“An old friend is coming into town. Do you mind if I include him in our dinner plans tonight?” Marvin asked somewhat sheepishly on the telephone.
“Not at all,” I replied. “That’s fine. Invite him over.”
“Okay” Marvin continued, “but, I have to tell you, he is…a little…different.”
At this point, I wasn’t sure whether to expect a two-headed hydra or a mutant with a unicorn protruding from his forehead.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I stated, hoping to put the idea to rest but unable to get the strange physical visions out of my head.
The knock on the door from the imaginary mutant came later that night, and the tall, lanky gent had only one head and no horns, fortunately. He had driven down from Austin on the hot August night and carried with him a silver briefcase in the right hand and a Coors Light in the left. A long smoke – magnified by an even longer white filter – dangled from his lips. I had never seen a cigarette that long in my life, except perhaps in old black and white films, usually from a leading lady in a flowing white gown.
Instead, he wore a blue checked short sleeved shirt and freshly pressed jeans. It was unusual to see jeans in San Antonio after May 1st due to the heat, and especially not in the month of August when 100+ degree days and 95 degree evenings were the norm, and shorts were de rigeur.
“Hi, I’m Mike, Marvin’s friend” he drawled, putting down the silver case just long enough to extend his right hand.
I shook the hand, and was surprised to find it moist in this heat. “Hi Mike, it’s nice to meet you, come on in.”
“Polock, get your ass in here!” Marvin bellowed from around the corner, two West Texas voices harmonizing with one another. I couldn’t get past the moniker “Polock” -- not an especially nice word where I come from, but practically a term of endearment between these two buddies.
Mike entered the apartment and rested the silver briefcase on the small tiled foyer. “Hey, Marv, it’s good to see you” as they gave each other a brotherly hug.
After some chit chat, Mike explained that he had car trouble somewhere around New Braunfels, and needed a wrench. Some work still needed to be done on the vehicle. We followed Mike down to the apartment parking lot, several tools in hand, just in case. That’s when I first encountered the Beast Master.
The Beast Master was a huge two ton hunk of 1970s Detroit metal, a testament to the steel mills of the Great Lakes, and the bad designs of the 70s. It was burnt orange in color and limo in size. It had headlight covers that failed to fully close and power windows that failed to open. And a broken air conditioning system.
“Mike, how in the hell did you drive this thing down here with no air and no windows?” Marvin exclaimed, bristling at the notion of riding in a smoke-filled car in desert-like heat.
Mike shrugged off the comment, opened the passenger door, and crawled into the driver’s side. Yes, the driver’s side door also failed to open. Many months later, Mike would lament the difficulty of finding a date and Marvin would never fail to excoriate him for driving such a heap. “Polock, what woman wants to ride in that?”
On this night, Mike stuck his head under the hood, used the wrench and screwdriver to tweak a few things, and a few minutes later emerged triumphantly, seemingly proclaiming that he had fixed the problem. “Well, that bitch will never piss on me again,” he uttered. I presumed that Mike had solved the problem, although I had no idea what he had just said or meant. I was confused.
The more I watched and listened to Mike, the more frequently did Marvin’s words echo in my ears: “He’s a little different…a little different….
Mike literally spoke how Jack Kerouac wrote. During dinner, I realized that Mike was speaking a foreign language I had never heard before, with a strange vocabulary, cadence and rhythm straight out of the Beat generation. I came to believe that Mike, although physically living in the present, was not really from this space and time. He was a hipster in spirit, a raconteur at heart, with the small town values of Abilene imbued in his soul. Billy Graham meets Bill Burroughs. But he was really so much more than that simple combination.
Over time, I learned that Mike could speak about virtually any subject. He was a wonderful storyteller who had a passion for history and loved science. His light bedtime reading would include books on nuclear fission and organic chemistry. He loved music and had an encyclopedic knowledge of musicians, particularly guitar players. His musical tastes were as diverse as I have known, running the gamut from big band, new age, folk, rock, techno, world music, and everything else in between. When Mike was interested in a subject, he dove into it head first, devoting his full energy and studying all nuances. This passion was demonstrated with politics, militaria, arts, sports, science, technology, and nature. He was a lifelong student of life who had an enormous breadth of knowledge.
And his geographic knowledge of Texas was frightening. I remember one evening pulling out a map of Texas and trying to quiz him on various small Texas towns, hoping to find one he had never heard of. I could not. Not only did Mike know where each town was located, he usually had a story about some experience he had in that town! I think Mike has had some job in, or travelled to, virtually every hamlet in Texas (and many outside of Texas, too). I have often told him that he should write a book about his unusual experiences, from meeting Russell Johnson (the Professor on Gilligan’s Island) at some gin joint in Corpus Christi, to befriending George Jones’ son in a Huntsville auto shop, to learning he is related to the great baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, the Grey Eagle of Hubbard, Texas.
In many regards, Mike is a walking contradiction – a man of infinite diversity. He could howl and laugh at the “Clones” on the Jim Rome show in the afternoon and study the Bible at night. He loved to be around people but also loved the solitude of fishing alone. He had the technical skills to build a clock from scratch with exacting standards, yet could never be on time. He could verbally recount a compelling story and, at the same time, write a wonderful story. A rare talent, indeed.
After dinner that night, we shared many stories and laughs until the evening came to an end. Mike eventually exited as he had arrived – filtered smoke and silver briefcase in hand. He fired up the Beast Master and hit the road, a la Jack Kerouac. The tail lights faded into the San Antonio night.
A new, unique friendship was born.