BB Guns and ButtHeads
It was 8:30am on a Tuesday morning & I was prepping for my day. Now is usually when I come upstairs to sit in front of my computer before work. Not to actually start working but because I have a fairly needy cat who has become accustomed to “Morning Massage” time. Not exactly conducive to practicing writing Python but an opportune time to catch up on technical videos I wanted to watch.
I finished watching a video on Network TAPs, completely riveting stuff and see some other random links on the side bar. Lots of Mike Judge stuff for some reason today. I had just watched Office Space the previous night so it makes sense YouTube was spying on me. Again.
But, hey, Mike Judge is still Mike Judge so let’s party. As I was watching a video of Mr. Judge on Conan from 1994, doing Beavis and Butthead voices, I started to think about an old friend of mine who I used to hang with in middle school in Ephrata, Pa, a small(ish) town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Mike and I were cut from the same vulgar cloth. Shows like Beavis & Butthead sustained the adolescent smut engines that powered us and we bonded over all things gross & hilarious.
We sat next to each other in a few classes during 6th & 7th grades. We’d exchange random drawings every period we had together because school was boring. We even decided we’d start a metal band called Nuclear Winter. Mike drew the cover of our first album during history class. He was a pretty great artist, even for being in 6th grade. Our band idea never took off but our kinship was instant.
Mike was a tough little bastard but an incredibly sweet kid for all the shit he had to deal with growing up. Parents who hated each other, a dad who used to verbally and physically abuse him. Mike was one of my best friends back then and even though his home life weirded me out, I still enjoyed hanging out with him. I’d sleep over at his place & we’d sneak out together, run around town, dodging cops, causing chaos, sneaking a few beers. Because that’s what friends do.
One of my favorite stories about Mike was a time we were screwing around in his back yard with his BB Gun. His backyard faced an open corn field back then and we were just shooting cans & stuff. He had set the gun down for a minute & when he picked it up, he inadvertently pointed it right at my chest. I freaked the fuck out and he says, “oh calm down it’s not even cocked…”. His voice hit the hard C on “cocked” right as his finger slipped on the trigger and shot me directly in the stomach.
Time stopped. We both just stared at each other. Mikes jaw just dropped and stayed there, like an open gate with a rusted hinge. I lifted my shirt and there it was, the BB was embedded smack in the middle of my sternum. You couldn’t have plotted a more exact, dead center, position. My best friend had just shot me in the stomach with a BB Gun, because that is also, apparently, what friends do.
Mike, this tough little asshole with the mouth of a 50-year-old sailor, was damn near in tears. He was convinced I was going to die. (We were kids and very stupid). I’m the one that had to calm him down and say it was no big deal. He took it so goddamn hard, that’s just the kind of kid he was. I promptly went upstairs into the bathroom to survey damage, picked the BB out of my sternum and we went about our day. Mike, apologizing the whole time. I can still pick out the scar on my stomach to this day.
We lost touch by high school. Mike had dropped out and cell phones/social media weren’t a thing back then. Sometime in the early 2000’s he found me again. I received a letter from Lancaster County prison. It was from Mike. I can’t recall exactly what he wrote but he just needed a friend to talk to. He’d gotten into some harder drugs, landed himself in jail a few times. Maybe I still have those letters laying around somewhere in my parents’ attic. I was doing moderately well early in my career and I wrote back to him a couple of times, trying to lift his spirits. Because that’s what old friends do.
I said I’d come visit and we’d get together when he got out. We never did. So, today I’m watching Mike Judge doing his Butthead voice on Conan back in 1994 and I started to think about my own Mike. Maybe I could just look him up on Facebook, wonder what he’s doing these days. Did he ever get his life turned around? I Googled “Mike Stauffer Ephrata PA” and sure enough, I found him on Facebook. His face was older but unmistakable. A lot more world-worn but I could pick out the curve of those cheeks in heartbeat. Mike died of a heroin overdose a year and a half ago.
It’s weird to not have had contact with someone for easily over a decade and still feel like a piece of you goes missing when you find out they’re no longer here.
Some of you have heard me talk about mental health, depression, suicide, etc. But I’ve had my fair share of experience watching people around me die and overdose on any number of drugs. Reach out, seek help. There’s someone out there who thinks as highly of you as I did of Mike.
Mike had a hard life. At least when I knew him. Maybe his family life got better but judging by his current pulse rate, I’m not betting on it. I wish 6th grade me had the balls to tell someone about the kind of home life Mike had. I wish I could go full on Butterfly Effect and travel through time to smack both parents in the face and tell them to do right by their kid. Because their kid had a huge heart. He was a talented artist and was capable of more love than he was ever given.
I now have the blessing and the burden of knowing what it is to be a parent. I don’t even want to go back in time as a 12 year old. I want to go back as a 37 year old father and hug the living daylights out of Mike. I want to tell him life can be better, that I believe in him.
But, I can’t do any of that. Mike was a friend of mine when I was 12 years old & 6th grade me would have wanted…no…demanded 37-year-old me to write this eulogy for him. Because that’s what friends do.