Song Of The Day 3/6/2017: Brian Eno & John Cale – “Spinning Away”
The Final 24
It was when we worked at Marsh & McLennan that we began to serve as each other’s life sounding-boards. Well, he more so than me. He could tell very early on that the thing that was to become my first marriage was a load of trouble, and got visibly mad when it seemed like I was capitulating to the situation. Again, I heard him, but didn’t listen.
He called later to apologize. “I don’t like to see you being treated like this,” he said. “That’s why I got mad. Please don’t take it personally.”
Mykel was the only person to get mad at me for my own good. He was also the only person, ever, who tried to warn me or stop the situation from developing. Nobody else had the nerve to tell me I wasn’t crazy, that my suspicions were pretty much 100% correct, until years later.
A lot of people knew what was going on. Mykel was the only one who stood up for me—in the Bay Area, Seattle or Olympia.
Damn right I remember that.
He was going through a similar emotional crisis with his partner, Jim. I was a little more of an eggshell walker in that case, because Myk had a few years on me, and I’d more or less displayed that my maturity about relationships was kind of at the novice level at best.
But at some point things leveled out a little. We were sort of the fun captains of the word processing unit at M&M. One year on my birthday, about every twenty minutes as I was sitting at my desk, he’d brush by and throw confetti on me. Every twenty minutes. He brought a lot of confetti.
I played him some of my favorite music of the time. R.E.M.’s Out of Time was a big one. He enjoyed “Shiny Happy People” without irony. I played him “Birdhouse of Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants. I knew he would crack up when they got to the line about “killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts,” and he did.
One afternoon I came in the office with Wrong Way Up, a new CD by Brian Eno and John Cale. (In a few years, Cale would become one of my favorite solo rock artists ever, in quick fashion.) I laid the CD on Mykel’s chair with a Post-It that read, “TRACK #6!!!!!!!”
The song was called “Spinning Away.” He liked it a lot.
I can’t remember when Mykel was diagnosed with HIV.
There were so many times before and after he got it that he seemed in perfectly good, even ebullient spirits. My memory’s telling me it was probably some time after we got to Marsh & McLennan, but I can’t have total faith in that. Maybe it was at Frank B. Hall.
But admittedly something did linger over us towards the end of my stay in San Francisco. It was cloudy. There were still jokes and even a couple of hysterical outbursts, but something was eating away at him.
He’d moved to Oakland. Jim and he finally committed, as they both knew what was around the corner. I went over there for dinner a couple of times. There was no unease between them. They’d finally become what Myk wanted.
Myk had to leave Marsh & McLennan at some point. I knew it was coming. I didn’t discuss it with any of my fellow workers in the steno pool. He just stopped working there. I saw him only intermittently before we left the Bay Area. We talked on the phone about once a month.
Once I was checking my phone messages from a remote location. I used to be pretty flippant about my outgoing messages to callers. They were a comedic outlet for me. I had no ambition to be a stand-up comedian, so for years I’d just leave humorous statements on the message going out.
One message was from Myk, who I guess sounded a little annoyed that my remote greeting to him was in the form of a joke. He left a terse message: “Well, Paul, I’d like to inform you about the death of Jim.” Then he hung up.
I called him back and he apologized right off the bat. I told him he had nothing to apologize for whatsoever. We talked for 20 minutes. Actually he talked. I listened. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t know how close.
They buried Jim near his parents’ house in San Bernardino.
I saw him once more a couple of weeks before I moved to Seattle. It was just me and him at his house. I was all primed up to talk to him about what was going on, and where the future was headed.
Instead we just played computer Monopoly before I headed home. Upon leaving he said “I can think of no nicer way to have spent this evening. This was perfect.”
We played Monopoly.
We kept in touch every once in awhile after I’d moved to Seattle. Usually it was me calling him, since he wasn’t feeling a lot of strength to reach out. He apologized—again, needlessly.
