Monday, September 14, 2015


In the fall of 1980, I walked into the band room of Forest Manor Middle School. It was a small group consisting of little more than 20 kids. The band director smiled at me as only a man who had spent a lifetime in IPS could and told me to take my place in the reed section.

There were five us: a saxophone, a clarinet, and three flutes. The rest of the band was made up of mostly out of tune brass instruments and three rather energetic drummers. I was the saxophonist. A scarecrow of a child with an alto sax hanging about my neck like a millstone. The clarinetist, of course, was Barry Strunk.

 We said hello and then settled in for the introductory diatribe that was requisite at the beginning of each new class. Somewhere between boredom and outright rebellion, I told a joke. I don't remember the joke itself, but I do remember that it was about a hotdog. Now, knowing me, I doubt I could repeat the joke here in polite company even if I did remember it. But, it made us laugh and that one joke began a friendship that lasted 35 years.

For the next six years, we were inseparable. Putt-Putt, video games (old school stand up games, not the consoles), Indian's games at the 16th Street field, movies, more video games, and always...always there was the music; this is how we spent our days.

I remember the summer before we started high school we got together to compare our schedules to see if we had any classes together. I hadn't joined the band yet as I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with it or not. Yet, it turned out that that would be the only class we had together, if I didn't. I joined the marching band for the same reason. So, no matter where our schedules took us, we always knew we would see each other in band.

We met other friends, of course, but then his friends became mine and mine became his. And during those four years, this group of friends became family. We too, were inseparable. So much so, that our families became family. The Strunks, the Moirs, the Roes, the Finchums, the Drews, the Whites, the Vaughns, and the Seligs; we all became one extended family.

Now, during all this, there came a little car named Fred. There's story behind the name, but that's for another time. I'm the oldest, you see. With my birthday being in January, I got my driver's license and car before any of the others. So, every morning for the next two school years, I would start my morning by climbing into my smurf blue VW Rabbit and going to pick up Barry. There were others who rode with us ( four to be exact), but Barry was always the first stop.

We had a lot of fun in those years, despite the challenges that Arlington provided. However, all things must eventually end. Graduation came and went and our family of friends dispersed into the world. Barry and I went to IU while many of the others joined various branches of the military.

It was in that first year that I wrote a story about that little blue car. It wasn't a particularly good story, but it did have all my friends, including Barry, as characters in it. Now, I portrayed Barry as I saw saw him. The character was kind, quiet, shy, and resolute with a stubbornness rivaled only by that of certain forms of granite.

Now, one day, I showed him this story. I said, "Here read this and tell me what you think."

He read the piece and then smiled at me in that silent way that he had.

Now, knowing him for as long as I had, I knew what this meant. "OK," I said. "What's wrong with it?"

He told me that there wasn't anything wrong with it. He just didn't agree with it.

"Agree with it," I asked. "What do you mean?"

"I talk way more than that, " he replied.

I arched an eyebrow at him. "Really?" I said with no little amount of surprise.

And in truth, He really did. If you were able to get him to talk about something he was passionate about, he would ramble on for ages. The Dodgers, for instance, or anything related to baseball was one of his all time favorite subjects. He could quote the statistics from every Dodgers team from Brooklyn to the current roster. The band Van Halen ( so much Van Halen) was another of his favorites.

"Alright, fair point." I said conceding the argument. Yet, as before, I knew that was all of it.

"So what else is wrong with it." I asked.

He told me that he didn't see himself that way. Now, being invested in this discussion, I had to ask him why.

"I'm not the sidekick." He said. "I'm the hero. I should be the one coming to the rescue."

Being young and not particularly tactful, I remember saying, "well, there can be only one hero. Since I'm the author, it's going to be me."

The hubris of youth.

Yet, as I stand here now. I do not see a man who lost his fight with his inner demons. I refuse to see him that way. From now until the day I die, I will remember him as he saw himself.

I will remember him as the hero he always thought himself to be.


  1. Nicely done, Mike. A tribute from a true friend. I'm so sorry for your loss. We go through life and meet people as we do, but we have very few true friends. I'm glad you had Barry. I'm sure he would have said the same about you. People take for granted how important friendship is. A great sendoff.

  2. Mike, your love for Barry had to have been appreciated. Heroes know us and the world better than we will ever know them and life. What a beautiful world you two shared.