Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Friend Mike: The First Time I Ever Flirted

Believe it or not, this band-choir-theater-nerd had a not-so easy time meeting the ladies in high school. I suppose it had a lot to do with the fact that I was terrified of them. I worked my ASS off trying to be a perfect gentleman, to the point that by the time I was 17, I'd only had 3 "girlfriends", one of whom I was with for about 45 seconds.

Mike? Mike was the Ferris Bueller to my Cameron. If you don't pick up on that reference, odds are you've been very confused by my entire blog.

Dude had girls ALL OVER HIM. I kid you not, one night, we were at a party wherein Mike was juggling three, THREE different girls, all of which he was dating, and none of whom knew the others existed. It was straight out of an episode of "Three's Company", making him Jack Tripper and me...Mr. Furley.

Down to the cravat.

One night, when we were 15, Mike decided that we were going to the main strip in Elmhurst, Illinois, a well-to-do and charming community of very, very white people. Nearby York High School housed some of the cutest girls in the western Chicago suburban area, and weekend evenings, packs of them, wearing their designer jeans and Member's Only jackets would descend on the strip to, well, walk up and down the strip.

Mike lived about 5 miles from me and another 2 miles from Elmhurst. Both of us being 15, we had no way there but to either walk, like normal human beings, or...hop the freight train like two idiots.

Guess which one Mike talked me into.

I am TERRIFIED looking back at what we did, nearly as terrified as I was in the moment. But Mike had a knack for sniffing out danger. So my mom dropped me off at his place (I'm assuming because I didn't want to reveal to her that we were going to chase skirts), and we walked the few blocks to where the train would be ambling by any moment. And when I heard the locomotive's "WHOOOOO!", my stomach turned into a pile of dogshit and I nearly puked. Not letting on to Mike, who was howling and laughing up a storm.

"This is gonna be AWESOME!"

Yeah. Awesome. Awesome like, oh, I don't know, GETTING RUN OVER BY A FUCKING TRAIN.

The train couldn't have been going more than 5 miles per hour (a pace we could have nearly kept walking), and I remember him shouting to me, "Run alongside it, get to speed, and then jump forward and up into the boxcar!" Perfect. I'm going to die like a hobo, I thought.

My heart was thumping like it wanted to bust through my ribcage, but there I was, right behind Mike, jogging alongside the train until an open car pulled beside us and BAM. In and up he went.


My legs pumping, shit nearly running down my leg, I kept pace and thought, I HAVE to do this now - he's in the car already, which was a stupid rationalization on my part, I realize now. I sucked in two lungfuls of air, held my breath and rocketed myself into the car, landing on Mike.

"YEAH!" he screamed and slapped my arm.

10 minutes later, we jumped off the train as it pulled in to Elmhurst, screeching to a stop. I think I may have been in shock for the first hour of our wandering around, because this entire night is as vivid in my head like it happened today, save for that first 60 minutes.

Mike was a fucking rock star. He had no issues walking straight up to a group of tittering, giggling girls and introducing himself, usually, at the very least, getting them to chat for 5 minutes while he and I did "The Russ and Mike Show", which resembled street comedy improv fused with the stench of desperation and failure.

So in other words: Street comedy improv.

We dicked around for a couple of hours, grabbing frozen yogurt at "TCBY" (The Country's Best Yogurt, which, at the time, it was the ONLY frozen yogurt in the country, so a job well done!), avoiding the annoyed stares from adults that I myself now give amped up teenagers, and finally, curfew time rolled around.

Well, MY curfew time. Mike treated the concept of curfews like I treated the concept of flirting with girls: Not with a ten foot pole, man.

So in Mike's usual impulsive haste, we were left stranded 2 miles from his house and 7 from mine. I broke into a sweat, worrying about not making it home in time. I voiced my concerns, which Mike waved off like the stench of a fart.

"Hang on," he told me, striding away toward a gaggle of giggling girls.

Within minutes, he spun on his heels and signaled "come on!" to me with his hands, a smile spanning so wide, it wrapped around his head.

"This is Russ," he introduced me to - I kid you not - the most ADORABLE 3 girls I'd ever laid my pimply eyes on, "and he one funny son of a bitch."

No pressure.

"My car's over there," one girl said through her Lipsmacker-glossed smile, pointing at a tiny Toyota that in no way was built to house 5 people. But, our advantage? We were teenagers and couldn't care less.

One young lady in particular seemed to laugh at every voice-cracked word that dribbled from my mouth: Light blond hair, skin as clear as daylight, and a grin that lit up the car. As she sat. On my lap.

