Thursday, March 2, 2017

Happy Birthday Island Mike!

Island Mike turned 50 today, and it's a bit weird realizing I've been around for the majority of that demicentury.

We were acquaintances through the Leduc Jr. High School 'gifted' program (no, I'm not sure how I got in either), so I knew who he was when he ended up sitting next to me in Mr. Nosyk’s Social 20 class a few years later. I'm not entirely sure how we transitioned from acquaintance to friend because I wasn't paying close attention at the time. I remember when a girl asked him, his head buried in his arms on the desktop, for a thesaurus. Without looking up, a muffled voice intoned that they had all died millions of years ago. Not everyone laughed, but I did.

That may have been the time he hadn't gotten much sleep because he had started reading Lord of the Rings from cover to cover - again - on Friday, and insisted on finishing before Monday. Being fans got us talking about Middle Earth, and Dungeons & Dragons and the like, and somehow we ended up siting around the kitchen table of a mutual friend most Thursday nights, rolling polyhedrals, revising character sheets and devouring Bugles swathed in onion dip.

I introduced him to comics, most notably DC’s major revisionist event, Crisis On Infinite Earths, but also the excellent X-Men/Teen Titans crossover. He was astonished that publishers had killed off The Flash and Supergirl (among others!), that DC and Marvel could play nicely together, and that there was a swashbuckling, German-speaking Spider-Man type named Kurt Wagner he'd never heard of.

Pretty sure those were those adaptive lenses, not sunglasses.

By the time we were classmates in Mr. Montney’s EngIish 30, we were fast friends, despite running with different crowds most of the time, Mike possessing the envious ability to travel effortlessly between nerdy and cool circles by means of a mystical all-access laminate he won playing dice with Hermes - or maybe it was just more of that enviable confidence. Mr. Montney wasn't a bad teacher, but half of what we learned came from the pages of notes we passed, discussing history real and imagined, heroism, and lyrical greatness. He taught me to appreciate album liner notes and the blues roots of Led Zeppelin, and that anyone who hasn't read the appendices at the end of Return of the King doesn't really know how the story ends.

We played Battletech and Villains & Vigilantes through university, he at the UAlberta and me at Augustana in Camrose. To this day, names like Edward Saxon and John Paul Evermore have a place in my personal pantheon right next to Robin Hood and The Spirit. At a couple of sci-fi conventions in Calgary, he was my squadmate in the DeRangers and my bandmate and fellow roadie in the avant-garde alien rock combo Unpronounceable In English.

Three members of UIE still show up at G&G regularly!
The parallels in our lives are uncanny at times: we got married in the same year, were best man for each other, and moved Edmonton within a year of each other, he and his amazing wife Kelly to Arizona, Audrey and I to Toronto. We started our family shortly after they had their second child, and they moved to Vancouver and eventually Vancouver Island while we returned to Edmonton. We both loved Twin Peaks, and agree that Joe Versus The Volcano can be a useful litmus test in determining character and establishing social compatibility, despite scoring only 5.7 on IMDb.

While I've struggled to find my place in the working world at times, Mike has been determined to make his own way, displaying tremendous bravery in leaving behind a career in banking to pursue entrepreneurial ventures not just once, but twice! The first one ended amiably enough, but the second one took, and Object Raku Technology has to be coming up on its 20 year anniversary relatively quickly, I would think, even though it has evolved significantly over the years.

It's great to see Mike every year at Gaming & Guinness, and we still chat regularly over emails and via Skype from time to time, but I dearly miss the privileged access I had being in close proximity in Mr. Nosyk’s class, or eating fries and gravy at Kosmo’s after D&D. While the quantity may have been impacted, the quality of our conversations has never wavered, at least from my perspective.

Mike embodies all the qualities a man wants in his friends, or acquaintances for that matter. He's smarter than I am, but still values my counsel, which I deeply appreciate. (I'll never forget the time he called for help with the NY Times crossword, looking for a five letter word for ray, and how gobsmacked he was when I answered ‘skate’ without delay; lucky!) Conversely, he is always willing to give measured advice, and will call bullshit on you as required, with no hesitation, but ample compassion. Don't bother having a position you can't defend in his presence; he eats straw men for breakfast and knocking down unconsidered opinions for sport, but he is also willing to agree to disagree without animosity.

He works incredibly hard for his company, travelling, selling, supporting, but has always demonstrated that his family is his priority, backing it up with trips, family game nights, and stints as coach. He even stepped up his game so his wife could return to university and get a nursing degree once his intensely awesome offspring Mackenzie and Griffin were in high school.

Mike rocks the mic.
Inquisitive, funny, loyal, and gracious, he's a good guy to meet for a pint, but a better one to have in your corner. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if I woke up next to a dead body, with red all over my hands and no memory of how I got there, Mike would be the one whose doorstep I would turn up on (sorry, buddy!). And not only that, but I’d do whatever he figured was best, whether it was turning myself in or grabbing a shovel prior to fleeing the country.

Mike is one of a relatively tight circle of tremendously gifted individuals I feel privileged to call my friends, and at this point he is the friend I have known the longest; 70% of my life, in fact! And I am only 70 days behind him in rounding off that fifth decade. His close companionship, though physically distant, continues to be a constant source of joy for me, and one of the great blessings in my life.

Happiest of birthdays, my brother!

That look says it all, man.

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