Well it’s here, the year Two Thousand Twenty One or Twenty-Twenty-One, and many of us (a majority) have waited four years for this date (1-20-21) to arrive. Did you realize that inauguration day was also a palindrome?
A new year where we gaze into the unknown and upcoming 365 days with a renewed sense of resolution, intention, purpose, and hope, much like the year before and the year before that one; a year of change.
In my generally rosy view on life and the world, it’s supposed to be a year with multiple vaccines quickly and efficiently being deployed to millions of eagerly awaiting citizens to battle the deadly Coronavirus. It’s supposed to be a return to normalcy; whatever that’s supposed to look like. It’s supposed to be a year of professional growth and happiness. I know, some of you are probably saying, but it’s only February and be patient things will get better. True, but in this present moment, things still have been frustrating and sadly tragic.
Just thinking about the number of fatalities from the Coronavirus makes me shiver and by spring time that number could grow to another 300,000. It feels surreal and now many of us are dealing with the winter storms on top of everything else. It just seems like it’s an all out assault of humanity with an enemy that can strike at anyone and at any time. I cautiously leave my home to shop and run the errands clad in my pseudo battle armor (mask, gloves, and occasional face shield). I look at everyone around me as if they are the enemy, infected with this dreaded virus and ready to strike at me and my loved ones at any given moment. I honestly hate viewing others through this lens of uncertainty and caution, but we have to be prepared.
For me so far this year has continued to be an emotional cluster fluster, just as it was in the final months of 2020. No more than six days into this new year of opportunity, a deadly and mutinous uprising took place at the United States capitol. I’m not going to rehash this historic betrayal to the democracy of this country, but it really showed the true divisiveness of Americans. This episode was the start of a bad week. Later that same week as I was pursuing the Book of Faces (Facebook), I came across a post about a long time friend that made my jaw drop. The post said, “RIP Jeff.” I literally did a double-take because I honestly couldn’t believe what I was reading. I still was in disbelief and reached out to the person that posted the message for more information but there wasn’t anything more known. Jeff was family to me and was present at my wedding only two years ago. I tried calling Jeff’s mother but the number I had was disconnected, I even attempted to use the internet to find updated contact information but that was a bust. I remembered that Jeff had a sister (Sade) and so I again returned to Facebook to see if I could find a profile. Success, but there was a message saying that she was no longer on Facebook and to try Instagram. After more dead ends, I received a message on Twitter from Sade, she was also looking for me.
In my life, I have been fortunate to know and have some really great friends. When I lived in San Diego almost 30 + years ago, I was part of an amazingly talented core of entertainers employed at SeaWorld San Diego in a show called City Streets. City Streets was a non-aquatic variety show featuring singers, dancers, actors, and contracted specialty performers (skateboarders, BMX racers, magicians, skaters, acrobatics, trampolines, and a dog act). The arena of the show was centered around a floating stage bordered by two underground passageways (disguised as subway entry/exit) with the backdrop of an old New York street neighborhood façade complete with fire escapes, a mechanics garage, barber shop and soda shop. Each performer was a character that you might see in this faux urban environment. From a police officer, a nun, pizza delivery person, an Italian mama, postal worker, housekeeper, waiter, librarian, beautician, and a basketball player/Rapper DJ aka Party Man (me).
In between our morning and afternoon shows, we’d grab lunch from a variety of eateries in the park. Chicken and Biscuit was a favorite spot of mine because it served two things I really enjoy, fried chicken and biscuits. One afternoon as a couple of us were having lunch on the roof of the set, we spotted this platinum blonde-haired-gold-framed-wearing dude heading to our arena. My first thought was, “who is this flaming queen and what is he doing here?” We had heard from the park director that they would be bringing on a specialty act to add to the show but weren’t sure exactly what or who that was until that day. Enter Jeff Scott (Frayer, was his last name). This jolly jester came from SeaWorld Ohio (yes, there was a park in Ohio too), and was a well-known entertainer, mime, and Pee Wee Herman impersonator there.
Jeff had this great physically awkward and improvisational comic timing, which allowed him to quickly be inserted into the show. We became good friends during his time in San Diego and he would even spend holiday celebrations with my two sisters, mother, and me. After several years performing at SeaWorld San Diego, Jeff briefly returned back to Ohio before moving to California but this time he had his sights set on Los Angeles to further pursue his theatrical dreams of voiceover work and writing music. Jeff was still booking work as Pee Wee until the day he received a “cease and desist” notice from the management company of Paul Rubens (the real Pee Wee Herman). Crushed but never defeated, Jeff dipped into his creative mind of imaginary characters and resurrected Del Arte (an elderly Vaudevillian magician complete with liver spots and false teeth) and also performed in small comedy theater productions. It was also about this time when West Hollywood began its annual Halloween Carnival. Jeff enjoyed dressing up and showcasing his amazing talents during this celebration. Some of his creations include the Wolfman, Recycle Raptor (made from plastic bottles and jugs), and Skitzo. See photos.
Landing the job as the house pianist at the world famous Comedy Store in Hollywood was a chance to show off Jeff’s Ragtime musical skills. Here he met and befriended some of the world’s best comics; Richard Pryor, Louie Anderson, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Leslie Jones, Dick Van Dyke, and countless others. Jeff was in his element. On December 18th, I called to wish Jeff a happy birthday. We chatted for an hour about our families, past memories, and life in a pandemic. We talked about his work as the Comedy Store archivist and the 25 years he worked there. He said that this wasn’t part of his dream when he moved to LA, but it became the dream job of a lifetime. We also talked about him coming back to Portland, Oregon for a visit for his next birthday; the big 60.
On January 4th, Jeff posted via Facebook about appearing in an upcoming episode of Ghost Adventures that featured the Comedy Store. The Thursday morning following Jeff’s announcement, we chatted about what a cool piece of interview footage he would have and I told him that I loved him and how proud I was of what he’s accomplished. Jeff was happy. This was the last time we would communicate with each other.
Finally after connecting via Twitter and speaking by phone with Jeff’s sister, I learned that sometime between Thursday evening and Saturday, Jeff suffered a massive heart attack and died in his apartment. In life, he considered himself lucky and a survivor. He and his sister were present at the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, where their father had worked and escaped unharmed. He wasn’t a victim of AIDS, though having lived with HIV for more than 25 years. Nor did he succumb to Coronavirus that was rapidly infecting many Californians.
Loss in any form is hard, but this loss was even more significant to me, his family, and those that knew him. I am saddened that this crazy and wonderful human has been silenced. Jeff was loved and adored by the many people whose lives he touched.
Thanks for the memories and RIP dear friend.