Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday With Frank

(It's a cold Friday night here, the children are in bed and Sheila's off to a weekend away with her mother and sisters. And I'm reminded of evenings in Philadelphia, Friday evenings after my sister stopped going to dance rehersals with our Aunt Marion and we hung out at home listening to the radio like it was the thirties or something. We had one of those humongous console numbers, with the record player and radio, plus storage for a refugee family in it. It was a great time, just me and my sister, floating on the music and enjoying the last moments of our childhood together.)

It was heavy metal and had several locks and it opened onto a small, box like vestibule with one door just like it about eight feet across from it. The door was gray on the outside, off white inside, and when you turned right after stepping out through it there was an even heavier door, gun metal gray with a small, wired crossed window about three inches across and a foot long about five and a half feet above the floor. It looked into an elevator shaft. Across from that was a plain wall, blank with an industrial color you can’t remember to this day. The floor was that industrial, mostly black with white marble-like swirls linoleum.

You were on the eleventh floor…with three floors above you, and all up and down this particular shaft each floor looked exactly the same. There were seven other elevators exactly like it and two that had one more gray door around it on the either end of the building where you lived. If you were across the river, say riding by on the Schuylkill Expressway, the building looked like something a child would have designed and built with an erector set or kids’ blocks. It was ugly by the time you left but when you moved in as a kid it was wide open with possibility, full of new kids to get to know and play with. You remember, don’t you?

It’s gone now, torn down with its twin building and the smaller garden apartments to make room for yet another housing project, but this one was designed for more middle class type living, something less institutional, less foreboding. No more high rises. You were there a little while ago with one of your old friends from those old days, wandering through, inspecting the new buildings, each no more than three stories tall. None of them have elevators, none with heavy metal doors locking out the world, locking in young bodies, supposedly protecting them from the evils of the outside world.

Standing across the river from the new buildings you could feel the memories washing over you, could hear voices echoing in your heart. You turned to drive home, but you couldn't stop looking at the place where you had grown up, couldn't stop thinking about what the good times were like there...

“C’mon, dance with me!” she’d ask you, almost pleading, wanting a human touch, a human response to her moves.

“Naw, you know I don’t dance”, you said to her countless times, as many times as she ever asked you.

During weekends and some nights when your father wasn’t there you and your sister played the stereo-that-looked-like-a-piece-of-furniture just across the small living room from that heavy door loudly and she'd throw the latch on the door onto the locked position and use the door knob to hand dance since you were not inclined to do something you thought looked so damn silly. Hand dancing was bad enough, but the thought of doing it with your sister was too much to even think about for you. So you sat and watched, marveled at her, and listened to the music. Sometimes you even sang with it. Remember?

She could do wonders dancing with that knob and you were secretly jealous but you couldn’t decide if it was with the knob for its stoic presence or of your sister’s dexterity with such an inanimate object. You watched as she danced with girl groups like The Shirelles or The Marvelettes, or with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke and others too bland to remember now but very important in that teenaged world you lived in then. You can remember, can’t you?

You can still see her twirl around and hit just the right move with the music. When she danced she was radiant and intense with the look of classical dancers on her face. She was so damn cool and so damn innocent. She was lost in the moment and movement the music inspired in her. She was captured by the steps she practiced, her body enslaved by style and sound. She couldn’t wait to get out on the dance floor. She practiced for when she could but you could tell she practiced just to be doing it right then and there; she was so complete, so herself, dancing with the metal door knob anchored so firmly by that front door.

But she didn’t always dance. Most of the time you both just listened. You listened to all kinds of music, catholic in your taste, so jazz and popular music, rock and roll, pop, yeah; you listened to all of that. But most of all it was just one voice that captivated the both of you.

Frank Sinatra.

Neither of you ever got enough of Sinatra and you never knew why ‘til lately when you came to the autumn of your own years. “Friday with Frank” found you in front of that old funky console stereo your father bought you even well after your friends started having things to do on Friday nights and you were old enough to actually go out with them without the old man going off on you when you snuck back into the apartment very late at night or very early the next morning.

No, you were in front of the radio, like some throwback to time before television, like a Norman Rockwell painting without mom or dad carving the turkey, sitting there listening to the master sing his visions of love, heartache, human folly and joy.

And you never told any of your friends, never invited them over to hear what you heard. Neither of you shared that time with anyone else…it was just the four of you; you, your sister, Sid Mark of WHAT FM in Philadelphia, and Sinatra; safe inside that door.

“Who’d you blow off to hang with me n’ Frank tonight?” She wanted to know if you had an answer when usually she knew that you made no plans other than to be right there with her and “Old Blue Eyes”. You were sitting there in your dad’s chair. It was dark in the apartment with just the table lamp switched to low. Mood setting, ready for the sonic journey.

“I couldda gone over to Haney’s with the Mouse. They wanted to watch the Friday night fights and sneak beer but…you know…”

“Teddy wanted to come over…”

“You told him?”

“No, he just wanted to come over. I think he’d like to do this with us someday, he seems cool.” She slowly moved across the floor to the couch, dropped her book bag and slouched down, reclining with her coat still on.

“So what? One day we won’t be able to do this, and we got a good long string going. Let’s not break it until we have to, until we go away to school or something like that, okay?”

“But he’s so nice to me…”

“A really long string, sis. Please let’s try to keep it just the three of us, you, me, and Frank, alright? We’ll be out of here soon enough on our own. Away from here and all of this.”

You remember, even now, so far away from all of that. You can remember how safe and warm it felt. Just the two of you and that fabulous storyteller and the DJ that brought him into your lives. It's Friday night. Go put on some Sinatra and remember.

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