I have written before about this cast of characters. Friends who count 30-something years of shared memories. Beginning way back with fraternity hijinks committed and tolerated as 17 or 18 or 19 year-olds. Mostly run-of-the-mill stuff; but plenty not for public consumption. Oddly, most of those involved public consumption, as I think back. Now, more or less, grown men. With mortgages, high school-aged kids, lengthy professional careers of one sort or another. Family pets. Wives to whom we’ve been serendipitously hitched for 20-something years. And a penchant for scaring the bejesus out of one another on occasion.
This explains the mask. I know you have been wondering about that. I am the guy in the red devil mask. No, this photo is not evidence of some odd paganistic ritual. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. No half-naked people circling midnight bonfires were injured in the making of this particular weekend, however. So back to the mask, because it is a curious thing. And I have been meaning to write this particular blog post for over a month.
You see, the 2nd gent from the left turned 50 back in December. He shares my own mother’s birthdate, which I have always found intriguing. He shared the altar with me on my wedding day 20 years ago. I stood there shakily, sweating profusely — from the ambient air temperature, not from the gravity of the moment. Maybe it was both. In any event, fair to say I’m woozy. Trying desperately to follow and repeat back the muffled words of the pastor before me. And while I’m mildly annoyed that my best man’s best efforts to stem my forehead faucet involve a fistful of fibrous hotel toilet paper, I’m grateful he’s there for me. My face is more or less covered with small, sweaty fragments of Charmin. Basically “TP’d” in front of a couple hundred friends and family members. But I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this man standing by me.
Now fast forward. On a similarly auspicious occasion in his own life some 20 years later — turning 50 years old — how do I repay him? Sure, I fly with another great friend from the west coast to the east coast, where Frank now lives. To surprise him. For most right-thinking people, that should suffice. Gratitude shown. The debt repaid. Leave it at that. But alas, right-thinking people rightly think that I am not one of them.
Exhibit A: The Satan mask. Most folks pack socks and undies in their overnighters. I stuff a terrifying rubber mask in mine — two of them actually — with every intention to deploy said mask during my trip. And not spontaneously, no. I’ve planned this out. Thought hard on it. I believe this is known as “malice aforethought.” Can’t you just see the group of right-thinking people shuffling slowly away from me, with sideways glances?
Exhibit B: During my Uber ride to the unsuspecting birthday boy’s east coast location, I scour my co-conspirator’s neighborhood via Google Earth. I push through mild car sickness in order to assess where a proper point of entry at my buddy’s Atlanta home might be so as to maximize the jumpscare factor. As I roll out of the car — my Uber driver Yolanda now giddy in cahoots — I confess that images of stealthy Seal Team 6 storming that Pakistani compound flit through my mind. I tiptoe down the pitch black driveway, quietly unhitch a backyard gate, and crawl. On my hands and knees. Peering through the devil mask’s eye slits. Breathing heavily like Michael Myers, I realize. As I secretly skitter across my buddy’s backyard deck and into his screened patio. At least I hope this is his deck and patio. I’ve never actually been here before, and am really really hoping I Google Earthed the right residence. I’m dressed all in black, with a blood red devil mask on, and shouldering what looks like a burglar’s kit. Crawling across someone’s redwood-planked deck. Late at night. What could possibly go wrong? The right-thinkers shuffle a little further away, now shielding their children’s eyes.
Exhibit C: My newly-50 friend has had back surgery very recently. His body is not as sturdy and unbreakable as it once seemed. He is, I think, still convalescing. Probably having to chew heavy back pills on occasion. So I don’t ignore this information. I do the cost-benefit calculation. Crunch the numbers. Do the math. I conclude that (a) this will be one of the all-time scare jobs, and (b) the odds of my causing Frank to wrench his back and pop his stitches and unfuse his fused vertebrae are astronomically low. My co-conspirators deliver our unwitting victim to the darkened back porch. A masked figure lurches out of the shadows. Frank stiffens and shudders a bit — the best scares often look like this, I have come to appreciate. And as far as I can tell or anyone will admit, no drawers were soiled. This is how I show my deep and genuine gratitude to one of my oldest and dearest friends?
