I lost two friends 13 years ago today and I want to share some stories about each of them.
Michael Armstrong worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He was due to get married in late September. He was getting ready to go to Las Vegas for his bachelor party later that week. Needless to say he never made ether event. I don’t recall exactly when I met Mike but I would say it was sometime around the early 80’s. I used to hang out with a crew from St. Ignatius in a place we called the Sand Park – It’s really known as Ancient Playground – across the street from where Mike lived. His dad was the superintendent of a building on Fifth Avenue.
In August, 1982 Mike and I ventured out to the Meadowlands for a Queen concert. I don’t know where Mike got the tickets but I do know they were freebies as the price on the ticket read $0.00. I still have the stub. Our seats were in the 13th row on Brian May’s side of the stage. Freddie and the band were in good form that night and we had a blast.
Since turnabout is fair play, about a year later I got tickets for a show in the Beacon Theater. I do not remember the headlining band but I do recall the opening act was scheduled to be the Bangles. I always had a thing for Susanna Hoffs who I thought was really cute and I wanted to see her and her band live.
When Mike and I got to the Beacon on 74th and Broadway the theater was locked with “Tonight’s Show Cancelled” on the marquee. This was before Facebook and Twitter where I probably would have known about the cancellation that morning if not a day or two before hand.
As I stared at the marquee, Mike just started to laugh. “You’re lucky I’m not a girl and this isn’t a date, because that would have been messed up,” he said.
“Yeah I guess you’re right,” I answered. “Well even though you are not a girl and this isn’t a date, let’s go and grab something to eat and drink my treat since I owe you one.”
We ended up in Beefsteak Charlie’s somewhere on either Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue and proceeded to drink all the beer the waitress kept bringing to the table. Everyone remembers their slogan, “Unlimited salad bar and all the free beer wine and sangria you can drink.” Throughout dinner we just laughed at the show being cancelled.
The last time I saw Mike was a few nights before New Year’s Eve 1998 at a Fordham Rams basketball game in the Bronx. I was covering the game for the Post and Mike, being a Fordham alum, was cheering on his alma mater. He spotted me and came down to press row where I was interviewing Jeff Van Gundy, who was at the game as the NBA was on strike at this time.
Van Gundy could not talk about the Knicks but he did want to discuss Fordham’s Basketball team. Now I knew my editor didn’t want to run a story on Van Gundy’s views on Fordham basketball, he wanted news on the NBA. Van Gundy would not accommodate me and I didn’t get a story, but he was still pleasant and a great guy to interview.
Mike waited me to finish with Van Gundy whom I introduced Mike to telling Jeff that he was a good friend of mine and a Fordham Alum. Mike and I got to chat and catch up a little bit before the game started. He told me that he and some friends were going to be in a bar on Fordham Road after the game and I was welcome to join them. I agreed and told him I might be a while because I have to write and file my story after the game.
After I was all done I met them at the designated spot and had a few drinks. Then a bunch of us shared a cab back into city. That was the last time I saw my friend.
Michael Carroll was a member of the New York City Fire Department. He was also married to my good friend Phil’s sister, Nancy. Michael was also one hell of a ball player. I played against him in our grade school league in a field under the 59th Street Bridge. For a little guy (at the time) he could hit. See the Sports Illustrated article in the December 24-31, 2001 issue if you really want to read about Michaels prowess on the baseball field.
Michael also had a sharp sense of humor. One time we ran into each other on the street and he said that he had to ask me something.
“Explain to me why I have to go to MY mother-in-laws apartment for YOUR birthday,” he asked me in mock seriousness. “I’m family and I don’t get a birthday party from my mother-in-law.”
“Well it’s because I am an orphan and I don’t have anyone to throw me a party,” I answered with a fake sorrowful look on my face. “And as far as your mother-in-law not doing anything for your birthday I know you’re full of crap!”
We looked and each other then started laughing. To know Michael’s mother-in-law, Grace, is to know one of the sweetest and kindest people our neighborhood of Yorkville ever produced. I know he got birthday parties with a nice cake and even a gift or two. As we parted, I told him that he didn’t have to bring a gift or anything, “However I have been looking at this new Mercedes…”
Michael just shook his head, laughed and walked away.
A few years later we were at a restaurant in the Bronx after Michael’s father-in-laws funeral and burial. Michael was haggling with his young son over how much time he could spend playing his hand-held video game. I was sitting across the table from them watching the negotiations. When Michael said to me, “I don’t mind him playing, but he gets addicted. I just don’t want him doing it in the house when it is a nice day outside.”
That scene in the restaurant always pops into my mind when I see my own son glued to his video game and I want him to be playing outside on a nice sunny day. I don’t recall the last time I saw Michael but I am sure it was probably at his mother-in-law’s house over birthday cake.
To my friends up in heaven I miss you both.