Tuesday 20 January 2015
Piano man. I listen to Billy Joel do his business on the ivories while I sit on the verge of exhaustion, punching keys like a drunk sailor, knowing I have always carried the small hope that in writing shit about my life, I will never have to live it again. That after seven decades, I can put it behind and have the peace of mind, to this point, I have only imagined. That maybe, just maybe, my brain will stop caterwauling and open up to the love offered by Sweet Grecy and by my son and my daughter. I started this business for the wrong reasons, believing I could write some pretty stuff, some tricky, catchy stuff that would move me where I wanted to go. That did not happen. Instead, I started dredging up long buried stuff, and all thoughts of fun disappeared. I do not know if I want to do this anymore. Especially now that Mike is gone.
There is an image of him I cannot shake. He is sitting behind a table signing copies of his novel The Snow Angel. What a proud moment after so many false starts. In that image, I stand to one side amid a cluster of significant people and watch it all happen. A heady time. One that smacked of hard won success. Success he hoped would springboard him to the next level. “Bust your ass. Live on stale-bread-peanut-butter-sandwiches for ten years, and if you’re lucky, really lucky, tomorrow morning people will declare you an overnight success.” Yeah. Those were his exact words.
Now, he is abruptly gone. Disappeared from this planet. A stroke took him Thursday past, and I am floundering. I cannot write a eulogy. That I know. Mike would laugh his ass off if I even tried. But maybe I can say a little. Sneak by a few things that will not bring his guffaw. So I hope.
Mike started his writing career, after a stint in the Air Force, as a hardcore investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press. A bad ass who packed heat and rode with cops, he plowed dangerous ground to find meaningful stories. Shot at and missed, shit at and hit, he never stopped pushing the edge. Lived life with a continuous writing hard-on, perpetually horny for the next hot story. Shared a Pulitzer for uncovering an organized crime arson scam in the seventies. Then tossed it all, migrated to southern California to enjoy fine weather and take a crack at the near impossible business of writing movies. He wrote good stuff, some of it optioned by the industry, who then buried deep in some dank corner where it probably still sits collecting mold and dust. Unfortunate, but Hollywood is a tough nut to crack.
I heard him speak for the first time when he pitched at a smoky, coffee slurping AA meeting about being in the middle of a creative frenzy, about how good ideas were bouncing around inside his noggin so fast he could not keep them straight, and how in the lowest depths of his drinking days he would not have known a good idea if it bit him on the ass. The way he spoke intimidated me, but I grew a set of big ones on that day and approached him after the meeting finished. Told him I thought I might be a writer. He said maybe, but I was the one who had to decide, that he would read a little of my stuff if I wanted, that being a writer was hard as hell, something not for the faint hearted, a sentence handed down by God-All-Mighty, so be prepared for the worst, for all the plagues it carried. Those words led to a thirty year friendship. A friendship that in my mind still lives. I grew under his tutelage, became a better man. Even became somewhat of a wordsmith. Without his influence I doubt I would have carried on. So it goes. Yeah—so it goes. The bitterness of loss has not yet set in. I know it will—eventually. Something else for Mike to laugh at. Goddamn him.
This is where I need to shut my trap. To stop all this before it gets sappy. So I will. At some point, some distant future point, I will be okay with it all. But not now. Right now, all I can think of is a Hemmingway quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and bleed.” So, I will continue to bleed, and if I ever achieve any success and find myself sitting behind a small oak table signing the book I have written, I will think of Mike. There is no doubt my eyes will tear, and if somebody asks why, I will say it is for knowing him.
To read more of Sigurd’s letters, click here!