I first met Micheal on a temping assignment when I was living in New York City. He was the manager so I tried to behave, which I could do on occasions. I did my work, typed in the boring legal documents as fast and inaccurately as I usually do (spellchecker!) and when he said he was going out for a cigarette, I joined him. He smoked Merits, I remember, and he asked what brand I smoked and I said OP’s – “other peoples”. So we had our first laugh (of many to come) and he gave me one.
I had a crush on him. He was funny, smart, serious enough to get his work done but always making fun of the big bosses. A curmudgeon with a twisted sense of humour. And he was a strange kind of handsome. When I told my friend Cynthia my secret she said, Ter, he’s gay! I had missed it somehow. So instead, he and I became friends.
He had a sister with my name (very unusual!) and I have a brother with his. We were oddly and wonderfully connected.
Whenever I had a computer /printer problem — which was often— I’d call Micheal. He’d take a deep breath, and say, Ok, reboot. He always sounded annoyed, even if he was charmed at how flummoxed I got and delighted that he could help. I made him laugh.
He drank. We were at the park having a picnic and he told me that he and his partner, Tony, would love to adopt but he didn’t think he’d be a good dad because he abused alcohol. One time he reluctantly agreed to come check out an introduction to a self-development course that I was doing; he was very “against” those type of things. He showed up a bit under the influence and left after a half hour in a rage, saying that all the people who said good things about the course were “plants”. That was the only time I ever saw him angry.
I often went to the beach with him and Tony. We’d meet at Penn Station to take a train to Jones Beach on Long Island. These were very early morning events. I showed up once still so fresh from sleep that the bedsheet fold was imprinted on my face. Of course Micheal pointed it out, and it became a giggly point of reference throughout the day. From then on, even in my absence, whenever that happened to them, they’d call it a “Terianne.” “Tony, you have a Terianne right there on your cheek.” “Hey Micheal, I spot a Terianne on you arm.” And they’d laugh.
He was a good writer. He had been working on a novel off and on for years based on his time as an undergrad at Cornell University. He referred to the manuscript as “Thing”. We often took walks in Riverside Park and talked about Thing. “Gonna tweak Thing tomorrow – Chapters 13-15.” We’d also go walking around aimlessly in the city and he thought it was hysterically funny that I refused to walk under scaffolding. For a long time, whenever I saw scaffolding, I thought of Micheal.
We played Scrabble a lot. God, was he good. Always above 500 points. One time, he challenged my use of “varmit.” I insisted it was a word. Turns out, of course, Micheal was right. It’s something that Yosemite Sam used to call Bugs Bunny and it got lodged in my brain but it wasn’t in the dictionary and so it didn’t count as an actual word. (I was and am still not wholly convinced.) I beat Micheal once. One single time. For Christmas I framed that glorious scorecard and gave it to him. He laughed his ass off. He absolutely loved that and he absolutely loved me.
It’s really hard when someone who absolutely loves you dies. I was torn apart that he was gone but selfishly really; I lost someone who thought the world of me. I have a hard time thinking the world of me so the loss was profound. He died on Valentines Day 2015. Cancer. It upset me deeply that he never had a chance to publish Thing.
At my going away party when I was moving to Italy in 2004, Micheal had given me what appeared to be a business card. But it was a one-of-a-kind that he had created just for me. He had written our little in-jokes on one side and a poem on the other. The poem made me smile because it was so lovely and corny and Michael can give the impression of being above it all. But he’s not. I mean, he was not. Still hard to accept that he’s gone.
Here it is:
(It bothers me that I don’t know what the “Ben Nash – ‘Equal costs Extra'” refers to. It’s like a pebble in my shoe that I can’t get rid of.)
I laminated that business card and it’s lived in my wallet since.
Micheal was a true friend. Loyal. Loved my jokes. Felt my pain. Made fun of me. Adored me. Beat me at Scrabble but probably not as bad as he could have. Cooked glorious dinners for me. Encouraged me. Believed in me. Made time for me. Did whatever for me. And I for him. And here’s his quirky one-eyed Facebook profile pic. What a character.