The Other Mike

I live mostly in my memory nowadays, so you will have to forgive me for not doing everything in time order. Today I have chosen to use the time machine in my head to go back to the years 1965 through 1968 so that I can tell you a true-ish story about the Other Mike.

This is mostly important to where some of the things I put into my novels come from. Mike Bridger and I were alike in many ways. He was also a skinny kid from Iowa who was obsessed with comic books and monster movies. He was also immensely creative, especially about ways to get our gang of friends into trouble. He was likable, good-hearted, and enthusiastic about learning, especially about things the teacher didn’t really want him to know about. He was a year older than me, born in 1955 to my 1956. We were both the oldest child. He had two brothers. I had two sisters and one little brother. And he was both my enemy and my good friend. We both knew that purple was the color of real magic. And we were both Mike B. So, when we were in the same grade-school classroom, Miss Mennenga taught third and fourth graders together in the same classroom, just as Miss Rietz taught fifth and sixth graders together. So, one of us had to be the “Other Mike.”

In Miss Mennenga’s classroom, I was the student who excelled at reading aloud. So, I was the Literary Mike, the Story Mike. But when he brought the frog to school so that we could dissect it alive and see the heart beating (Miss M used a scalpel to pierce the little froggy-brain so the frog wouldn’t feel pain. This she learned how to do from a book about teaching science, and convinced me that knowledge treasures were inevitably in books.) he was forever after the Mr. Science Mike. He liked me enough to invite me to Science Frog’s funeral. He delivered the eulogy. The preacher’s kid and I dug the hole and buried the froggy corpse.

When we plotted how we were going to eventually get to the moon, the plans always came from the Other Mike’s evil little brain.We talked a lot about astronauts. We watched a lot of Walter Cronkite narrating Mercury and Gemini launches. And the two-person Gemini capsules led to a lot of space walks and really neat stuff like that. We talked about Alan Shepherd and Guss Grissom. We both knew about John Glenn’s amazing feat of orbiting the earth. We both knew about the first space walk by Ed White, and we were both devastated by the fire aboard Apollo 1 that caused the deaths of Grissom, White, and Chaffee. I built a model of the Apollo command module and the LEM ( Lunar Expeditionary Module), and the Other Mike broke the landing pad off of one of the LEM’s feet. We went through celebration and tragedy together several times. He moved away from Rowan in the Summer of 1969, so we never actually got to talk about the moon landing by Apollo 11.

And we both loved monster movies, which I wasn’t allowed to watch. He didn’t have a bedtime and could stay up to watch “Gravesend Manor,” the midnight monster-movie show on Saturday nights. I had to get my monster-movie fix each week from him. Second-hand narration was better than nothing, and because we both had vivid imaginations, it was probably scarier than watching the actual movie. I remember how he recounted Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, blow by blow, death by death. The recounting of what happened to Larry Talbot as he changed under the full moon not only gave me nightmares, it chilled him in the telling of it, and he was actually shaking in parts.

Mike Bridger (not his real name, though close because the Other Mike thing was real) became the character Milt Morgan in my hometown novels, Superchicken, The Baby Werewolf, The Boy… Forever, and his character arc will be complete when I finish the book, The Wizard in his Keep.

But as a boy, from ages 9 to 13, I know now things about the Other Mike that I didn’t know then.

I knew he was constantly bruised on his arms and legs. I knew he had cold sores more often than any of us. His hair was always kept closer cropped than mine, and I was known to have a lot of butch-cuts and flat-tops. I became aware that he was often plagued by fleas. I didn’t know his father was an alcoholic. And he never said a word about being abused. But the adults in my life were keener in discerning the truth. And now I regret every argument I had with him. I even regret the fistfight with his younger brother Danny. I got my first and only black eye from that fight. Boy! Do I ever regret that now, looking back at from years in future beyond that point. That hurt in more ways than one.

So, it’s safe to say that Milt Morgan is a me-character. I and the Other Mike are both the same person in a lot of ways. And I know how he feels about practically everything in life, because the Other Mike and I know each other really well. And we both had enough empathy to know what it was like to be the Other Mike. Not actually the same person, but close enough to know what it’s like to be the other person, to feel like the other person, the Other Mike.

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Filed under autobiography, characters, compassion, empathy, horror movie, Paffooney

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