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UPDATE: I wrote the below before I was sure how public my friend and his family were with his sudden, bizarre case of cancer; I’ve previously been close to people who didn’t want similar stuff to be public, since previous illness can wrongly affect their ability to get future work.
But my friend Mike Irwin is perfectly happy with everyone knowing his family could use your help. You may recognize him from frequent TV appearances during the cable comedy boom of the early 1990s. Whether it was Evening at the Improv, Carolines Comedy Hour, MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour, and so on — Mike did them all. Now it’s later in the story, and his family could use all the help, love, and support they can get. Fortunately, not only are comedians already starting to line up to do benefits, there’s also the Mike Irwin Cancer Fund if you’d personally like to chip in with a donation right now.
Incidentally, Mike never smoked a cigarette in his life, nor is there any other obvious cause to point to. This could happen to you or me just as easily. Just, bang, cancer, stage four, and good luck.
But I just came back from a few days with Mike in the hospital in upstate New York, and he has some serious crap to deal with — stage four bone cancer is even harder than some of the stand-up one-nighters we went through together back in the day — but if there’s anybody I’d be willing to put money on right now, it’s Mike.
My love to him, his wife Esther, and their large menagerie of offspring.
A personal thing.
I got some hard news last week. A guy I’ve known for 22 years — half my life — somebody I started out with in comedy, a guy who was my best friend for a while and whom I remained close to for a number of years… has cancer.
Last night comes the news that it’s pretty advanced.
Won’t mention the name here, but he’s a dear friend, just a little older than I am. Good marriage, three boys, great attitude toward life, the sort of fellow who takes responsibility for his own mistakes and faces adversity with a shrug and a smile and a can-do attitude. I’ve seen him plow through some serious crap in this life. And now this.
Right this minute, he’s in a hospital somewhere going through seventeen kinds of emotional and physical hell trying to plow through this latest — and if anyone on earth can, he can, I assure you (and myself) — and his wife is either right there next to him or home trying to get a few shreds of sleep before going back to on hope patrol. I’ve been through that vigil with loved ones myself a few times, sometimes with good outcomes, sometimes not. What her husband, my old friend, is going through, I can only try to imagine.
And here’s the thing: I’m ashamed to realize that as much as I care for and admire this guy, we’ve been in gradually diminishing contact, geez, ever since I moved out of New York fifteen years ago. Adulthood and jobs sneak up, we move around, relationships change, and old friends sometimes phase nearly out of our lives unintentionally before we even realize it.
Now suddenly I’m here, and he’s there. Somebody hit the fast-forward button when nobody was looking.
But we were young together.
The things that stick in mind are things that mattered for no damn reason I can think of, other than the sheer daily fact of friendship. There was this barbecue on his porch on a clear spring night on the south side of Chicago, him and his first wife and a bunch of other young hopeful comedy people, back when I couldn’t afford my own place yet and they let me sleep under their stairs on the second floor. It wasn’t much — hell, it was barely anything — but thanks to them, it was home for a while. Or doing stand-up comedy together, early in our careers, in this giant barn-like building in a small farm town in western Ohio, with picnic tables for the seats and a lone spotlight that was as blinding as the sun. In New York, finding a bowling alley in Brooklyn that had ancient lacquered lanes so we could spin the ball from gutter to gutter, often whether we wanted to or not. Working on our acts in the back of a Howard Johnson’s hotel in St. Petersburg Beach, wondering where the odd life we’d chosen would eventually take us.
Strangely, as much as I find myself feeling fear, worry, and all those things for my friend right now — what I also feel, maybe more than anything is… gratitude.
I hope he knows how much I love him. Even if I’ve been out of touch.
I told his wife that if they need me to pack up and go live under the stairs again, I’ll go.
And when he makes it through this, I am so gonna drag his butt back to that bowling alley in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, my point for you, whoever you are, and whenever you may visit:
If you’re reading this, and you have a few old friends you’ve lost touch with, maybe you want to find a minute and say hey.
Call them. For no damn reason. Be young with them, as young as you are right now while you’re thinking of them.
And be grateful.
Here’s the local newspaper’s idea of a fun flash-animated baseball game:
Use the arrow keys on your keyboard or the buttons on the game to move the tarp out as low clouds bring snow, and back in again as the snow goes away.
Don’t let the field get too wet or the ump will call the game. But don’t leave the tarp out too long or there won’t be enough time to finish!
This is really what April is like for Cleveland baseball fans.
I wish they’d win the World Series one of these years. The fans deserve it. They really do.