FRANK BURNS DOWN AN ASHRAM
FRANK: Shortly after the whole Menagerie incident, I found myself walking around town a lot, especially down at the Venice Boardwalk. It was comforting for me to see people crazier than I was, I guess. The whole thing kept me from going over the top.
SUNSHINE EPIPHANY, F.K.A. HELEN KETTERING, FORMER MEMBER, THE SOLEMN VOW: Normally, our group focused on recruiting teenagers, runaways who were looking for somebody to listen to them…but one of our members kept seeing Morning Dew – that was Frank’s chosen name – walking around our spot on the Boardwalk where we chanted. When he told our leader, North Star, that Frank was a struggling, somewhat famous actor, North Star knew that he would be valuable to us, as well as easily susceptible.
FRANK: Their chanting and their drums that they were playing had a good beat and the whole thing was easy to dance to. I’d always to make sure that I would stop for a listen. It made me feel good. Next thing you know, this woman, this beautiful woman, comes up and starts talking to me. At first I took her as a fan, but then I realized that wasn’t the case. It’s refreshing, actually, as there’s nothing worse than a woman trying to latch on to your celebrity. She told me her name was Sunshine Epiphany. I’ll never forget that moment.
SUNSHINE EPIPHANY: I was brought in as a closer with the men. Guys seemed to respond to me well. I’d wear this white dress that was low-cut, and I wouldn’t wear a bra. But I noticed that Frank never looked down at my chest. He was always looking into my eyes. That impressed me. Most guys become hypnotized by breasts, it seems.
FRANK: Trust me, I noticed her rack. Great rack. Like two ripe casabas. Very impressive. One of the gifts that I developed over the years with women is to always make women think that I’m looking into their eyes, but, trust me, I’m checking out the whole package. Oh, yeah, and listening is important, too. Yeah.
Within days, Frank was attending The Solemn Vow’s meetings, which were held at a strip mall in Culver City, California.
NORTH STAR, F.K.A. BEN JEFFRIES, LEADER OF THE SOLEMN VOW: I worked in commercial real estate before I found my calling. I still had a few friends in the business and they would let me use abandoned office spaces for our meetings. The place we were using in Culver City used to be a Kinko’s.
FRANK: Being a new member, the first thing that I had to do was buy a robe. Luckily, the group had its own website (www.solemnvowsuperstore.com), so I was able to order one from there. But it cost me $189! What a gyp! For polyester, too, not silk. Come on!
NORTH STAR: The Solemn Vow follows Zhao the Guardian, who is our benevolent savior. I saw him in a vision on my front lawn during a period in my life where I was going through a really rough patch. Zhao is the keeper of all of the animals, and he is pure and wise. When I saw him he told me that I needed help and that he would show me the way. I immediately went inside of my house and started writing copiously, channeling Zhao’s philosophies into written form. Through Zhao I finally had purpose in life, and I finally had direction. It was up to me to pass on the word of Zhao.
FRANK: Mostly, the Solemn Vow made me in charge of refreshments. Not many people know this, but I make one hell of a chai tea latte. What’s my secret? A little extra dash of chai…and a whole lotta love. One time, I tried to shorthand the beverage thing and just bring in a case of Mountain Dew – as a joke, you know, playing off of my name and all that – and they got very upset, especially North Star. The Solemn Vow has a thing about no carbonated beverages. In fact, it’s in their bylaws.
THE OFFICAL BYLAWS OF THE SOLEMN VOW
(Including commentary from Frank)
- ALWAYS REMEMBER THE SOLEMN VOW.
FRANK: It’s funny. During the whole time I was there, they never told me what the Solemn Vow was. That kind of makes it hard to remember it.
- WE ARE, WE ARE, WE ARE BUT ZHAO’S CHILDREN.
FRANK: I assume that Zhao had nothing to do with the fact that their second bylaw was completely lifted from a lyric in an Icicle Works song. That was a good song, though, “Whisper to a Scream”. I wonder whatever happened to that band…
- NO CARBONATED BEVERAGES!
FRANK: It seems kind of high on the list, don’t you think?
NORTH STAR: What Morning Dew fails to understand is that in order to complete the cleansing process, one must be free of impurities, including carbonation. Burps are the devil’s foghorn. Zhao was very clear about this.
- BEFRIEND ALL MEMBERS OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, BUT ALSO UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE IN OUR LIVES.
FRANK: This just means that you can be an animal rights person, but that it’s okay to eat meat. One of my first nights with the Vow, I remember, we had a pig spit and beer can chicken. Say what you want about them, they sure did know how to barbecue.
- EVERYTHING IN NATURE IS FOR OUR USE. USE IT IN ABUNDANCE.
FRANK: Weed! Come on, you couldn’t figure that one out? They grew their own. They smoked so much they would make Tommy Chong go “Whoa, slow down.”
- THE LIGHT THAT SHINES ON YOUR PERSON IS THE AWAKENING OF ONE’S SELF THROUGH THE POWER OF THE VOW AND THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU ARE FREE TO USE SAID KNOWLEDGE TO AWAKEN ONESELF.
FRANK: I have no clue. No clue. Maybe this had something to do with all the weed they smoked.
