In 1968, Mike Block and I switched schools. My family had moved back to Montague, after four years in Hart. Mike had always written a Montague address. He grew up west of town, in what I found to be the oddly named subdivision of San Juan.
In those days, there remained country schools because of the crush of kids called the Baby Boomers, and Mike’s first school years were in the wonderfully-named Mouth School. (Since the school was at least a mile from the mouth of the White River, I had no idea this was the source of its name.)
Mouth shut its trap to students after fifth grade. The kids moved on to Montague. Thus, Mike and I became classmates. We have been friends for forty-eight years.
We never became close friends in school. I was into sports; Mike, not so much. I lived in town; Mike, in San Juan, which clearly was way too cool-sounding for the likes of me to visit. Yet, I always liked Mike’s demeanor, his friendly nature, that he was kind and gentle, and he had a good sense of humor.
We graduated from high school and lost touch, but not for long. Neither of us strayed from home. Mike went to work in a factory in Montague’s industrial park, which makes OTC products like effervescent tablets. He continues to work there today. Nothing gets done if he doesn’t first do his job, scheduling and ordering . . . with a bit of ordering around, I bet.
In the early ‘80s, Mike bought a house on Meade Street, on the south side of Montague. In 1984, my first wife, Kim, and I also bought, and totally remodeled a house on Meade Street. Three blocks from Mike.
Mike and Kim became good friends. Mike and I rekindled the friendship we had in school, which is to say that we enjoyed each other’s company but didn’t do anything together. Kim came to know something about Mike that I didn’t know and, in those days, was the big shhhhh.
Mike had a roommate. (Ah, yes, you see where this is going.) I think I met the man once. He was shy, perhaps a homebody. To me, he seemed a recluse. Mike didn’t talk about him much. I didn’t ask much.
I’ll come back to that. To keep in chronological order, I must move onto this: Showboat.
Showboat was a variety show, featuring lots of music, dance, and comedy, put on for many years at the Montague high school for the purpose of raising funds for the band program. My mom was always in the chorus and got my sister, Sue, into it, too. Mike can’t recall what year he began, but it was not long after high school, in the late ‘70s, also singing in the chorus.
I was recruited to be in the show in the mid ‘80s, to replace, no, not one of the dancers (they missed their chance!), but one of the comedians, called “deckhands,” who told jokes and performed in skits between the, ahem, more important songs and dances.
My second year, I was promoted to mismanage the four deckhands. We had lost one, so I recruited Mike. He was reluctant, but I thought I recalled his having some experience on stage and I talked him into it.
He was a natch. The guy knows how to deliver a punch line.
Me: Mike, this is a case of mind over matter.
Mike: I see. You have no mind, so it doesn’t matter. (Rim shot, please!)
We did three shows together before the great comedy team of Block and Eilers was broken up by the show’s coming to an end and my leaving Montague to go to seminary. To say that we had a blast would not begin to capture the fun we had creating humorous mayhem together. Indeed, some of our fave jokes from those shows continue to find their way into our conversations today.
By the end of our three-show run, my affection for, and admiration of, Mike was through the roof. Just before I left for seminary, I visited him at his house. Finally, he told me what I now had suspected. This was not simply a roommate that he had. They loved each other. They were a couple.
Last year, Mike told me that, not long after high school, he nearly married a young lady. Wisely, he backed out. He knew it would be a mistake. He also knew that, at that time, he could not explain why.
Facebook reconnected Mike and me. My retiring connected us even more. I have visited Montague a number of times the past two years, and many of my visits have found me at Mike’s house, three blocks from where I used to live on familiar Meade Street.
Sadly, for some years Mike has suffered from Charcot’s foot, a diabetes-related condition where the sufferer can very easily experience ulcers and fractures.
Sure enough, almost two years ago, doing nothing but stepping normally on his foot, it fractured. He had surgery in December, 2014. His foot simply would not heal. Extensive therapy—including a brand new hyperbaric chamber in Muskegon, in which pressured oxygen works to promote healing—was too late to save his foot. In October of last year, he made the brave decision to have it amputated.
He and I talked at the time he was needing to make a decision. Clearly, he did not want to lose his foot. But, just as clearly, he knew the facts. He wanted, literally, to get back on his feet so that he could feel good and go back to work. He made the decision and did not look back: He would get back on his feet with one old foot and one new one.
Mike never once whined about his many months of suffering, surgeries, doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and the agonizing wait to heal.
Within weeks of his surgery, Mike was fitted with a prosthesis. February 1, he returned to work. He’s been cracking the whip just like the old Mike, ever since.
It would be way too easy to say that, of course, because Mike is gay, he accepted my being transgender with no problem. It is true; he accepted me without flinching. But he didn’t do it because he is gay, or because he knew how hard it was for him to harbor a secret and then go public with it and await the fallout. No, he accepted me, and was gracious to me, and has continued to be my esteemed friend because he is a gracious and lovely man.
We’ve had a lot to commiserate about these past two years, and we have done it, either with him in his easy chair and me on the couch, or at his kitchen table enjoying one of the dandy recipes he has whipped up for lunch, backed with copious cups of coffee.
Mike’s even done a dazzling job of adapting to calling me Gina, though he often uses the familiar “G” for a nickname. Gee, but “G” is fine with me when it comes from the only friend I made during my middle school years, with whom I have remained a friend for the rest of my life.
Because Mike dealt with his situation decades before me, remained planted in our hometown, and went about his life as a hard-working, involved, honorable citizen and human being, he is one of the many on whose shoulders I now stand, and a fellow Montaguan who opened a big door for me in our home town.
Thank you, Michael Block. I love you, bud.
I’ll see you soon on good old Meade Street.