~This story appeared in Boulevard (2011).
There was this guy. He called himself Franklin, though I found out later his real name was Charlie Smythe. Well, Charlie (or whoever he was) liked the name Franklin. Not Frank or Frankie. Franklin. He was proper that way.
We both lived in the gated community, Meadow Haven. I was working three nights a week at the Meadow Haven Club. It was an upscale community pool—just for the residents of Meadow Haven. The developers carved out a nine-hole golf course, a pool, a line of Jacuzzis, and faux-clay tennis courts. The works. Not that most of the Meadow Haven residents didn’t have their own means of entertainment (pools and Jacuzzis of their own), but I worked at the pool anyway. If Meadow Haven residents wanted to be seen, they’d go to the pool. That was the difference. My job was to hand out towels (if needed) and make sure the residents signed their name and address in the assigned box. I knew most of the regulars, so it was merely a formality. I was good at being friendly, at smiling my clean-cut grin and validating the Meadow Haven ethos, or whatnot. I’d get an occasional tip, a lawn-mowing gig. It was generally relaxing. There was nothing much to it.
But back to Franklin. Unlike most of the other regulars, Franklin always came to the pool unaccompanied. Of course, our bread and butter were the housewives and their rug-rats. Each afternoon Franklin would show up in his black Nylon jogging pants, his yellow or green t-shirt, and he always carried a twelve-ounce bottle of Deer Park water in his right hand—in between his finger and thumb as if it were a cigar. He’d make a federal production: unscrew the cap, take a small sip, lick his lips, lick his lips again, screw the cap back on dramatically with a flick of the wrist. He liked being watched. He liked attention.
Franklin was a short man with a short man’s complex. He had an Irish-looking face, with a pug nose and strawberry-blonde hair. Franklin moved quickly, swinging his arms wildly, as if he were power-walking. Overcompensation if you ask me. He usually wore a rhomboid gold earring in each ear, pirate style. When he took off his shirt I could see the weird, faded places where you could tell he had tattoos removed from his reddish skin. But whoever removed the tattoos didn’t do such a hot job: the ghost of his previous tattoos was still there. When I knew him Franklin was maybe forty—the kind of guy who was not quite my father’s age, but certainly too old to be my brother or cousin. But I was in college at the time, so my perspective of everything was skewed.
So I was sitting at the desk reading an Elmore Leonard paperback propped on a stack of towels. Franklin came up to me. Most of the residents signed in, took a towel, said hello, and went for a swim. I felt this guy standing there, watching me. Just standing there. Then I heard the smack, smack, smack of gum between his teeth. His breath smelled like apricots. Great, I thought, I have to look up from Rum Punch.
“Hey, bub,” he said. “Do you know who owns this?”
I was dumbfounded. The facial expression I screwed on probably shouted: “That is a stupid question.”
“Who owns this? You do, really.”
“Right,” he said, still chomping away on his apricot gum. He crossed his arms as if to defend himself against the oncoming I-gotcha. “But I still have to sign in.”
“You don’t literally own it,” I said. “But the development owns the golf course, the pool, the Har-Tru tennis courts. You know, your community association dues and membership fees help pay for maintenance.” I don’t know why he didn’t see the big picture, but then I guess he wasn’t the first clueless rich guy in the world.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. Franklin had an odd way of talking—some kind of aw-shucks 50’s amalgam, with a heavy dose of the new-agey that emerged as we became acquainted. He was friendly, open-hearted; Franklin always was. But there was something else there too. Something. I mean, “Bub?” Who says that? Franklin went on: he just moved in and he figured he’d see if we needed a sculpture in our lobby. “You have to have a sculpture,” he said. He said it might add to the “authority” of the place, the overall “energy.”
Now you have to understand, “lobby” is far too grand of a word to use to describe the area in which I sat—despite the dues and fees, which mostly covered salaries and upkeep of the facilities. Aside from the desk, there was a scuffed miniature pool table with warped faux-cherry cues, an air hockey table, and a cheap, triangular, laminated coffee table—management used it for fliers and announcements and the like. For penny-pinching reasons Meadow Haven didn’t give much thought to the lobby; residents complained it looked like the lobby of a public pool. No room for a statue, unless it was a little desk-top paperweight do-dad.
I shrugged, but Franklin kept pressing. How the lobby needs a statue. How every lobby should have a statue. How a statue brings the “energies” of the room to focus. How a statue makes a lobby feel homey, full. Like I gave a rat’s ass. I just wanted to be left to my own devices—to my on-the-job R&R.
“I’ll have to ask Lynda,” I said. I propped my head in my hand. “She’s the manager.” I let my gaze drift back down to Rum Punch, hoping he’d get the hint.
“Great, thanks a mil, bub,” Franklin said. “If you’d do that for me I’d really appreciate it. And if you want a statue of your own, let me know, will ya? I mean, I’ll sell you one lickety-split, on discount.” He made clicking sound with his tongue and pointed at me as if we shared some inside joke. We didn’t.
“Okay,” I said.
“Just remember: I’m a sculptor. I sculpt. This is my life-force. Help support your local artist. We are part and parcel.” Of what, I thought. I just didn’t get his whole thing.
He smacked his gum and signed in, grabbed a towel, glanced at the name. Even carrying a towel, Franklin somehow managed to swing his arms.
“I’ll ask Lynda,” I reiterated, trying to avoid his eyes. The guy weirded me out from the word go. I guess there are worse things; he was memorable.
Then I let Franklin dissolve into the background. Went back to my Rum Punch.