I met Michael Schwartz during my first semester at the University of Missouri in 1989. We shared an English class with about 10 other easily startled freshmen. Our instructor was a slightly mad fellow by the name of Aristotle Baklava, who did everything in his power to turn English 101 into a left-leaning political science course. Each week, he had us write term papers on different chapters from a book called Courage of Their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court. We wrote about gay rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the uniquely American right to burn the country’s flag at the Republican National Convention. I have to admit I learned a lot about writing in that class. Once my terms papers started taking on a decidedly liberal slant, my grade average magically rose from a low “C” to a solid “A.”
I digress. When you’re in a class that is being led by a crazy man, it is natural to bond with the other inmates, um, students. Michael and I got to know each other because he decided to hit on one of our female classmates. One Friday afternoon, shortly after we were dismissed, he approached Jen, a bubbly girl with long, dishwater blonde hair, and asked if she would like to go with him to a movie that night.
“That sounds great, Mike,” she enthusiastically replied.
Then Jen turned toward me.
“Hey Steve,” she said, “would you like to go to the movies with me and Mike?”
“Sure,” I immediately said, oblivious to Mike’s withering glare. I was an out-of-state student with no friends at school, so the idea of taking in a movie with other people was positively irresistible.
We went to the movies. We saw Sex, Lies and Videotape. I must say, if Mike intended to take Jen on a first date, he could not have selected a more awkward film to watch.
After the movie, the three of us wandered the streets of Columbia, Missouri, talking about our respective upbringings. It turned out that Mike and I had a lot in common. We both came from the South with dreams of hitting it big in journalism. We liked history and politics. We shared an appreciation for dry, sarcastic humor. All in all, Mike and I had a really nice date.
I am not sure what became of Jen. I think she left Mizzou after fall semester to study botany at North Dakota State. Mike, however, is still one of my best friends. Our friendship has survived several moves around the country, careers in newspaper reporting and broadcast news, and get-togethers in Las Vegas, Birmingham, Colorado Springs and Memphis.
Today, Mike has a video production business in San Francisco. He loves the Bay Area, but his time there has come with some challenges. Mike has been blind in one eye since he was a teenager, and his sight in the other eye has continued to deteriorate. He now faces the prospect of losing his vision altogether.
Mike, being the most positive and resilient person I know, has taken a will-do approach to this setback. He recently started an outstanding blog that outlines his next project: to see different parts of the world that he has always wanted to visit. The plan is to experience these places while he can see them for himself. Though his writings on the blog, Mike will take us along on his adventure.
My college buddy is an excellent writer, and the way he frames up his next challenge is truly inspiring.