Thursday, October 06, 2005

All About Mike

Another True Story: I had an artist friend back in the late 80's. He was a superb illustrator and top notch neurotic. He made an okay living at the former. As to the latter, it gave him ulcers and other such chronic tics, plus, a tendency to make new friends (me, for instance)he could call up in the wee hours of the morning and talk to and talk to and talk to and talk to and talk to -- and talk to and talk to and talk to.

Still, he was such a smart sort of guy, it was like listening to PBS radio, only the PBS radio had a show on a bit too often about how this guy really hated his mother and never would speak to his mother and hung up the phone any time she called. He also told his wife to hang up on his mother whenever she called.

He hated his mother, he said, because she didn't believe art was worth anything and that he should do something better with his time than draw pictures and stuff.

I'd met his mother a few times. She was called "Bob." Funny, same name as my father. I suppose it was short for Roberta. Seemed like a nice-enough lady. She didn't seem like a female army tank. And if she had ever told Mike he shouldn't be just spending his life drawing pictures and stuff, I imagined it was something like, "Honey, you're such a smart boy with so many etc. etc., do you really think that what you want to do is draw pictures for a living?"

And when he wasn't drawing pictures and stuff (even illustrations of Goodyear Tires) or talking ad infinitum, he was going to a psychiatrist.

One day after some tests the psychiatrist told him he was "bipolar schizophrenic," I think the term was. The psychiatrist was going to prescribe some Prozac, which was the going thing then.

By the way, for those of you still thinking about it, Prozac apparently has as much a "side-effect" as Thorazine for "suicidal tendencies." But then, nobody reported the down-side of lobotomies for quite awhile, either.

Well Mike told me that the doctor said that, basically, Mike had never known what it was to be plain, ordinarily happy. Not sunshine happy, not ball-game-and-hot-dog happy, not play with puppy happy, no happy at all. Some people with bi-polar whatchamacallit were that way. So Mike would get this prozac, and he would know for the first time in his life, thanks to whatever chemicals it lit up in his brain, what it was like to be sniff-roses happy, birthday-card happy, peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich happy.

Months wore on and oddly enough, Mike never had anything to report about this new feeling of chemically triggered happiness. Nothing. I didn't ask him about it. I still think it's rather rude to ask people how happily they're doing, unless it is so conspicuous that they aren't, it'd be ruder not to offer some kind of psychological gurney.

Mike still wasn't talking to his mother, I knew that much. And he was still drawing and illustrating away. In fact, he was supposed to be making illustrations for a project I had written for him to make illustrations for that he asked me to write so that he could illustrate it.

He never had sent me anything he said he was illustrating. Finally one day, he sent me a letter, saying that he had finished an illustration for my MS of epigrams (called 'CARE AND CLEANING OF YOUR SOUL') and that he had decided to keep it for himself. Once in awhile, he said, he'd draw something else about what I'd written. But, basically, without saying it aloud, Mike had decided his illustrations were too good for me.

This man must have been truly happy with his own illustrations, since he was going to keep them to himself, and not even let me peek at one, even though it was illustrating something I'd said.

"Shame on you," I wrote back. "If you can't keep to what you said you were going to do, send me all my stuff back." (In fact, Mike had reneged on more than one illustration project while I knew him -- and those paid money). "And shame on you for wrapping your life around hatred of your mother," I wrote, something like this. Actually, I told him something like he lived torturing himself with an imaginary mother living in his belly telling him he wasn't allowed to draw pictures. I don't remember, exactly.

But in a week Mike sent me all my stuff back, including that letter. What I'd said got to him like a rolled up newspaper on a puppy's nose. I thought no more of it.

Not too long afterwards, I'd heard, Mike finally called his mother. He made up with her. Not long after that, his mother died, and left Mike seventy five million dollars, I think, from her. She was a major stockholder in an auto parts plant. I heard also that Mike wasn't doing much by way of illustrating any more, either.

If I shamed Mike into calling his mother and making up after all ("I never meant that, Mikey, what I meant was..."), I wonder if his cousin, who was otherwise slated to get all that loot at the bone-picking, has yet forgiven me. She hated her own parents for leaving her only a fixed income, like some irresponsible kid. I don't know. Is $500 a year in subscriptions to magazines one barely reads irresponsible? But maybe she doesn't know about the Aunt Bob caper. Drat the luck.


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