The frequent moves during his youth kept Mike from developing long-term friendships. He doesn't remember anyone, male or female, prior to 5th grade...and few after that.
His clearest memories are of a girl he met in 5th grade while living in Wilmette: Karen Swanson. They attended the same church (the Wilmette Congregational Church) and didn't live far apart. She was tall and had red hair. This was the start of a continuing interest for Mike, as he grew up: he found himself attracted to tall girls (often redheads). No one in his family was particularly tall (or had red hair), and nobody knows why he maintains this interest (which of course wound up to be a good thing insofar as Libby is concerned...).
Karen was influential in his life: their off-and-on friendship (5th through 8th grades, early high school, a short time in sophomore year of college) were important times for Mike. For example, in 7th Grade, they exchanged Christmas gifts; she gave him a classical music album. He wasn't interested in classical music, but he played the record and became "hooked" on the genre. That interest continues, and Mike credits this event for his appreciation of good music. (Why she chose that gift remains a mystery.)
The church association provided another, albeit vague, connection: both Mike and Karen married their spouses in different churches, six months apart, but by the same minister: Buckner Coe. The Berrys (Karen and Herb) have been married over 51 years, too.
Even though she married after college and moved to Chicago and (later to) Seattle, they stayed in contact. When travelling to Seattle on business, he saw her and her family, and they visited downtown Seattle one evening. In 1991, Mike's personal life was greatly helped when he travelled again to Seattle to time & score a Coors Light Duathlon event (see Raceplace activities). It was a profound moment for Mike, as it was after his bike accident/head injury. His therapist had suggested he "needed to touch his past" - the moment he saw and hugged her, a definite "healing" in his brain seemed to occur
In the middle of his sophomore year at New Trier High, Mike's family moved far north to Wilson, Illinois. Mike and Maureen rode a bus 8 miles to high school in Libertyville. At Libertyville-Fremont High School, he was attracted to Ricky (Erika) Koppitz (a 6 foot redhead) for a while, but she lived far from town in the opposite direction. He encountered Ricky at their class's 40th Reunion (more on that event later). He didn't date much during these years and had little involvement in school activities. She holds the (dubious) distinction of being the first girl he ever kissed (in their Junior year).
He doesn't remember male friends in school prior to Libertyville, but he recalls a few there. There was Charlie Durang, who was "brainy" and who edited the school paper. Charlie played recreational baseball and basketball, but he lived in town and wasn't available much outside of school.
Another friend was a new transfer to the school, Tony Cresswell. He, like Charlie (and Mike), was on the "geeky" side, not being athletic - they were type-cast as "nerdish".
There was another friend, Dick Hill, a gifted athlete (football, basketball and baseball), but because he was "religious", wasn't part of the high school "in crowd". Dick was such a good athlete that, when Mike wanted to join the fledgling school tennis team (it was formed in their junior year), Dick agreed to try out (never having played tennis before), and the 2 paired up as #1 Doubles team. Libertyville High School didn't have tennis courts, and "home" matches were played on the town's 4 city courts. The school's English teacher, Mr. Bud Ebert, served as coach, but all he really did was hand out tennis balls and drive the team to matches. Team practices were indoors, in the gym, with a rope across the middle to simulate a net.
Even so, the tennis team was fairly good, and the #1 Singles player, Mike Lakin, won the Conference Championship in his junior year. Mike and Dick won the doubles title in their senior year. (Note that most of the teams in their conference were even more "farm-based" than Libertyville, so perhaps those victories weren't remarkable...)
As a result of this success, Mike (and Mike Lakin, too) was initiated into the school's "athletic club", got to wear a letter sweater, and was thereby known by the ruling jocks. Charlie Durang didn't play school sports, preferring more cerebral pursuits there.
Mike's friendship with Charlie and Tony continued, but it took a new and different turn for the school. Charlie was funny and creative, and he and Mike and Tony would frequently pen chapters of some ongoing serial "humorous novels" (while in class.) This activity morphed into a silly "radio show" they would produce and record at Mike's house. They called it "The Fenwick Knurd Show", and they created and nurtured several silly characters, among them one named Stradivarius P. Ascap. Mike portrayed this character, but he somehow gained more notoriety in school as "Fenwick".
The guys decided to propose something bold to school officials: to play their silly show over the PA system so others might hear it. Charlie was the school paper's editor and was respected by the school staff, and the school actually allowed it to happen. It was once a week, and was broadcast before classes started that day, prior to formal announcements.
Thus, Mike (and Charlie) became somewhat (in)famous around the school. Everyone knew Mike (as either nerd or "jock") and knew of his famous father (which became a bit of a "curse" as years and events went by...).
After graduation (a class size of 223), the guys went away to college. One of the classmates held a party when all came home for Thanksgiving break, and Mike, Charlie, Tony and Dick attended. During the party, a fellow classmate, Gary Peshak, who was attending Purdue, mentioned a stunt some of his classmates there had pulled off: inverting a garbage can over the top of a flag pole. This idea caught fire at this party ("adult beverages" may have been involved), and a number of the party-goers left to try to duplicate it...on the high school's flag pole. The guys drove around, looking for a pair of stilts (a key "tool" for this endeavor) and a small garbage can to use. The only empty garbage can they found had several inches of ice in it (it was winter at the time).
Upon arriving at the school, they tied the stilts to the pole's rope and started hauling the can up. The can was too heavy: the rope broke and the apparatus crashed to the ground before the stunt was completed. There was another rope on the pole, and removal of the ice in the can made a 2nd try successful. They could see their work in the moonlight as they drove away.
The next day, a picture on the stunt was on the front page of the town's newspaper. The fire department had to remove the can, and many people wondered who did this and how it was done. Mike told his family, but Maureen was still in school...and she told her friends. Word spread...
Mike and Charlie did what "returning grads" often do: they visited the school to "lord it over" the remaining students, roaming the halls and looking into the various classrooms as classes were held. However, they were spotted by the school's principal and called into his office for a "chat" about the flagpole stunt. Things looked grim for the conspirators.
The principal, C. Allen Fort, seemed ready to call the police and press charges...but he didn't.
In fact, although he said that he knew who did it (thanks to Maureen)...he actually thought it was a very clever and funny stunt!
BUT he warned them...don't ever try anything like it again - EVER!
(For someone like a school principal, he was a very cool guy!)
Years later, Gary somehow contacted Mike in Phoenix, and he and his wife (a fellow Libertyville classmate) have kept up through some visits to Phoenix and e-mails.
Strange coincidence: Mike's father worked numerous times for Gary Peshak's father, a movie director named Ted Peshak. Furthermore, when he was making some grade school educational films, he asked Maurice to use Mike in two of them. Oddly, Mike remembers the names of these little films: "Safety in the Community" and "Listen Well, Learn Well". His rolls in both weren't at all important, but the strange "reconnection" with Gary - and ultimately with his father, Ted - is a strange recollection indeed... [more]