Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A little on my friend Frank.

     Some of my blogs are easy to write, and others have complex topics that make them difficult to start, much less finish, so some ideas sit on the shelf, waiting for the appropriate inspiration or mood, and this blog is one of those.  You see, the story of my friend, Frank, is his to tell, not mine, but it's a great story nonetheless, so I finally figured out how to tell it.  So this is the story of my interactions with Frank, which are both of ours to tell, but I beat him to it.....

     I first met Frank in 1979 when I was starting High School.  I had attended St. Mary's School up to that point and had mostly been taught by nuns, so Canandaigua Academy was a big adjustment for me (For reference you can check my blogs entitled, The Infamous Red Jeans Story or Sweaty Hands and a Rotary Phone parts 1 & 2).
  My class at St. Mary's had under 30 kids in it, and my Freshman class had over 300...so many more people and so many more girls to strike out with, the numbers were staggering.  If I did the math right, I could strike out with a different girl each week of my high school career, and never have to look outside of my class.  I had just started that process, when I met Frank as he taught an English class that I had chosen as a Freshman.   He was young for a teacher, just less than 30, when I met him, and he still had that "new teacher smell" on him, when I took his class.  He introduced me, through his teaching, to people like, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson (the original Where's Waldo?), and Henry David Thoreau.  On slow days, or days we finished early, he would unpack his guitar, pull out his harmonica, and play for us.  He introduced me then to people like Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean, and John Prine.  Frank preferred the songs that had deeper meanings in them, that called you to action, and during that time, there were plenty to choose from.  I think it really sunk in that I wasn't in Catholic School anymore the first time he sang "Dear Abby" and finished with the line about a girl in the back seat with her pants to her knees.  Look out Toto, I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  Aside from the inspiring talks, and musical interludes, Frank was like every other teacher, he took attendance, he graded our papers, he commanded his classroom like a ship's captain, but he wasn't like any other teacher I had, because Frank, was blind.  That's right, he sees only "Crystals", yet he did all of these things equally well, if not better, than my other high school teachers.

     I won't write long on Frank's blindness, because he doesn't let it define him, so why should I?  I think it happened later in his youth, and I recall a story about a fall at a track meet that dislodged his retinas, but don't take it as gospel.
The amazing thing to me, was all of his college and musical education happened after that fall.  I suspect that he had many emotions after the accident, but the fact that he didn't let it stop him, or even slow him down, from fulfilling his dreams, was downright inspiring to me. I only recall one class that I had with Frank, but he would remain in my thoughts for many years to come.  I saw Frank for the rest of my time in the halls at Canandaigua Academy and outside of school sometimes at my job slinging chicken wings at Papa Franks.  Each time I would address him by name, he'd do the same, remembering my voice amongst the thousands of others that he must have encountered over his teaching career.  That's pretty impressive, especially considering he taught many of my 11 siblings, and we do sound similar to each other.  Over the next decade, we lost touch, and our meetings were infrequent, at church festivals, out dining, or just passing each other on the street.  The way he navigates my home town of Canandaigua still amazes me.  I suspect he has his own system to tell where he is at any given time, relying on sounds, and smells to help orient him.  I know the outside of Papa Franks always smelled like the fryer, but sometime I'll have to sit with Frank and find out what the other neighborhoods smell and sound like.  Anyway, we went for a spell without much contact, each going in different directions, until I started as a Scout leader many years later.

     My oldest boy, Danny, had just become a Webelos, and we had a chapter where we had to have the Den talk to a handicapped person.  This was tough, because I didn't know any local handicapped people, did I?  It was only after someone else had mentioned a blind person, that I thought of my friend Frank, as you see my experiences with him, hadn't really caused me to focus on the handicapped side of him, and in fact hadn't put him in that category. It didn't fit him.
An early look at Meyer and McGuire
I couldn't think of a better person to talk to the boys, so I called him up and asked.  He immediately knew my voice, and when I made my request, there was a long pause and then he said "Well, you'd have to drive".  I chuckled and assured him, I had no issue of making the drive from home to Canandaigua and back with him.  The boys thought of questions to ask him, and when the night came, he answered each one honestly and candidly, and hooked the boys into the mystique that is Frank Meyer.  He really had them sold, when he pulled out his guitar and played for them.  Many years later, when Danny pursued his Eagle Rank, he thought of Frank as part of a fundraiser he hosted, and Frank generously donated his time and talent to make the evening more memorable.  My only regret of the Webelos evening was my requesting for him to play "Dear Abby" before I remembered all the lyrics.  It wasn't that bad, and all the parents let me continue on as the leader, in spite of my poor judgement.  On the ride back, Frank caught me up on all we had missed, including his life partner Siobhan, and the fact he was playing quite regularly at local haunts.  This created a great opportunity to enjoy two things I liked, bars, and the music of my friend Frank.

