This story first appeared in the March 2010 issue of Litterbox Magazine.

The change came out of nowhere. It wasn’t gradual or something that took a long time to notice, it was sudden and obvious. But it changed everything.

I miss Frankie Corso, I really do. I miss him a lot. Frankie and I were really close although I’m not sure why. We weren’t that much alike. I guess mostly it was the fact that we shared a similar sense of humor, “warped” like Frankie used to say.

Frankie was a few years younger, but in our teens we hit it off for some reason. Out of all the guys in the group, Frankie and I were the closest. He was good with the girls too, much better than me. He had a charm about him that went along with his good looks; big brown eyes, wavy hair, thin build, and a way of looking at you that couldn’t help but catch your attention.

He and I were in a restaurant once and were being served by a pretty waitress, prime Frankie material.

“I’m sorry,” he said while she was waiting to take our order, “what’s your name, I can’t make out that name tag.”

“It’s Kirsten,” she said leaning over and pushing out her chest so he could see the tag.

“Oh, that’s a much better view,” he said with a sly smile.

“I’ll bet it is,” she said with a similar smile.

“So Kirsten, what is this tripe on the menu?”

“Tripe? Oh, that’s cow’s stomach, a delicacy, it’s pretty good.”

“You mean people actually eat cow’s stomach? I’m shocked and appalled,” Frankie replied, widening his eyes and staring intently at her in mock surprise.

“Yeah, it’s quite popular here, want to try it?”

“Ugh,” he said, “I don’t think so, got any good parts from a bull?”

“No,” she said laughing, “bulls don’t have any good parts.”

“Touché,” he said laughing.

It went on like that, and sure enough by the end of the meal he got her phone number.

That’s the way it was with Frankie, always a good time, always a laugh. After awhile with one word, or even a glance at each other, we could break each other up. Sometimes it was making fun of someone, not to their face; we weren’t mean, but just to each other. That could get us going on a roll. Other times it was throwing in comments in the middle of someone’s story, or conversation. In fact, we were often accused of never being able to have a serious conversation. Not true, but I have to admit, it was pretty hard to be serious when we were together. I miss Frankie Corso, I miss him a lot.

I remember one time we were in his car, a Volkswagen Beetle, souped up with dual exhausts that emitted an ear deafening sound (he even installed a gas pedal that was shaped like a foot, toes and all), driving up one of the main drags, when I thought of an old joke I wasn’t sure he heard. We weren’t really into standard jokes, we preferred ad lib type humor, but sometimes we’d share a joke. Anyway, I said “Hey Frankie, there was this girl walking with a dog on a leash, guy walks up and says ‘Where did you get that ugly pig?’ The girl says ‘That’s not a pig it’s a dog.’ The guy says ‘I was talking to the dog!’” Well, Frankie liked it; he laughed and shook his head like he always did when something funny struck him. We came to a stoplight, and on the corner was a girl with a dog on a leash. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist, and sure enough he rolls down his window and yells out, “Where did you get that ugly pig?” The girl said something back, not sure what since we couldn’t hear her over the roar of the exhausts, but it really didn’t matter, since Frankie was going to answer the same anyway, “I was talking to the dog!” The light changed, and he went roaring off, as I slid down in the passenger seat as far as I could, both of us laughing the whole time. I miss Frankie Corso, I miss him a lot.

Despite his flirtatious nature he did settle down with one girl, Betty. Not that he stopped flirting, that was just his nature, and even Betty enjoyed the “show” once he got started. She was secure enough in their relationship that she wasn’t threatened by his banter with other girls. They were great together and they were a fun couple to be with.

When the three of us saw The Godfather, we were discussing our favorite parts of the movie afterward when Frankie said;

“Hey Betty you know that horse’s head the guy found in his bed?”

“Yeah?” she said warily.

“Well the next day that horse actually ran in a race.”

“He did?” she said playing along.

“Yeah, but he lost by a head.”

I just rolled my eyes as Frankie giggled shaking his head in that way of his. It really struck Betty though, and she reacted as though it was the funniest thing she ever heard. She started laughing uncontrollably, tears running down her cheeks. It wasn’t long before Frankie and I were laughing too, at her reaction. Little did I know it would be one of the last hardy laughs we would share together.

I’m still not sure I understand what caused the change, but it started in his early 20’s. It came out of the blue. One day I said to him, “Frankie, what do you want to do tonight?” and he said, “I do not know.”

“Well how about a movie?”

“I do not care, that sounds fine to me.”

“What do you want to see?”

“Actually I am not sure I want to go to a movie, why do not we just go to Jim’s house and play cards. He said something about that yesterday.”

Well that was enough for me to hear, why was he talking that way? I let it go though, figuring he was just trying to be funny.

Anyway, we hooked up at Jim’s for cards; there were five of us playing poker, having some beers and snacks. As the evening progressed, we all started to notice Frankie’s unique way of speaking. It was “I do not have anything so I will fold”, or “I am out”, or “I do not need a hit”, on and on. Finally Jack, who was the boldest of the group, said “Hey Frankie, what’s with you tonight?”

Frankie looked a little surprised and said, “I do not know what you mean.”

“I mean what is it with all this ‘do not’, ‘I am’ stuff, what are you trying to prove, is this some sort of joke or something, ‘cause I gotta tell ya, its getting annoying.”

Looking back on it now, I realize that Frankie’s response signaled the change. He said, “I do not like contractions, and I shall not use them ever again, either in writing or in speech.”

