Friday, January 06, 2006

Love Is All Around

My heart is broken tonight at the news that my dear friend Michael Rosentreter died yesterday evening after an excruciating battle with lymphoma. Ever the private type, Mike requested that there be no funeral, no memorial, no burial -- and not even an obituary. I'm not surprised, really. Mike was the kind of guy who wasn't looking to draw attention to himself. I trust that his wishes will be respected, but I know there are many of us who sure would have liked to have had a chance to say a few words about our guy. So I'm sorry, Mike, but you know I could never resist a good story. And I never heard you say anything about my blogging. So if you're claiming to have any objections, Mikey, wherever you are now, just cut me some slack this time, 'cause I know deep down you love it.

I met Mike during my first week as a news research assistant at The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California. I had turned 23 that week and was starting my first postgraduation newsroom gig. Mike, Walter, Gayle, Pam and Jan had all been there for quite some time working for Sharon, and Lois and Diane -- along with Penny, shortly thereafter -- rounded out the staff. Like most newsrooms, there weren't enough desks for me to have my own, so I sat at Mike's my first few days because he was on vacation.

It didn't take my new boss, Sharon, long to figure out that the new kid from Mesa, Arizona, was a tad bit distracted living in Southern California for the first time (in June, no less!) and perhaps wasn't giving his 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Tuesday job his all (Wednesdays and Thursdays off? Come on!). I would have thought Mike would have been the first one to fly off the handle after I'd given out his phone extension -- 7797 -- as my own to every eligible bachelor in the Southland by the end of the month. But Mike and I clicked instantly. He was like Murray Slaughter to my Mary Richards -- well, you know, if she'd been a tall, thin, big-tooth gay guy instead -- well, instead of a tall, thin, big-tooth gal. He made me feel like everything I did was special. It seemed like the more Mike's phone rang off the hook the more it tickled him. He'd get a big grin on his face and wave the phone as he'd put it on hold and say, "Oh, Kenneth. There's a Sean on the phone for you!"

He'd listen to me babble on and on for hours about my breakup back home with the "love of my life" Derek, always asking the right questions and assuring me that everything was "Derek's fault." Yet every night at work he had this almost Warholian way of getting every salacious detail out of me about my life on the town (not that he had to try that hard!), where I'd end up telling him everything yet at the end I never felt like he was prying at all. I definitely sensed at times that at 15 years my senior, he was enjoying living vicariously through me a little bit -- and of course I loved the attention. Because he wasn't judgmental, he made you feel like you could tell him anything. No matter how badly you'd screwed up, he'd still see the good in you. Mike was the kind of friend who just made you feel good to know him.

Mike's laugh was his trademark, so there was nothing better than getting him going. There was no greater reward than seeing his big smile and hearing that loud cackle all around the room. It made going to work seem fun. And don't get me wrong, he was every bit as witty and clever as I was -- and a helluva lot smarter -- but he liked being the supporting character to someone else's over-the-top lead. And I must admit, I pulled more than my share of stunts back in those days. I'll never forget when I got hauled into my boss' office when I showed up for work in the shorts and t-shirt I'd been wearing on my "weekend" at my latest boyfriend's house in West Hollywood (I didn't have time to go home to change -- traffic on the 5 is a bitch; and don't believe that reverse-commute bullshit!). Sharon was not happy and wanted to know if this job "was just a pit stop between my social engagements." Convinced I was going to be fired, Mike quickly tried to put my mind at ease by reassuring me that it was, in fact, Friday and I do start work after noon, so it was essentially the weekend, when shorts are permitted at work. Crisis averted. (Of course, not even someone as sympathetic as Mike could help me through that infamous Saturday when I got to work very late and saw Sharon's car in the garage unexpectedly so I reasoned that I'd be better off calling in sick -- from the lobby of the paper -- rather than go upstairs 90 minutes late -- only she saw me on the phone in the lobby. But he never stopped laughing about it, and would tease me about every time we saw each other or spoke.)

