Today, I got to see the jet dragster my husband, Brian, has been working on for the last few months run the engine. While we didn’t get to see it race, it was still pretty awesome because, well, fire blows out the exhaust. And when it does get to race, it can potentially go up to 300 m.p.h. And as anyone who has seen Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby knows, America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed (Eleanor Roosevelt).
But there was something missing. A palpable void.
Brian’s best friend, Mike, used to own the jet car. When I first started dating Brian, they ran the dragster at least once a weekend down in Pomona, the closest track to where Mike lived. I loved watching the jet car spew fire from its exhaust, but more than that, I loved seeing the passion they had for this sport, and the camaraderie as they worked together.
I’ll admit here — I thought Mike was an arrogant blowhard. He was an egomaniac and while I don’t think he was a misogynist. he seemed to have some preconceived notions about women. Although he didn’t exactly look like Brad Pitt, he only dated women who were a size 2 or smaller and at least double D’s. But he could do that. At the high point of his career, he was a top salesman at IBM. And even after he left IBM, he continued to make money with various investments. So he got the women. After the money ran out (which it invariably did), those women would be gone in a flash. But he’d make more money, and get more women.
He was also not a great influence on my daughter. As she entered her teen years, Uncle Mikey (as he became known in our family) would tell her stories about these women — not in great detail, but enough that she knew about his cartoonish feminine ideal. I also didn’t like him chain smoking around her.
Mike would sometime crash at our place. He’d go out gambling, and come home late at night/early in the morning with a carton of cigarettes and convenience store foodstuff that was meant to resemble animal by-product. My daughter and her best friend would sometimes discover the foodstuff long after he left. Mike became known as “Mystery Meat Mike.”
Mike would be the first to admit he was a pig. But frankly, I’d rather be around a pig who admits he’s a pig, and wears his pig badge proudly than some New Age man-bunned douche who pretends to be cultured and sensitive but is probably a bigger pig than Mike ever was.
And Mike was also the best friend my husband and I could have had. He was my husband’s best man at our wedding, and was at his beck and call that whole weekend (except when he had to take his girlfriend to buy underpants at the mall. That’s a whole other story.) He was there for my husband when my husband’s brother hung himself in prison a few years later.
He was one of the first friends to visit us when our daughter was born. On his way up from SoCal, he asked me what I needed. I half-jokingly said I could really use a beer. I hadn’t had alcohol in almost 9 months, and my doctor put me on a low-carb diet. And as everyone knows, when you’re not allowed to have something, you crave it all the more.
So while everyone else came down to the hospital with flowers or blankets and toys for the baby, Mike came down to the hospital after my C-section with a six-pack of Anchor Steam for me. And the nurse let me drink it. It was the Best Beer Ever.
Brian had to stop working on the jet car when the monthly trips to Pomona were too much, what with a new job and a baby. But Mike was always there for us, offering support, an ear to bend, and would physically be there when needed. He was an integral part of our family, complete with a trail of mystery meat and cigarette butts.
Mike died last year from COPD brought on by years of chain smoking and heroin use. Mike was once a bigwig salesman at IBM who made well into the six figures. When he died, he was flat broke. But he wouldn’t sell the jet car because he thought one day he and Brian would get it together and start racing again someday. I think it represented the bond he and Brian had. It’s a bond I’ve never seen before nor experienced myself.
After Mike’s death, his parents sold the jet car to a mutual friend of Mike and Brian’s, who has allowed Brian to work on the jet car the way he did with Mike.
It was great seeing the old girl back in action. But it wasn’t the same.