Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The "Scarfrimblies"
Going Chico With Frank Clark Again

Frank Clark liked to scarfrimbly. A real word, right?  (Well, maybe not.)  But Frank used it all the time, and so every time I think about my friend I remember.  I remember "scarf" is a transitive verb, and I remember when I finally looked it  up.  And although it is something I hesitate to admit (since I write), it took a long time to figure out that in the sentence: “The man scarfed his food,” scarf is called a transitive verb, and must take a direst object, i.e., food. Thus a person can’t just "scarf," because it's a noun. That is, it becomes something worn around the neck or head.

A true linguist could probably explore the ins and outs of scarf forever.  Thus, when my friend continually used his word, “scarfrimbly,” I did not get it.  I do not know why.

Frank was a fellow student at Cal State Chico in 1976, and although I mostly remember he liked to talk a lot, he was a good friend. I had moved from Iowa and Frank, a Californian, lived in the Colony Inn where I did.  He also liked to make up words.

Because Frank talked so much, it sometimes became annoying (his impossible, endless words), and especially the night four of us crowded into Frank's Volkswagen Rabbit for Mexican food.  Yes, it was fun to get out of Chico, and along the way the palm trees on Mill Ranch Road stood tall and stately in the valley heat.  But Frank talked and talked, and then Mill Ranch Road was gone.

If you think about the words “scarf” and “nimbly," Frank used an “r” instead of the letter “n” to make up his word, “scarfrimbly...."  Which means, of course, to eat quickly, or perhaps, "I'm hungry, and I want to scarf down some good food tonight."

Oddly, I thought about this the other day when my air conditioner broke (there was no air conditioning in Frank's crowded car that night), and remembered a weird book Frank said I should read, its title still scribbled on a piece of paper buried in piles of books and papers somewhere--the topography of something or the other--and then I remembered his little car, crammed full of an eclectic group of teenagers: the angry dude from Missouri, "Storming Norman," as Frank liked to call him, the preppy-like Frank Clark from Amador County, me and a fry cook, Richard, talking on and on, between Frank’s babbling anyway, about cooking McDonald’s hamburgers--the only one in our group not going to college.

I remember always being puzzled by Frank’s words, and found them confusing sometimes. So on this journey I spoke up and said: “Frank, you should put together a dictionary of your language.”

But, of course, he never did. And worse than that, he never took the hint.

But on this journey I also spoke up and used my own made-up word. I had been thinking about it, and had created several words of my own. Listening to Frank’s endless “scarfrimbly” chatter (like many of the other words of his communications) I had finally decided to speak "Cliff Talk," and I blurted out my own word, "bandanerif."

It happened during the summer of 1976, on an outing of Cal State Chico students, and a fry cook, and surprisingly, sparked a comment from Frank to his would-be “protégé.”

It was interesting (in a nerd "Going Chico" kind of way). I remember Frank was talking about stuff, most likely about how all the “stupidents” back at Cal State Chico were “blorches” (loosely translated, dummies and drunks), and how satisfying the scarfrimblies would be in Hamilton City. There was no doubt, according to Frank, that the journey would solve all the problems of stupidents on campus by making fun in a small valley town.  But all I knew was I was hot and crammed into a small car, sitting next to Richard grumbling about a grill.  I didn't even like the restaurant we were going to that much.  And so, I said: 

“Bandanerif, Frank.  "Bandanerif!”

Now if you are still with me, you know scarf is like a bandana only if it's used as a noun, and not a transitive verb.

I can’t remember how long Frank paused, but my moment soon ended when I heard a chortle challenging me.

“Oh no, son,” he said as we pulled into the parking lot. “Oh no.”


Of course, Frank never did explain the error (maybe he couldn't), but who knows.  There was a "rift" of sorts that evening, but heading into the restaurant Frank didn't hesitate.

 “Scarfrimbly time," he said.

It has been over thirty years now, and Frank has passed away.  A mutual friend, Norman Ray, said he died from a brain tumor.  A few years after Hamilton City, when I was studying at Sonoma State University, Frank came to a class I was taking and wanted to stay to see if I might show up.  It was the only day of class I missed that semester, and my friends told me they finally had to ask Frank to leave.  It was an advanced group in psychology, and the work was very personal.

It makes me sad.  I am not sure when I finally figured out how good a friend Frank Clark had been to me, or why my declaration fell short that evening in 1976.  But I've never forgotten it: The night I tried to reach Frank, and the day he tried to reach back.

Editor’s Note: A thank you to the folks at  American Towns, and Andy Tomaselli, who took the beautiful photo on Mill Ranch Road — and Frank, for being a good friend.


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