Thursday, August 5, 2010

Roads Traveled

I am sort of hoping for a bit of rain this evening. I do not farm in my off-hours. I do not own a piece of the local cranberry bog. Yet I hope for a bit of less-than-spectacular weather this evening in the area of Red Bank.

Nothing too severe of course but it would not break my heart if this evening, while family, friends and assorted loved ones gather in Red Bank to pay respects to and to say goodbye to Frank DeVito, there was at least a bit of weather to match the occasion. Besides, I can easily envision Frank feeling compelled to hand write notes of apology to everyone who comes to his wake if the weather is good today - making amends to one and all who spent time inside on a nice summer day.

In between everyone's work commitments yesterday and Tuesday, I found a bit of time to reconnect with some of the other alumni of 705 Park Avenue. We were a pretty tight-knit bunch back in the day, bound together as we were by our knowledge that what passed as normal day-to-day operations within the four walls of our office was not viewed quite so kindly by those looking through the windows from the outside. We did not have much but we had each other. Given the rudderless manner in which our lives were managed by the two-headed Leviathan atop the firm's food chain, one wonders if the concept of "LOST" was cobbled together from discarded napkins chronicling one or more of our staff meetings. We were a rag-tag group of stranded travelers, hoping against hope for rescue.

Most of us escaped but not all. And for some of us, the escape came at a heavy toll and at a high price. What we chatted about the past couple of days however was not the bleak times or the bad times. Instead we spoke of a time or two or ten that Frank helped us keep our souls intact when it seemed for all the world as if they would break apart at the seams.

Back in the day - at least for a couple of years or so - an annual contest was held at Rascal's Comedy Club in West Orange to find New Jersey's Funniest Lawyer. Rumor had it that the only lawyer who had ever won the contest was Jon Bramnick, who is a very funny fellow - not to mention a fine legislator and lawyer. One year (I think it was 1996 but it could have been 1995) I decided that Frank should enter the competition but that if I left him to his own design he never would. As luck would have it, I ended up with a case in which Jon represented the adversary. When the case was over, I told Jon that Frank had been talking around the office about entering the contest in order to dethrone him. Of course, Frank had said no such thing. But when Jon called him later that day to tell him that he after hearing his big talk he looked forward to seeing him at Rascal's, Frank decided to participate.

The night of the contest everyone in our little firm went to Rascal's to watch Frank in action. He did not win. Jon Bramnick did (Hell, he brought about 4 times as many fans as Frank had and the winner was determined by audience applause). Frank finished in second place. And he killed. Watching him on stage, telling jokes, bantering with the crowd and strapping on his acoustic guitar to sing a few song parodies he had written for the evening, it was obvious that he was spending twenty minutes doing something that he was thrilled to be doing. He appeared to be wholly within his element.

Yesterday my pal Lonnie and I were talking about Frank's night in the white hot spotlight. Lonnie is a fellow survivor of 705 Park Avenue. She used to work with me at the Firm as well. We recalled that Frank's closing number in his act was a parody he wrote - set to the tune of "Blowing in the Wind" - in which the chorus was, "The answer of course is Kirk Rhodes and Jack Frost/The answer is Kirk Rhodes and Jack Frost", wrapped around verses telling good-natured tales about our leaders' greatest legal adventures. It brought down the house. I cannot recall whether Kirk or Jack laughed harder but both of them ended up with tears in their eyes by the end of the performance.

It was good to have a reason to smile and laugh while thinking about Frank. As we make our way through the world, we move any number of directions. Every place we touch down and make contact, we leave a little bit of ourselves behind when we go. Bread crumbs that mark our journey.

No matter which way the wind blows.


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