“Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
They were the best of friends…”
Frankie Lee was a blazing skateboarding zombie fire-balling his way through the busy streets of the city. We were both fifteen and the world had that after school smell that made a young man soaking up a weekend away from his catholic high school believe that anything was possible, if only until Monday. There were hundreds of these days, or moments, where my heart beat easy and my mind wasn’t consumed by racing thoughts about what other people’s racing thoughts might be, and how their racing thoughts might affect me and my racing thoughts. All of these brief specs of time when I didn’t feel broken or misplaced, at least in a bad way, seemed to involve a skateboard and my best friend, Frankie Lee.
He was a year younger than me, and this was towards the beginning of our journey. It was a time when he still looked up to me and not the other way around. A skinny kid with jet black hair and a fierce sense of humor, Frankie Lee was better than anyone I have ever known at insulting someone while still making them laugh. He wore work shirts with patches that had names like “Larry” and “Phil” sown above the breast pocket long before they sold such shirts in department stores, and he turned me on to some of the greatest music ever recorded, The Smiths, The Pixies, and The Butthole Surfers to name a few. He had an appetite for apathy that seemed endless, but after digging for a while I discovered a cold, calm anger was the driving force behind all of his decisions. Frankie Lee had lots of reasons to be angry, but mostly I think he was angry for the same reason as most men, or soon to be men, at the turn of the century. He was angry because he was just a lost little boy, and even angrier at the fact that he knew it.
I think the biggest reason for my lingering affection so many years after our friendship has gone the way of rehabs and marriages and funerals and never ending jobs is because Frankie Lee stood witness to my life. He was the laugh track to the comedy of my youth and the red eyed theater goer to the tragedy of my adulthood. I don’t have home movies or warm soundtrack laden montages like the opening credits of the Wonder Years, so some day I’m going to have to search out the ghost he has become and let him tell me these stories, just so I can know that it all really happened.
We found ourselves on the steps of the St. Francis church. The city we grew up in was a monument of decay, but the churches stood as the last vestiges of beauty. They were built out of great stones, and to me were no less mysterious than the pyramids of Egypt. The St. Francis was a majestic castle of a thing, so much so that when crossing the Somerset bridge on the way back into town I would press my head against the back window of my father’s station wagon and wonder if I would ever get to meet the princess who lived there.
I don’t know how or when the decision was made, and I was sure neither of us would follow through with the silly, useless act of boredom, but on some random Sunday in late March two deranged teenagers burst into the ten am mass, skateboards held high over their heads and began screaming as loud as they could. We didn’t curse or take the Lord’s name in vain. We just yelled. All the folks waiting to be saved just turned and watched us. They didn’t seem particularly upset, just a bit confused. After our lungs gave out we left as fast as we could. We made our way down the front steps and then skated off toward the early morning of our life.
The priest blessed us that morning after we left and had the congregation say a little prayer from us. As bad as things have gotten I like to think they would have been much worse without those prayers.