Friday, February 23, 2024 Feb 23, 2024
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Summer Fiction

Dallas Summer Reading Series: Early Retirement

The Robocop producers gifted Dallas one of seven replicas of the suit. And who better to take ownership of it, all these decades later, than the recently retired man who had maintained City Hall since 1978.
By Blake Kimzey |
Tatjana Junker

Frank Foster was encouraged to take early retirement in January 2019 and decided his legacy was gathering dust in the bowels of Dallas City Hall.

For 40 years, Frank had been the unofficial mayor of City Hall. In early ’78, he was Hire No. 3 for building maintenance. In the Navy, he’d spent his time on the merchant ships of the Military Sea Transportation Service delivering equipment and supplies to the allies in Vietnam, and when Frank came home, he figured taking care of a building was a peaceful way to build a life in East Dallas and raise a family along the way. 

He donned his blue collar a few months before the Hall opened to the public. The first mayor Frank worked for was Robert Folsom, who told stories of playing with three Heisman Trophy winners at SMU and pushed to break ground on Reunion Area, which meant Frank eventually got free tickets to see Brad Davis rocket bounce passes to Rolando Blackman several times a year. 

But that was 10 mayors ago.

Now, if you unrolled a set of plans, you’d circle a section of basement that included a large storage area banded with chain link. After RoboCop wrapped in October ’86, the producers gifted Dallas a full-size costume (tailored for Peter Weller’s stunt double) as a thank-you for letting the crew film at 22 locations across the city, including the Mary Kay Cosmetics factory. 

The RoboCop costume weighed 64 pounds, a laser-cut mash of flexible foam latex, polyurethane, and fiberglass. Only seven were made, including a fireproof version that landed in a Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. The one in the basement of Dallas City Hall was the only one not in a memorabilia collection somewhere, and after more than 30 years in a wooden crate, it had been forgotten and stacked in a dark corner under a bank of rust-tipped sprinkler heads. 

Frank reasoned he was the only one left at City Hall who even knew about the RoboCop suit. 

To be certain, he’d go around asking his coworkers if they remembered when Sting was in town to film Dune at Dallas City Hall with David Lynch in ’83, and everyone would say, Yeah, of course I remember that, even though Dune was filmed in Mexico. Knowing there was no institutional memory of RoboCop was all Frank needed to make a play before handing in his keycard. 

It meant something to Frank because he was an extra in the hostage negotiation scene in RoboCop, a SWAT team member on hand when Councilman Miller takes the mayor hostage, and his demands include a new Ford Taurus with cruise control. But RoboCop shows up and swiftly cancels Miller’s plans by throwing him out a window. Frank also appears a second time, over RoboCop’s right shoulder at the gun range, his mouth agape as RoboCop takes out his Auto 9 select-fire machine pistol and sends 50 rounds downrange in two seconds. Like Dirty Harry with ball bearings.

The producers wanted to use the I.M. Pei-designed building as the exterior for the fictional Omni Consumer Products Headquarters. Frank had escorted the location scouts on a tour of City Hall, from the basement to the roof, soup to nuts. The next thing Frank knew, he was standing with a prop gun listening to Paul Verhoeven shout ACTION! 

You could see Frank clear as the pixels in a Zelda shrub in the SWAT scene, but he was right there at the gun range standing behind RoboCop. Frank’s name made the end credits, and his wife, Anne, framed the poster and put it in his man cave in ’87. 

Standing upright for display the RoboCop suit took up an entire wooden crate, and Frank couldn’t just dolly it out the front door. So he had to improvise. Why not walk out the front door wearing it?

A heist usually has a mastermind and a team. Frank was all of these rolled into one. The only thing he couldn’t control were the service elevator cameras and their operator, Lloyd Darvish. But Lloyd was a millennial whose nose was glued to his phone. Frank could get past him when he was eyes deep in a TikTok algorithm. 

Several weeks before Frank’s final day, he started taking his lunch break in the basement. He’d unlock the chain link, wend his way through the labyrinth of forgotten boxes, and disassemble the suit one piece at a time so that it could fit in two duffle bags stashed under his desk. 

On his last day, the brass at City Hall threw Frank a party. They got a red velvet cake from Albertsons and planned to see him off in the breakroom. While they assembled, Frank decamped to a bathroom and fastened the RoboCop suit to his body. When he glanced at himself in the mirror, Frank felt like a million bucks.

In the breakroom, tens of people, including the mayor, made a horseshoe around the table and started clapping and laughing when Frank came through the door. What a ham, they thought, showing up in a $50 RoboCop costume! 

They ate cake and told stories of the good old days and prodded Frank to tell them about the time he walked Hollywood producers through the corridors of City Hall. After the last bit of cake had been eaten, Frank said his goodbyes. He walked up to the mayor and issued RoboCop’s three Prime Directives: serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law

Frank walked out the front door the way Alex Murphy would have, like a total badass. Outside, Anne was waiting, idling in her 2015 Ford Taurus complete with cruise control. The future was in front of them, and Frank had the final piece for his man cave. 

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