Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Nine

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.


Whitney said...

Wow, Z. What a moving Gheorghemas post. The very least I can do is raise a glass to Mike, so I will later today.

We are better for getting to know and befriend the greats in our lives. I shelve the feelings of inferiority and squandering of time and opportunity in favor of admiration and reveling in loving the astounding people I know.

Cheers to Mike and those like him, of which there are too few.

rob said...

gheorghemas isn't supposed to make people cry, z. other people, obviously. very well done - sounds like we could all stand to be like mike.

Marls said...

Z- Coming out of Gheorghemas hibernation to echo Whit and Rob.

Getting old sucks, and to watch people we care about go through these things sucks even more, but at least we have seen some amazing people show us how it should be done.

Cheers to Mike and a few others just like them.

Shlara said...

This is lovely Z.

Dave said...

what a life, nice job commemorating it zman.

Whitney said...

I've been thinking about doing this in years past, but this OBFT it's on. Lifetime Achievement Award and celebration of a life for one OBFTer. Nomination period begins now.

Mark said...

I'd like to meet Mike now. Well fucking done, Z.

Shlara said...

Zman--are you familiar with the Storycorps app?
You can capture that stickball story and other stories from Mike and it's really nice to have this stuff for a family archive.
I've recorded a few times with my mom this year.

zman said...

Thanks for the kind comments. zwoman does not read GTB but I asked her to read this. She objects to my characterization of her home town as fancy. She also thinks I should have included more stories, like all his ice cream man highjinks which involve multiple arrests and frequently getting robbed of ice cream in Red Hook. I will get the Storycorps app, thanks for the recommendation Shlara.

rob said...

daniel dixon scored 36 for the tribe tonight. no other tribesman scored more than 6. tribe beats odu in norfolk. i assume clarence was there tp see it.

Marls said...

Thanks to a recommendation by Rootsminer, Mrs. Marls and I are seeing the Old 97's tonight at the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, VA. We a close enough that Rhett may sweat on Sara. Photos for Shlara to come.

rob said...

nice, marls! mrs. rob and i will be seeing rhett and the boys tomorrow night at the hamilton, with fogtbs hoopie and vicky along for the ride.

rob said...

also, whitney, unless you plan to celebrate yourself (which would be deserved, and in character, if we're being honest), there are only two real options for the obft award. age before beauty, i say.

Danimal said...

Mike Gundy's hair.

Danimal said...

And this Virginia Tech game.

Danimal said...

And Z-man's post, not necessarily in that order.

rob said...

i'm up to september on the annual gtb year in review. we wrote some pretty decent stuff this year. and by 'we', i mean 'zman'.

Marls said...

Two cheesy westerns with in Roanoke.

Dave said...

three coolest brothers in the house

Whitney said...

And the debut of Mac Mc Fis-ty

T.J. said...

Hope everyone saw the very special McFisty Xmas Special

Squeaky said...

Whit, thanks for the birthday wishes.

Finally getting a chance to catch up on all the gheorghemas over the last week or so. It's been a rollercoaster this holiday. Zman's post is especially poignant for me as I sit in a hospital with my dad spending his last day(s) or hours with him.

It can't be said enough, enjoy and embrace your love ones.

And make sure they get that big ass sunday they want minus the orange sherbet. Because that doesn't go with maple nut and black raspberry chip ice cream with M&Ms and Kit Kat bits. They'll thank you later. Trust me.

Peace out and looking forward to the new year. May it be a metric shit ton better than this year.

Mark said...

Saw The Roots last night. 7 or 8th time but first in about 6 years. Two hours of great music with two cool George Michael and Prince tributes included. Good times.

Throwing the wife a surprise birthday party tonight. Planning the party hasn't been that bad. Dealing with all her friends who have to have every last bit of info about said party has been far less easy. Just show up to the party at the appointed time.