As Mary did at WJM, over the years I felt like I had a surrogate family there in the newsroom. Gayle and Jan were my surrogate moms, Walter was my witty gay older brother, Pam was my artsy aunt and Sharon was my disciplinarian with a hidden soft side trying to shine through, my Mr. Grant, whose approval I secretly longed for. Diane and Penny were my more even-keeled aunts who listened to my endless personal drama ridiculousness -- to a point.

Although I felt close in one way or another to everybody there, Mike and Lois became particularly dear. Sometimes we'd hang out outside of work a bit. Nothing big. Little things, like chocolate-chip pancakes at IHOP. A ride to the record store on a lunch break. A snack up at the Daily Splatter. It's these times that I think of most fondly when I remember my days at the Register. It seemed like we were always laughing, always having fun. When I decided to move to D.C. in 1993, Lois and Mike were two of the first people who came to visit me. And Mike came a few more times to D.C. and even more when I finally made it to New York in '98.

This past year has been a heartbreaker. With Mike's parents both deceased, no siblings, and the rest of his extended family in Dallas, Lois has been all things to Mike. Not only has she taken incredible care of him -- and fought for his proper care in numerous hospitals and homecare situations -- she has been so thoughtful and reassuring to those of us who feel so helpless so far away.

But without a doubt, Lois made sure that the last year of our sweet Mike's life -- chemo, pain, suffering and all -- was still a lot more fun than it should have been. I thank you, Lois. And I know Mike does (and has), too.

And I don't care what you say, Mike. I'm putting this photo montage of you on here, too. If you got a problem with it, give me a call. You know my extension.

I love you, Mike. We miss you, already.

Photos: top row, Mike visits Kenneth's new office in the Homer Building in downtown Washington; Kenneth and Mike struggle to fulfill yet another request from that diabolical James Grimaldi; second row: Mr. Walsh goes to Washington: a cake, a party and a sendoff; visiting the old newsroom circa 1998; bottom row: Mike get chummy with Troy while visiting me in Washington circa 1996; Mike visits me in NYC shortly after my arrival in the Big Apple in 1998; Troy is thrilled to see his Uncle Mikey.


Loissss said...

You captured our Mikey perfectly -- and I know he loves being a part of your blog now. (But I always thought I was Mary to his Murray!)

To use one of Mike's favorite terms, he was a good egg -- but, really, so much more than that, more than I can ever express. Until I see you again, Mike, I'll be missing you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kenneth, for the wonderful tribute to our friend. You and I never got to know each other well, but I remember how fondly Walter and Mike spoke of you.

I was a bit surprised this morning to read the message from Sharon - but I must confess, a bit relieved that Mike's suffering is now over.

He and I shared many conversations about faith and the afterlife, particularly when his mother was so sick. We pondered the big questions: Life after death, redemption, hope - and Mike said more than once that he believed his Mom was in a much better place. I took solace in that view - as his mom's suffering took such a toll on him.

I found it sad that at the end he didn't want much contact with his friends, except for Lois and Bill, although I understood his thinking. I spent many an hour last year watering his lawn and always I had private little mental conversations with Mike. I would imagine his hearty, belly-laugh at some stupid thing I said, which would then send me to hysterics. (I wonder at my own sanity sometimes).

I remember archiving shifts in the library when he and I would get to giggling and couldn't shut up. He would end up in a coughing fit, nearly doubled to the floor in laughter. And what we called "the daily spill," where he would inevitably spill a medium-sized cup of his precious Cherry Coke all over his desk. Every single time he would jump up, all in a tither, utterly surprised, that it happened YET AGAIN. Never, ever, did he put a lid on the coke to keep it from spilling. I would fall out of my chair in laughter.

So to Mike I say good-bye, temporarily, until we meet again. In the meantime I take joy at knowing he's with his beloved mother and father again in the celestial place of joy. God bless you Mike and thanks for the laughs. Go in peace, and comfort. You're a dear man and we'll remember you always, with a laugh and spill.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear of Mike's passing. I remember his laugh so clearly. What an enormous loss. ~ Mark

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kenneth for saying it all, and so perfectly. Mikey loved being the supporting character and I know your friendship was very special to him. He will be missed by many friends.

