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A sense of Mike

August 7, 2018

When my partner Mike died in March 2011, his best friend Charlie came up from Seattle to speak at Mike’s memorial.

Charlie and Mike

Charlie and Mike at a disarmament conference in the 1990s.

He spoke eloquently about the many things that bound them together: their involvement in the peace and disarmament movement, their shared interest in military history (know your enemy) and their shared, lifelong love of baseball. Although he told me afterwards that he hadn’t been sure if he should, he also talked about their shared enslavement by the demon drink. It was the elephant in the room and in their lives. Someone needed to address it and who better than a fellow traveller who’d succeeded in getting the elephant off his back. At the end of his speech he said that in honour of Mike and their love of baseball, whenever the Blue Jays came to Seattle, he would go to one of the games in Mike’s memory. During the reception, I told him I’d rather like to be at that game.

And so a tradition was born. I’ve just come back from the 8th annual Mike Wallace Memorial baseball game in Seattle. Not that anyone other than Charlie, his wife Robbie and I ever call it that, but that is exactly what it is.

I am so very glad that Charlie made that comment at the memorial, because it would have been so easy to have lost touch with these lovely people after Mike’s death. Instead I see them every summer.

Under ordinary circumstances I would not venture into Trumpland, but traditions are traditions and almost nobody in Seattle voted for the “tangerine wankmaggot” (my favourite sign from a recent protest about the wankmaggot’s visit to Scotland).

I remember trips down to Seattle with Mike to see the Blue Jays play. On one occasion the US border guard took one look at the Jays cap on Mike’s head, grinned and said, “Well, I know why you’re here”, handed us back our drivers’ licences and sent us on our way. I’m sure it’s been illegal for border guards to smile since 9/11, just as it is no longer possible to get in without a passport. This year the surly border guard notched it up a level.

Guard: Where are you going?

Me: Seattle.

Guard: Purpose of your visit?

Me: To visit friends and go to a Blue Jays game.

Guard: How do you know these friends?

Me: Oh, gosh, I’ve known them for 25 years.

Guard: I didn’t ask you how long you’d known them, I asked you how you knew them.

Me: Charlie was my husband (don’t confuse them with words like partner) Mike’s best friend.

Guard: And how did they know each other?

Oh, crap. I’m hardly going to say through the peace and nuclear disarmament movements, am I?

Me: They were both professors. Mike at UBC and Charlie at UDub.

Well, that finally satisfied him. Professors are respectable people. Fortunately he didn’t ask what their fields were. (Mike’s was political science with a speciality in peace and disarmament and Charlie actually wasn’t a professor at the University of Washington. His role was in the NGO sector.)

Finally I was on my way.

In addition to the ball game, there have been other traditions incorporated into my visit: a film at an actual cinema, a meal in a Chinese or Thai restaurant, a trip to the Seattle Mystery Book Store. All the things I miss from my days of city living. Last year there was an added bonus: Robbie and I went to see a fabulous performance of HMS Pinafore. A real city break.

Alas, the wonderful Seattle Mystery Book Store is no more. Yet another fabulous independent book shop driven out of business by bloody Amazon. So, no trip there, although I did manage to score some reading material from Charlie’s mystery book box. Books read and now destined for the charity shop. (Given my current impecunious state, it really was the only shop I could afford on this trip.)

We changed some other things up a bit this year, too. As there is seldom anything worth seeing at the cinema in the summer and as there were films from last year that I still wanted to, but hadn’t seen, I suggested we do a Chinese takeaway and a home movie on Saturday evening. Of the films I suggested, Charlie opted for Get Out, which he hadn’t seen. Doctor Zhivago or Gone with the Wind, it may not be, but it was a great film and I’m so glad I got to see it. (The Chinese food was also excellent.)

After watching the film, we switched over to the last couple of innings of the ball game. I had not had high expectations of seeing a win by the Jays on this trip. If Baltimore hadn’t completely imploded this season, the Jays would be at the bottom of their division, whereas Seattle, last time I checked, were the second hottest team in theirs. So I headed south fully expecting to see the Jays beaten, but that was okay, because, hell, it’s a game in an actual ballpark on a sunny afternoon – and the Mariners are my second favourite team anyway. (It’s not like losing to the damn Yankees or the bloody Texas Rangers.) Imagine my surprise when they won the first two games of the series. As Charlie informed me when I arrived, since the last time I checked, the Mariners had been going downhill rapidly. If the Mariners were going to win a game, Charlie informed me, it would be Saturday night, when they’d have their best pitcher on the mound. I knew Estrada was pitching for the Jays and he is certainly capable of having a good night. Turned out Saturday was one of those nights – a no hitter for six innings and no runs scored while he was on the mound. The Jays beat the Mariners 5-1.

