In Honor of Mike Lodick

I am at a total loss. In total shock. I just heard something that took my breath away. My friend, my dear sweet friend, Mike Lodick, free spirited, kindly humanitarian, director, and Buffalo theatre-lover, is no longer with us. I was with him last night, and tonight he is gone. I can’t believe I am never going to have the joy of spending time with him again.

In honor of Mike, who loved to tell stories, please let me tell you one about Mike. Let me please tell you about how I knew him, and in a short time what he came to mean to me. The first time I met Mike was a few months after I had moved back to Buffalo. He reached out to me and asked me to stage manage at Subversive. I had already committed to working with the JRT for the year, but there was something in his email that was special and there was something in my email to him that he found special. We were kindred spirits at the get-go. He asked me to meet him for coffee at Spot on Main Street. Our chemistry as friends, odd balls as we were, was instant. As soon as I laid my eyes on him, I adored him. I had no idea what to expect, and there he was, in his shorts and his Hawaiian shirt and his Birkenstocks and his wild curly hair. Something about his face and his smile, matched with that style, made me instantly feel comfortable and joyful. I smiled and he smiled, and that was it, two hours later, we were still at the coffee shop, laughing together, talking together about life and about theatre.

It is not often to make a friend so easily, but with Mike the fellowship between us was instant. We laughed and laughed. He said he liked my manner, and would love to work with me as a director, but even more, he just liked me as a person and wanted to get together again for the laughter. So we did. He asked me to act and got me back on stage for the first time, having me act in a scene performed with other area actors for a play-writing class, and he made it easy for me. Who can explain it; we just clicked. Every time I saw Mike, we would both light up with extraordinary exuberance and our arms would open for a happy hug, like two young children without a care in the world.

Every so often I would get a message from Mike, saying it was time for us to meet for a drink. Whenever we did, he reminded me how he enjoyed laughing with me. It was not contrived or fake; it was real and natural. The love was mutual and joyful. I could be myself with Mike and feel at ease; he was a loving spirit that was open to me and others, a loving, non-judgmental heart. It was not easy for me when I got together with him in 2017, after my terrible trauma, and I had, amidst our laughter, to tell him what had been going on in my life over the three months he had not heard from me. He was really sweet about it, and he could feel, I know, that emotionally I had to keep things light, and he was happy to do that. His response eased my anxiety and pain. I got out what had happened to me, as quickly as I could, and we moved on. He did not see me differently. He saw me the same way he did before he received the shocking news, and that was the best gift he could have given me, as a friend. We went back to laughing, and that was that.

He was the only person in my life who said to me, without a doubt, that he knew I would get into a PhD program– and he was right. In late February, I wrote to ask him if I had given him the news that I had been accepted into the PhD program. He said, “You didn’t tell me but I knew you’d be accepted.” Mike believed in me, and having someone believe in you is a special treasure. I believed in Mike, too. Just sitting by his side, taking director’s notes for him, was a happy place to be for me. He would whisper to me his notes with a little humor thrown in every so often, and I knew I had a true friend, which was better than having a director.

In late February, Mike and I set a date to go see The Nance at Subversive. We planned to go see the play on Thursday, March 24th. I had it in my calendar, and I imagine he would have had it in his if he actually used a calendar. He wrote me on Tuesday and said maybe we wanted to skip the Nance and just go to dinner instead. He wanted to treat me and to bring his wife, Gretchen, so she and I could meet each other. That sounded great. So yesterday, on Thursday, instead of going to see The Nance, Mike met me with his wife at the Lake Effect Diner on Main to treat me to dinner and a milk shake. It was a total delight. I was able to meet Gretchen, who was lovely, and I was able to hear Mike’s stories, and we were able to laugh together for a couple of hours. I will never forget seeing Mike pull up while I was waiting in the booth. The smile the came over his face at seeing me, when I peeked over and made a comical face. I jumped up to greet him and he sprang up the steps, with his arms open, to hug me. It was an unusually happy greeting, and an unusually happy dinner. We shared stories. We talked about food. And we laughed. I learned so much about him. I learned about his three beloved children, and about his youngest Emily, who is going back to school for a second bachelor’s degree. He told funny stories about how Emily was rebellious from a young age, her first words were some kind of refusal to do something, and I compared her to my first born Darah, who is also strong-willed. He told me about how he had to sneak around and lie to his parents in order to go to college to study theatre. He and Gretchen joked about married life and how they have a mutual midlife crisis every seven years, but that they still have some time before the next one. They told me hilarious and cheerful stories about hitchhiking everywhere. We laughed and sighed about how different the world is now.

And then we ordered milkshakes. First he told me about how milkshakes aren’t made the old fashioned way they used to be. We weren’t going to have the milkshakes because we were full, but he must have been able to tell that I wanted one, because after making a noise and looking my way, he ordered one, signaling me to then follow his lead and order one. The two of us drank our milkshakes.

