So back in September, I began to reflect on the summer of 2011 and got to thinking about where I wanted to go in the summer of 2012. I then remembered that my good friend Frank’s 70th birthday was coming up that year. It’s funny because I have more friends that are over the age of sixty and under the age of seven than I do within my own age group.
I guess I’m just good with kids and old people. After putting the old person to bed at 7pm, I usually go over a friend’s house where I then proceed to wind up their children before their bedtime and then I leave them alone with the kids bouncing off the walls, so they will be awake until 4 am. You. Are. Welcome!! Anything I can do to help.
A little background on mine and Frank’s friendship. It all started in 2001 when I worked in NYC and lived with my grandmother (see, I told you) because she lived closer to the city. Frank had befriended my Dad at the world famous “Vanderbilt’s Wharf” in the lovely hamlet of Oakdale, New York, on the south shore of Long Island. My parents wanted to refurbish their kitchen and employed Frank to do the job. I was home one night on a weekend and answered the phone in my parent’s house. The first conversation went something like this.
“Hello, Chris’s House of Love, how may I love you?” (I probably didn’t say that)
“Hi, this is Frank.”
And he starts talking to me like I know who he is…how presumptuous. After about a minute of his babbling I said…
“Frank, who are you? Cause I don’t talk have a clue.”
He says that he was the contractor working on the kitchen. So basically, he was the guy that just left me with no place to sit down to eat and forced me into washing my dishes two feet from where I used the toilet. He was already a winner in my book. Jerk.
Then in 2003, after leaving the financial industry for good, Frank needed help on a house that he was building in East Hampton, New York, so I decided to work for him while I was in school for my counseling degree.
The drive out to East Hampton every morning is a long one and Frank and I had some interesting discussions and debates about a wide variety of topics. The issues discussed ranged from how many Hostess powdered donuts I could fit in my mouth at one time to immigration policies at the time.
The conversations were sometimes serious but mostly funny. An example of a funny story was when there a sign that advertised a carnival being held in the area. I don’t have a picture of the actual sign so I will describe it in text form here. The text on the sign was in two separate segments that were rounded around the emblem on the sign. The first segment said “North Sea Lions” and the second segment said “Club Carnival.”
For a few days, nothing was said about this sign because we were both trying to figure out what exactly a “North Sea Lion” was, but we didn’t want the other to know that we had never heard of such a thing. Maybe they migrated here in the summer? Are they on the verge of extinction? I never saw any of them on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. We didn’t have smart phones back then to look it up.
Then one day, I said…”I was wondering what a “North Sea Lion” was but then I figured out what the sign is trying to say.” The sign was advertising a carnival sponsored by the North Sea Lions Club. North Sea is a small hamlet in the Hamptons and their Lions Club was sponsoring the carnival.
We looked at each other and couldn’t stop laughing because Frank was thinking the same thing.
Aside from the stupid inside jokes, we argued about a great many things. One thing in particular we didn’t agree on was the current inflating of the housing bubble. Now, I never owned a construction business but I could see something was not right in the prices of homes. Frank’s contention was that housing prices would just keep going up. I did not agree but Frank never let me hear the end of it because he had been in the business for longer than I had. He had the experience and all I had was a Master’s degree in finance and experience in equities and equity derivatives.
These days, I never let him hear the end of it because…this young whippersnapper was RIGHT! (more to follow on this point later)
Then there was the daily grind that actually involved banging nails, digging ditches, putting up walls, and hanging cabinets. Frank taught me a great deal and I am extremely thankful for that. He would also play hide and seek with the tools. Here’s how this little game played out…I would go get a tool from the truck, he would use it on something, leave it right there on the floor when he was done with it, and then not bring the tool with him back to me or put it back in the truck.
The next time that tool was needed, I would go out to the truck, look for it, and then yell to him that I couldn’t find it. He would scream for me to open my damn eyes and that it was where it should be. I then learned to go scour the house for missing tools if I could not find something. Usually, I would find certain tools in closets or on the basement window sill or even in a cabinet, which was where Frank left it the last time HE used it.
When Frank wanted coffee or we needed something from the hardware store, Frank would scream “LESTERRRRRR!” Lester was his previous apprentice and from what I heard, was a meek, church mouse type of guy. Now, I used to work on the American Stock Exchange where I would scream orders to people, have orders screamed at me, and pepper my language with a variety of expletives each time. I don’t think Frank realized who he was up against.
Going on these little trips was the most comical part of my job. I remember taking a trip to the hardware and was strolling the aisles looking for a quarter inch, three quarter round. I questioned this before I left telling him that that didn’t make any sense. His reply was “I don’t pay you to think…just do.” It should be noted that there is no such thing as a quarter inch, three quarter round.
I forgave him for that because of his age and declining mental faculties. What Frank wanted was a three quarter inch, quarter round…you know, molding that would be placed in a corner. My only defense before leaving for the store was to just say okay and then tell him that they were out of it when I returned.
One day while in the hardware store I got a frantic call from Frank. I answered the phone and all I hear is him whining and complaining about nothing in particular. I was not even within 200 yards of him and he’s verbally abusing me about something. What happened was that Frank was trying to cut an inch piece off the bottom of a plaster column (it weighed about a hundred pounds and was to hold the roof up, above the front porch) and it had just fallen off the saw horse and a huge chunk off it broke off.