Okay, I thought, it is truly incredible that the Jays won three games in a row, the way they’ve been playing this year. Mind you, before I left for Seattle early Saturday morning, I’d heard someone on the radio talking about the Jays giving their fans serious credit for their wins.


Kinda looks like a home game for the Blue Jays, doesn’t it? But, no, this was Safeco Field in Seattle on Saturday night. A sea of blue. Every year when the Blue Jays come to town, tens of thousands of fans from western Canada descend on Seattle. When there is only one major league baseball team in your country, it tends to become the national team, not the Toronto team. And when you only have one geographically realistic opportunity to see them play each year, you grab it. Which also means Seattle offers the Blue Jays a solid “home-away-from-home team advantage”.

I have to admit part of me was hoping the Jays would lose Saturday night’s game. Partly because I do like the Mariners and I didn’t want them to lose every game in the series, but mainly because I wanted them to have something in reserve for the Sunday afternoon Mike Wallace Memorial Game. I had my doubts that the Jays could take all four games. Then, as we were heading into the ballpark, I spotted not one, but two Jays fans carrying brooms (baseball signal for a predicted clean sweep), at which point I gave up all hope of a win, ’cos those guys had absolutely jinxed it. Idiots.

I didn’t expect a win, nor did I get one. But I did get the ballpark experience. Sunday afternoon, smokie on a bun with mustard and a beer. Fantastic, win or lose. I also got something I wasn’t expecting: a seventh inning stretch including the singing of “God Bless America”. Charlie rolled his eyes, said he hated this. I asked if this was because of Trump. No, said Charlie, it’s since 9/11. I knew that in the aftermath of 9/11 ballparks had started singing this, instead of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, but I thought that was long over. I told Charlie I didn’t remember this from any previous game. Only on Sundays now, he told me. Well, of course. What better day than the Lord’s Day to ask God to bless America? Ugh. Fortunately fans were not to be denied their own traditions and Take Me Out to the Ball Game was played – and sung with much more enthusiasm – afterwards. (The minority of Seattle fans in the park singing “So, it’s root, root, root for the Mariners” were of course drowned out by the tens of thousands of voices singing “root, root, root for the Blue Jays.)

Timing has been against us on some of my visits. Robbie, a doctor, comes from a very musical family. (She plays the piano and the viola.) Every summer she and her brother, who plays the cello, go to a music camp for a week in southern Washington state. On more than one occasion, said camp has been at the same time that the Jays are in town, so I only get to see Robbie after she returns on Sunday evening. This was one of those years.

Before we left for the ball park on Sunday, I asked Charlie what the plans were for dinner. He said he hadn’t made any, but thought it would be good weather for a barbecue. Well, I said, I have a suggestion.

Sometime in the 1980s, on a trip to Italy, Mike had a pasta with clam sauce dinner in a restaurant in Venice. He could not believe how good it was. When asked, of course the restaurant declined to give him the recipe, so he spent the next couple of years painstakingly attempting to recreate the dish. Some of the ingredients were obvious: leeks, clams, butter, lime juice, but the quantities of each had to be established. Even when he was almost there, something was still missing. He eventually concluded the missing ingredient was celery salt.

This became Mike’s party piece. I remember him making it for me not long after we got together. Whenever we stayed with Robbie and Charlie for a weekend, he would make this dish for everyone. As far as I knew the recipe was completely in Mike’s head. I’d certainly never seen it written down. It was a long time since I’d made the dish myself, but I told Charlie I thought I could come up with a close approximation. No need, he said, I have the recipe. Really? Apparently yes. Apparently on one of his visits, they’d asked him to give themt the recipe and he’d done so on a card, which Charlie dug out of a recipe box. Oh, my god, there it was, written down and in Mike’s handwriting!

When we got back from the ball game, Robbie was home from music camp. When Charlie told her my dinner suggestion, she said she thought it was a lovely – and very fitting – idea. Off we went to the supermarket to get the ingredients and then I started cooking.

I’ve heard it said that smell is the sense most likely to trigger memories and this may indeed be true. But I’ll tell you this: taste can do it, too. As soon as I’d swallowed the first mouthful I said, “Oh, my god. Mike.” Robbie and Charlie both looked at me and nodded. It was as if he was in the room with us.

And now I have the recipe. In Mike’s handwriting. Wow.


From → Blog

  1. Irmani Smallwood permalink

    Really loved this piece. Glad you had a good time.

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