Mike For the Book
By ice rivers
Some stories are so lovely that I hesitate to write them. Some legends are so fragile and delicate that I'm reluctant to reveal them. Here's a lovely story and a delicate legend all in one.
I'll try to do them justice before the memories fade completely as the blur increases every day.
I remember his first day in class. He was fresh off the boat. I mean that literally. He was a boat person from Viet Nam. He was in my English class.
He didn't speak a word of English.
I didn't know what to do with him that first day so I somehow signalled/sent him to the main office to pick up an attendance sheet.
The secretary at the main office was expecting a student from another class named Mike. When my student arrived, whatever his name was, it wasn't Mike. Helen asked my new student if his name was Mike. He didn't know what Helen was saying but he knew a question when he heard one.
He nodded his head up and down.
Helen said "Here, Mike", and gave him the papers.
He returned to my classroom a few minutes later without the attendance sheet but with whatever administrivia Helen was supposed to give to "Mike". I took the paper from him. I said thanks and asked him what his name was. He said "Mike"
I said "Hi, Mike"
That's how Mike got his name.
Aside from the single word "Mike", Mike spoke no English. We were a pair, Mike and I.
Mike would come into class, take his seat and listen with great patience and attention to the academic tumult engulfing him. I knew something of the concept of linguistic immersion wherein a person learns a foreign language more quickly by surrounding himself with it. I believed this was happening with Mike although I didn't know for certain. I did know that in this case English was the "foreign" language to Mike and he was surrounded.
One day after a couple of weeks, I noticed that Mike was taking "notes" of what I was saying. I couldn't imagine what Mike's notes looked like so I casually made my way to his desk to sneak a peek. Mike's "note" was a surreal and photographic drawing of a rose. As I looked at the rose, I was amazed as much by its sensitivity of rendering as I was by its virtousity.
Near the drawing, I wrote the word "rose."
Then I said the word "rose"
I spelled the word "R..O..S..E"
Mike smiled and said "rose"
I took a risk. I had a feeling the risk would be approved by Mike.
I announced to the class. "Check this out, everybody. Mike can draw."
Everybody crowded around Mike's desk.
Everybody look at the rose.
Everybody flipped out.
Everybody started saying "Mike can draw"
Eventually Mike got the message.
He spoke his first English sentence in English class.
This is what he said.
"Mike can draw"
Time stood still.
I'm here to tell you, Mike could draw.
Many scholars praise the efficient linguistic style of Julius Caesar, how much he could say with how few words. All of France is divided into three parts. Has anyone ever said more with fewer words at the beginning of his story.
This is the beginning of Mike's story.
Mike Can Draw.
Mike not only continued to draw but he also continued to listen with purpose and intention. Mike observed not only with his eyes but also with his heart and mind. Mike's vocabulary began to grow as he listened and observed. Nouns first then verbs then adjectives.
Here's the story of the first adjective I can remember.
One day, I walked over to Mike's desk and noticed that he had been sketching a portrait of himself.
On his portrait, I wrote a bunch of nouns with arrows like "mike" and "nose" and "eyes" and "ears"and "head" and "neck" and "body".
I pointed to each word and said it. Mike repeated the word with me.
Then I added the adjective.
I wrote "famous"; drew an arrow to the picture of Mike and said the word.
Mike hesitated a second and then asked "Mike famous?"
I said "yes, Mike is famous"
Mike startled me with his reply.
"no, Mike not famous. You, Mr. Rivers...you famous."
I realized that Mike's language skills were blossoming with as much beauty as his drawing skills.
From that day on, every time I saw Mike I would always say.
"Here's the famous Mike."
And Mike would always say, "Mike not famous. Mr. Rivers famous."
We would laugh.
We were connected.
Sure enough, Mike WAS becoming famous, at least in my class. I was running the school newspaper at the time. I asked Mike, still using arrows, objects and printed words if he would draw a comic strip for the paper. He drew the strip. The school read Mike's comic. His character was a lion, The school loved it. Mike's fame grew. His audience expanded.
By this time, everybody in my class knew something rare was happening with Mike and his art, kids were always crowding around his desk to see what new drawings were coming alive.
About this time, Mike develped a crush on Kathy.
I discovered this when Mike showed me a picture of Kathy that he had been drawing.
Mike was stylizing Kathy rather than photographing her with his rendering. I immediately recognized Kathy even with her stylized, over sized Disney girl eyes. I wrote "Kathy" on Mike's paper and drew an arrow. Mike blushed and smiled.
I could tell Mike wanted another word from me, an adjective perhaps so under Kathy, I wrote "beautiful" and drew another arrow.
Mike put the drawing away. His portrait of Kathy was not an image that he intended to show to the class. Not only were we connected; we had a secret.
A couple of weeks passed and Mike's language skills kept growing.
One day, he took out the picture of Kathy and showed me something new that he had added. He showed me that he knew how to change and adjective into a noun.
Under my printing of "beautiful", Mike had printed a word of his own.
This is the Mike had printed in painstaking calligraphy.
Beauty is truth and truth is beautiful.
