I met Friendly Franky today. Unlit cigarette at his side, between his right thumb and forefinger, I saw him through the front window walking calmly toward our front porch like he had come to sell meat or kill me. We live in a rural area of Texas on two acres, so we do not have many unexpected visitors. I went outside quickly to see what he wanted before he made it to the front door, and he introduced himself.
He asked for my dad, but he was not home at the time. Franky (or his stage name, Friendly Franky) said that a while back my dad promised to endorse him for a website that sponsors hospital volunteers who play music for terminally ill children. My dad has only met him once, and he has no idea what Franky is talking about. Guitar was his instrument, and he had played at nearly every hospital from Kaufman to Greenville. He was wearing a tight yellow T-shirt with two squirrels fighting on the front, and below he had on tight work jeans and steel-toed boots. Average heighth. Soiled is one of the best words for him. Dull, long-sitting grease had stained his hands and cheeks and the yellow shirt was slightly less bright than it should have been.
We were having an odd conversation about his work when, ten feet behind the man’s head, a bird swooped under the porch roof and knocked against my bedroom window at full speed. It immediately dropped into a limp ball on the deck, its feathers floating down soon after. Of all the strange encounters I had with this man today, what followed may be the strangest part. After the bird smacked against the window, I was trying to absorb what had just happened, but Franky, whose back was turned to the scene, spun around and, I swear, did not hesitate for one millisecond before rushing to the bird and cradling it in his hands. By the time I realized a bird had just flown into my window, Franky was already on the way back petting the bird’s broken neck and cooing the poor thing. His response was so seamless it was like he and the bird were in cahoots. One of the most bizarre things I’ve ever witnessed.
He used his cigarette to point out how the neck was broken, and kept talking to me about how he was trying to get on volunteering at Baylor Medical and had gotten 15 of the 17 (of all numbers!) endorsements required to open up a profile on this sponsoring website. I was enthralled so I kept talking and asking him questions, but eventually Franky interrupted me with a nod and said that he had to get the sparrow back to his house so he could treat him. I said bye, and I thought that was that.
Twenty minutes later I see Franky, who I now know is my neighbor, strolling toward the porch again, unused cigarette still in hand. I met him just as before. He pointed toward a bird’s nest near my bedroom window and asked if, when I had the time, I could check the nest for eggs because the mother had not made it and he would like to take care of the babies if there were any. He would incubuate them, he said. “I have three boys and two girls, and five grandchildren. I have dogs and cats and mice. I take care of things. That’s the kind of guy I am.” I agreed to check the nest for eggs. I would have agreed to become his disciple.
I wasn’t prepared for what he said next. “Yeah, the momma didn’t make it.” He held his fingers up and listed them off, “I gave her mouth to mouth. I tried to re-set her neck. I gave her a 12-volt shock. But she didn’t come through.” The second he said he gave the sparrow with the broken neck mouth to mouth I started laughing and it took everything in me to suppress it into smile. The image of him leaned over a small bird and trying to shock it back to life with twelve volts was too much though. I had to turn away from him and bite my lip so my eyes would stop watering. I believe I was snorting. Anyway, I was able to control myself and he told me that he had buried the sparrow. Also, what’s more, I was the one facing the window that the bird hit. At the time I was 100% sure it flew straight into the window, but he informed me that no, the bird had flown straight into the paper-thin tin roof of the porch and busted its neck. I swore that it hit the window, but he said that he was a hunter and he had eyes in the back of his head and no doubt about it the sparrow had not hit the window. I’ve never seen someone with less doubt or hesitation.
He must have known I thought he was crazy because he assured me that he wasn’t after money or anything like that. He also said I should come by and have a beer sometime. “I cuss a lot,” he warned me, “but I’m a good guy. I go to church every Sunday.” Those were his last words on his second trip to the house, but there were still two more trips to come.
The third time I was outside on the phone relating this insane story to the co-administrator of Delphic Niceness when Franky pulled up in his loud truck and started talking to my mom on the porch. When I realized he was back, I rushed back up to the porch so I wouldn’t miss anything. My mom was asking him about the hospital volunteer program because he had never made it clear, and we still do not know, what it entails to endorse him. He kept saying that he would need to come by and do a five-minute performance for my dad, but what is supposed to happen afterward we are at a loss to say.
After my mom kept pressing him for information about this program, he walked up to me, within one foot, and said, “Let’s pretend you’re dying. You’re a kid with cancer. What do you say to me?” He waited and I asked, “Do you mean like a song?” “No”, he said, “just what would you say to me if you were dying?” I had no idea what he was getting at, but I indulged him. “Play me a song,” I said in a half-question. Franky acknowledged my answer, took two steps back, and then, with no signal, began singing a wonderful, impromptu song. I don’t remember most of it, but it started, “Plaaay me a sooong! Plaaaay me a sooong! One for my bother and my sister and my father, play me a soooonnggg!” He’s dancing around and clapping and smiling and me and my mother are speechless.
After about a minute of coming up with new lyrics, he started to lower his voice and edge toward the steps of porch toward his truck. Right before he took his first step, he finished, “Play me a…”, and then pointed toward me, and I finished the song for him. “You got it”, he smiled and then turned and walked toward his truck without saying anything else. OK. That was trip number 3.
Trip 4 came twenty minutes later after my dad was back home. Franky pulled up in his black truck and I cut him off before he got to the door just like every other time. I was sure that he was back because he had seen my dad pull in, but instead he wanted to know my last name. He liked “Sing me a song”. He was going to write a song around those words and he wanted to dedicate it to me. I told him my last name, he spelled it out to make sure he had it right, and then he left for the last time.
We decided afterward that he must be bipolar and experiencing the mania part of the disease. That is the only way I can account for his vigor and insanity. But it was great talking to him. I think I may indeed have a beer with him once I make sure he is not a serial killer.
You hear a lot of things about everything happening for a reason, and there being a hand behind all occurences, and I don’t put much stock in that, but I can’t help but withhold the last twenty four hours from the hands of chance. I have lived at this house for twelve years and have never once seen a bird run into any of our windows. And then, twelve years in the coming, this bird swoops down and breaks its neck in a ten minute span when I am outside with a once-a-year visitor. And who but this particular visitor would have given this bird mouth to mouth or tried to shock it back to life or given it a proper burial? I have no words.