Friday, June 22, 2007

A Mighty Fine Mike Was He

The day after Penny and I celebrated our 12th anniversary, I learned that Mike Rokoff had died. He was only 68, and (everyone who knew him would agree) one of the swellest, happiest, most human of beings. I've been obsessively bummed out about it ever since.

Mike was one of those solid, soulful, heart-of-gold guys who should live forever. Absolutely authentic, goofy, and good down to his bootsoles. He never tried to be anyone but who he was. He loved everyone for who they were. That last sentence sounds over-the-top, but I've never known anyone who could empathize even with pain-in-the-ass people the way Mike could.

I sat next to him for the better part of a decade. Much the better part. He shepherded me through a new job, when I became his creative partner in Hallmark's foray into pre-Internet electronic media in the mid-1980s. A couple of years later, he saw me through a divorce, inviting me to move into the spare bedroom at the house he and his wife Donna had opened up to so many over the years. And I did. It was during that month, as I hunted for apartments and tried to keep my sanity, that I began to learn the secrets of Mike's legendary happiness:

Take a bath every morning.

Draw cartoons on a little over-the-tub desk as you take a bath every morning.

Laugh loudly at the cartoons you draw.

Make fun of the morning news, adding word balloons to newspaper photos of national figureheads.

Always be checking out new music and lending recordings you've made.

Smoke a pipe, and look good doing it.

Be a Cubs fan--always good for laughs.

Travel all over the place, and have goofy misadventures to tell people about later.

In addition to loving your wife, admire her. Express your admiration all the time.

Never miss a chance to make a ridiculous pun.

Celebrate the stupid stuff that happens to you (Mike's post-hernia-operation party became an annual event).

Revel in the personality quirks of your kids and your friends.

Try any food at least once.

Listen more than you talk.

Love animals.

Retire before you have to.

Move to the woods to live deliberately.

Build your dreamhouse. Live in it with your darling. Invite everybody over.

Laugh, laugh, laugh.

And when you do yet another good thing for yet another person, and the person wants to pay you back, just say, "Pass it on."

Man, I'm gonna miss that guy. The last time I talked to him, early this year, he was feeling good, having survived a heart attack the year before, and having gotten Donna through a cancer scare. They were back to their lives, starting to plan trips and get-togethers. He sounded great.

The first time I called Donna after the memorial service, I got the answering machine. Mike's voice was still on it. I just about fell over. He had such a deep, rumbly, warm smile of a voice. It instantly reminded me of sharing an antique church pew with Mike in the office living room at staff meetings. When he spoke, his voice would vibrate through the wood of the bench and I could feel it in my bones.

Mike resonated. Best vibes of any friend I ever had. He made the life of everyone who knew him better. I still can't believe he's gone.


Mol the Doll said...

Mike was good to me, too.

I met him when I was dating an obviously bad-for-me guy who worked in Mike's department at Hallmark. It took about ten minutes for me to see that Mike was a kind, understanding, generous, welcoming, totally sweet-spirited guy. And another ten to wonder why I was wasting my time on a guy so completely the opposite.

Donna and Mike hosted lots of great parties.
One of the most memorable was an Irish wake
(complete with casket, flowers, & music) when Hallmark's Line Extension department was shut down.

I still run across copy Mike wrote for Hallmark,
and it's remarkable that someone could be that funny without ever being snotty or mean.

What a great guy. What a great loss.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, what a nice tribute. I liked his work, though I didn't know him. Now I wish I had known him and had hugged him at some point.

Tina said...

I didn't know him either, and also feel like hugging. Perhaps we should redirect our hugging efforts and target Jim. 'Long as he's not wearing his Sweaty Shirt®.

Jasph said...

If I can't make money at blogging, at least I can get me some hugs.

I finally put the Sweaty Shirt in the wash. It was time. But hey, how are you and Dan getting the special characters, like the upside-down exclams and the registered trademark symbol? I can't even get boldface or italics or bullets.

How come I don't know how to do things?

What's wrong with me...?

Tina said...

I can't figure out bold or italics in the blogosphere neither.

® is just "option" key + "R" key.

®®®®®®®®®®®, not to show off.

molly said...

I believe that I grew up with Mikes daughter Beth in Cleveland Ohio. Can someone verify that Mike was indeed her father. If so how would I find beth??? Thanks

Anonymous said...

I met Mike at the art department at Arizona State University where we both were art students. He was kind and generous then, so I'm not surprised that that is how he remained throughout his life. I was fortunate to have met him and will keep him and his family in my thoughts.

Unknown said...

Tonight I looked at a piece of Mike's artwork on my wall and just decided to google up Mike. How sad I am to find that he is gone. He was my friend at ASU, but after his divorce from Sandy we lost touch over the busy years of living and moving around the country. What a joy he was! We would laugh uncontrollably at any crazy was the late '50s and his "I Like Eich" signs appeared in the zaniest places. While visiting me in California after we had graduated he coined a word I have used for 50+ years....Mentuala! Bet you can think of several people who would fit that description! I laughed at the description of him and the bathtub "art studio"! That was his studio whether in Tempe, Majorca, Woodstock or wherever. My heartfelt affection goes to his family eventhough they have no idea who I am.

Anonymous said...

It was Michelle Obama comment about kids not liking green vegetables that made me think of Mike. He illustrated a book called "Green Is Yucky" in the early 1970s when his kids were young and he and his then wife - I can't remember the name but I still see the face - used them as sources for children's books.

I knew him in Santa Fe in those days. There were two posters of his that I loved, "Tolouse La Truck," a short bearded man sitting behind the wheel of a semi,and "Napoleon Blown Apart," in his famous pose, his hand tucked into hos vest holding lit sticks of dynamite.

Remembering those things almost 40 years later, I can say that he gave me something special.

Aaron Kirschbaum
Bellevue Washington