I was facing a beautiful truth in my professional life as well as a crossroads. I was given the opportunity to write a grant under the auspices of the Federal Career Education Incentive Act Grant Program, the purpose of which, as the name suggests, was to help secondary education become a better link to careers.
I proposed my very first grant.
The proposal was funded for $500,000.
In my proposal I visualized the creation of an intern program. The idea was radical at the time. I was chosen to be the administrator for the project. I would have to leave the classroom.
Leaving the classroom was the crossroads and a difficult factor in the decision.
When the kids heard what I had done. They were proud of me. Mike came to me and said "Mike not famous, Mr. Rivers famous."
I left the classroom.
I left Mike in the capable hands of the Art. Dept.
The day that I left, Mike showed me his private sketchbook.
In his sketchbook were dozens of drawing of Kathy.
Underneath each sketch; a single printed word:
By the time I got the Intern Program running smoothly, moving it from dream to imagination to realization, Mike was back in my life.
Mike had made breathtaking progress in language and art and had begun to crystallize his dreams. Mike had grown to love classic Walt Disney cartoons and wanted to become an animator.
I had heard that fantasy from other students before and I would hear it again but with Mike...well he had a dream, spectacular discipline and dedication. I had an intern program.
Uh, let's put two and two together and see if it comes out four, twenty two or five.
I contacted the only artist in town who specialized in 16 millimeter matte animation, a guy by the name of Brian. I told Brian about Mike. I told Mike about Brian. I brought the two of them together at Brian's downtown studio. With Brian's encouragement and equipment along with the ongoing help of the high school Art Dept, Mike created his first animated cartoon.
He had even learned to play the guitar well enough to supply his own music to the animation. In Mike's cartoon one of the characters was a lion. Mike asked me, because I was "famous" to provide the voice for the lion.
Mike's cartoon was eventally selected in an extremely competitive national cartoon contest to be shown on Nickelodeon.
Mike's cartoon was one of the best student cartoons in the country. Little ol' famous lion voice me was roaring on television sets across America.
Mike was only a sophomore in high school but he was already thinking about collefge and colleges were thinking about him.
Anything was possible incuding truth , beauty and fame.
Mike was most interested in beauty.
He had discovered that the Disney studios regularly hired interns from the California Institute of the Arts. Mike knew about internships. He had completed four of them in high school.
In the meantime Mike had taken all the art courses at the school plus four more at Rochester Institute of Technology and had aced them all.
Mike spoke a lovely version of the English language, the direct, clear, soft and kind versionrarely used by native speakers.
Mike could draw
Mike could talk
Mike could write, words and music.
Mike could play the guitar.
Mike had a resume full of A's, internships, art work, awards and a cartoon that had played nationally on Nickelodeon. Mike applied to the California Institute of the Arts. We were all happy but not surprised when Mike was accepted and scholarshipped.
Mike was ready for another journey.
I was on a bit of a journey myself. My first marriage was breaking up although I didn't realize it or perhaps was denying the realization.
Mike had never been to a rock concert in his life so at the end of the school year, the night after his graduation I invited Mike as our family guest to see the Moody Blues at the Canandaigua Performing Arts Center. Mike acceptd the invitatiion.
You'll hear more about THAT later.
After the concert, Mike left for California. I haven't seen him since.
Here's the last few things I heard about Mike.
In college, his skill and interest continued to blossom. As an undergraduate, he applied for and completed an internship at Disney Studios.
Upon graduation from college, Mike was hired as an animator by Disney. His first screen credit appeared at the end of the LIttle Mermaid, listing Mike as an animator of Ariel. Apparently Disney liked Mike because his next assignment was a substantial promotion. Mike would be one of the main designers for Beauty and the Beast
Mike was helping to create Belle.
By now, everybody knows WHAT Belle looks like. Only a few of us know WHO Belle looks like. Beauty, if you will, looks exactly like the sketches of Kathy that Mike labored over so mightily, so beautifully, so passionately, so innocently and so truthfully during his junior high days.
Kathy is Belle.
Some stories are so lovely that I hesitate to write them. Some legends are so fragile and delicate that I am afraid to relate or reveal them.
Well, I tried.
As I tried, I kept flashing back to the writers who brought us the legends of the Old west, those scribes who turned big nosed, shifless, violent, alcoholic William Hickock into the great Wild Bill, the hansdome hero who died, shot in the back while playing poker and holding the deadman's hand...a pair of aces and a pair of eights. eights.
A cardinal rule for those writers was, according to John Ford in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "if you come to a crossroads between truth and legend, write the legend."
The legend of Mike and Kathy is the loveliest local legend, I've ever personally encountered. I'm part of it; a small part but yes I was there in the very beginning.
I can vouch for everything until Mike left for California. I can vouch for the similarities between Mike's sketches of Kathy and the rendering of Beauty.
Every once in awhile, when I reminisce about my teaching days, I like to think that I was the guy who had something to do with the inspiration for the creation of Beauty.
And ya know what?
It's a beautiful feeling
Maybe even true.
Next time somebody you know mentions truth, beauty or Beauty and the Beast tell 'em this story.
That's how legends grow,