My saving grace (I hope) lies in the poem I wrote and read aloud through tear-blurred eyes and with halting voice the following night in a room full of people who are also grateful for Frank. At the risk of embarrassing him a little bit, I’ve taking the liberty of pasting that poem below. Perhaps another ill-advised and ham-handed attempt to show him my gratitude. Admittedly not from the Right-Thinker’s Playbook. But it’s the best I can do. And if nothing else, it is straight from the heart. Happy birthday, Frank. I’m grateful.
Thanks for reading.
Dear Frank, it seems you’ve turned 50
And you know how these sorts of poems go
In your chair you should be shifting
‘Cause what I’ll say, you just never know…
You see, my man, we knew you when
You ran our dear Theta Chi
But before you ruled our wooden bench
You were only a BOG’er, guy
Later, you landed that sweet gig with Apple
We all know this much to be true
But along the way, remember, you grappled
With the infamous dead-legged interview
Expertly fielding question after question
So grown up, so very mature
You rose at the end to shake hands — a true gentleman
And here is where fan meets manure
Your leg, now numb, sent you lurching
Your boss’ adrenaline surging
Turns into a matador
You crumpled to the floor
Dear Frank, remind us, did that offer letter ever find your dorm room door?
Yes, Frank was a “Big Man on Campus”
Filled with youthful pride
When he pitched Sergeant Paul Dumas
On the business deal of a lifetime
Frank offered a cut of 20 percent
But Dumas, unmoved, dismissed you
With a furious face bright red,
Saying “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord has split you.”
Our hero Frank was undeterred
He wowed us with 94 Cup Daily
USA Today devoted nearly a third
Of a page to Frank’s exploits and savvy
A veritable titan of the industry
But let’s not forget our history…
As I recall, for example, there once was a necktie
In the toilet bowl of a grand high rise
During a last minute bathroom trip
Before a meeting with men old and wise
Whom Frank hoped to wow with quick wit
Undaunted, our Frankie, he improvised
From his neck, the “potty tie” ripped
Showed up in the boardroom as “Business Casual Guy”
I’ve no clue if they bought what he shipped
And on another occasion
About this there is no doubt
Frank was to serve as liaison
Introduce bigshots with a deal to work out
But the night before he’d gone out guns blazin’
Forgot to press the alarm clock button down
Woke up feeling fresh, amazin’!
But that meeting? It never went down.
So Frank, he had some explainin’:
“I slipped in the shower, fell down!
I was knocked completely out!
I came to after 3 or 4 hours
When cold water came out of the spout.”
Ah, and those wonderful parties
Your Upper West Side garden flat
Disgruntled neighbors, those smarties
Threw down bags of urine, and splat!
In truth, it could have been much worse
Chalk it up to life in the City
If your neighbors were more perverse
Those bags would have been, well, shitty
And let’s not forget your “Rollerblade Years”
Frank, you were simply fantastic!
Those Aquafresh skates fueled by 2 or 3 beers
Threw sparks, though made only of plastic
And how ‘bout that challenging ski trail
Suggested by frat brother McMex?
Called “Our Father,” it was not for the frail
Frank, what the hell’d you expect?
I’m told your yardsale was something to see
Your slide down the ice quite fun
Your Ironman watch sliced your wrist up the sleeve
A million-dollar lawsuit to be won!
Alas, a courtroom you never did see
The statute of limitations had run
Well, how ‘bout Frank’s counterfeiting skills, then?
So many New Years Eve Balls — for free!
With just a few strokes of his fine pen
Oh and the Apple-issued laser printer was definitely key
Same goes for the Boston Marathon “race bibs”
Frank’s work gave Dave and I thrills
Though looking back now, this was one of those fibs
That led to the fetal position with chills.
I could go on forever, dear Frank
Salty tales like steaks of Delmonico
But the story of your Pre-Cana
Will stay between you, Noeleen, and Father Philatronico
Alas, my poem has reached its end
Though I have so much more to say
Here’s to your next 50 years, my friend
With just one final thought, if I may
Your wounds from “Our Father” have mended
Your rollerblades long stowed away
But let’s have a few more adventures
‘Cause we’ll follow your trail all the way
Happy 50th, buddy!