Posts Tagged ‘Todd Herring’

Tod Herring: Terror of the East End.

April 7, 2010

Tod Herring, As Many of Us Older East Enders Remember Him.

If you grew up male in the Houston East End in the years following World War II, you knew who Tod Herring was by reputation, if not from painful personal experience. He was the meanest dog on any block for miles and none of us who grew up in his territory are likely to ever forget him. I was reminded of Tod yesterday when jack Murphy, an old St. Chistopher’s Catholic School buddy wrote to remind me of Tod’s once dominant terror upon our collective unconscious.

In Herring’s case, “collective unconscious” bears a more literal meaning than the definition intended by Dr. Carl Jung. With Tod, “collectively unconscious” would have been the probable group outcome for six average guys who tried to take on the biggest bully in Pecan Park and environs by themselves with no back-up plan.

Here’s what Jack Murphy said to me in his e-mail:

“Bill, if memory serves, the absolute official start of summer (in the East End) was marked by the reopening of the bathtub sized Mason Park Pool and the annual attempted drowning of yours truly by Tod Herring and his Southmayd (Elemenery School) gang of pagans.”

“Brother Bill (Murphy) always came to my rescue and the St. Christopher Catholics lived to drown another day while Tod went on to become the Texas Heavyweight champion and a sometime drinking companion.” – Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy’s memories of Tod Herring are a lot more personal than mine. They were each older than me, a fact that us younger eyewitnesses to street mayhem always quietly celebrated. Being younger and smaller than Tod Herring bought you a degree of invisibility in his presence. Tod always seemed more aware of those guys who were just as big or bigger than him, especially if they showed any kind of attitude that suggested they thought they were hot spit. On the physical and psychological planes, Tod Herring lived simply as the dominant alpha male – one main guy who wasn’t going to take any spit from anyone, especially from those who also thought they were more deserving of his top position in the pecking order of life on the East End streets.

The first time I saw Tod Herring in action was sufficiently convincing to me. Several of us were walking home from the Pecan Park school bus when we came up upon Tod getting into a screaming match with some other guy about his size. All of a sudden, the two guys are squaring off with double fists, and making this little circular look around each other.

Tod Herring

All of a sudden, the argument and fight are over with one blow to the jaw from a Herring right hand to the other fellow’s face. The other guy dropped to the sidewalk like a dead pigeon. He was out cold. The fairly ripped Tod Herring stood over him for a second or two and then just walked away. He never spoke or even acknowledged the presence of the rest of us before he walked away like Mr. Cool. I guess our cloaks of invisibility were working pretty good. And the other guy didn’t die. We helped him up as best we could. He then walked quietly away in the other direction from Herring, and also in a state of not saying much, if anything, to us onlookers.

My awareness of Tod Herring sort of dimmed after I finished the 8th grade at St. Christopher’s Catholic School and started commuting across town to St. Thomas High School. Herring and most of my Pecan Park neighborhood pals had headed for Milby High School. I’m not sure how Todd Herring got along in high school, but I can’t imagine it being much different from anything we had seen up to that point. My next awareness of Herring surfaced during my undergraduate years at UH (1956-60). I started reading about Tod Herring in the Houston Post as an up and coming heavyweight boxer.

That recognition of him as a boxer, left me with only four more freeze frame pictures of Tod Herring’s life to come as I went my own way through the early adult years:

(1) Fighting the Former Heavyweight Champ. On May 14, 1965, Tod Herring of Houston fought former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in Stockholm, Sweden. Patterson knocked out Herring in 40 seconds of the third round, pretty much ending whatever hopes the former Houston bad boy still had for winning the title. I never thought much of Patterson prior to that fight, but that KO of Herring changed everything. Anyone who could knock out Tod Herring had to have something special going for him.

(2) Tod Herring Charged with Killing a Man in a Bar Fight. I have no dates for this memory or for any of the rest. It happened sometime in Houston in the early years that followed the end of Herring’s boxing career. Herring was charged with killing a man with his fists over some kind of bar argument. The prosecution argued that Herring’s professional background as a boxer even made his fists a “deadly weapon.” (Heck! A lot of us non-lawyers from the East End could have testified to that assertion.) At any rate, Tod was sentenced to the penitentiary, apparently going there with a drinking problem that wasn’t that easy to arrest.

(3) Tod Herring in Recovery. Sometime around 1980, I read in the Houston Post that Tod Herring was now out of prison and living a clean and sober life again back in the East End. The article even featured a great smiling photo of Tod Herring, swinging a golf club out in the sunshine of the Glenbrook Country Club, as Herring also bubbled with gentle praise for the lessons of recovery. He sounded nothing like the archetypical bogeyman that many of us grew up fearing. I was happy for him. He had family around him and they all seemed to love and support him in his recovery.

(4) Tod Herring is Dead. Not too many years later, I picked up the paper one day and learned that Todd Herring had passed away suddenly – from a heart attack, I think. I have no idea if Tod had been able to stay out the grip of his addictions since the time of that earlier feel-good article or not. He was just gone now. Gone again and this time for good. He was also gone again from my mind until my memory of him was reawakened in the e-mail from Jack Murphy.

What’s the lesson here? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s simply that even the monsters of our childhood memories are not all bad and terrible sometimes. Sometimes they are, but other times, they are just human beings who found a deeper way to get lost from love.

God rest your soul, Tod Herring, wherever you may be.