My last moments with Michael Lodick: laughing and smiling while he slurped down his malted milkshake. Gretchen went to take a sip, but he had finished it already, which made us all laugh. While we stood, putting on our coats, he told me about his upcoming 2018-2019 shows at New Phoenix and Subversive: that he was likely going to direct a play by Gary Earl Ross and that he had cast the show at New Phoenix. I thanked them both for taking me for dinner, and he said, “Yeah, it was great; let’s do this often.” I said I would love that! We hugged, one last time, and he told me he knows I’m going to be great in the PhD program. And then I smiled as I pulled away, seeing him standing there, in his black trench coat, lighting a cigarette outside the diner.

Mike went to see The Nance tonight, with his sweet wife Gretchen, and I have just heard that he died at the show, literally on the stage of the theater.

I am in complete shock. Mike? Mike Lodick? My friend? My buddy who laughed with me? The man who just liked me and wanted to laugh with me. The man who meant so much to the theatre community in Buffalo. The fellow who said to me just last night that more than anything, more than wanting to be on stage or be a director, that he was just a guy who loved theatre, who felt excited about it, and would do anything to be part of it.

Something is just so surreal about the chain of events: that we opted not to go to The Nance last night and had dinner instead, and that he passed away there tonight, at the show we decided not to see.

The fact that Mike is gone is unfathomable but real. The fact that I was graced with sharing a meal with him last night leaves me shaken but also grateful.

I mourn the loss of my friend Mike immensely but I am grateful: I am grateful to have known and become close with him in such a short time, and I am grateful to have spent such a special time with him and his beloved wife Gretchen at the Lake Effect Diner even if that place gives me the intestinal plague. I was going to send him a message to tell him that the place made me sick and that we can’t go there again, but now I can’t.

No more texts, no more emails, no more nudges and director’s notes, no more lovable, goofy Mike Lodick. My friend is gone from my life but not from my memory.

Our friends are our angels– our living angels. And in being friends to each other, we get to be angels.

Mike got to be an angel (to me and others) in life.

I picture him having a smoke outside the pearly gates, wearing a white robe and Birkenstock sandals, waiting for his halo and his place among the giggling angels.

I never expected to be the lucky one to share the last supper with Mike. (He would have laughed at the last supper reference.) Oh how I will miss him, and I know he will be missed by many, including the theatre community and especially by his dear family.

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He was a hippy, a wayfarer, a traveler, a laughing lover, and a lover of life. One of the most notable things that we talked about last night during dinner in the pink booth in the metal diner car was how much we both felt the importance of having a sense of community. Mike passed away tonight surrounded by a community that loved and appreciated him: the theatre community.

For me, this is Mike’s legacy. Community. He made me feel like I belong. He made a place for me in the community. He was a great friend to the community and to me. He will be missed.

I was going to write him a note to thank him for the dinner…so…here goes…

Hey Mike,

Thank you for taking me out for dinner last night. I loved meeting Gretchen and it was so much fun. Next time, let’s go someplace new, and we can go Dutch.

Oh yeah. I think you probably know this but just in case. I love you very much and will miss you. Thank you for including me in your last day on earth. I don’t know but I kind of wish you never went to see the Nance. You told me three hours was too long for a show, and, holy crap, Mike; I believe you! You didn’t have to make your point this way; you convinced me yesterday. Okay. Jokes aside for a minute, my friend. Our time is short, but we do our best, and we get through it because we laugh. Thanks for liking my company and for laughing with me.

Whenever I’m feeling down (or, like an evil and hideously horrible manbird just unleashed manbird shit on my head), I’ll think of seeing you for the first time, with your big, warm, goofy smile and your Hawaiian shirt, reminding me of some kind of Gus Polinski, the Polka King of the Midwest, portrayed by John Candy, in Home Alone. Gee whiz are you the ideal guy to be homeless with. If I ever end up hitchhiking or on some bus across the country, I’ll use all the tips you shared with me last night. I’ll never go into the New Phoenix without thinking about sitting next to you at the table during rehearsal. I’ll never go into Spot on Main Street without thinking of you standing by the dessert case. I’ll never pass the Lake Effect Diner without thinking about you and your malted milkshake.

You know what– when the girls come to town, we’re going to have malted milkshakes in your honor.

Wish you could have met them. Wish they could have met you. You truly were a human teddy bear. I normally don’t like to hug people who smell like smoke but I always loved hugging you.

I hope Gretchen and I can be friends now. She is a sweet person and I like her very much. Thank you for introducing us yesterday.

Go hitch a ride now with Jesus and all the other fabulous socialists.

Love your friend in all things subversive and funny always,

Jess

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One Comment Add yours

  1. John Halonen says:

    My condolences on the loss of your friend. It’s like you introduced him to me after he passed. Nice guy.

    Liked by 1 person

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