I opened my mailbox this afternoon (August 20, 2012). Along with the usual promotional advertising and random bills, I noticed a #10 envelope from Sundance, my brother. No letter, just two documents, one of which I share here (with only a couple minor edits).
On my phone, Bach’s 5th is playing.
“It’s Tina Young.”
Oh this can’t be good. Michael’s Irish twin slightly older sister has only spoken to me twice in ten years. The last time, a couple of months ago to tell me Michael was in the hospital. I spoke to him while he was in the VA Hospital in Gainesville and he seems vocal and feisty.
“Michael passed away.” It hit me like a sandbag dropped from a great height on my solar plexus.
Michael was my closest friend as a young man though we had drifted apart in recent years. Michael’s death is death of my youth. He was the first close friend to die and the convincer that I am not immortal.
I met Michael when I was in the sixth grade and I was sporting a brand new pair of white buck shoes, a pretty hot fashion item, and I was showing them off to the local guys in the neighborhood.
Michael stepped up and said, “Wow, they’re cool,” and promptly stomped on them with his muddy tennis shoes. He turned on his heels and flew up the street towards Lake Avenue.
After a slight pause of astonishment, I took off in hot pursuit. I closed the gap somewhat, but he raced in the back door of a large gray house on Lake and I heard him laughing.
He teased me through a stained glass window in his back bathroom. I jumped up and knocked on the window. It teetered and then crashed in a million pieces and I took off for the hills.
The inquisition between my father and Michael’s father in his living room was very awkward.
Michael’s father, Edward, who was known as “Pat” was a beefy red-faced man in flannel shirt and striped tie. “We live in this neighborhood to keep away from the Niggers and the Jews and not have things like this happen.”
My father, dressed impeccably in a tan Palm Beach suit and crisp tie swallowed and said that he was “very sorry for the actions of his thoughtless son.”
Pat Young was a project superintendent for the Austin Company, a very large construction company that had construction projects all over the world. The long-term results of that encounter were that Michael and I became close friends with odd affection for the other’s father. Michael loved my father’s look and style and I got a kick out of the raw “Archie Bunker” quality of Michael’s dad.
In later years I worked several jobs for Mike’s dad, even commuting with him for a summer to Rochester, New York, on weekends while building a Xerox facility there. Pat would stop at a local bar and have a shot and a beer before the Friday drive back to Cleveland. Naturally, as a seventeen year old, I was thus introduced to boilermakers. I really liked this guy, though his rough language to drivers of nearby cars scared the bee Jesus out of me.
Michael was in the car with me when I first drove Susie Sanders, the light of my young life, and accompanied me on a hitch-hike cross country to Los Angeles after we graduated from Lakewood High in 1962. I “cut” 42 days my senior year and I think Michael may have surpassed this record, as well as many times accompanying me on many of those days.
We stood with thumbs out for six hours outside Brecksville, Ohio, waiting for a lift on our LA adventure and were ready to give up when a silver Thunderbird pulled over and we hoped in. It was a dental student from Western Reserve and he was going all the way to his home in Los Angeles.
He even took us 48 hours later to the fraternity house, Theta Chi, where we stayed. A couple days later, two pasty white Ohio boys joined him and his sister at Santa Monica Beach. We had never seen bikinis before and they made quite an impact.
I laugh when I remember Michael “pinning” the speedometer of the Thunderbird at 130 mph as all four wheels left the ground briefly in Needles, California. The dental student was eager for Michael to share the driving and Michael loved to drive. My heart jumped into my throat as I suddenly awoke in the back seat.
Michael drove his father’s 57 Ford and actually learned to roll it on purpose and pop the top back up when it dented. One time he drove 140 mph with me freaking out in someone’s Jaguar.
When I was thirty-five and has a very rough visit home to Cleveland, Michael drove me to th3e airport and reflexively I pressed my hand out to clutch the dashboard for support. He drove sensibly and I assumed he had matured.
When I was in my early twenties and has bombed out of college, Michael and Jeff Freeman showed up at the South Beach Hotel where I was the night manager. This was when South Beach was semi-ghetto and not at all trendy.
Jeff and Michael were trailering Jeff’s Lightning and picked me up to sail with them. They invited me to join them in a Bermuda race. I declined and came to understand that you are more likely to regret what you don’t do than what you do.
About fifteen years ago, Michael and I had a visit of about three days in Gainesville, Florida, where he had a home. Michael has earned a doctorate and taught at the University of Florida at Gainesville. This career was interrupted when he rolled a Bronco and was in a coma for six months. When he awoke, he went back to teaching for awhile, but took disability retirement which he was very bitter about.
He was hoping to somehow return to teaching. He was very bitter and angry how this worked out.
Once while we were hitchhiking back from Los Angeles in that summer of ’62, we got stuck near Pear Blossom, Nevada. It was high 80s in the daytime and bone chilling 30s and 40s at night. We slept in lawn chairs someone allowed us to take along with sheets to help stay warm.
Michael said to me, “Someday we’ll laugh about this.” I told him, “Michael, I’m not laughing and never will.”
About every ten years I would call Michael and tell him, “Michael, I am not laughing!”
Michael has sent me a scrawled note that said. “I have been tardy in getting back to you. I put your number in a secret place and will remain there. Please send me your phone number. Michael”
I sent him my business card and called him because he has included his phone number. When I called, he actually answered, which he rarely did. He was sleeping and he said, “I have to sleep. I will call you soon.”
I never got the chance to tell him again about Pearl Blossom.
Thanks so much for sharing that story Sundance. I was so moved by memories of Michael Young. And I also know that Jeff Freeman who is mentioned in the piece was killed during the Viet Nam conflict. His name is on the memorial in Washington D.C.( I saw it there.) The other document (in that #10 envelop from Sundance) was entitled “Water Boys” - a sweet and reflective article about the passage of time and how things turn out for three different people. Sundance Morgan lives in New Orleans, LA where he is a tennis instructor, neighborhood activist and student of dramatic arts.