Jamaica Pond

(Pictured, Jamaica Pond)

(Editor's note: Here are some non-musical notes relating to events that took place in 1989 and 1990. My band, Rods and Cones, had recently disbanded, and I moved to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, down the street from Jamaica Pond. In a slight panic, I realized that I didn't know how to do anything, so I quit playing music and enrolled in business school at Northeastern University. It was a strange period, and the transformation did not stick. This piece was published in 1994 in the New York Press.)

Frank vanished into thin air, or something like that. I don’t know what happened to Frank, and maybe no one knows, except Frank, but he can't say, or maybe he can, who knows. This is the end of Frank, if in fact it was the end.

He owned the house, or at least it was his name on the mortgage. He kept a bedroom for himself in the back. It was an old, wooded railroad house that had been built at least 150 years earlier and had been transported from a previous foundation to the present one, and not very successfully. The house creaked and groaned during high winds. There were three of us: two tenants, Rob and myself, and Frank, who came and went.

There was something vague about Frank. He was a tall guy with sandy hair piled high on his head and a 40th birthday coming up. He had grown up in Massachusetts, spent 20 years going up and down the West Coast, then came back east to take care of his mother. Along the way, he worked at a flower farm in Maine that went broke. In Cambridge, he had been a disciple of a folk-rock star who had a sideline as a guru. He lived in a Zen commune of some kind, but walked out. He was a groundskeeper at a golf course. He wound up working at a fish-packing plant in Alaska. I could never put the whole chronology together. I'd catch bits of the story, then Frank would disappear for weeks at a time.

Frank had installed a hot tub in the backyard that he had brought with him in pieces from California. Before I moved in, the story was that Frank decided he would have the only wood-fired hot tub in Boston. Rob, the other tenant, was walking home when he saw a plume of black smoke rising behind the house. He ran toward the house as the wailing fire engines arrived on the scene. They all ran to the backyard, where they found Frank and two women in the tub, naked, Frank with a joint in his mouth saying, "Is anything wrong, gentlemen?"

He had his share of problems, Frank. His mother was sickly, and she phoned the house every day when she couldn't find him. He had a tough family history, father a suicide, brother a suicide, he and his sister both fragile types. Frank was taking antidepressants and washing them down with cans of beer. Sometimes he was a sweet guy, sometimes a prick. Then he'd be off to his mother's house, and our rent checks would pile up behind the sink.

You'd forget all about him, then you'd look out the back window and see Frank hoeing the garden or trimming the hedge. I saw him that way once, and he was about to leave without saying hello. He seemed in good form. He said he was reading the New Testament from an unbeliever's point of view and enjoying it immensely. He said, "Christ has the one-liners."

He said a friend of his had dragged him to a religious meeting hosted by a former jewel thief, the legendary Murph the Surf, who was now promoting salvation through Jesus. Frank said he went as a kind of joke, and said that all Murph the Surf was promoting was his new book, so he walked out. He said Murph the Surf was still a lousy crook.

Rob and I used to play acoustic guitars in the house, and we howled and hollered our way through the Dylan songbook. We worked up a version of "Dear Landlord," and we made Frank sit still for it. Frank had a few cans of beer in him, and in a strange gesture, he fell to his knees and raised his arms in the "salaam" attitude.

After that, Frank's mother had a relapse, and he disappeared. Before he left, he dismantled the hot tub and gave it to a friend. He was turning bitter again, and we weren't too sorry to see him go. The rent checks piled up behind the sink. Rob and I could both imitate Frank's low, yawning voice, so we talked that way to each other all the time.

One Saturday, I was on my way out to the beach with a girlfriend when I heard hammering at the back of the house. Plaster dust was flying everywhere, and in the middle of a white cloud was Frank with a claw hammer in his hand, a bland smile on his face. He was tearing his bedroom apart, pulling out the drywall, and he seemed to be in good spirits, drinking fake beer. He was going to rebuild the two upstairs rooms in the back and catch up on all his projects around the house. He had big plans for the summer. I handed him a rent check, then left for the beach.

Two nights later, we got a phone call from his sister. She said, "You better sit down, I have some bad news. Frank died the other night."

The story was that Frank had swallowed his mother's medication and died in his sleep. The sister assured us that it was an accident, that Frank would never do such a thing on purpose, and that he had promised his mother he wouldn't. The memorial service would be later in the week, after the autopsy was complete. He was a few days shy of his 40th birthday.

This did not sink in. Frank's stuff was all over the house, and he was always coming and going. It felt strange, this news, incomplete. There wasn't much to go on, not enough to feel sad about. This sense of incompleteness continued through the memorial service, where Frank's body was absent.

The Unitarian minister conducted the service in an open-minded, generic, utilitarian manner. This was not a funeral, it was an official acknowledgment. He described Frank as "slow of body, quick of mind," and he invited members of the gathering to stand up and bear witness to Frank.

One earnest-looking guy stood up and said he had taken Frank to a religious meeting and that a change had come over Frank that night. He said he was sure that Frank had found Jesus before the end.

That was a hot one. Frank's mother was not there. This was the last straw for her, and in fact, she didn't last too long afterward. We asked the sister as tactfully as we could what had happened to Frank, if he had been cremated, or whatever. She said the autopsy was still in progress, but they were absolutely sure it was an accident.

My canceled checks arrived in the mail, and I saw that Frank deposited my rent check on the last day of his life. There was his signature, in ballpoint pen. In the fridge were cans of that weird non-alcoholic beer that he had been drinking.

Rob and I had much speculation over what Frank had done. We discussed it with the next-door neighbors, who had known him longer than we did. Our opinions swung to extreme. Our neighbors said, "I can hear Frank's voice saying it was an accident, that he didn't mean to do it." But it seemed at least possible that he meant to do it, maybe on the spur of the moment.

Frank's sister took over the mortgage and made preparations to sell the house, so Rob and I had to move out. For weeks and weeks she held to the line that the autopsy results still weren't in, but everyone was sure that Frank had just made a simple, tragic mistake.

We never did find out. For a while, Rob and I joked that Frank was probably tending bar in some remote part of Brazil. But most likely, he was just one of those people who have to go, and there's nothing you can do to make them stay.

Leave a comment:


Audio Playlist

Latest Release: "Pale Afternoon"

 The latest release  from Jim  Duffy is "Pale Afternoon," a  collection of 11  moody and bouncy  instrumental pop tunes. Buy CDs here.

Music Available

You can find Jim Duffy's music on CD Baby.

And on iTunes.

And on SoundCloud.

And on Spotify.

And on Amazon.

Some music tracks are now available on YouTube, both here and on the 3dotsmusic channel.

And on the music page of this blog. 

For music licensing inquiries - usage for videos, webcasts, podcasts, corporate uses, films and commercials - please go here or here.

Mailing List

To sign up for very occasional emails and updates, please go here.