Guest Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov tells: "Mike"

Sunday, July 10, 2005

First off, I know last week I said I was one story under to fill out the two weeks. Now I’m one (and possibly two) stories over. So, all good, please stop with the “I’ll give you a story” emails. Especially if I don’t know you because, you know, that’s kind of weird. At least start posting in the comments section, we like new people.

What can I say about Joshua Hale Fialkov? He’s the man behind Hoarse & Buggy, Western Tales of Terror and Elk’s Run plus several new properties on the horizon. The dude gave me my shot, although if you read Here’s the Thing… it’s more like I took it, and although some say “It’s only an editor”, any position is what you make of it.

Josh is a genuinely great guy and a phenomenal writer. All of our books are getting great reviews and even though there are several people, like me, behind the scenes, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. And he was nice enough to provide a touching story for the Moose and I thank him for that and hope you all enjoy.

_____________________________

My brother is a lot older than me. 9 years older. So, when I was a little kid, he was a teenager. He had this friend, one of his oldest and best friends, a guy named Mike. Mike, as far as the 6 year old version of me was concerned, with just about the coolest guy ever. He introduced me to heavy metal, comics, gaming, and really shaped who I was as a kid, mostly due to his being the polar opposite of my brother. He was a smart guy who was laid back, fun, and generally just a cool cat to be around, who, coincidentally, was a remarkably talented guitarist. For some reason, my clearest memory of him is having him chase me around our family room, and then sit on my head and fart. I hated it, but thought it was hilarious. Hell, I thought it was hilarious to the point of doing it to my friends. The guy was cool. In that 80’s suburbs of Pittsburgh dork-chic kind of way. Hell, to this day when I hear Iron Maiden or Motorhead he’s what pops into my head.


When I was about 7, Mike stopped coming around. He’d started using drugs, starting with Pot and then graduating on to (what I assume) is the harder stuff. My brother, and I could be wrong, was forced to stop hanging out with him after he was arrested for possession. It really killed my folks, because they loved Mike like one of the family. It broke my heart because he was quite possibly the closest thing I had to an Idol. But time went on. I forgot about him. My family just sort of pushed that corner of our lives away into the back of our collective minds. Through the rest of his high school time, my brother would periodically here from Mike, who had gone off to roam the country, doing whatever he wanted, living the Kerouac existence. Once my brother left for college, that was just sort of it. He’d officially divorced himself from the life that came before (just like most of us do when we go to college.) Mike became the idealized cool I aspired to. I took up Guitar when I was maybe 12, aspiring to be as great a player as he was. In retrospect, I don’t know that I ever actually heard him play, so it might again be a bit of invention in my memory.

Anyways, when I was around 13, getting ready for high school, I was sitting around the house on a Saturday afternoon, and the phone rang. I picked up and heard on the other end the strangest voice I’d ever heard. Shakey, with a slight stutter, almost like a catatonic person spewing syllables without any real purpose. The voice, deep and dark, said “Is Jon there?”

My brother had returned to Pittsburgh to go to Med School that summer, and he was off living in an apartment in the city.

“No. He’s at his place.”

“What?”

“He’s at his apartment. Who is this?”

“…”

“Hello?”

Nothing. Silence. I could almost hear the gears turning.

“Josh?”

“Yeah. Who is this?”

“It’s me.”

“Who?”

“Mike.”

Nothing. Silence. The gears were turning on my side this time.

“Who is this really?”

“What?”

I started laughing. It was someone playing a joke on me. It had to be. This wasn’t Mike. This shattered, soulless growl was not the guy I’d spent so much time looking up to. So much time aspiring to be like.

“C’mon, stop fucking around… is this Martin?” My brother’s room mate. I didn’t know how exactly he’d know who Mike was, or that it would strike such a cord with me, but it seemed like the most plausibly implausible explanation.

“Who… who’s… Martin?”

My face went pale. Something in his voice, when he said the name. This slight guttural sound… it just clicked. It was him.

And I panicked. I slammed down the phone, and ran out of the house. I don’t know why exactly. I walked around my neighborhood for a bit, smoking what must have been one of my first cigarettes, trying to get my head around it all.

After Ozium-ing and collecting myself, I went back inside. My mom was on the phone, talking. I sat in the kitchen watching her talk. To him. To Mike. Talking to him in the slow, metered way you talk to someone who’s not all there.

“You walk your ferret everyday? On a leash?”

A pause. She looked at me. Saw my pale face, that little bit of my heart breaking.

“Are you going to school?”

No, I could almost hear him saying on the other end, I’m too fucked up to go to school.

“Well, that’s good that you’re getting your life back together. Give me your number, and I’ll have Jonathan give you a call.”

A pause.

“No. I’ll give him your number. He… He just moved into a new place, and the phones aren’t hooked up yet. Yeah. So you couldn’t reach him.”

My mom’s eyes had that glisten of tears.

“Using a payphone? Oh. Well, Jon’ll be here on Wednesday afternoon, why don’t you call back then?”

She breathed hard. Almost a sigh.

“Yeah. That’d be fine. Take care Mike. Glad you’re doing better.”

She put down the phone, and sat down. I didn’t notice but tears had started running down my face. Snot gumming up my nose. My mom stared at me for a moment, and the tears rolled down her face as well.

She told me the real story about Mike. He’d been busted for Coke that time that lead to Jon not being allowed to see him. It lined up with the time my parents caught my brother smoking a cigarette in the basement (god knows why he didn’t just go outside). Of course, in retrospect, again, I don’t think it was just a cigarette. My folks were way too mad for it to only by tobacco. My folks saw this as a sign of Mike’s bad influence, and split them up. As time went on, Mike bounced in and out of rehab, each time coming out addicted to something else. My mom still didn’t give the specifics, but, just from how fucked he was on the phone, I assume that he was doing something along the lines of Heroin or PCP towards the end. After a serious bout of it all, Mike finally kicked the habit. He lost a lot of brain cells tho, did some permanent damage. He spends his days sitting in front of the TV rocking back and forth and walking pet ferret on a leash around his neighborhood. That’s it. That’s his life.

The story… well, it did what everyone one of those DARE programs are supposed to do. It scared the shit out of me. This wasn’t some cartoon guy falling to the perils of drugs, it wasn’t some poorly acted film strip. I knew him. I loved him like a brother. And he destroyed himself. All that he was, all that potential, all that talent… gone.

I swore I’d never let it happen to me. And from that… this semi-traumatic, and memory clouded event… it’s made me clean all my life. No drugs. I didn’t even touch a drop of liquor till college, and even after a few rounds of drinking too much, I don’t even drink anymore (although the occasional SoCo and Coke still touches my lips on occasion.)

I went to a college where EVERYBODY did drugs, and it never really crossed my mind as something to do. Watching my friends rise and fall from them pretty much reaffirmed my stance on them (one of my best friends became a massive pothead, to the point where he just plain couldn’t function without 5 or 6 joints a day. He smoked pot like I smoked cigarettes.) Through it all, I’ve held this pledge to myself. I’m going to succeed where Mike couldn’t. I’m going to do the things he would’ve wanted to do. I had a successful band, I’m make comics for a living. These are things Mike dreamed about doing and fucked himself out of. Would smoking a joint ruin me? Make me a junky? Probably not. I guess I’ll never know though.

-- Joshua Hale Fialkov, Los Angeles, CA 6-14-05

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