The battle against all that was wrong, and sometimes right, in the world dipped slightly in favor of the uneducated on Thursday when my friend Mike Kirk died.
My friend, my nemesis, my hero, my antagonist... I was the punch line to his jokes and the ‘atta boy’ when a word struck him as humorous.
The truth is, however, I never shared a cup of coffee or a walk with Mike.
I was a friend because he made me feel like one when my path disrupted his and thus he would share a joke or a barb or a witticism.
I first met Mike Kirk when I took a position at the Juneau Empire in 2009.
An illness put another reporter away from an Assembly meeting and as a part-time photographer and semi-writer, I drew the short straw to attend.
Mike had said something at the meeting that I cannot remember now, but it piqued my curiosity. And I know it was something good because there were red faces trying to scrunch down behind their golden plaques.
I was sitting in the front row and when I would glance back in his direction, he would roll his eyes as if the whole semi-circle of board members were lunatics, possessed or in cahoots with big government.
Then he would shrug his shoulders as if to say they were all we had at the moment.
I introduced myself that night.
I told him I work for the Juneau Empire.
“Vahhhhttttt!” he exclaimed in German accent. “You verk at the Vampire??!!!”
There was disdain there for an instance.
His eyes rolled. Then his shoulders shrugged.
“Yes,” I defended myself. “I suck the ink out of all the news fit to print.”
The Mike Kirk laugh began.
It was a quick, small, involuntary reaction. He poked my arm. Then he seized the emotion and bubbled it up from his toes to his gut, poked me again and loosened a mix of sinister giggles and short guffaws.
“Oh,” Mike said. “That vas goot.”
We were instant associates.
“I come for der snacks,” Mike said. And he poked me again.
I knew better.
He was a genius.
For instance, his two possible ideas presented for the new quarter-coin honoring the state of Alaska.
1) The front would bear the likeness of Benny Benson as a child, then winner of the flag’s design contest, and the back would bear a replica of Alaska’s flag.
The second idea was mirth, merriment and political statement.
2) The front of the quarter would bear the likeness of Gov. Frank Murkowski and the back would bear a replica of Alaska’s new executive jet.
Our paths would cross many times, some in places one would expect to find a kindly shrunken old man valiantly defeating the unjust acts of a corrupt government, and others that needed not so much defeating.
I liken him to Professor Abronsius, formerly of the University of Konigsberg, now hunting vampires in Transylvania in the movie “The Fearless Vampire Killers,” directed by Roman Polanski.
I told him that once.
I appeared lunatic, possessed or cahooted... at least that was what his eyes said in their roll.
Mike Kirk came to the Juneau Empire’s 100th open house celebration.
He was easily overlooked and passed by.
That was his way sometimes. He was taking it all in.
He looked at old papers and photos and cardboard replications of moments of history in Juneau and around the world.
Moments captured in black and white like an old movie.
I saw him. I watched him throughout the night, not wanting to disturb his reflections.
Something brought him near my sports enclave.
He looked at me and the plot-like laugh of his came out.
“The Vampire,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. “Sucking the ink from news.”
Without a beat he nudged me and said, “Pardon me, but your teeth are in my neck. It is a dance of the vampires.”
Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck was the original movie title.
Dance of the Vampires is the name of a musical produced from the movie.
He poked me and I nudged him back.
Unfortunately, I last saw Mike Kirk too long ago and, as with all things we wish we would have done, I wish I could have said thank you.
In just over three years he kept me sane, kept me safe, and kept me protected from the evil he hunted with wit and wisdom.
I, it appears, was Abronsius’ bumbling and introverted assistant Alfred.
Mike Kirk and the Vampire.