Randomness and the Frank Burke Fan Club

Randomness used to be so much more fun before the Internet. Now we live in an era of instant gratification and of being able to elucidate things that used to remain mysteries and of being able to consummate connections that were often better left in a “What if?” realm.

Years ago, I was visiting a friend whom I had, somewhat randomly, met on a cruise. He let me and my husband in on a joke of sorts by giving us one of his limited number of “Frank Burke ” key rings. Frank was in auto sales in Akron, Ohio, if I remember correctly (which I may not), and he had apparently made up key rings as a promotional tool. Only he’d ordered too many, or changed professions, or decided against this marketing approach. The key rings had glutted the market in any event.

Apparently a buddy of my friend (if I’m remembering the story right, which I may not be) had found a basket full of these key rings at a store (thrift? hardware?), and he had found them both poignant (“Who wants his face x 100 in a remainder basket?”) and somewhat amusing (“Where is Frank now?”). Those musings turned to irony (“What if we start a Frank Burke Fan Club?”), batting around the idea of a fan club, and passing out the key rings to special connections (like me).

All of this was back in 1985. Which meant that it didn’t go very far. And that was probably just fine.  For I’m not sure what would have come from Frank getting a visit from a bunch of Gophers, middle of the night, laughing about a barrel of key rings. 

One of the guys tracked down an aunt, and they traced him to (I believe) South Dakota. And then that guy chickened out, realizing that a call to Frank was probably going to be awkward, hard to explain, somewhat pointless.

Writing this in 2012, I wonder if younger readers would even get it that that would have been pointless… because today it wouldn’t be. Had a group of college guys found that barrel of key rings today, Frank could have turned out to be an Internet sensation, somebody as famous as “Charlie Bit Me” (let’s just pretend that Charlie’s surname is actually “Bitme”).

The “Frank Burke Fan Club” could have gone viral. Letterman and Colbert would be having Frank on their shows. Because nothing stays in the “I wonder” realm these days; with one stroke of google, Frank could be found, contacted, marketed, exploited, and exposed (as good guy or failure… who knows?).

I love randomness, but nothing stays random (in the sense of “without connection,” “non sequitur”) anymore. And I’m not sure that’s always good.

Mystery is fun; going a long way but not the whole distance is sometimes wise; wondering what could be is often more interesting than finding out what is.

Where is Frank Burke now? I don’t know, and neither will you, for I haven’t used his real name. Let’s just leave him as I remember him (emblazoned forever on a plastic key ring in black and white, with a crew cut, a thick football player neck, reliable looking, ready to sell someone a Buick), lying in a basket in a a midwestern thrift store with dozens of his identical kin.

Random as anything.

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