Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Frank Clark liked to “scarfrimbly"—not a real word, of course, but Frank used it all the time. I could hardly write a word when I first met Frank. In fact, even writing a letter was difficult. It took weeks, and several drafts, before a letter I wrote found a stamp. Thus, I've thought about Frank's words a lot.

The root used above, scarf,” for example, is a transitive verb.  It takes a direst object: food. "Scarf,” by itself, is a noun.  A scarf is worn around the neck or on the head.

A trivial detail for sure.  Still, when my friend continually used his word, “scarfrimbly,” I could not figure it out.

Clark was a student at Cal State Chico in 1976.  I heard him long before meeting him.  He had a raspy, hiss-like voice that accompanied his speech; it could be heard wherever he was in conversation, and when you heard it—once you knew Frank—you knew he had corralled another listener.

A native of Californian, Frank lived in the Colony Inn.  I had moved there from Iowa, and together we forged a friendship.

Because Frank talked so much, it got annoying sometimes (and his endless words too), but he made friends easily, and one night three of us crowded into his Volkswagen Rabbit for Mexican food in Hamilton City.  It was fun to get out of Chico.  Along the way the palm trees on Mill Ranch Road, just off state Route 32, stood tall and stately in the scorching heat.  But Frank wouldn’t look.  He just talked and talked, and then Mill Ranch Road was gone.

Thinking about the words “scarf” and “nimbly," there’s scarfrimbly.  Of course, Frank used an “r” instead of the letter “n” to make up the word, which, of course, means to eat quickly, or perhaps: "I'm hungry, and I want to scarf down some good food now!"

Oddly, I thought about this when my air conditioner broke down one day (there was no air conditioning in Frank's crowded car that night).  I remembered the car, crammed full of an eclectic group of young adults: the angry dude from Missouri, "Storming Norman," the preppy 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, or graduate school.

I was 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 did not take the hint.

On this journey I decided to use some of my own made-up words. I had been thinking about this for a while, 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 decided to speak "Cliff," and I blurted out my own word, "bandanerif."

Yes, it happened in the summer of 1976, on an outing of Cal State Chico students (and Richard, the fry cook), and surprisingly, actually sparked a comment from Frank to a would-be “protégé.”

It was an interesting exchange (in a "Going Chico" kind of way).

Frank, of course, had been talking about stuff—probably about the “stupidents” at Cal State Chico, and how they 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 the countless stupidents on the Cal State Chico campus by making fun in a small valley town’s air-conditioned restaurant. 

Of course, all I knew was that I was hot and crammed into a small car, sitting next to Richard grumbling about a hot grill.  I was never sure if I even liked the restaurant (couldn’t we go somewhere else?).  And so, I said: 

“Bandannerif,” Frank.  “Bandannerif!”

The question that comes to mind, of course, "Who cares?"  But understanding Frank was my mission. What a dunce.  “Scarf” is like a bandanna only if it's used as a noun, and not as a transitive verb.

Why couldn't I learn this?

Thinking back, I can’t remember how long it took Frank to answer (not long), but my moment in the sun, so to speak, soon ended when I heard a chortle:

“Oh no, son,” he said in his special inflection, a cross between a hiss and disbelief. “Oh no.”

Of course, Frank never did explain the error, but heading into the restaurant Frank didn't hesitate:

“Scarfrimbly time," he said.

It has been over forty years now, and Frank has passed away.  A mutual friend 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 hung out to see if I would show up.  It was the only day of class I missed due to illness, and my classmates finally had to ask Frank to leave.  The work we did there was very personal.

I am not sure when I finally figured out how good a friend Frank Clark had been, or why my declaration fell so short that evening.  But I've never forgotten: The night a budding young writer spoke to a sapient student, and the day he reached back in friendship.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the folks at American Towns; and Andy Tomaselli, who took the beautiful photo on Mill Ranch Road.

In Memory of Frank Clark


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