Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Misadventures of Frankie

Several years ago, I became acquainted with a young gentleman named Frankie who had fallen on hard times. Due to the widespread economic downturn and a recent DUI conviction, he had been forced to move back in with some relatives in the area to get back on his feet. They had briefly introduced us to Frankie the weekend he moved in, but it would be several weeks until I could fully appreciate the phenomenon we had in our midst.

The first conversation I had with Frankie occurred immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I was on my lunch break and making my way out to the mailbox to retrieve the latest onslaught of Pottery Barn catalogues when Frankie materialized next to me in the driveway. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked if I had enjoyed my holiday. Wishing to reciprocate his concern, I responded in kind:

“How was your Thanksgiving, Frankie?”
“Pretty good, I went to Memphis to spend time with my girlfriend.”
“Well, it is important to spend quality time with the people we care about.”
“Well, we would have gotten to spend more time together if her husband hadn’t come home early and ruined it.”
At this point, he proceeded to give me the wink / nudge combo normally reserved for men in each other’s confidences. Unsure whether to feign outrage over the husband thoughtlessly ruining his holiday or pretend I hadn’t heard the comment at all, I decided on the former.
“I certainly hate to hear that. Maybe you will have better luck next year.”
“Yeah, he’s a real jerk. I barely got to see her.”
Frankie then took a long drag of his cigarette as he pondered the injustices visited upon him while I silently shuffled through my mail for a fourth time. After we parted, I made a mental note to warn Ashley that if she saw a suspicious vehicle with Shelby County plates cruising the area to stay inside the house and lock the doors.
Several months later, I encountered Frankie again while I was mowing the front yard. After making small talk about the unseasonable warm weather, the conversation turned to career choices. Frankie told me that his employer had recently forced him to attend “some damn Pentecostal hoedown” because his supervisor was a member of the church and was participating in a contest that rewarded members for the number of guests they brought to the revival.

I considered interrupting him to explain that what he had just described was technically illegal, but Frankie was on a roll so I let it slide. As his narrative continued, he revealed that during the worship service he had witnessed several attendees “jumping around like crack-heads” and that one African American man had tried to get him to dance. He summarized his thoughts on the event by stating that the only thing that bothered him more than “niggers” was Charismatic Christians.

I can only speculate as to the look on my face after this tirade because he quickly asked whether or not I was Pentecostal. I assured him that I was a Methodist and that we were rarely accused of possessing an excess of charisma. This seemed to quell his uneasiness and he concluded our conversation by lamenting the fact that he was late to see his parole officer. I briefly thought about asking Frankie how he felt about diversity training but thought better of it.

Soon afterward, Frankie moved back to Memphis and I had almost forgotten about him until last month when our roof was being repaired. I had come home early from work to discuss a misunderstanding about the gutters and Ashley and I were standing on the sidewalk, watching the workers on the roof and discussing the merits of having “chocolate mocha” tinted downspouts. Suddenly, I felt a presence sidle up to me and I turned to see Frankie in all his glory.

He was dressed in a heavily stained wife-beater undershirt and sporting a rather conspicuous blonde Mohawk. Perceptive to a fault, he commented that it appeared we were having roof work performed. When I concurred with his assessment, he loudly observed that “Mexicans sure work hard” (the majority of the crew was Latino) but that they work even harder if you give them beer. By this time, several of the closest workers had stopped what they doing and were monitoring our conversation.

Convinced that my response to Frankie’s observation could easily determine whether or not my new roof leaked, I responded that Ashley and I had been purchasing Gatorades for the men since it was so hot outside. Frankie considered this for a moment and emphatically shook his head while insisting that “Mexicans don’t like Gatorade, they only like Corona!”

As I quickly scanned the roofers within earshot, I began wondering which would be the first to urinate down my chimney. I loudly insisted that Ashley did not feel comfortable providing alcohol to the work crew and that we were fairly certain that Mexicans did, in fact, drink Gatorade. Visibly crestfallen, Frankie halfheartedly mumbled something about the roof having been finished by now if the Mexicans had been in possession of some longnecks and placed his ever-present cigarette to his lips.

It was at this exact moment that Ashley decided to save herself by announcing that she needed to make an emergency trip to the grocery. As she sped away, Frankie’s demeanor lightened as he announced that today marked the final meeting with his parole officer. Unsure the proper etiquette in such situations, I offered my congratulations and apologized for not having a card.

Before we parted ways, he felt the need to explain his new hairstyle which he had apparently acquired during an evening of heavy inebriation. When I asked why he didn’t just shave the Mohawk to match the rest of his head, he responded that he "didn't want to look stupid." I agreed that this was an admirable goal.

As he walked away, I could not help but wonder how many lives Frankie had yet to touch or sensibilities he had yet to offend. Perhaps he has located his one true love or at the very least a woman whose husband has the common decency to call before he comes home unannounced.

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