My Friend Mike
When I was a kid, I had a best friend, Mike--most people do, I'm sure(1). We did pretty much everything together. We met before we'd even started kindergarten, and were pals from the start. His family had a pool, and he loved to go sailing (my parents had a sleep-aboard sailboat), so we were pretty much together all the time, between his house/family and mine.(1)Probably most people didn't have best friend named Mike, but I'd guess an alarming number did, since it's such a common name.
Though he certainly seemed normal, he was one of the oddest kids I ever met. Not necessarily in how he acted, but in the things that happened to him. He was the first kid I knew to break his arm. He was the first kid I knew to get knocked out. He was the first kid I knew to have to go into the hospital (three times!). He was not especially daredevilish--he just seemed to get hurt.
A lot of what happened to him was just cartoonish. His Dad was a builder, so he had this totally swinging treehouse.(2) We were constantly making modifications to it. One of the times, Sam and I were working on installing a "burglar alarm" under the floor, and Mike was below, putting an exterior skin on the floor so the "alarm" wouldn't be visible from outside. He yelled up to give him the hammer we were using. Without appearing to even think about it, Sam picked up the hammer by two fingers at the end of the handle, dangled it for an instant over the hole we had in the floor, and dropped it. "OW! Thud." Sam and I looked at each other, then down the hole. There, sprawled on the ground as though waiting for the chalk-line crime scene man, was Mike, with a hammer next to his head. Really--Chuck Jones or Buster Keaton wouldn't have staged it any differently. He was OK, but did have a bit of a bump on his melon, and really gave out to Sam about it--the combativeness that often follows a concussion? Maybe.(2)It wasn't really a proper treehouse, since it stood on its own four legs (probably about 6 feet high, I'd guess, though it seemed really high to us) next to a tree. It was totally and unbelieveably sweet, though. Essentially a cube with a front porch, front door opening, and a back door that opened onto a fireman style pole to slide down in case we needed to make a quick getaway. There was also a sandbox underneath--and enough dogs running loose in his neighborhood that it wasn't full of catshit all the time, like the one at my house. Hell, our own cat shat in that one. Couldn't get her to stop.
Another time, during one of what I remember to be our annual periods of weeks off school because of snow(3), before their pool was completely finished, Mike and I were fooling around on the construction site. The pool shape was all poured (it was concrete, since his Dad owned the Redi-Mix place in town for a while), but it hadn't been finished off. So it had five foot tall pieces of really thick rebar sticking up around the edge every foot or so. What we were doing was grabbing two of the protruding rebars, then sort of leaning back toward the inside of the pool (with our backs to the open pool) and using the springiness of the rebar to swing out a little (with our feet still on the lip), then grabbing the next set and so on (yeah, it's kind of hard to describe). I was leading the way around the pool doing this, not paying any attention to Mike, when I heard, "WAH!" Short and sharp, just "WAH!" I turned quickly to look, and there were two rebars waving back and forth (boi-oi-oing!) with his gloves still hanging onto them, and Mike nowhere to be seen. I looked down, and there he was, bare-handed and spread-eagled on the bottom of the pool, laughing. It was probably the funniest thing I'd ever seen.(3)This was Kentucky in the mid-to-late 70s. It seemed like every year we'd have a week or two where the whole town was coated in snow and ice so badly that we'd be out of school. It can't really have been that much, but it sure seemed to me like every winter was about 1/2 snow days.
Another time I made him puke all over his lunch tray at school. I took some chocolate pudding on my napkin and pretended to wipe my butt with it and showed it to him and the rest of my pals, to general acclaim at my cleverness and wit. Mike's eyes sort of swam in his head for a second, then GLURT! He filled up pretty much every little well in his tray, then keeled over. I hadn't even gotten to the piece de resistance, wherein I'd lick the pudding off the napkin. We never really figured out whether he was maybe already sick or something, because he went home for the day, then refused to ever speak of it again, and got really mad when we joked about it.
His cartooniness and weirdness was probably a product of his upbringing, since his house was where all sorts of craziness could happen. His Mom was an artist, and you never knew if you'd go over and be press ganged into tye-dyeing t-shirts, or doing batik, or sandcasting or mosaics or what. You could also always count on junkfood, as she was without question the worst cook ever--she once made banana pudding, but thought it needed something. So she shitcanned the whole batch, and made up another batch, with ONIONS in it. These kind of culinary hijinks meant that meals at his house frequently consisted of delivery or frozen pizzas or hotdogs. What kid wouldn't like that? And his Dad had Playboy magazines, like in the basement where we could go and sneak looking at them, though like most kids who have access to such things, he wasn't usually keen. I have NO idea what's up with that, but I've seen if a few times.
Anyway, we started to grow apart eventually, which is how these things often go, I guess. He started to seem doctrinaire and judgmental to me--he had a lot of ideas about how things were supposed to be, and was really offended by going against that grain (which I guess I did more and more as I got into my teen years--I think it got weird when girls entered the mix). Ultimately, my family moved to Indiana. I hardly saw him after that, and when I did see him, we'd both changed SO much. The years of 15, 16 and 17 are times of such upheaval that it was inevitable. By the time I was off to college, I hadn't seen or spoken to him in a couple of years, and didn't do so until maybe a year ago (so something like a 17 year hiatus there). We're not friends anymore, I guess, but at least we know we're both alive, and both have some regret at how things dissolved so rapidly, without any acknowledgement from either of us.
We were both the center of each other's universes for so long--probably 11 or 12 years by age 15. His house was my house. We shared the joy of riding bikes on construction dirtpiles, the frustration of arriving at Junior High to discover that we could no longer be friends with some people we'd known all our lives because of some inexplicable social divide, the Monty Python, Dungeons and Dragons and other early-teen obsessions, the confusion about what "going with" a girl meant(4), the desperation about finding girls to "go with," though we had little interest in or understanding of dating, the excitement of our first time making out with girls (we both got some makeout action on the same night at summer camp) and much more. So it's sad and surprising that we couldn't sustain it. I guess neither or us knew how. So anyway, this here is my acknowledgement that I wouldn't be the person I am without Mike, and that most of the formative experiences of my childhood involve him one way or another, and believe it or not, that's a compliment.(4)"Going with" someone, near as I can tell, was our Jr. High's equivalent of monogamy. Since we were only 13 or so, there was no real dating--we went to pretty much every event in single-sex gaggles. If you were going with someone, it meant you could count on them to accept your invitations to dances and parties, even though you'd probably ignore them when you were there. Highly complex junior mating ritual, I guess. Of course it's entirely possible that I had it all wrong--it would explain the generally-unsatisfying nature of the experience the one time I bothered to ask someone to go with me.