Aside from sitting with a glass of my grandmother's white zinfindel in front of him on the genuine Italian marble table, as he leaned back into the dark brown Danish modern couch, his ankle on his knee in a casual I'm comfortable here leg cross, and smiled obviously enjoying himself, I never that I remember saw Frank
take a drink. My sister told me he would sometimes be kidded by everyone in the clubs
for sipping on a soft drink all evening.
Although as soon as I say that, I recall him accepting an occasional
glass of wine at meals with us because my father’s doctor had recommended one
glass of red wine at dinner to reduce stress and help heal his heart (this was 1961 or 62 we're talking about). But after the initial tip of the glass to my
Dad and Mom (you know, one of those Czech toasts) and raising the glass dramatically, his glass would
sit there untouched. My sister would
sweep it up along with the plates when we were clearing the dishes from dinner,
she’d toss it down her throat once she got into the kitchen. Dinners with my parents could sometimes be
Out in the world, Frank got a
ribbed a lot by certain people in those fast times jazz clubs. Some would make a point of ordering by
saying, “And a Shirley Temple for my friend here.” That would piss Frank off and he would say
so, especially if he regarded the person saying that as having not too much to
offer other than a round of drinks. And some of those were expensive places to get into, or with a drink order minimum. The fancier of the venues served drinks with black napkins on the table as they were so hip (yes, it's true) and occasionally depending on the place, a little umbrella in the drink (which my sister would bring home as a souvenir and keep in her drawer.)
also got to see first hand that show biz (we're talking vaudeville here, but that *was* show biz once upon a time) can wreak havoc on families in ways that can
continue on down the generational ladder.
Being intelligent, he was sometimes impatient with people
slower to catch on. One of his favorite
phrases at that time was “watch your mouth” when a person’s only contribution to the
conversation or venture at hand percolated down into mere foul drivel. Sometimes, he could be angrier and I heard
from someone else he would say to or about a horn player to “just stick that in your
mouth and suck on it. Maybe you can get
something out of it that way.”
When Frank came to visit, my sister would always break out the
electric coffee pot and make a big pot of coffee for him.
She was determined to show Frank around Los Angeles, all the cool places she knew of. Jazz clubs were one. Jazz itself was another. Our family outings were a way of showing him the town, so to speak, the new and unusual like going to Seibu, or the tried and true like China Town, Olvera Street, and Catalina Island.
He'd join us for meals out in restaurants (my mother got mad at Spaghetti Village in Claremont because Frank and my sister sat separately from us and just ordered coffee, and she presumed he would like a nice Italian meal and so suggested that restaurant even though she didn't like it herself. When she saw them sitting there alone, not eating, she grew concerned: "People will think something is wrong" she said. She was always concerned about what the neighbors might be thinking and how they might respond. Well, you can't be ruled by what other people might be thinking. But I must admit in Claremont, a small geography then of 1100 residents all seemingly possessing a small hick town nosiness, people did have to walk and talk carefully and be mindful because everything you did in that small geography was noticed, commented upon, or acted upon in some way.
My mother was surprisingly kind in other ways. Not just Frank came to stay with us for a few days.
But one of my friends, a bit older than I, now an artist's wife, with a young child, who would occasionally be frightened of her husband's behavior when he was in a drunk artist mood and so he behaved in an inexplicable but not unpredictable way, such as taking all her money from her purse to go buy more wine for his friends, she came to rest at our house one time. Before that, she would spend time as usual laying on her back in bed shaking in fear and holding her purse to her chest. One day, she came by and she laid down in my room for hours to try to get some rest, she was still shaking and holding her purse to her chest as she first laid down. She had dropped most of the other kids off to be minded elsewhere, but brought her young daughter with her. Who my mother entertained while my friend got some rest for the afternoon. My mother understood the fear and confusion surrounding her own life, having been raised in the same house as her rabidly alcoholic father. My father never knew of this event of my own friend being provided sanctuary, not that I know of, because he was at work at the time of the visit. Needless to say, my mother approved of Frank because he did not drink alcohol.
Frank's parents and my parents had similar backgrounds, from recent immigrant background (on my Dad's side at least) just having survived the Depression as young adults coming into their own in the world, and World War II, and the leveling out and flattening of society in the scare-mongering fifties. That taken together with a lot of geographic relocations, rather than us kids being brought up our whole lives in the same small town and knowing all the same people all the time you grew up. A bit different than the WASP townspeople who would trace their lineage back to the American Revolution and talk about their relatives "class" in society as a result and assume that rank and privilege for themselves as if this was something they had inherited and only they had personal rights to.
Given the nature of the town as I was seeing it, I was so fortunate to go see Ella Fitzgerald at Bridges. I used a huge sum of money I'd hoarded to pay for my ticket and I even bought a program with glossy pages held between gray cardboard covers (looked like the same Pomona printer who did the Jr High School "annual" got this contract, too), which Ella autographed for me after the show. Ella was surrounded that warm evening outside at Bridges when I met her by the sweet scent I recognized, that of Chanel No. 5.