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Tucson Weekly Bill And Frank

Two Guys With Nothing In Common Except a Rhetorical Device.

By Jeff Smith

FEBRUARY 1, 1999:  IN ANTICIPATION OF last week's state of the union address I rummaged around in the night stand and found a pencil and a piece of paper, went downstairs and nuked a batch of popcorn, and brought in a bottle of Squirt from the front porch where I leave them so they'll stay cold. We professional journalists know from long experience how to be prepared for a major news event.

More significant than the Squirt, the popcorn or even the writing implements, however, I had a word in my head. Surreal. I'm not sure I'd heard anybody use it in advance of the President's speech, but under the circumstances it occurred to me that a man on trial under articles of impeachment--especially on charges founded in the fact that he'd been getting blowjobs in the Oval Office from a girl young enough to be his daughter--might appear a little awkward and out of character reporting to the Congress and the nation on the state of the union.

"State of the union? You want to know the state of the union? Hell, it's totally whacked-out."

Of course it is. The President is playing touch-pee-pee with a twenty-something Valley Girl in butt-floss chonies; the FBI and the Republican Party are spending high-priority time and cash setting him up, framing him and trying to lynch him for it; so he bombs the world's handiest villain for no discernible gain other than distraction; the stock market soars to record highs; and through it all Slick Willy Clinton is more popular than any politician in recent memory. Except with the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who hate him so much they're willing to commit political suicide to ruin him.

And in the midst of all this insanity, Willy waltzes into the Senate Chamber to address us all on matters of high seriousness--like none of this other shit ever happened.

Yes, you could make a case for surrealism.

And you'd be making a mistake. Because for one, a good reporter never goes into a story with his mind made up about what's going to happen.

And number two, Clinton carried off his state of the union address with such aplomb that there was nothing unusual, let alone surrealistic, about it. It was standard Clinton: smooth, well-modulated, skillfully delivered. He invoked heroes and heartwarming, if not heartfelt, emotion. Sammy Sosa sat next to Hillary. The widows of two murdered Capitol Hill cops sat nearby and received the applause of the congresspersons. Clinton spoke with his customary grasp of facts, stats and hot-buttons. He drew laughs and ringing applause and a new record for standing ovations. If you didn't already know the weirdness of the Washington background behind the speech, you'd have thought this man was the best speaker, the most confident politician, the most popular leader you ever saw.

If Ronald Reagan was Teflon, Bill Clinton is forbidium. Nothing touches him.

I guess that's why I don't like the man. I've got very little problem with his horniness and his fibbing about it. Hell, he was set up and bushwhacked; no man in his right mind is going to do anything but lie when asked if he's cheating on his wife. It's the law of being a guy. The Republicans say, Yeah, but he lied under oath, before a federal grand jury; and he tried to get the girl to lie too, which is obstruction of justice. To which I say, questions about whether a guy is getting something on the side don't belong before grand juries, and our tax dollars should not be pissed away by Congress and the FBI trying to frame a president for being a bad little boy.

So if you want to know what is the state of the union, it is, in a word (a word which is not surreal), ridiculous.

AND IF YOU want to know what the state of Frank Hillary is, it's stable. Frank died on the 15th, and being the good Catholic he was, I expect he'll stay that way. Frank was not a man to get above his station.

More of you knew Frank than think you did. Maybe you weren't introduced and couldn't put the name with the face, but the face, ah the face. Who could forget that waxed, curly-cued mustache, the maniacal, gold-highlighted grin, or the gleam in the man's eye? Once seen, Frank Hillary was not a sight one soon forgot.

Of course it was the tattoos that tended to catch your eye, first off.

That was what got my attention the first time Frank sidled up and asked me did I think I'd ever get the hang of that motorcycle I was riding. It was 1969, in the parking lot of The Arizona Daily Star when the papers were still downtown at 208 N. Stone, and I was working on wheelying my 250 Suzuki across the parking lot from the alley. Frank was standing next to an ancient Harley shovelhead. He had his ponytail wrapped in a bandana, pierced ear, gold teeth, a vest with a .38 Detective Special in a shoulder holster peeking from under his left arm, and tattoos--a regular mural of body art. We talked bikes until I was significantly late for work and a friendship was born.

Frank could talk your ear off on a range of subjects that would positively astound a person with the usual preconceptions about Harley shovelheads, concealed weapons, gold teeth and tattoos.

So I was not at all surprised 15 years later, after my daughter was conceived, born, grown to high-school age, to hear that her date for dinner one evening at the Solarium was Frank Hillary. He was around 61, 62 at the time. Liza met Frank through his son, Jim, who was her buddy at Safford Junior High. One night at a party somebody slipped some PCP into the brownies and Liza had a terrifying surprise. Jim took Liza to see Frank and within a minute she was bundled up in a comforting blanket, with a cup of hot coffee and reassuring conversation from Frank. The man knew the many twists and turns life's path can follow.

He used to be chief of police in South Tucson.

Frank Hillary was one of the best friends my daughter and I could ever have. I guess he was that good a friend to the whole town, to life in general and in many specifics. He was a weird, fascinating guy. Probably because he was fascinated by a broad range of weird subjects. You couldn't pigeonhole Frank Hillary.

He took on life with a combination of rigid dogma and stunning open-mindedness: Catholic right-to-lifer and hippie free-thinker; armed and dangerous, healing and caring. He'd get mad at Liza over politics and not speak for months: then he'd hear she was sick or blue and come across the alley from his hovel to hers, with hot soup and warm words.

Life came Frank Hillary's way in variety and abundance. Just last year Liza wandered through Frank's back gate, scritched his old blind wolf-dog Boo behind the ears and went into the house. There was Frank, talking some Brit photographer into catatonia while Kate Moss flounced around the bedroom for a photo shoot.

That was Frank. That was Frank's life.

It ended quickly, mercifully, with a heart attack.

Lucky man.

Lucky us.

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