About seventy pages in, there’s a description of Franklin – eldest son of Felix Hoenikker – that describes the last time anyone had seen him. In the middle of his father’s funeral service, Franklin had walked off and tried to hitchhike a ride, anywhere, away from his current life. The part reads as follows:
The old man wasn’t even underground yet, and out through that gate came Frank. He raised a thumb at the first car that came by. It was a Pontiac with a Florida license plate. It stopped. Frank got in it, and that was the last anybody in Ilium ever saw of him.
The next few sentences add a little to Frank’s development as well:
“I hear he’s wanted by the police”.
“That was an accident, a freak. Frank wasn’t any criminal. He didn’t have that kind of nerve”.
Reading this part conjured up memories of Eric, one of the two cousins on my father’s side. I had met him maybe only three times in my life, and the memories of those encounters produce one definitive descriptor: adult coolness suspended in a youthful form. A la James Dean, Cool Hand Luke, the Outsiders, Johnny Ramone, Brando, Neil Cassidy, Hesse’s Demian, Lou Reed, etc. The first time we met, I was very young, maybe 5 and he maybe 10, so the clarity of that memory is a little off. Still, I remember him as something mysterious. In certain ways I remember him similar to me, but with better control over vocabulary, bigger, tougher, and quicker to interact with adults who, other than my parents, I was still wary of. In my mind I remember him having dark hair, tanned skin, a Ashkenazic face, but something there also a little more conspiring and plotting, like a dark Fonz. I also vaguely remember him having cool things in his room, like maybe a knife and a lighter. Myself, I was still enamored of my Legos, but this person had stuff that I had only seen in the vast universe of TV. I also remember the contrast between my suburban, upstate New York world view and his city, Bronx/New York City skew. I was still young, and my capacity to both form and contextualize memories was pretty inefficient, which only added to the mystique of my cousin Eric. His older sister, Jill, was there as I remember it, but as a boy of 5 years, it is the older male that you gravitate to.
The second time I remember meeting him, I was several years older, maybe 12 or 13. The visit to my father’s brother’s was brief and mostly cordial. My father and his brother had an ancient falling out, and our two families had very little contact with each other. This particular time I remember my father and his brother talking in the living room, while I hung out with Eric in his room. He must have been 17 or 18 at this time, and per the news I received earlier that day from my father, he had started to become “difficult for my uncle to handle”. Hearing this I had envisioned Eric as a city-hardened punk teenager, knowledgeable in the many vices of the late Eighties in New York City, something like the Beastie Boys. While this may have been partially true of him, as in anyone else, this was really only one part of a vibrant, wild individual. Hanging out with him that day, he was kind, funny, big-brotherly (or cousinly) to me, interesting, and now that I was a little older, I noticed the subtle physical similarities between him and me, and him and my father, even him and my brother; in other words I could now see that some of the same things that I was made of, were in him as well. Having been my parent’s first child, I was intrigued by this older, similar person. As the day came to an end, he gave me two things to take back upstate: a pipe for smoking weed, and a vintage vhs porn video called the Green Dildo. I stashed them at the bottom of my backpack and with the stoicism of a growing no-good-nik, walked out of the apartment with my family, and my contraband.