His real name was Emmanuel Sadriadis; I must write it down before it fades like distant memory. For some reason, he went by “Mike” to the world, that is, the small town outside the window of his shop, Mike’s TV VCR & Stereo Service. We called him “Mr. Mike,” until we learned his real name. My husband knew him, having been a part of the town’s fabric for much longer than I. I met him thanks to a faulty cooling fan in my Fischer amplifier; he deftly took apart the machine, lovingly cleaned it, and monsterized it with a too-large fan. Upon powering up, it sounded like a twin-engine aircraft that worked for a time and for which I was grateful. Our relationship continued, particularly into his increasing age and declining health; his shop, across the street from my office and I would check on him. He, on the other hand, would yell his love through angry words of caring to which I responded in kind, confusing my co-workers.One day he wasn’t there, whisked in the night to a city hospital. We took flight as soon as wings were available to drive at break-neck speeds northward, then westward, into the labyrinth of city streets to the hospital where he lay, unmoving, barely there. We claimed kinship and stayed for a while, praying, but signed the visitor’s log with truth. He survived, and showed his love with less yelling, but the same old Mr. Mike vinegar upon which we loved to sup, taking in his Greek flavors with the joy of those who wanted more from life. Another day, a week, and he wasn’t there, this time gone for good: the suit of his skin, found by a friend; his soul, gone forward. That, now some eight years past or more, yet I still think of him, missing his angry words of caring in a world that would never understand.
The same little town was flanked on each end by liquor store mini-marts, outside of which there circled a never-ending parade of characters who filled the streets with stories. By sitting in the parking lot of either, or both, one could learn who owed who, who slept with who, who got picked up this week, and who would be out by the next. Mr. Shah’s store, known by strangers as Beverage Mart, held court over our end of town; by 3pm each day, a confetti of candy wrappers, empty Hugs bottles, and 25-cent chip bags littered the pathways of school children. Mr. Shah was king of cool beverages and no-credit-extended; he stood behind the counter, chewing fresh ginger root, puffing invisible clouds of desired health on each customer. He greeted us with a smile and a story whenever we waded through the crowd of 40-ouncers to request a little treat off his protected back-shelves. I stopped in for such a goodie one day to find him not there; his partner told me that he had left, his soul, gone forward. I left the few coins of change on the counter but took salty tears home with me instead.
What remains is a framed photo of him on the wall behind the counter; from it, he looks down on customers and workers alike–some of whom are family and others, like us, claim the honor like play cousins–with an expression of softness that rarely appeared when he was standing there behind that same counter himself, just a few minutes prior. We came there, we thought, out of convenience when we moved to Southern California but in the end discovered it had been ordained. It took a few trips into the shop to figure out that it–Met’s Valero–was named after this grizzled man, whose 7:30 shadow would be envied by those in Hollywood who used make-up for his natural effect, whose name was Metri (or Mitri…we said it, never spelled it, our acquaintance being that of talking, laughing, and living rather than writing). His Middle-Eastern accent was like music, his occasional outburst of profanity having a lilting melodic quality that made them endearing. A visit for gasoline, a car repair, or smog check was always greeted with a big toothy grin and a shout of “Hello, baby; how you?” or “Hey, boy!” that from anyone else would require a resounding correction. Once when leaving my car off for repair I realized I’d left my lunch in it; as I turned to get it, Mitri came over, concerned. When I told him what I’d done, he threw up both hands and said loudly, “I ate it!” to indicate that if I’d left it in the car, he would have taken care of the meal for me. One day after that, my husband’s car was in for repair and we’d not gotten the customary call from Nidal or Sal telling us to come retrieve it; a call revealed the worst: Mitri had left, his soul, gone forward. As play cousins who were not Middle Eastern, we didn’t have the words, Arabic, English, or otherwise; we took a box of food and our tears, mourning. I drove by the other day and saw Mitri’s Honda parked out front and for a moment I wanted to stop, to hear his voice; remembering that now his wife sat at the counter instead, I continued on, followed closely by my sadness.
*Biomythography: “combining elements of history, biography and myth.” The term was created by the writer, poet, and warrior Audre Lorde in her book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name which I just finished reading. The term is one I hope to borrow from time to time but it fit perfectly here because my brain had been knitting together stories of people with whom we have had relationship who left us, suddenly. The three men in each of the stories above were real and I offer these short vignettes as brief biographies of each; my memories of them include a bit of history and myth. They will now live on forever on the wings of the Interwebs, like the celluloid actors of old.