     So I first heard my soon to be favorite group, Meyer and McGuire on a Saturday night at Wally's pub.  I knew right then that I would see them again and in many more places.  Frank hadn't only found a life partner in Siobhan, he had found the perfect accompaniment to his original ballads and thought provoking songs.
That night, their fans were plentiful, and rowdy, and singing along with the music, and my friend Frank, wouldn't have had it any other way.  That's one of the draws to him, for me, that he doesn't take himself too seriously, and if fact regularly invites patrons at his show to sing with him as part of  "The Meyer and McGuire Drunken Choir".  I myself joined a few years later (well act surprised at least !). Since then my wife and I have followed them to at least a dozen different venues.  We've heard them on the lake, at a Fish Shanty,in the Culinary Center, at a Wine Bistro, and in the numerous small honky-tonk kinda bars that they love so much like Maloneys in Hammondsport.  Each time, we'd sit up close, and get to meet the people that Frank and Siobhan draw, cuz if there is one thing I have learned, it's that they draw good people to their shows. 

     Formally Frank has not been my teacher for over 25 years now, but that is not to say he ever stopped teaching me. We were at one of his shows at the Cdga Brewhouse on a Sunday night a few years ago and I had a epiphany concerning just that.  Those shows he does "unplugged" and invites budding musicians to join him.  That night I watched a woman regularly go out back to smoke, she wasn't dressed particularly well, and she looked like a lot of her life might have been spent at the end of that bar.
Playing the Yarger Golf tournament
I'll admit freely that when she went up to join Frank, I rolled my eyes as I had already decided what "type" of person she was. She started singing "Me and my Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin and I instantly felt ashamed for prejudging her.  This waif belted out this song with such feeling and intensity that people stopped outside and stuck their heads in to see who it was, even the smokers stopped and stepped back in.  It was at that point that I realized that Frank spent his life around "those types" and in between entertaining them, he'd lend a kind ear, a little advice if prompted, and compassion that some of these folks hadn't seen in a while. I suspect if Jesus were still around now, he's find himself at the same place as Frank more than a time or two (I like that I got to compare him to Jesus, cuz a lot of times when he sees me in the crowd and he plays American Pie, he substitutes my name and my siblings for the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, how does that feel Frank?)  There is not much to say after you compare a guy to God, except to tell you where and when you can see him.  I'll attach his link to his blog and upcoming shows, here  Meyer and McGuire .  I hired him 5 years ago to play our family golf tournament (cuz it turns out we are some of "those types" too) and that is one decision I will never regret.  I do regret not making time for a promised dinner with them for over a year now, and I'll look to correct that mistake soon.  In closing, if you want to hear a pretty decent pair of musicians, playing in the places that they love, check out my friend Frank, and his partner Siobhan.  If you go, sit still, listen deep, watch the crowds that they draw, and request Dear Abby for me, but please check for Webelos first. 


Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Anonymous said...

I had Frank and Siobhan as teachers in the late 90's. Your blog is right on. They are great people...

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill
This is Mary jo Lang, my Mom taught English at the high school, I graduated in 78 . We hosted Frank for the summer before he started at CDGA, when he really had that new teacher smell!! Like you, none of us kids really ever considered his blindness, and we spent many a nite at 189 Granger Street listening to him play. "Dear Abby" being one of the memorable! Good to stay in touch with him, and I look forward to perhaps meeting you..

Bill said...

Thanks all. Mary Jo, how cool was it to have Frank play so often for you ! You grew up in a great neighborhood, and I'm assuming that you had some interactions with some of my siblings? Maybe we'll see each other at one of Frank's performances? Keep in touch.