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The Unusual Emigration of Franklin Lewitt

Do you remember the time that we all went to the beach and Franklin Lewitt rented one of those giant pontoon tricycles? It had enormous plastic wheels, red, about your height. Anyway, no one would ride out with him, into the ocean, because he’d been drinking Millers since nine that morning and he could barely stand up, let alone peddle a giant floating tricycle into the azure of the Pacific. I can’t believe they rented it to him, but the guy, the guy that ran the little rental shack on the beach, he liked the way Franklin looked. Everyone liked the way Franklin looked. He looked like your class president, your football team quarterback, your lead actor in the Stephens High School production of Oklahoma!, your friend that aspired to appear in political ads while you pissed away your adolescence under the soothing stink of shopping mall food courts. You’d buy anything he was selling when he smiled and bounced his bulletproof chestnut hair at you and that July afternoon, he sold his sobriety to the man that was renting out the giant pontoon tricycles.

We all stood at the shore and watched him with starry awe, me, you, Tony, Rachel and Anne – especially Anne. He started peddling furiously into the surf, and I was convinced that he’d never make it past the first set of breaking waves, that he’d be turned away and upside down, hopefully not knocked unconscious. But as he crested the first line, he turned back to look at us, smiling and waving and shouting bravely “I forgot the ball! Remember my packets!” which isn’t likely what he really said, but it’s what we all heard anyway. I suppose if you’re drunk and peddling off into the Pacific Ocean on a giant pontoon tricycle you should choose carefully that moment at which you shout your last words to your friends standing on the shore, lest they misunderstand you.

And then he was gone.

Franklin and I weren’t all that close, but Anne said some years later, when we met for smoothies at the TCBY, that he was eventually picked up by a grain freighter registered in Panama and headed for China. When they pulled him off of that tricycle, he was dazed, dehydrated, and charming. The crew of the Overseas Harriett pampered him all the way to Tianjin where he promptly settled down and easily started selling pirated CDs in a small shop on a filthy back alley. Two years later, he had a small chain of slightly more legitimate stores that employ more than a dozen people, and he plans to open a fifth before the end of the Year of the Rabbit. Ambitious for a young American kid in the People’s Republic of China? You bet.

He still calls home on a regular basis and Anne is thinking about visiting, but she’s afraid. She’s afraid that he’ll smile and introduce her to his sunny best friend and business partner, probably named Ming Lin or Hui Liu or “Crazy” Johnny Zhang, and he’ll laugh in that infectious way that makes you feel warmer than we all did on that day that he peddled out of our lives. She’s afraid he’ll tell the story of the time he tried to order roast duck at a restaurant and accidentally insulted the owner’s delicate sensibilities. But mostly, she’s afraid that they’ll walk along the shore of the Bohai Sea on a brilliant autumn day, oblivious to the ominous inevitability of the January cold, and never want to come home.

Publication: Hobart, September 2005 Issue