports of his death are untrue, but if indeed he is deceased I’m interested to know if there was a call dispatching LA Coroner’s officials to this vicinity and if that record might include any details about the deceased that would allow me to find the truth to this as yet unsubstantiated claim.
It was answered this morning:
Dear Mr. Campbell,
After some screening, I believe I found the case you are inquiring about. The Coroner case number is as noted above. The decedent’s name is Antonio Ruiz, age 44. We list no permanent address for him. He did have family in the local area. He was found dead on the sidewalk in the 2600 block of N. Golden Gate Avenue in Los Angeles on 04/22/2006 @ 0930 hours. He was examined on 04/24/2006 and his cause of death has been deferred pending the receipt of additional test results that have been ordered by the Deputy Medical Examiner. His family selected [a mortuary] in East Los Angeles to handle his remains. It is not known what services they will be arranging, if any.
Craig R. Harvey, F-ABMDI
Chief Coroner Investigator &
Chief of Operations
Department of Coroner
County of Los Angeles
Later on I heard from Senior Lead Officer Polehonky from the LAPD Northeast Division who seconded what Investigator Harvey had told me. “The puppetmaster is indeed dead,” he said, explaining he had a history of dealing with Ruiz going back some six years. When I asked about the cause of his death, Polehonky speculated that with Ruiz’s long history of narcotics abuse it could have been either an overdose or just his body finally giving out. There were no signs of foul play.
So there it is.
I contacted the mortuary and was told that his family is not going to hold any sort of service. Instead they’re going to be transporting his body out of the country. I didn’t ask where, but I did ask if it would be possible to pass my name and number onto his next of kin in hopes that they might contact me so I could express my condolences, perhaps even found out a bit more about El Circo’s â€” I mean Antonio’s life. Doubt it I’ll hear from them, but it’s the least I can do.
Sometimes it’s those on the farthest edges of your perimeter with the most tenuous of connections that can tug the hardest when they leave you and Antonio’s certainly proof of that. It’s not that I knew him. But when you start walking around your neighborhood as I’ve been these last few months, the “regulars” can’t help but stand out either with their presence or their absence.
I last saw Antonio last Thursday. He was sitting where he could often be found, on the southwest corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. In full El Circo Loco regalia he was fussing with some final touch of his costume â€” getting ready to get his party started. His small boombox was beside him on the sidewalk blaring his trademark brassy music, and the high-pitched whistle he always blew was between his closed lips and he was tooting it in rhythm with the beat. As I passed him, I caught his eye and I patted my closed fist over my heart and pointed at him and he met the gesture with a semi-acknowledging squinty half-smile as I passed him.
A day later he died and I’m pretty broken up by it. I try my best not to think about this man, whether it was having shot up too much or his body finally putting a stop to the abuse, dying alone on a cold stretch of sidewalk. Instead I try to recall the whimsical nature his weird antics added to the section of Sunset Boulevard he marched up and down.
I’m not quite ready to relegate the neighborhood cat Susan and I nicknamed LBC (for Little Black Cat) to memory, even though it’s been far longer than usual since he last graced our front porch ready for a snack… something he’s been doing pretty regularly for the better part of a year.
When he began to come around LBC was all scraggly street cat with ragged eartips and a tremendous disinterest in having anything to do with any of us… although he seemed to have some sort of stand-offish acquaintance with our Pumpkin, who Susan had brought in from a cold hard life on the wild side. Maybe they knew each other from back in the day.
Despite the dismissal and scorn he gave us, we commenced putting out food for him and he didn’t refuse it. Over the months he became habituated enough to me that I could sit right next to him while he ate. During the bleakest part of this past winter when he developed a runny nose and sneeze, I even took to supplying him with cans of Fancy Feast augmented with drops of leftover antibiotics from past trips with the cats to the vet’s. He’d let me slide the bowls right up under his chin and he’d gobble it down. Cleared his bug right up.
LBC had a pretty wide territory â€” we saw him everywhere â€” and it wasn’t uncommon for him to leave us alone for a few days at a time, perhaps for other cat-friendly houses. But it was never so long before I’d find him curled up in the dawn’s early light on the porch, awaiting his breakfast.
The last time I saw him was one of those mornings a couple weeks ago. The medicine and wet catfood had given him an almost healthy look with a sheen to his coat and clear eyes. I’d always held back the urge to touch him, but this time while he ate contentedly and not uncomfortably at my proximity to him I moved my open hand beside him and ever so gently rested my palm against his right flank. He stopped eating briefly to examine what I had done, but rather than run away as I’d expected, he considered the space invasion and then went back to finishing his meal with my hand resting lightly there against his side. A few bites later and he licked his chops before scampering down the steps and onto whatever the day had in store.
When it became clear his absence was unusual, I ran down the mental checklist of couldabeens: cars, dogs, coyotes, a nastier cat, animal control. Trying to envision a happier scenario, I hoped that maybe he found a mate and is a bit too occupied to be cruising. Or perhaps a kind-hearted soul caught him up and is trying to get him used to a life indoors. But it doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard out there for a cat, especially one who probably never felt a loving hand on its flank until mine brushed against it.
The thought crossed my mind of LBC alone in the cage at the animal shelter and that’s just about too much to consider. If I can screw up the courage I may bike over to the Lacy Street shelter to have a look around. Doubt if he’s there, but it’s the least I can do.
If I could, I’d save them all you know. If only my arms were long enough to enfold all the strays out there. Animals and people.