Monday, March 12, 2012

For Scott

At the Smithsonian, May 1983 (l-r): Ryan, Mike O'Hara, Scott Frailey.

On March 11, 2012, my friend Scott Frailey died after a four-year bout with melanoma. He had turned 40 last month.

I loved Scott Frailey. He understood the inherent supremacy of left-handers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and milk.

This might yield some clues into his character. He was very particular. He had opinions. This was something of a surprise, a challenge, even, to the short, shy kid who was more often than not daydreaming in a galaxy far, far away.

Scott loved politics. From an early age, he was a card-carrying member of the Republican party, an ardent fan of Ronald Reagan's. I have no idea of his adult political views, but I love this. I was Republican by default, because I was a friend of Scott's. It just seemed like a reasonable idea. Scott was quiet but persuasive. Stealth. More on that later.

Scott and I often teamed up in school and extra-curricular courses. In seventh-grade life science, with Mr. Johnson, we shared a table. Scott immediately drew a line down its middle. You can imagine the border disputes that ensued. I think even then, at 12, Scott had a sense of the righteous, and of winning. And if winning meant bestowing on me a godawful nickname, something sublimely embarrassing, like - just for example - "Rupert Rasmussmelon," then, by golly, that's what he would do.

For a few years in junior high, we took Saturday-morning courses at Franklin & Marshall. Creative writing, mostly. And for a couple summers we went to smarty-pants camp at Millersville University - we studied the Revolutionary War, the Teutonic Knights, more creative writing, and biology, where one of us developed an irrational fear of contaminated stream water. We were also cited on at least a couple of occasions for being disruptive in class. This was mortifying to at least one of us - again, I really shouldn't  say whom - but now I'm thinking we should have gotten into more trouble. (I should like to point out, however, that Scott was appropriately taciturn in reporting our endeavors to his mother, when it was her turn to carpool. When she would ply me for intel, I always caved.)

Still, our time was not altogether unproductive. Together we created a vast story world, an epic war across the stars between the evil Sardinians (no relation to the fine people from the Italian island) and the noble Quatnerds. Ours was a narrative told almost exclusively in pencil drawings. We would often draw together on the same sheet of paper, each of us starting on our respective sides (again, with the fierce territoriality) and joining the massive subterranean chambers, their stalactites and stalagmites, in the middle of the page. In our world, the hammer-headed Sardinians gave no quarter to the triangular, rocket-footed people who mined for Quaternium-19. And, yes, in case you're wondering, that's exactly where your shampoo gets that indispensable ingredient. I can't be sure, but I imagine that was Scott's discovery. As you can tell, in this arena, we rocked.

With girls, we rocked to a lesser degree. Scott won't mind if we skip over that chapter.

We played a lot of football in those days. (Also, Dungeons & Dragons, but, again . . .) I played quarterback a fair bit - insisted on it, as young Napoleons do - and Scott probably picked off more of my passes than anyone else. And if you were playing receiver, woe betide you; for Scott had a knack - there is no way to say it but "uncanny" - for getting The Angle on you and getting that interception. He was the Ron Woodson of our Hamilton Park posse.

We'll Be Loyal.

Physically, he was unremarkable, you might even say gangly. But his speed was deceptive, his will of iron. He was one of the most competitive guys I've ever known. Of course, his mother - bless her soul - insisted on his wearing play clothes. And play clothes meant high waters and dark socks. None of us suspected then, but this may have been Scott's strategy to make us underestimate him on the field. Scott was stealth before there was stealth.

Several years after we graduated from university, Scott called me up, invited me over for lunch. He was newly married and he wanted to catch up. We did, and it was like no time had passed. The chicken chili was really good, too. When I had drifted away from our circle of friends, Scott remained my connection. I think in terms of temperament, of all my friends, his was most like mine.

He wasn't perfect. He didn't break out the Electronic Football every time I bugged him to. And if it were possible, his Star Wars figures were even more pristine and less played with than mine. No one had a See-Threepio with tighter shoulders.

What I'm getting to, what I know that all of you already know, is that Scott Frailey was a remarkable guy. Others will be able to tell the stories of his university days, of his professional life, of his time with his family. But I will always be grateful to have been there from the beginning, and I saw right from the start: he was really, really awesome.

And left-handed.

I loved Scott Frailey. He was my friend.

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