Holy shit.

In my mind, I was just trying to be funny and get her to laugh, and I'm sure I. Was. Hilarious (sarcasm intact). Mike was faring well up front with the driver, making small talk, exchanging phone numbers, and once in awhile peering over the headrest to give me a wink of confidence. That's when it hit me:

Holy crap: I'm flirting. And she's flirting back!

The ride lasted far too short, and before I could even get her name, I was out of the car, Mike riding as the solo male in a car filled with bubbly females. As I began waving goodbye, Mike told them to hang on a second and jumped out to say goodbye.

"Have fun?" he asked, devilish smirk on his perfect face.

"Yeah, yeah," I responded, unsure of what I'd just gone through.

"Did you get her number?"

I paused.

"You have to get her number!" he whispered, punching my shoulder.

I heaved a nervous sigh, as I felt the same terror that had visited me while jumping aboard a moving train. I, in fact, was longing to be risking my life sprinting alongside a train at that moment.

I don't remember her name, but she did write it down, her perfect fingers handing over her perfect phone number in her perfect penmanship.

I never did call her: Baby had just learned to walk and wasn't about to run a 5k at the Olympics. But that wasn't the point, I realized. Mike had just given me a coaching in self-confidence. And every day after that night on the town, I had an instilled confidence that hadn't been there until I'd met my friend, Mike.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My friend Mike: Part 1

His name was Mike. Michael. Last name started with a "K". And he was my first, albeit most unlikely, best friend in high school.

You only get to have one first, best friend. Just like you only get one first true love (her name was Stacey, and we met at - yes - CHOIR CAMP). Mike and I met sophomore year in a pre-geometry class that I'd opted to take since I'd sucked it HARD at algebra my freshman year and was looking to actually comprehend mathematics (Spoiler alert: It never worked).

Mike was handsome. And tall. My teeth were wired with miles of steel braces, and his cast a confident, even glow. My face was peppered with one thousand dots of acne while his was clear and white. Well, tan in the summertime, because Mike's skin turned a golden brown from the sun, while mine went from "Snow White" to "DEFCON 1" after 30 minutes of exposure. Mike's face was angular and even, and mine looked like Picasso and David Duchovny had pumped out a bastard love child.

As I sat in Mr. Thorn's pre-geometry class the first week, I knew about Mike, had heard stories about what a renegade he was, how even the female seniors at Proviso West High lusted after him, and that he voiced his opinion whenever questioned.

Meanwhile, I'd been crafting myself to be a strident student, a head-down, books-up, "yes sir" and "no ma'am" learner when teachers pointed a finger at my sometimes wandering attentions.

On one magical weekday afternoon, Mike and I became friends. And my life-view completely changed.

I think these photos sum up our relationship, snapped about 6 months upon befriending one another:

I will never forget the first time we actually "hung out" after school: Riding on his bike, me straddling the bar behind him as he pumped the pedals, riding past our high school to his home, my hands thrust above me, feeling a freedom I'd never yet experienced.

And that was only the beginning.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sheesh, the hell I been?

It seems that having an incredibly active creative life is - while a dream come true - exhausting. I currently am juggling:

1. Hosting a running podcast - 3 Non Joggers

2. Editing an audio piece to submit to This American Life on The Western States 100.

3. Helping my dear friend Carl get his documentary off the ground by mid-August.

All three of these projects are coming to a head only within a few weeks of each other, and then I suddenly found myself muttering, "HEY, YOU HAVE A BLOG, DUMBSHIT!"

Okay, it was a yell, not a mutter. But in my head, so that makes it okay. Or does it make me crazy? Don't answer.

So tonight, after pre-interviewing our next podcast guest, I returned home to help Carl with some paperwork for an hour so we can get up and running to raise funds. After, I popped open a beer (Green Lakes Ale by Descheutes Brewing) and something caught my eye.

It was my ukulele.

I sat strumming some Beatles on the sofa, surfing the 'net, and before I packed up L'il Ukey (not an actual nickname), I jokingly tried to make the weirdest sounding chord possible. So I figured out an A 7+5 and strummed, quite literally about to put away Ukophone (not an actual nickname) and then strummed a G chord. And then went back and strummed the first. Then back to G. And then on to adding more chords for another 30 minutes.

Suddenly, I found myself writing a song. Something I have never before done.

It seems creativity breeds more creativity. I logically know this, and have experienced it before, but I've never had so many different pokers in the fire. And it is a little bit magical. Thus, my return to blogging after a month of absence.

Expect to see me 'round these parts more often.