Sunday, June 1, 2014

I HATED Math But I Loved Algebra Class: Introducing Mike

When I think of strolling down Memory Lane, I always picture a white picket fence planted in rambling clouds of blue morning glories. However, the stretch of Memory Lane I'm visiting today, if I remember correctly, is instead paved with 1970's burnt orange carpeting and lined with orange metal school lockers.  You're welcome to walk down that way with me if you'd like and meet my friend, Mike. 

(ack! I had to make a correction.  I originally said I met Mike in '78 but it was in '79.)

   Photo credit: Mike's best friend, the
fabulous Michele Cook

In 1979, during the second semester of my 9th grade year, I met the person who, for the next thirty-some years, would dazzle me, infuriate me, encourage me, bluntly contradict me, rescue me, zing me, laugh with me and at me, argue heatedly with me and inspire me. This is where I met my buddy, Mike Girard.

Shy and quiet, I tried to enter Mrs. Merrill's algebra class unnoticed, hiding behind a baggy, brown sweater and a stringy curtain of long, blonde hair. Waiting for class to begin, I sat slumped in my seat with my feet, in their nameless blue and yellow track shoes, jammed into the wire book rack under the empty chair in front of me. I have a vague memory of a guy, a tall, thin 8th grader, strolling unhurried into the room just as the bell rang.  He had feathered hair, wore what I assume were Jordache jeans and wielded a disdainful scowl that made me quickly unwedge my shoes from beneath the seat he then claimed as his own.

Any memory of our initial conversation has completely disintegrated into our thirty-year friendship like sugar swirled into a glass of tea. All that's left is a feeling of pleasant surprise, that someone so bold, funny and confident would turn around again and again to talk to me, to share a disparaging remark about Mrs. Merrill's taste in shoes or to laugh at my jokes.

Mike immediately dazzled me with his creativity and wicked sense of humor. He encouraged my creative side and egged on my cruel streak by instigating a series of drawing projects that lampooned our classmates, our teacher and her variety of maternity-leave substitutes.  Much of this activity took place right in the middle of algebra class. No surprise -- I got the "D" I was expecting.  I was stunned, however, that my new friend had earned an "A", apparently without even trying. I hadn't yet recognized his genius.

Shoot.  I've only touched on the first semester of a lifetime of schooling in the ups and downs of a treasured friendship. A simple blog post cannot contain the personality and legacy of Mike Girard. We would need an entire book!  And you likely have a dishwasher to load or a toilet to scrub.  How do I explain Mike sufficiently while keeping it short and sweet?

I can't! So let's do this.  Let's run through some quick examples for now and consider making this an ongoing series later: 

A Mike and Andrea Sampler

(dates are rough estimates)
  • rescued - 1995  Me, newly divorced, back at Dad's, depressed and crying in the bathroom.  Mike, just back in town from some months-long adventure and in possession of two tickets to see the Go-Go's on their reunion tour. Was I the first person he called?  I don't know and I don't care.  I was thrilled. 
  •  dazzled - While living in Hollywood, Mike swept past security to casually crash an Emmy Awards "after-party" and mingled with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore.
  • zinged - 2000?  Me: Do you think I would die if I fell (from this second story balcony)?  Mike: At your weight? Yes.
  • encouraged -  2007  Me: Look, I'll watch you sing karaoke but I'm not going to do it! Mike: Sure, that's fine. Bartender, another drink for the lady.
  • laughed with me - 2000  Mike presented me with this grocery store find and we laughed until we almost peed:                                                                                                                                         
  • laughed at me - 1984 Mike: Do you have a stamp I can use? Me (just arrived home from work, hot and sweaty): Yeah, in my bedroom.  I'll go get you one. (meaning I would bring one back out after I'd changed clothes. Instead, Mike walked into my room the instant I had dropped my sweaty jeans to my ankles.) Mike: (through the door after slamming it in horror)AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
  • infuriated - 2008  Mike: You need slap therapy!!!
  • contradicted - 2008  Mike: Do you believe (some- thing;  I don't remember what)?  Me: Yes, I do.  Mike: No, you don't.

This is just my little slice of Mike's story.  He had many friends who, just like me, adored him, irritated him and got fed up with him. And we all got a kick out of his flare for comedy and improv.  Mike was a natural performer.  Any place, at any time, was his stage and playground. Didn't matter if he was at the grocery store, in a movie theater, on a crowded dance floor, or walking through a parking lot; the public might be subjected to his accents, his pantomimes, or his impersonations of Pat Benatar, Dodie Goodman, Joan Crawford or the rude cashier he recently encountered. A night out with Mike was a star-studded affair, all much to the delight of his friends.  

Although Mike lived life entirely on his own terms, several weeks before his death in 2010, he expressed that he was angry with himself for not making the most of his talent, for not pursuing his dreams. Those of us who loved Mike and were blessed with his friendship know that his talent was anything but wasted.  He gave us years of joy and fun as well as happy memories that will keep us laughing the rest of our lives. 

Maybe my favorite pic: Mike and me
with the slice of ham he slapped on my wedding
dress as the photo was being snapped.
Looking back at my 9th grade algebra class, though, I realize now that one aspect of my friendship with Mike has come full circle.  In 1979, he inspired me to create comics and song parodies. With his passing, he inspired me to pursue my dreams and write in earnest (me? In earnest? Ha!) This is yet another reason for me to think of Mike with a grateful smile which I do pretty much each and every day.

I could go on with stories of Mike's brilliance, array of talents...oh, and the jobs, the cities, the arguments, the apologies, the re-enactments of Mtv music videos from the 1980's...but you have a bathroom to clean and I can't take up any more of your time! However, I do urge Mike's family and friends to join me in writing down the truth before he reaches folk hero status.  We want people to know the difference between Mike's real adventures and tall tales.  Although, we all know Mike's story needs no exaggeration!

We miss you, Mike!  Can't wait to see you again!  

Here's Mike doin' what he did!

Family and friends of Mike, I know this short post does not do him justice.  I encourage you to help me out by leaving a comment and sharing your own thoughts!


  1. I've laughed at Mike stories for the lat 13 years or so. I wish I had known him.

  2. Very nicely done, Andrea. I am so grateful for our friendship and our unique Mike experiences. Even though these are just a few specific moments of your Mike journey, I know there are many more. I cannot wait to hear them. Thank you for sharing, now where did I leave that bathroom cleaner? "Molly Maiddddd? Where are you?"


Do be nice to everyone.