Flaskaland
Thursday, February 08, 2007
 
I don't have a clever title for this post. What I'll outline in first draft is something from the far distant past, and you can already suspect the topic is my sister's friend Frank. This was an emotional event of tremendous significance, and one which I was too young to fully understand at the time.

This takes place a year or two or three before the coffee smooching episode I've described recently below. I was quite young, maybe not 13.

The setting: a late '50s newly constructed tract house on Mills Avenue located on a major intersection on the outskirts of precious village. To color your imagination, the exterior of the house is gray with pink doors (Elvis' favorite colors, as it turned out). The driveway is steep. Emerald green dicondra is the lawn. Among the other trees in the front yard, there is a small palm at the front of the house and to the other side a slatted wooden bench by a large bush which always promised shade. The interior includes a turquoise cork lamp, what came to be called op-art wall clock, some marble tables, beige, beige, beige furniture walls and ceilings and occasional splashes of pink, pink, pink accents here and there and here's some more pink on the hand towels and pink it is here and there right down to a pair of pink chennile bedspreads. Some scratchy street scenes veer towards prickly modern but nonetheless are tamed and muted by pastel are on the walls held in wormwood frames and the bottom corners are adorned with Spanish names in small stylized print declaring the artist.

This is the daytime during the summer. I am in the beige living room or the beige dining room when the beige phone rings, and my sister rushes from her room to answer what she knows is a call for her. She spoke just for a moment or two when her eyes became large, and as she continued the conversation I in my young way rightly assumed the call was frightening her in some way. She told the caller she'd be right over, as soon as she could, and set the phone down. She sprinted into her room, to pull on some additional clothes, and rushed down the hall, to the front door, and was then outside. I didn't know where she was going. After a few moments, she ran back in the house and to her room to retrieve her purse containing car-keys, and again ran out the house. I heard her start her car, a '54 light brown ford, and she was off.

A few hours later she called and asked to speak with our mother, and during this conversation my mother was saying "what's wrong?" and "uh-oh" (expecting to hear bad news) and "oh no" and eventually "oh, no, I don't know about that" until eventually "well, all right, but are you sure he's really all right?" Then that was followed by a long distance call to my dad at work to make sure it was all right. Which apparently it was.

So a few hours later my sister arrived with Frank who was quite silent. And he spent days with us, because after some conversation with my parents, it was fine he stay days with us. This to me was a most unusual thing to have a friend, any kind of friend but especially a friend of the possible boyfriend variety spend days with us and all with parental approval. Although this presence necessitated some shifting, and I made my bed on the living room couch so that everyone could have a bed.

During that time, it was very quiet in the house, and my sister and Frank would talk for length in the back room. During this period of days, my father went off to work early as usual and would come home in the evening. During this period, I remember that my sister and Frank would go out just to take a drive and then return to the room. Mostly he was cloistered in the room he was using. When Frank would come out into the living room, my mother would ask, "How are you feeling, honey?" When my parents would leave (as they did for an entire day when the weekend arrived), my sister would encourage Frank to take a long warm bubble bath and even wash his hair for him.

I came in to see him flattened on his back on the bed in my sister's room, with my grandmother's white and royal blue striped towel draped over his middle, with his hair still damp. And from the door where I said "hello Frank" I could smell from across the room the same perfumy (and pink) conditioner my sister used on her own hair. And my sister would close the door and say she was going to give Frank a shoulder rub, which she probably did.

During this time, I don't recall seeing Frank eat very much at all, although I remember my mother worrying aloud about this and inquiring time and again and being refused time and again, which one afternoon prompted me to make some soup or a sandwich for him and I carried this to the closed door where I tapped like a polite hospital employee. My sister peeked out and held a finger to her lips to advise silence. Frank was sleeping, or at least he was laying there with eyes closed, the covers not quite up to his chest, and the sheets were lilac and there was a blanket though it was summer, and it was a deep green and a light-weight wool. The bedspread was turned down at the foot of the bed. And my sister took the food and set it on the dresser and closed the door.

One day I returned to find Frank up and about and walking to my parent's room to use the shower. And he showered more than several times a day during this period, one time a long shower of prolonged and incredible duration, so long I was worried about him in there alone for all that time and I knew it was hot water because the water heater fired up and because as he exited the room was swirling with moist steam so thick I was certain even the dresser mirror would be fogged. The vapor was so thick it nearly followed him like a jet trail as he padded back up the hall to the room.

At night, my parents would banish my sister to what was my room for the evening and then all would retire. But during the night I would sometimes hear the door of my parents room open then a tap on the door and another door open just to check and make sure my sister was in her approved area. And then the parental unit would be satisfied all was as it should be.

Then one afternoon I finally found Frank fully dressed and he and my sister were sitting in the patio chairs that suspended people by many pink spaghetti-thin vinyl tubes.

Then one morning Frank came out and ate breakfast with us all, and I'm sure the meal included potatoes fried in a heavy castiron skillet.

Then one evening Frank came out and watched a little television with my parents. And my dad and Frank were left talking alone and I heard my dad say, "I know how you're feeling, I've thought about it myself, too ... " but then my dad who was a fighter in his youth would talk about how to get out of tough situations, and likely how to get out of this tough situation.

And Frank and I talked a bit throughout all this, and maybe I even told him a story or two. And then Frank left, although my parents and sister often expressed concern for him after his departure. And by then we were all a bit unsure because we accepted the reality of the situation, painful and silently turbulent though it was, and you might never know really what people might do.

Until the afternoon it happened. And I know you won't believe this but it's true. My sister and Frank spoke on the phone many times a day after he left, and then one day he called and he had a broadcast quality voice and I could hear his voice nearly from across the room but I couldn't make out what he was saying. She just didn't look relieved, she was weeping and waved me to the phone so I could hear, too, the phrase repeated more than several times, bursting brightly from the receiver, a firm and believing loud almost angry voice: "The composer will not die! The composer will not die!"

You'll say this is too pat a story, that you've heard that line before. Well, so have I heard that line before and I've just told where and from who and what I remember about the circumstances.

After all this, we could laugh again, about anything really, but especially when talking about the turkey farmers and their prideful boasts about turkey eggs so big they sometimes held three separate yolks (and I would sometimes remind everyone which those were: "the funny one, the funnier one, and the REALLY funny one".)

So I've just told you a secret that I had promised my sister I would keep as a secret. But seeing as how she has been gone for just over twenty years and Frank about thirteen, I think it ok I reveal what I recall about an event that was been rumored about and hinted at. So I agreed to keep it as a secret, and have for all these years. I agreed to keep it secret and have done so, but to weasle a bit, I did not agree to keep it a secret for all times.

Besides which, it is my birthday coming up soon and I was once in the habit of giving other people presents on that day, and all I have at the moment is this story. I don't know what the issues were for Frank, but he survived his struggle with them and went on to great things, which just hearing about might help somebody caught in a bind to reconsider things.

Maybe I should have titled this what it is about, "The composer will not die!" because that is what is happening to this day. Thank heavens for that! Otherwise, there might not have been too much of a celebration at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

(second thoughts: actually what this is about is Frank needed music)

 




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