PERRY: Owed to Frank Bell, an indebted tale of Denver’s most beloved oddity, gone too soon

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The tribulations of Bosco are probably as illustrative as anything about the fantastic life of Frank Bell.

Frank exited the planet Thursday night, leaving us to deal with Trump, global warming, endlessly improved Dawn Dishwashing Liquid and neighbors from hell without him.

I have known so, so many people in my life as a journalist. There was only one of Frank, and he’s gone now. I didn’t know how old he was, as he really was ageless. A good friend point out that he was only 48, but everyone who knew him knew of his fabulous Franksgiving Birthday Jubilation, and the November weeks preceding it.

I gave Frank his first reporting job in the late 1990s. He was the most endearing and exasperating journalist I ever worked with, truly a remarkable fete.

Every day at work with Frank was marvel of the weird, the wild and the, “would you for the love of God just stop that and go finish the story, Frank?”

No one could ever avoid Frank Bell. He was like human lint in a world made of Velcro. He was chocolate syrup under the can in your fridge. Frank was endlessly brilliant, deliciously sarcastic and ruthlessly mundane.

When I worked with him, he lived in a small apartment with Bosco. Bosco was a decrepit, toothless, hairless, nearly blind and fairly deaf dachshund, or what might have once been one. Frank would retrieve Bosco on late nights in the newsroom, wrapped in an equally decrepit Montgomery Wards, nappy, blue Thermal Blanket. Frank would puff into the newsroom and push the swaddled, decaying canine into my arms. “Here, he needs you, and I need to finish my story.”

Bosco was as mean and flatulent as he was ugly.

One day, Frank had flown off to Cincinnati, I believe, to visit family and eat unspeakable midwestern delicacies he dearly loved, and which most likely hastened his departure. A Sentinel sports editor, Dan, had somehow been appointed to stop by frequently and care for Bosco. Frank was certain a kennel, or even a night in a strange place, would kill the beast. We tried to impress upon Frank what good fortune that would be for everyone, and Frank was genuinely insulted.

Dan’s job was to stop by and feed Bosco and take him out to do whatever a dog that old could muster without killing him. He stops by, sees a can of pet food on the stove, dishes it into Bosco’s bowl and watches what barely resembles a dog painfully make its way to the dish. Within seconds, Bosco is born again, hungrily snarfing his bowl and licking it with unseemly gusto. It was only then Dan realized the pet food can was filled with Frank’s bacon-grease booty he leaves on the stove. Lord knows what Frank did with that stuff. Seconds later, the bacon grease bomb erupts. Dan barely got Bosco out the door before he began violently expelling bacon grease from every doggy orifice.

“All I could think of is,’ Dan said,‘I’ve killed this nasty dog, and now Frank is going to kill me.’” 

By some miracle, Bosco survived Baconmageddon. Frank was never the wiser, partly because Bosco had been exhibiting symptoms of death for months.

Frank was a human mockumentary, in which he starred as the most entertaining person on the planet. Unfairly cursed with multiple medical maladies, there were many sadistic personal phone calls made from the newsroom to Kaiser Permanente employees to register complaints about, well, everything. These soap operas were performed loudly enough for people on the floor below us to hear. It was such sweet irony when he called one day, after he gave up journalism for a real life, to say that he’d found work in the customer service section of Kaiser Permanente. He was there for years.

For all the red-faced anger he could muster over people who wanted to curtail gun rights, besmirch Oliver North or dare to take the AP Stylebook from his desk — which was heavily decorated by an Avery label maker with his name — he would gush over the story of a homeless guy he helped by writing about a wrongful trespassing ticket. He beamed when a kid who got a new bike after another was stolen was the result of his reporting. 

Frank was the self-deprecating patron saint of everyone who’d ever been laughed at, bullied or dismissed because they couldn’t or wouldn’t hide their weird or unusual.

Frank, aka Spike, held court for years regularly at the Lion’s Lair on East Colfax. He performed afternoon Kooky Kitsch sessions where as a DJ he would play the world’s most awkward songs. He spun stories and vinyl, often while sporting a fabulous fez or a masterfully butch set of Viking horns protruding Frankishly from a metal helmet.

Everyone who spent any time with Frank, and there were hundreds, if not thousands, have stories like mine. Screaming at buzzing yellow jackets on the other side of the window. There was the voracious vomiting episode in the newsroom. Frank came to work with the stomach flu. He barfed so loudly into a trash can, for so long, and with such operatic extravagance, that the features editor ran from the building. He  swears the episode gave him PTSD.

Frank’s Facebook account is a testament to how marvelously strange and wonderful he was. He was equally funny doing deadpan with jammies and a teddy bear as he was hamming it up while tormenting Darth Vadar at a festival.

Everything Frank came across demanded commentary, ridicule or wild appreciation.

I cannot think of anyone who more accurately described this gift to Denver than himself on his Facebook page.

“Raised by wolves. An amiable misanthrope. Sarcastic wit that melts holes through three-inch thick boiler plates. A shadow that leaves a mark. Spellbinding raconteur. Amateur archivist and deejay.”

If any of us could only live half as much as Frank did each day that he marched off into the world, there would be no such thing as premature death.

Frank’s early demise is certainly our loss, not his. He ended every day with plenty. I miss him already. 

A fundraising project to help Mumsy cover funeral expenses has been started here.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook, or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]