Jack said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

I just smirked, figuring it was one of Frankie’s stunts to get a laugh. However, he said in a straight face, “Contractions are a sign of laziness, and pollute the language. I do not like them, and I shall not use them ever again. If you do not like it, too bad.” I could tell from the way he said it, and the look on his face, this was no joke.

It wasn’t long after that the nickname stuck, and Frankie Corso became Frankie Do-Nots.  I miss Frankie Corso, I miss him a lot. It’s not easy to not use contractions, especially in speech. In his efforts to avoid them, it became necessary for him to speak a little slower so he could think about how he would phrase something without using one. As a result, Frankie’s “gift of gab” suffered. No longer could he easily engage in a conversation with a total stranger and have them eating out of the palm of his hand. More often then not, they would just look at him as if he were an alien.

It didn’t set too well with Betty either. By this time they had been living together for a few years. At first Betty tried to humor Frankie, and see him through this “affliction.” However, about six months into the “change,” with no sign of letting up, she began talking about moving out. She pleaded with him to give it up, but all he would say was “I can not” or “I will not.” He did love her though, and when it became clear that she had enough, he begged her to stay. “I am the same Frankie, why can not you see that” he pleaded. “I have not changed; it is still me, the same values, same love for life, same personality, why should my conviction come between us? Please stay with me, you will see, things will still be the same.”

“No Frankie” she replied, “I can’t take it any more. We’re going in different directions. You have changed whether you’ll admit it or not. You’re not the same, and neither am I. I need to grow and experience things and I don’t think I can do that with you. This “thing” is holding you back.”

He did everything, tried to be funny, tried to be charming, showered her with gifts, but nothing worked. In the end, he was helpless to undue the “change”, and that was what drove her away. It was a sad day for us all because they made any get together a good time.

Especially after the break up with Betty, the change really deteriorated. Over the years Frankie continued his anti-contraction ways, and communicating with him just became more and more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked him, no make that loved him, but things were never the same.

One night a bunch of the gang got together at the neighborhood bar, our previous favorite hangout, for old time’s sake. A new female bartender was on duty, slightly older than us, but attractive nonetheless.

“What’ll you guys have?” she said as we took our seats at the bar.

“What do you recommend?” Frankie said, flashing his patented smile.

“Well handsome, we have over thirty kinds of imported beer as well as all the usual domestic brands.”

“And what if I do not feel like a beer,” he replied.

She did a bit of a double take as a few of the guys rolled their eyes at each other. “Uh…well I can mix any drink you can think of if you’d like.”

“Why not surprise me,” he said.

“No can do,” she replied, “I have a rule against that, too many disappointed customers.”

“Cannot you break the rule for me?” he pleaded, widening his eyes.

“Look,” she said, “I have other customers waiting; just tell me what you’d like.”

“Okay,” he said knowing rejection when it came, “I will have a gin and tonic.”

The rest of the evening was similar, every girl he tried to flirt with quickly moved on. The guys regaled each other with stories of past experiences, and Frankie tried to join in, but it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t long before excuses to leave started, and just he and I were left sitting at the bar nursing our drinks.

“Frankie,” I said to him finally, “I love you like a brother, but you gotta give this up.” It was the first time I brought up the subject with him. Up to then I felt he needed someone he could depend on no matter what, and I wanted to be that person. But I just felt it was time.

“You do not understand,” he snapped. My expression must have startled him because he quickly backed off. “Sorry,” he said softly. “Shit, I am not sure I understand myself half the time. All I know is that I cannot do anything about this, it is part of me now.”

I took in his sad expression, his slumped shoulders, and all I could think to do was pat him on the shoulder while I signaled the bartender for fresh drinks.

We saw less and less of each other after that. He became more and more reclusive as friends continued to make fun of his speech patterns, and strangers gave him funny looks. It wasn’t long before he moved back in with his parents, as it was difficult for him to hold down a decent job. Face it, most jobs deal with some kind of communication, and who wants someone to deal with people that would elicit the reaction Frankie drew not long into a conversation. About the only jobs he could do involved some basic data entry functions, sitting in front of a computer, not conversing or free forming any text. Even then, there were times when his anti-contraction affliction would become a problem, and he’d move from job to job.

As the years went on I’d visit him once in awhile, and bring up some old incident, or funny experience we enjoyed, and sometimes I’d see that old spark in his eyes, and he’d shake his head and laugh like the old days. Just like Frankie Corso. But as soon as he’d try to reminisce himself, with his need to concentrate on not using contractions, he’d lapse into the new Frankie Do-Nots, and the humor would leave him.

I often wonder how our lives would have been if this hadn’t befallen Frankie. We would have vacationed together, enjoying each other’s company in experiencing new things and places. Our kids would have grown up together, two families as close as can be, sharing holidays, birthdays, or just getting together for the fun of it. It would have been a lifetime friendship I’m sure, with many happy memories, and well into our old age. But it wasn’t to be.

The last time I saw Frankie he would hardly talk at all. It was sad to see. I was convinced he didn’t want to be this way, but he could control it no more than someone with alcoholism, or even cancer, could control what was happening to them. I tried to engage him in conversation, but it was all one sided. I think it will be this way with Frankie always. I don’t know why it happened, or how, but I have no doubt I’ll never see the old Frankie Corso again. I miss Frankie Corso, I miss him a lot.

The End

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