Friends in Low Places (5)

Book II: Chapter 5
June 26

The next day I was sitting in my living room, trying to relax.

It wasn’t working.

I think it’s pretty damn unfair that not only am I over 2,000 years old, but worse yet, I FEEL that way too.

Can you even imagine what I have to go through?

Of course you can’t. Ha – you’re probably still in your first CENTURY of life – talk to me when you reach your first millennium – then we can compare war stories. Until then don’t even begin to think you know me.


At a time like this, the only thing that gives me solace (besides my booze) is remembering my friend Frankie.

Amuse me for a moment as I try to explain.

Frank Stoppa

Back in Book I, I told you Frankie died a few years ago.

Now let me tell you about his life – perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two…

Frank Stoppa was born here in Williamsport back in 1924 to a pair of Polish immigrants. He lived a good working man’s life – retiring from a factory job at Bethlehem Steel in 1987 after 33 years on the job.

A life spent making parts for plane engines.

After leaving the factory life, Frank served as a park ranger at The White Deer Golf Course – if only because he needed something to do. I tried to join him there for a job but quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for the whole working man thing – it was just too much of a grind.

But where Frank really came alive was when he wasn’t working — at least not at his official job. For Frank Stoppa was also known as “The Mayor” – oh not of any city or township, but instead of pretty much every bar and club in a 50 mile radius of Williamsport. On any given night Frankie could be found at one of his many hangouts (and I with him) – we were members of the VFW club, The Keystone League, The American Legion, The Sons of Italy Italian Club (although a pollock Frank was an honorary member here for ‘services rendered’ – but that’s another story), his beloved Polish Club, The Park Cafe (his son’s bar), and (my personal favorite) the Gesang Verein Harmonia Club.

Harmonia Club
The Park Cafe
VFW Club

(Hey, you want to go to a place where you can get soused? Go the Harmonia – if you’re lucky enough to get in – which by the looks of YOU probably isn’t happening – sorry).

Although I didn’t know him in his younger days, Frankie always said he was quite a hell raiser. After a rough and tumble childhood, a teenage Frankie and his buddy were at the wrong place at the wrong time when a treasured antique plane ‘mysteriously’ caught fire in town — rather than stick around to endure the heat, a then 17-year old Frank left high school and his family to join The Marines.

During World War II he was a sergeant in The Corps and spent 19 months in the South Pacific – becoming known as a Good Time Charlie wherever his wings touched down.

After surviving the Guadalcanal campaign, I remember Frank telling me about how he nearly died when a bomber plane he was on crashed in the South Pacific due to mechanical failure – I also remember him telling me that HE was the chief mechanic! (Yup, that sounds like the Frankie I know).

Ever the ladies’ man, Frankie claims he had women lined up at every port along his travels. And while the phenomenon of children of American GI’s from WWII is nothing new, I think we might know who is behind the unsolved mystery of why so many people from the Solomon Islands have ‘Polish’ features – after all Frank was stationed there for a good bit of his tour and ever dreamed of going back to the beaches there where he claimed he enjoyed the best years of his life. I wonder why? Hmm…

Frank’s Island Children?

Although he later wed a saint of a woman and remained married for over 60 years, that marriage almost didn’t happen because ol’ Frank nearly outsmarted himself on one particular occasion. If I recall the story correctly, I remember him boasting to me about a time when he was near the end of his military service and he had so many women around the world that he was ‘communicating’ with that he couldn’t keep track of them all. To save time, Frank said he used to just write the same love letter to all the girls while merely changing the name of the girl at the top, yet still signing Love, Frankie at the bottom.

There was just one problem – Frank actually had the gall to send that same letter to a pair of girls who lived back here in Williamsport and who, unbeknownst to him, had become friends while he was away at war.

Imagine the scene then when these girls were at the local beach (which in Williamsport was a hangout on the shores of the Susquehanna River) and they excitedly shared with one another a letter from their boyfriends…

But there was a bit of a problem – when comparing letters the girls realized it the same boyfriend and worse yet the same letter!

Amazingly, Frankie was still able to convince one of these girls that the letter was really meant just for her and that SHE was the only one for him. (As I said, Frank was quite charming).

Indeed, that girl was Pauline Taddeo and smitten with the Frank Stoppa Bug, she welcomed him home after WWII and the pair quickly wed.

Frank & Pauline 1944

Beyond his romantic escapades, I was also continually amazed at how Frankie cheated death — whether it be that plane crash in the South Pacific, the multiple times he rolled his car down the side of a mountain here in Williamsport (usually the result of a drunken incident), or even the fact that he had smoked and drunk well more than his fair share for nearly 70 years – I’d always considered Frankie as a cat who had nine lives (but who actually used TEN of them).

Eventually I just figured that Frankie was an immortal like me…

As usual, I was wrong.

Frankie died — just like all the rest of my friends over the centuries.

Oh, I don’t remember exactly what got him.

It could have been the heart condition, the emphysema, liver cancer, complications from deep vein thrombosis, or any of the other host of ailments that he suffered from.

I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

But what I do know — what I remember as if it was yesterday — was this one fact…

Confident of his chances in the afterlife, Frankie was not afraid to enjoy life.
He also wasn’t afraid to die.

Despite his sins (and they were many), before he passed, Frank had made his peace with God and Pauline (who’d passed away back in 2004) and he was ready to move on. When he went, it was on his own terms – like always.

His stubborn confidence in spite of the odds against him was something I will never forget. He was a good man.

Frank taught me how to enjoy life again or at least how to forget about my problem – if only for a short time — and for that I was grateful to him.

And yet, Frankie was ravaged by the effects of age – just like me. The problem is, unlike Frankie, I can’t get relief from my ailments.

I too have aches.

I too have pains.

I have a host of undiagnosed diseases that I carry with me as well. (What – you thought just because I’m immortal, I’m completely healthy? Hardly).

I have the body of a man in his eighties and I am forced to live within this decrepit husk every day of my horrible life. My friend Frank was able to pass on – yet I can’t do the same and it’s killing me from the inside out!

Do I look happy?

What’s that? How did I have the strength to pick up a 200+ pound intruder back in Book I? How does my body recover when I am injured or murdered?

Look, I don’t have time answers to those questions, right now.

All I can tell you is that Christ made me immortal shortly after his return from the grave and later my body stopped aging when I lived on Patmos and wrote Revelation.

Exile

Whenever I get injured my body eventually recovers back to the condition it was in when I was on Patmos – which is that of an 80-something year old, complete with all the problems of a man that age.

Does that sound fun to you?

My point in telling you all this is that it’s no fun to be this damn old!

I want some sympathy from YOU!

Is that too much to ask?


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6 – The Seventh Seal
Book II Table of Contents