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.
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.