Nothing he said was coherent and all I heard was the word glue. So I got the Elmer’s and headed back to find Frank on the phone yelling at somebody else. At least it was not me this time.
Nobody was immune to these phone calls. I think even Mother Theresa got one or two. One time, the framer was on the phone and Frank was yelling at him. Then, the call was dropped for some unknown reason (the cell service in the Hamptons was not that great) and Frank called him right back. Here is the transcript of that conversation:
Frank: “Hey Chuck, yeah, I lost you.”
Chuck the Framer: “No, I hung up on you.”
Well played Chuck, well played.
Frank loved his coffee breaks and anytime he wanted to take a break was fine by me. I was not being paid by how deep I dug the ditch or how quick I hung molding. When I first started working for him he tells me to go in the truck and get him the piece of cake on the front seat. I did not see anything that looked like cake or even a donut, not even in his briefcase. I even started second guessing what I had heard. “I’m pretty sure he said cake.” I went back to where he was sitting without the piece of cake.
He gets up, walks to the truck, comes back in, sits at the table and puts the “cake” about two inches from my face. In his hand was a “Nature’s Valley” granola bar! In fact, it was the Oats and Honey granola bar in the GREEN wrapper. I know this because of the proximity it was to my face. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this man builds houses that people actually live in, and they are actually still standing. He doesn’t even know what cake is.”
Frank taught me how to put up molding in a certain way and I followed what he showed me. He said I had a knack for it. When putting up molding on doors, you do the sides first and then measure across to get the measurement for the horizontal piece. One day, Frank was manning the mitre box and was watching my technique. He then told me to put the uncut horizontal piece up against the wall and use my pencil to mark where to cut it. I proceeded to measure it with the tape and shout the measurement to him.
Well, big boss man would not cut the piece until it had my pencil mark on it. We argued and argued for five minutes, and it even got heated at one point. I screamed to him “that is the way you taught me how to do it back in East Hampton!!” He says, “you know what, you’re right, I’m sorry.” Bossman always knew when he was wrong and always apologized afterwards but a part of me wanted to bury the claw end of my hammer into his skull.
The rides home were even better and I was still on the receiving end of body blow after body blow as he was a merciless full court presser. I was sitting two feet from him and my only defense was to suggest stopping at Cromer’s deli in Sag Harbor for some fried chicken. Well, Frank would have me drive while he kicked back and celebrated the almost completion of the latest house. He then licked his greasy, sausage like fingers. Then he took a nap while I drove the hour and a half to home base.
Usually at dinner, I would tell my parents of all of these crazy stories that happened while working for the guy that built their kitchen. I questioned my Dad’s friendship with him on a regular basis.
One day, my parents informed me that my Dad, brother and I would be going on a fishing trip to Cabo San Lucas with my Mom’s cousins from California. One little golden nugget that my Dad downplayed was the fact the Frank would be going with us!! That is what I meant when I said “merciless full court presser,” he was anywhere and everywhere.
In all honesty, he always said that the yelling was never directed at me personally and that he sometimes just got frustrated. I never took offense to anything of course, since I was trained on the stock exchange. On the jobs, in the truck, and every where else, we had a good time and I learned a great deal.
The fishing trip was the best fishing trip I have been on to date. We caught over four hundred pounds of tuna and brought every bit of it home.
Anyway, this past summer, Frank and I were in a bar chatting about where I was going in a few weeks. He also finally admitted to me that I was RIGHT about the housing market. THANK YOU SIR for that validation!!
Anyway, I’ll stop gloating. During this conversation, we reminisced about our work together and also about the fishing trip. He said he always dreamed of going to Alaska on a fishing trip. His two other good friends had both been there. My Dad always wanted to go but sadly, he did not get the chance. It was on my list too.
In September, I had the bright idea that Frank and I were going to take a fishing trip to Alaska. Frank’s 70th birthday was on January 19, 2012 so I researched, made some phone calls, and booked some flights. I conferred with Frank’s family and we decided that we would Skype during Frank’s birthday dinner back in New York.
Last week, we get on Skype and started chit chatting about my recent trip to Vietnam and other small talk. I finally said to him, “so, Happy Birthday. Do you remember when we were in the Crab House last summer, and you told me what you really wanted to do in life?”
He says “No. But go ahead.” Remember those declining mental faculties? Exhibit “A” right there.
I said, “ Well, I do…so I booked us a trip to Alaska.” I’ve only seen a grown man cry a few times in my life and this was one of them. I couldn’t contain myself either. It took him a bit to respond but I will remember that pause for the rest of my life.
Frank will fly to Juneau and I will take the fifty five hour ferry from Bellingham, Washington, via the Inside Passage, to meet him there (I will sleep on the deck of the ship). We will fish for halibut and salmon and hopefully fill the coolers. There will be other excursions that shall remain a secret.
Well Frankie, your ass is mine. For on this trip, I’M THE BOSS!! Remember what they say about payback? You work for me now!
You know how people swim with the dolphins in the Bahamas? Well, Alaska has Killer Whales, so instead of seeing killer whales, you will be SWIMMING with killer whales!!
I’ve heard we will definitely see all kinds of marine and wildlife as well as the many glaciers.
Maybe we’ll even see the elusive…North Sea Lion!!
Either way, I’m excited to be doing this with Frank. Happy 70th Birthday…I won’t bring my hammer with me.