I will miss our yearly birthday celebrations at El Cholo, but I know he is no longer hurting.

What fight he put up. Mikey was known for his kindness and wonderful sense of humor. He was one of the best friends a person have. I'll miss you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kenneth! I keep hearing Mikey laughing his Ed McMahon laugh, generously thanking those who came for research with a delightfully glad, "Thanks for being on the show!" So many reporters, and editors often stopped by his desk, just to kid with him, to get a "perk up" of Mike's good humor. Humor that you could count on come rain or shine. I'll miss him saying..."Sizzle Sizzle Pammie!" Meaning, its time to go to the Korean Barbeque for lunch, and watch Mike's delight while cooking up his delectible feast...many folks will remember the best and most charming lunch-time companion anyone was ever gifted to enjoy. He made moments special, you were always so proud to be with him, and now, I'm extremely proud to reflect on such a good man, such an open and gentle presence. Again, thank you Kenneth...Mikey is loving this,...and you KNOW it.... Pam E.

Anonymous said...

My Top 5 memories of Mike:

5) Sharing travel stories...he had an amazing memory of all his travels. He could still recall names, places, streets even 20 years later as if he had just travelled the week before.

4) His saying "Bless his heart..." in the most pleasant, sympathetic drawl when what he really meant was "What an idiot!"

3) His fights with Dick Glasow. My desk was like a front-row seat at an Ali-Frazier fight when the insults started flying. :-)

2) Watching "Jeopardy" together in the News Research room every night he had the late-shift. (Sorry, Sharon... but when you think about it, watching Jeopardy was a research-oriented activity to increase our knowledge that can help the reporters, right?!)

1) His laugh.

I miss you, Mike!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful thing, to have a sort of "cyber-wake" and share some of the things that made Mike such a terrific man, to laugh a little, cry a little, and grieve with some joy. I didn't know Mike at all well, not nearly as well as I would have liked (I'm Lois' brother), but I liked him enormously and enjoyed our visits together. In that regard, I envy you all, and I will now take a giant step back and listen some more and feel my own joy and sadness for the chance to have known him a little, and the hope to know him better some day.

And it was a terrific laugh.

Loissss said...

A few unsung heroines to mention:

Sherrie Good, whose good humor was a godsend for Mike on her weekly visits.

Penny Love, who was beside Mikey and me in his final hour, representing more of the circle of friends who all could never have fit into that tiny ICU room.

And Jane Tobehn, Mike's cousin and lifelong friend, who called from her home in Texas every single day she couldn't be with him (whether he could talk or not), and who moved out here to be at his home for a month at the end of his chemo treatments. She was invaluable to Mike, and I know he loved her deeply.

Loissss said...

One more I very much intended to include: Gayle Carter, who was the only one allowed to give Mikey foot massages! She was a tremendous support for him and me.

Sharon said...

Thank you, Kenneth, for this beautiful tribute and opportunity for Mike's friends to share remembrances.
We are truly bereft. Mike was so special. He was insightful, smart and thoughtful. He was fun and funny. He was a treasure.
I can imagine he and Walter are enjoying each other's company once again.
Peace be with him and to all who knew him.

Anonymous said...

ehKenneth: Thanks so much for your tribute to Mike. He indeed was a wonderful soul. I'm tempted to dial 7797...maybe he will answer!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing such a perfect, witty remembrance of our dear friend. I'm glad that I was told about your blog. And I agree with the others, Mike would love to be reading this. In fact, maybe he'd be enhancing the blog for the database...

My memories:
1. Watching Jeopardy! and "betting it all"!

2. Keeping the library a sane place to be. If Mike wasn't around to laugh with, it was a dreary day.

3. Sharing travel stories - we both like to just get in a car and drive somewhere, anywhere. He was supposed to come up to Ontario to visit but...

I'm sad.

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