- NAMYAN DADPA GANZIG
SUNSHINE EPIPHANY: Morning Dew came to me and said that he was concerned, that he doubted the legitimacy of the organization and the existence of Zhao. Considering his celebrity, I was afraid that if he came out with this news to the public, this would create quite a scandal. Not a big scandal, mind you – he wasn’t that big of a celebrity – but a scandal, nonetheless. So I slept with him. It kept him quiet for a couple of weeks. I was thinking about doing it, anyway, and this just accelerated the process.
FRANK: Man, what a lover she was! Very passionate, almost like there was this desperation in her.
With the continued promise of sex from Sunshine, Frank managed to keep quiet and he did not investigate the purpose of the Vow, but an incident involving Frank and cat food caused Frank to reconsider.
FRANK: I was running errands for North Star, and he asked me to stop by his house and feed his pets. When I got there I realized that he was out of cat food – two of North Star’s cats ate this special kind of cat food because they were both diabetic. So I find out where the nearest pet store is and I go over to pick up a few cans. When I get in there, the owner sees me in my robe and completely flips.
HENRY ZHAO, OWNER, HENRY’S EXOTIC ANIMALS: Ben Jeffries, that freak, is my neighbor. I tried to get him out of our community but he wouldn’t leave. One time he was completely drugged out on his front lawn, so I go out to him and tell him that he needs help and that I’d take him to the hospital. I am a good neighbor, even if he is a freak. He tells me that I am a god and that he wants to worship me. I tell him to piss off, but next time I see him he’s walking around in a robe and people are following him around.
FRANK: At first, my instinct was to disregard him and just get the cat food and get out of there. When you’re walking around in a white robe in the middle of the day in Burbank, you have to be prepared for those kinds of comments. But as the pet store owner is yelling at me, this guy walks through the front door and says, “Hello, Mr. Zhao, do you have any of that special shampoo for my hamster?” It took me a few moments to get over the hamster shampoo remark, but once I got my head back together, I talked to Mr. Zhao and he told me the whole story about North Star and him hallucinating on his front lawn. All of my fears about North Star were confirmed.
An angry Frank raced over to The Compound, a special facility that The Solemn Vow used for meditation, to confront North Star.
FRANK: The Compound was an abandoned preschool in Inglewood where the members of the Vow would go to get high. They said that the place was used for praying, but when I saw North Star sitting at their altar – it was really just parts from an old jungle gym in the preschool – he was using a bong that he made from a hollowed-out bowling pin. While I give him credit for such a creative use of a bowling pin, in my mind, the jig was up.
SUNSHINE EPIPHANY: Morning Dew comes barreling into the place and starts yelling at North Star, saying he’s a fraud and that The Solemn Vow is a sham. North Star sits there quietly, taking it all in, and then he asks Morning Dew if he’s fed the cats. When Morning Dew says “no”, North Star loses it, too, yelling that his cats are diabetic and that they need their special cat food and that Morning Dew was being really irresponsible. Then North Star starts asking the rest of us if anybody could run over to Subway for him, that he was starving. This made Morning Dew even more upset, and the next thing you know, the two of them are pushing each other. I knew that my sleeping with either of them – or both of them – would not fix this situation.
FRANK: We’re pushing each other around, and his bowling pin bong flies out of his hand and, the next thing you know, the jungle gym – North Star called it an ashram, for crying out loud – is surrounded by fire. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the fire did a lot of damage to the place. Since the members of The Vow were trespassing, everyone ran like hell in different directions. I don’t know what happened to everyone after that.
SUNSHINE EPIPHANY: The fire was like a great revelation to me. It truly opened my eyes. I knew then that I was destined to follow another path, to follow the path that was truly destined for me. I knew that I had to become a dental assistant. As if a spirit was guiding me, I walked over to a pay phone and called the toll-free number for the school that advertised on late night television and I started my new life as a dental assistant. I am proud to say that I am still following that bliss.
CALLING BIRD, F.K.A. GORDON WINTHROP, FORMER MEMBER OF THE SOLEMN VOW: The fire just meant that I had to find a new place to smoke. Most of the people in the group were just in it for the pot. North Star had some wicked shit.
NORTH STAR: I got blamed for the fire, which sucked. It was a space that my friend was trying to rent out and it was my responsibility. I couldn’t mention The Vow to the police because I was afraid that it could hurt me with my taxes. I got probation for the whole thing, paid a fine…
I don’t feel any hostility toward Frank. It was a fun ride, and I still had my commercial real estate work to fall back on. Surprisingly enough, my criminal record didn’t affect me at all – it turns out that 37% of all people in the commercial real estate business in California have a criminal record. To tell you the truth, it may have helped it a bit.
While the members of The Solemn Vow found new directions in life to take, Frank was still searching for his own path.
FRANK: I briefly tried drinking, to see how that would work out as a future, but I realized that I wasn’t a very good drunk and I hated the fact that my clothes started to smell of urine. Thankfully, Hawley Smoot came into my life and he got me back on track.
HAWLEY SMOOT, IMPORTER/EXPORTER AND TALENT AGENT: I had been doing the agent thing as a side project, just to kill some time and make a few extra bucks. But when I saw Frank nearly passed out at the Circle Bar, I realized that he was my chance, I truly believed this, to make talent management at least a legitimate part-time occupation. And, of course, I wanted to help Frank, too.
(To see Chapter 12, click here)
(To see Chapter 12, click here)