By David Washburn
Author’s Note: I wrote this years ago, when Fred’s disappearance was much-discussed and I wanted to share my own memories and perspective. Of course I never got around to submitting it, but just came across an old photo of Fred and the timing, with the disappearance date anniversary, seems right to send it in now.
May 23, 2003, is the day Fred Frontier disappeared in Taiwan. For several years afterward, his name was in the press as his mother and others tried desperately to find out what happened to him, with diminishing hope as time went on. At this point, it’s old news that doesn’t come up much anymore, but I feel the urge to write something.
I didn’t really know Fred Frontier at all on a personal level. He was a regular at our dance events way back in the day, and that’s my experience with him. He would show up at parties, frequently dressed in some sort of garish outfit – I remember bare feet in purple velvet bellbottoms – and we’d get a chuckle out of it. But at the same time, his appearance was always a positive thing because he never hesitated to get out on the floor and dance. Often, he’d have a couple of girls with him who would dance too. As a DJ, you love those kind of people. Fred’s energy, with no self-consciousness, was infectious.
But sometimes Fred was a nuisance. I remember after one of our dances at the Shriner’s Hall, me and my partner Steve had locked up the front door and were busy trying to clean the place so we could get home. Steve came up from downstairs, shaking his head. “I just found Fred Frontier in the bathroom,” he said. “He was sleeping on the floor.” Steve did a little impersonation, which cracked me up: “ ‘Aw, come on, can’t you just let me sleep for a little while?’” No way.
At another event, out at the state fairgrounds, we were lucky we weren’t shut down when Fred and some of his cohorts decided to start a bonfire in the parking area. I didn’t even know about it until afterward, when security told me. The fire was big and plainly visible from the highway.
We did a big Halloween party at the Egan Center, and midway through, one of my friends came running up, “Did you know there’s a group of people picketing outside?” “What?” “They’re marching up and down the sidewalk with picket signs.” “Why?” “The signs say something about the event being too expensive. It’s Fred Frontier.”
Great. My friend went out and talked with him and reported back. “Fred’s telling everyone in line that he’s throwing a free party, and it’s going to be around back in the alley. Supposedly he’s got a sound system set up back there.” As far as I can recall, the free alley party never materialized.
I had to hand it to him: Fred thought outside of the box. I would always read with interest whenever his name appeared in the press, usually linked to some sort of activism, such as trying to get permits to organize a Rainbow People festival in a mountain pass, or running for office for the Green Party.
But the story that stands out the most appeared in the UAA student newspaper. It was about how a campus police officer had caught Fred trying to steal soda pop or something like that from a vending area in the consortium library building. How humiliating, I thought. But then I read on: the campus officer tried to take Fred into custody over this, which he thought was ridiculous and refused to go along. So the female officer sprayed him with pepper mace. I don’t remember exactly how the rest of the details went, the story was just so surreal, but it was along the lines of Fred telling the officer to stop, that the pepper spray was hurting his eyes, and her replying, “That’s the idea, it’s supposed to,” while trying to move his hands away so she could spray him in the face again. By the end of the story, my initial amusement had turned to sympathy for the guy. The next time I saw Fred at an event, I went over and asked him about the article. “Oh, you saw that,” he said, and looked genuinely embarrassed. I felt bad for bringing it up.
The particulars to these stories have become blurred over time, taking on almost a mythical quality. Conversations with others who knew him always seem like comparing notes: “Yeah, I ran into him in Seattle and he still wasn’t wearing shoes.” “Oh, I forgot that about him. I remember seeing him at such and such once …”
Eight (seventeen) years after his disappearance, the stories live on. I wish I had a second chance to be nicer to him.