One evening I spoke to him from the Lake Forest Park/Lake City condo. It was just another upkeep conversation.
He remarked that he was pleased about my marriage. “Something must have really changed in her for you to agree to settle down. I’m glad you saw whatever it was.”
We talked about 25 minutes. We had some laughs. But there was something halting in his voice.
We never talked about “the end.” It was a subject neither one of us really wanted to broach in each other’s company.
We both lived in San Francisco in a time when AIDS was ransacking our social circles—his more than mine, I would think. But it was around all of us all the time. I’ve talked about how I used to pass by this dance bar on Castro Street every morning on the way to work. The front of the bar was completely open to the street. Even at 8:00 in the morning there was music coming out of the bar into the street, and quite a few patrons already inside. More than a couple times I’d look at their eyes and just see this wearied, exhausted sadness. Nobody was crying. Nobody had the energy to cry. It was just a beaten down awfulness—the most haunting look of resignation I’d ever seen in strangers. I’ve never been able to shake that.
Whatever it was, Mykel was dealing with it on completely different levels in triplicate—dilapidated, detached, alone.
And we never, ever talked about how it was going to end at one point.
Anyway, at the end of this phone conversation, for reasons I still haven’t quite figured out, I told him, “Listen… I love you, man.”
Those are three words it takes a lot for me to say to anyone—to my detriment, to be honest.
I could tell he was a little taken aback. He said, “Thanks. We’ll talk soon.”
We went to Oakland for a visit to someone, so when we got there I called Mykel’s number. I got an automated message that the number for the party I was trying to reach had changed. The new number was in the 909 area code. That’s San Bernardino.
I wrote the number down and called it, knowing what I was going to hear.
It was Jim’s mom who answered the phone. I told her who I was, and that I was trying to reach Mykel.
She could not have been nicer. I don’t know how many calls she had to field that were like this, but she was extraordinarily patient.
I’d missed Mykel by a few months, she told me. But that I shouldn’t worry, because he was in a very peaceful state of mind over the last few weeks, and had even felt some measure of relief that seemed to carry him over.
She told me Mykel and Jim were buried side by side in San Bernardino, and that it was a real pleasure to talk to me.
Mykel was 32.
A couple of years later I wrote a song called “Awful License.” It’s another one of the songs of mine that I can stand, even though it bore a close resemblance to a song called “Into Your Arms” by the Lemonheads, a band that I never particularly cared for.
“Awful License” was about missing a funeral and going on a self-destructive binge because of it.
I didn’t do that, of course. (Not because of missing the funeral anyway.) But it was mainly about the frustration of mistiming one’s mourning, or whatever happens when we can’t execute our usual plans for closure. It was about being too late to give back.
Naturally, it was the thing that ultimately gave me closure. Although I’m trying to figure out how to get to San Bernardino with what time I have left, however much it is.
About six weeks after Lucie was born, during Christmas, I was hanging out with her in her grandparents’ living room. She wasn’t able to sit up yet, but I was play-acting with her anyway.
She was playing with one of those toys that hang over your head that you bat around and find absolutely enthralling. I was reading aloud from a chapter about psychology from The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. She found this, as well, to be hysterically funny.
For the first year of her life Lucie found a whole lot of things hysterically funny. I’d prop her up in the kitchen to watch as I made dinner, and she loved it tremendously. She’d laugh behind my back, and when I’d turn to face her she had this ice-cream-eating grin on her face. Like this was something she’d known all her life and it was still as hilarious the 37th time as it was the first.
I don’t have any opinions on reincarnation, but a couple of times I wondered if all Lucie’s joie de vivre was actually that of Mykel’s, come back to spend time in the state of perpetual amusement that he tried to operate under.
Or, if he didn’t want to make that situation all weird, whether he’d explicitly recommended to someone searching for a new body to live in that Kate and I were starting out as parents, and that he could practically guarantee they’d have the time of their lives with us.
Hope you like it up there, Mykel. We’re doing all right.