Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Best Friend

When I turned 30 I had low key celebration. Just me and a dozen or so friends from work and school having a few drinks at a bar a few blocks from my place. My best friend Mike was overdue for a visit, so I mentioned the festivities to him when I was first planning them. He was tied up with work that weekend, so he couldn’t make it.

I didn’t think much more of it. Then, out of the blue, Mike showed up at the bar.

It wasn’t outside his character to surprise me, or travel long distances on little notice to help out a friend. The end result: I wasn’t just surprised; upon seeing him I stopped, cried out an expletive and burst out laughing before I got up to hug him. He hung around that night. The day to follow, we shot the shit, ordered Chinese food, watched Step Brothers and ended up at a piano bar, then went out for late night burgers.

I recount all of this not to suggest that there was anything particularly outlandish or story worthy in that visit, but on the contrary to illustrate nature of a friendship that has now carried on for twenty-one years (indeed, one of my earliest memories of us hanging out was at his ninth birthday party). Some friendships are based in common passions, or geographic proximity, or in supporting each other through hard times. No doubt, Mike and I have had our share of all of these things. But overlapping all of those more complex, more profound elements of camaraderie falls something much simpler, exemplified perfectly in Mike’s surprise visit for my 30th birthday: showing up.

I’ve many times recounted the story of Mike and I buddying up on the bus home from school in the spring of 1993, bonding over a copy of WWF Magazine. While pro wrestling fanship was the superficial glue between us in those fledgling days of our friendship, it was really only a starting point (and though my love of my wrestling carries through to this day, Mike outgrew it within a few years).

After we got to talking on the bus I walked to his house—about two minutes from my own, on the opposite end of the same street. Each day I’d get off the school bus and ask my father if it was OK for me to walk to Mike’s. After a few weeks, the question shortened to, “Can I?” Over the summer, I think I stopped asking altogether.

In the months and years to follow, we talked about everything. Wrestling first. Then video games. Mike drew me into his love of basketball--playing it ourselves, cheering on the New York Knicks on TV, and later collecting basketball trading cards. We talked about which teachers we liked and which ones we didn’t. We talked about our budding interest in girls. We watched movies together, maturing from Blank Check to Billy Madison to The Breakfast Club.

And then there were all the times we hardly talked at all. During my high school years, I wrote four novels longhand. Mike taught himself multiple computer programming languages and designed a tutorial application that instructed users on the form of Tae Kwon Do. For untold hours I sat at a corner of his bed, writing my stories while he sat at his computer desk, trial-and-erroring his way through his program design. Looking back, we laugh about one of the New Year’s Eves we spent together in that room, when we each worked, only to look up and see that midnight had come and gone. We wished one another a happy new year and got back to it.

A decade or so later, I told Mike I wanted to start a website about a cappella music. He didn’t question my lack of experience in the field, or the amount of work it would take to launch such a project. He asked how he could help. A year later my writing and his back end design brought The A Cappella Blog to life. We’ve kept it running seven years and counting.

I could write a thousand stories here. About the spring and summer when we went undefeated playing neighborhood kids two-on-two at the public basketball court. About our shaving cream graffiti art jobs on Halloween nights. About all the friends we introduced each other to. The lengths we went to to impress girls. About traveling to Las Vegas, Chicago, Montreal, Providence, Manhattan, Columbus or Houston. About playing with his nieces.

Friends come and go. Many serve a purpose then recede from our consciousness, only to show up again at a wedding or a reunion, or when they happen to travel through your town. And then there are those who stick.

Mike Scalise has stuck with me through not knowing how to shoot a basketball, to nerding out over AP exams, to heartbreak. We may not see one another every day now or talk on the phone quite as compulsively as once we did. Just the same, I’ll never be completely surprised when his name does show up on my caller ID, or when he shows up in person for a thesis reading, a big speech, a birthday party, or any other occasion that’s important to me. He’s the best friend I could ever hope for, and I love him like a brother--maybe more so.

Happy birthday, Mike.

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