Ole Blue Eyes, always the first to get tipped off, was hep to the story that me and the boys, we was forming a new lodge, see.
Did it make him jealous? We’ll never know. But we were on his radar again, and he wanted a piece of the action.
Yeah. My phone rang that winter day, shattering the naive comfort that had settled in before I answered his fateful call. The line crackled as he sez to me, “Tommy! It’s yer pal, Frankie! It’s been too long… I’ve been thinkin’ about all the good times. You remember, don’tcha? Back at the Sands? When life was good, and the world was our oys-tah?” I nodded, involuntarily. Dammit. That’s how he reels ya in. I knew he could sense it over the phone, “Yeah, they was good times, Frank, they was good times.”
I could just picture my old Rat Pack buddy, with that toothpaste grin, as he continued, “But do you remember the tunes, baby? Hey, I never told ya, but we wrote ’em all wit’ youse boys in mind… Remember how Dean-o, that lovable swill, he’d open the show? Sammy’d knock ’em out, and then I’d send ’em over the moon! Man, we were singing about you! You, and Bourbon Jimmy, and Matt the Cloud and Johnny Two. And Big Tony! How’s he doin?” –I said he was doin’ well, like the others, and should tradition prevail, would soon be elected grand poo-bah of the Shrine. But Frank continued on without hearing me, reliving his memories. “…And Cueball Brad, that lovable rake, and Jimmy the Oak, and ev’rybody else (sniff!)… Oh! But the best part was singin’ to your gals. God, I loved all o’ them gals you’d bring with you, sitting up front, every show… Man, those songs… Those days and nights… They was somethin’ to write home about, eh?”
I could hear him tap, tap, tapping on the table by his phone, like Poe’s damn raven. Gaaa! He continued. “Hey, I heard you and the boys in Minnie – once again calling our town by that annoying nickname – I heard you’re openin’ up a new lodge… He paused for emphasis, before continuing…
So!… How’z about making me part of the gang?
Well, that figures. Criminy! It would bump our little project on a whole new direction, wouldn’t it? Frank wasn’t going to be content to sit on the sidelines, flyin’ in for a lodge meeting here and there. Aw, nuts! Soon enough he’d want to run things, even when he was outta town. But how on earth was I supposed to steer Frank Sinatra away? Could anybody? Not that he’d send his goons – ah – his assistants, to press the point, but geez!
Well, I told him I’d get back to him right away. We exchanged our goodbyes and he hung up. -One always let Frank Sinatra hang up his phone first.
Talkin’ it over with the boys, Cueball came up with a jewel of a plan: Instead of steerin’ Frankie ta join the lodge, why, we’d form a little side group, dust off our fezzes, and make it all part of the Shrine! Not only was this perfect fer us, but it was much more Frank’s style… With trepidation, I called him back, and man, I’m tellin’ ya, he loved the idea: “That’s fabulous! Sure, I’ll be there, count on it – in person or in spirit, at every meeting!” (I could hear him shout off to the side, “Guadalupe! Where is my damn silk cummerbund!”) “We can make it our town again, Tommy, like we did just after the War, when fellas just like us – red-blooded Americans – we owned the world. Yeah, we knew we could do anything. We could be anything, ain’t that the truth? They spun my platters when they shot a man to the moon, you know… And that Churchill guy you like so much? They said he listened to our tunes at the parties with them English swells, each time VE Day came around. I met the Queen once… Frank had a lotta memories to go through, bubbling through his mind while he lingered on the phone… Did I tell ya about the time when Joey, Lee Marvin, the Duke and I took the Buick down to Tijuana…? Had the top down, see, and…
We grew up hearing the most wonderful stories about our grandfathers. Many were Shriners, men who dreamed, built, and since have funded all the massive operating expenses of a first-rate North American network of hospitals for kids, providing free orthopedic care even today. They did it by spending their summer weekends creating and staffing all the quirky old parade units we cheered, by selling tickets for the Shrine Circus every year, and by the Shrine community clubs that hosted pancake breakfasts for thousands of us at a time. It became so brilliantly common as a slice of American life, and unquestionably successful. Those millions of Shrine Masons – it was they who truly organized their communities. They didn’t have to travel far to lead memorable, noble lives. Our grandfathers were larger than life; age didn’t dim their confidence, nor did it hobble their dreams.
When society took its non-conformist turn in the late 60’s; they stayed true to their course. They kept their lodges open, and they diligently took turns guiding their Shrine units through the decades while many wrinkled their noses at such groups. Today, with renewed societal interest in the ‘mod’ era of the late ’50s and early ’60s, good men who want to give back to their communities are once again flocking to Masonic lodges and the Shrine. At “Mad Men” parties we’ve shown up with our Chairmen fezzes on, and have been greeted with stunned surprise that we’re real (!), and that our suits and hats aren’t just movie props. One of our great joys is that a surviving portion of the original fellows who built up Shrinedom in the mid-century still pursue those worthy goals today. By picking up where some have died and set their tools aside, we honor both those who remain, and those who have passed on.
Our unit, called “The Chairmen,” is designed as a comfortable entrance point for Masonry and the Shrine. Meetings are social and our fellows enjoy getting to know new prospective members. The Chairmen celebrate the style, swagger and generosity of the Rat Pack era. We raise funds for charity. Many like cigars, and good BBQ.
The Shrine is sometimes called the ‘fun and games’ division of the Masons. It’s where our grandfathers cut loose a bit from the more stately and solemn rites of their lodges. All in good, clean fun, even if that meant driving a motorcycle or riding a camel down the hallway and steps of the old Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis, conveniently owned by a fellow Shriner, during a Shrine convention.
By forming this new Shrine unit, we embrace and promote the best of the old. We honor their memories: Surely a few of the elder Shriners will smile at what we’ve done.