On the sixth day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me
Nine cheers for Mike
Eight Miscellaneous Items - Probably for Next Christmas (or for yourself, or perhaps a fellow GTB'r right now, just cuz)
Seven (Give or Take) Voters (Should Be) Voting
Six Simpler Memories
Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists
Two Digits Throughout History
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty
I'm going to practice what I preach this Gheorghemas and celebrate someone, inhale him like a breath of fresh air, while he's still with us.
My father-in-law, Mike, is a remarkable guy. He was born 74 years ago in central Pennsylvania. His father left shortly thereafter and never returned. Mike never met him. Mike's mother divorced the bum and they moved to Brooklyn. She married a man named Morris who accrued a moderate amount of wealth by inventing some sort of packaging for tomatoes. Morris was not a good guy and he treated Mike poorly. Tremendously poorly, in fact. As a result, he vowed that to be the best husband and the best father he could possibly be. And he did. But before that he had some wild times.
If you've ever met Mike, and a few of you have, you know that he loves wine, vodka gimlets, and telling stories. And if you've heard his stories you know they aren't all sad. For example, he has several stories about playing stickball in Brooklyn. The best of which involves the time he was pitching and had two strikes on Rico Petricelli, only to give up a home run with a full count. The story is fucking awesome and I encourage you to seek Mike out and ask him to tell it.
Mike was crushed when the Dodgers moved to LA. He finally shook off his malaise and wrote a pointed letter to Walter O'Malley in which he explained why O'Malley was a horse's ass, with a quarter and the closing line "I have enclosed a quarter so that you can ride the subway out to Brooklyn when you are next in Manhattan, if you so deign, so that you can see the pain and heartbreak you have inflicted upon us." In 1962 he became a Mets fan, which he still is today, including all the associated pain and heartbreak. He will gladly explain why they are a third-rate organization if you give him a bottle of Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon.
At some point in middle school, Mike heard that NYC had a handful of specialized high schools that admitted students based on their ability to pass a test. His guidance counselor told him that he had no shot. Ripshit, Mike took and crushed the exam. He wound up going to Brooklyn Tech. Those of you who know me best understand why I love this guy.
Mike graduated from Tech but had no money for college, so he went to Brooklyn College which was free for Brooklyn residents. His psychology degree cost him $20 (the application fee). Along the way he joined a frat, met his best friend, learned to ski, drove an ice cream truck, and drank a metric shit-ton of beer. He graduated with a degree in psychology and then made a living driving cabs, hot dog trucks, and anything else with four wheels he could get his hands on. Again, I love this guy. At some point he decided to treat himself to a cool watch and paid $225 for a timepiece that has, well, accrued in value. So Mike had some luck along the way.
More luck: Mike eventually met a lovely lady named Shirley and they got married and settled down. He got a job as a psychologist in the local public school system. Over the next 15 years he had two daughters and earned his PhD at night at his own expense, working multiple jobs to pay for the degree. At the same time, he saved enough money to send both of his girls to two of the best private colleges in the country. They earned five degrees between the two of them, including advanced degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in America.
Once Mike completed his PhD he hung out a shingle, counseling countless patients in addition to his workload as a child psychologist for the public school system. Shirley didn't have to work; they owned (and added on to) a house in a fancy Long Island neighborhood; and neither child incurred college debt. To this day, this is a tremendous source of pride for Mike.
Mike is also a proud Bills fan, whose ranks he joined when the Jets and Giants moved to New Jersey. "They're the only team left in New York, goddamn it" was his rationale. If you haven't sensed the trend yet, Mike does not like to be abandoned. In 1990 he got his younger daughter a Cornelius Bennett jersey for Christmas. His background and temperament have led him to detest people who "got something for nothing." He thus detests Jim Dolan and Jeff Wilpon, and is happy to speak at length in justification of this view. You can see how I fit in here.
Mike reached retirement age shortly after I started dating his older daughter. I didn't attend his retirement party, but by all accounts it was a raucous affair with excessive drinking, wild dancing, and tearful toasts and storytelling. He and Shirl looked forward to years of the things they enjoyed most: good food and drink; theater; travel; live music; time with family and friends. Between his savings and pension, they were sure they could enjoy all of this and more for decades.
A few months later Mike was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Rather than succumb, Mike stared the dreaded disease in the face and beat the goddamn thing back. Never once did he say "Woe is me." Instead he fought his way to show after show, meal after meal, gathering after gathering. You know who saw Hamilton at the Public Theater before anyone else? Mike and Shirl. You know who saw Willie Nelson in Newark? Mike and Shirl. Mike was particularly enthused to hear "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," but that's a whole other post. Today Mike's blood does not contain detectable levels of the cancer. He won.
But the fight was too much. The treatments and the illness led to congestive heart failure. Which eventually led to hospitalization to drain the fluid on his heart. Which led to nosocomial infection (pneumonia). Which has taken too much from a man who deserves much more.
He's half of what he was before the last time he went to the hospital. He sleeps a lot now and has almost no short term memory. He has barely enough strength to move from his recliner. But he still dotes on my kids, especially my son. They're so damn tight, coloring together for hours and delving deeply into the nuances of loose teeth and tooth fairies. I pray that my son remembers this time with Mike. Anyone who lays eyes on him can see that he doesn't have much left.
My wife's family is resigned to the fact that this Christmas will be her father's last. Few people have done so much with so little to start with. His story deserves more than the 150-words-or-less the local newspaper will give him for an obituary. I hope I've done him justice, or at least some semblance thereof.
So I ask you, please, the next time you raise a glass, raise it to Mike. Especially if it's a glass of good red wine. He's earned it.