About 20 years ago, in May of 1992, I was working at one of my video stores when I received a call from one of my customers, who was a detective in the Atlantic City Police Department.
“Phil, it’s Joe Wohler……do you have a friend named Frank Restaino?” I told him I did, and wondered what kind of trouble my buddy had gotten himself into, since I had met him 2 weeks prior at the Trump Taj Mahal for dinner. “Phil, can you meet me ASAP? We need someone to identify your friend’s body”. My friend Frank had committed suicide. My mind raced back to our dinner two weeks prior, when Frank called for room service and ordered a bottle of Dom and 2 surf and turfs for us to dine on. As we polished off the bottle, he looked me in the eye and said “This is living! If I was ever to off myself, I’d want to treat myself to a dinner like this before I check out”. I paid him no mind, partly because we were drinking, but I also knew he was in some dire financial straits, and did my best to dismiss his thought. “Shut the hell up, we’re both going to be sitting around in 25 years, laughing at all of the crap that we’ve gone through over the years”.
I ended up being half right, as I’m still around, but Frank is gone. I will never forget the afternoon after I received that call, and then reached out to some of our mutual friends to tell them of Frank’s suicide. Apparently, according to the detective, he checked into the Taj, ordered a bottle of Dom and a surf and turf dinner, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door, and tried to shoot himself in the heart. The recoil caused him to miss the heart, but he bled for another day and a half until he mustered enough strength up to finish himself off. He left a suicide note, which was just an apology to Donald Trump for messing up his room at the hotel. I didn’t need to know those details, though they left a lasting impression.
This morning, I received a message at approximately 6:55 from Heather Boyle. She was concerned over a message she had seen on AJ Confessore’s page, and thought the worst, and asked me if I knew if he was okay. Before I could listen to her message, I had already found out that AJ Confessore, aka CC Banana, had taken his life. I didn’t want to know the details, and did my best to not answer personal messages or read Facebook today, as I didn’t want to hear or read the details of the suicide. The important thing was, another friend had chosen death over life.
Back in mid 2009, AJ approached me to discuss a project of his, a musical tribute to fat girls everywhere. I had known him for several years by then. He was a good guy, always had something nice to say about everyone. I mulled over his project and thought it was a great idea, since it involved great music and BBWs. How could it miss? After some discussion of risk (he hadn’t broken even on his last release called “Kiss My Ankh” which was a tribute to former KISS member Vinny Vincent) he wanted to move forward with his project, and since he knew I was involved in the music business during my time with RCA Records, wanted some advice about distribution of his product. I helped as much as I could, and then offered him the opportunity to sell his CD at our NJ Bash. He knew he wouldn’t be ready for the Spring Bash, but asked if he could hold a CD release party at our fall event. After speaking with my business partner in the bash, we agreed that we’d work with him. His anticipation was like a kid waiting to open his gifts on Christmas morning. When the final mix was done, AJ sent a copy to me to listen to, and I was really happy, not only with the choice of songs, but the quality of the musicianship and the overall message of the project. It was a home run, in my opinion.
We named the Oct. 2010 Bash “A Whole Lotta Love”, paying homage to AJ’s musical release. While the hotel would not allow us to invite the press, AJ managed to set up interviews with people in the media, and did his best to turn the Bash into a success story for him as well. We even brought in Meghan Tonjes to perform at the bash luncheon, who had just been signed to an indy recording contract. He was set up for success, and arranged to have some of his metal musician friends who appeared on the disc at the bash to sign autographs and such.
His vendor table at the bash went unnoticed the entire weekend, and he only sold SIX CDs over the course of the weekend, despite us playing his music in the hospitality suite over the 3 day period.
Meghan Tonjes sold out of her discs (over 70) during the course of the weekend. I felt horrible for AJ, after all of the time, and considerable money he had put into this project. In my eyes, his work was a tribute to the fat community, and over that weekend, they let him down.
They also let me down by not supporting his project. The disc was ten bucks. I couldn’t understand why they had $8 for the many drinks that they downed over the course of the weekend, but couldn’t fork over $10 for such an honest and heartfelt project. It contributed to my exit from the bash, and the many blogs that were written criticizing the fat community who GENERALLY can have their priorities wrong at times. He took a five figure loss that might have helped him fight the legal battle that was about to take place a year later, when his “family” attempted to evict him from the home he grew up in. Both AJ and I sat in amazement as his stack of CDs on Sunday were almost as high as they were on Friday, when he set up his booth at our Hospitality Suite. I was furious. AJ on the other hand, remained pragmatic. “It won’t be the last fat chick event that I will be at selling these discs” he said.
A few months went by, and I saw a post on his Facebook page that didn’t sound quite right. It almost sounded like a suicide note. I called his ex girlfriend (and still close friend to AJ) Janice, and asked if he was okay. She indicated that he was sitting next to her in the car and I asked to speak with him. He informed me of his home/legal situation, and I told him I’d help in any way possible. His fears were several:
1. He didn’t want to leave the house he grew up in.
2. His collections were voluminous. He’d need more time to organize what had to be removed from the home that
was so important to him.
3. He needed money, knowing he’d have a protracted (and costly) legal battle.
I called him a week later, and found out that he was soliciting for funds to assist him in keeping his home. I sent some money via PayPal, and called him later the following month to tell him that I would be willing to clean out my garage so that he could store his many private possessions and collectibles there under lock and key, until he was in a better place. I urged him to sell off whatever he felt was non essential, in an effort to raise more funds. It almost seemed like he was more content at that point to look solely for financial aid from “friends” rather than generating money on his own to find a new place and move on. That upset me. I again urged him to get into therapy, and he said he couldn’t pay for any sort of help. I e-mailed him that night after work, and gave him several free support groups and aid services in Essex County.
I was also furious to see him show up on the Dr. Oz show several months later. Here he was shilling for the fat community, the same people who refused to support him several months prior. My first thought was “What the hell is he doing on TV, when he has all of this other stuff to take care of?”
I was upset enough to remove him from my Facebook page, though I would check in on his page virtually every week to make sure he was ok (alive). You never completely turn your back on people you consider friends, even the ones that piss you off. I took consolation in knowing that other people from other parts of AJ’s life were also offering assistance (people from music, Star Wars, comics and collectibles) to him in so many ways. I was going through some personal things as well (and IN therapy), and I knew that others could be of more help than I could at that point.
That is, until today.
I don’t carry guilt over this, just like I didn’t when my friend Frank put the gun to his chest. We are friends in life, and when one of our friends chooses a permanent solution to a temporary problem, we can only feel sadness, NOT GUILT. I choose to remember him as the funny guy whose humor upstaged his creepiness with fat chicks. I will remember the guy who loved heavy metal with a passion like I’ve never seen, and loved BBWs equally. His legacy won’t be in his death, but really about how he lived his life with such excitement, humor and passion.
If there’s a BBW Bash in heaven right now, I’ll bet he’s got a couple of girls sitting on his lap.