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Frank looked like trouble for the sum total of his entire life. He didn't cry when the maternity doctor spanked him, choosing instead to let a stream of urine document his opinion of his new surroundings. From Day One, Frank consistently broadcast an unshakable impression: He was not to be messed with.

Much older now, but not much wiser, Frank wore the his mechanic's coveralls as business stiffs would wear a $3000 suit. He brimmed with pride every day he rode the bus to work. While he could be depended on to make trouble, for all intents and purposes, he was a pussy-cat. His beer belly laugh would crack the hardest of faces into a smile, and his bushy black beard made him look like either a burly pirate or a young Santa Claus on vacation. Come Christmas time, he would wink at the children straining for a peek at him, just in case.

Routine becomes habit, and habit becomes comfort. Everyday, Frank woke at 5:00 am and rode my early bus to town to ply his trade. Every day, I would see his smiling face waiting by the roadside, come rain or sleet or snow. Almost every car in the city had a muffler cranked into place by Frank. He worked with a determination usually only found in artists and madmen. For Frank, all the problems of the world fell away when he had a holed exhaust system above him and a 3/4 socket wrench in his hand.

Life hadn't always been so idyllic. It used to be an even money bet around town that Frank would be dead or in jail by his 20th birthday, so he split the difference and killed a man in a barfight, winning a trip to the State Pen on a manslaughter charge. Prison had a bizarre effect on him, as it seemed to snuff his inner anger. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the pure absurdity of it all became the focus of Frank's world view. He never once denied responsibility for his actions, and accepted the blood on his hands. He served his time convinced he was a unique case, surrounded by men that swore innocence in their sleep. It was the best joke he had ever heard. Having finally grasped the true madness of the world, he laughed the years away, and the Warden was sad to see him go.

Frank is the highlight of my morning run. He finds the weirdest things to talk about, and always offers a slightly skewed point of view. I distinctly remember a conversation about Russian nickel stock dumping that was hilarious. When we wasn't chewing my ear off, he took the comic page out of the newspaper I tucked behind my chair and smiled like a five year old. Lately, however, he seems to have found himself a sweetheart.

Lily works in a little greasy spoon downtown. She is a plain girl, always fussing with her unruly red hair by catching her reflection in the window. She sat in the same seat everyday, and I caught her smiling at Frank when his animated speeches broke down into belly laughs. She was rather shy, and blushed impressively the first few times Frank turned his focus to her. Not that it slowed him down any.

Frank noticed things. He figured out the 4 month rotating billboard advertising schedule and patiently waited for the new comedy material that he could glean from them. I think he bunked with a rabid pinko socialist in the joint, because he had nothing but contempt for Corporate America. A fresh sign for a trendy doctor-assisted weight loss clinic popped up one day and its smiling faux nurse instantly drew his ire. When he saw Lily smoothing her hands on her neck, as if gauging the extent of her non-existent double chin, a little switch clicked in his head. He carefully dropped the subject, and I think I was the only one who noticed, having listened to him for so long.

For the next few days, we drove past the sign and Frank would peek over his paper, or coyly turn his eyes to the window for a moment, and then carry on the conversation. The weekend came and the day to day crowd disappeared for their two days of freedom. Monday morning, I saw Frank was smiling a bit broader than normal.

When we came to the billboard, Frank turned in his seat and brushed the fall condensation off the window. The traffic up ahead seemed to be moving slower than normal. It was at that point I noticed the revised advertisement.

The buxom nurse/model had received a rogue midnight makeover, complete with carefully painted missing teeth, moustache and eye patch. Her area of interest had shifted from selling the wonders of weight loss drugs and programs to a rather more ghoulish preoccupation with the fast heating of small furry felines. The vandal, who I had now surmised to be Frank, had delicately matched the background color and even the shape of the text so that it blended almost seamlessly into the original. It was then, for the first time ever, I heard Lily laugh out loud.

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