Jim Siergey: RIP MAD

September 16th, 2021

I recently learned that someone I grew up with had passed away. Yet another reminder that I have reached the “thinning of the herd” stage of life.

I did not know Mike from childhood but I met him in high school and we hung out even beyond that, which is why I say we grew up together. There’s a lot of growing up happening in those years.

He had a tendency to be loud and brash in a very offbeat way. He was also very creative in an offbeat way. I guess you could say he was offbeat.

He wished his name was Archibald Marmaduke so that his nickname would be Arch Duke. Instead his given initials spelled out MAD which was a fitting monogram for him.

In gym class he tore off the sleeve of his maroon Morton East gym shirt and pulled it over his face like Mort from the Bazooka Joe comics, calling himself The Masked Marauder as he wildly ran around the gym and climbed ropes like a methamphetamined Tarzan. Most of my friends, including me, had weirdness cruising through our veins so Mike, with his unbridled sense of madness, fit in perfectly.

By senior year we were cutting classes and hanging out on the third floor of our high school which housed Morton Junior College. There was a Smoker Room there where we could blend in and puff on ciggies while watching a blurry TV up on a corner wall.

We were faux-greasers but soon after graduation we slithered into hippiedom where six million more stories lie. Mike was the first of us to get his own apartment so a group of us hung out in his various cribs during our psychedelic years.

Mike was a musician and played bass in a few groups. He also created odd objets d’ arte such as attaching a faucet and handle to the broken handle of his umbrella, making a mobile out of the dead insects that collected in his window jambs, building a strobe light out of a coffee can and creating an “Electric Painting”which was a storm window upon which he painted psychedelic designs, encased it in a wooden frame and strung blinking Italian lights behind it. In the dark it was quite a trip, man. One day it fell over and broke so he created an exact duplicate.

He had an obsessive streak in him. Looking back I think he may have also been bi-polar because he could be manic-crazy and an awful lot of fun to be with while other times so low and bitter you wouldn’t want to be in the same neighborhood as him.

I have written a few Mike stories in some Third City posts which displayed his craziness much clearer than I am doing here. He “crashed” for a while in the apartment I shared with my wife and two kids, he lived in his van for a while and once camped out in another friend’s apartment in a tent that he erected in the dining room.

As the years went by our paths separated and we lost touch. Then, a few years ago we reconnected again. I don’t remember how but I’m betting the internet played a part.

We had a phone conversation, exchanged a few emails but mostly we conversed through “Word With Friends”, a Scrabble-like word game that one could play on the computer. Mike was a “Words with Friends” fiend. He said he was usually playing two or three games at a time with different people.

Mike was not what one would call an “intellectual”. He didn’t go in for book-learning and schooling and such but he was a smart guy. He was good at games. He was an expert chess player, cribbage player (for a period of time there a small group of us who feverishly played cribbage) and as it turned out, very good at “Words with Friends”.

I consider myself a good Scrabble player so our “Words with Friends” matches were like heavy weight fights. One would strike a blow with a 55 point word and the other would follow with a 64 pointer and on and on. We would kibitz one another via texts during the bouts and it was great fun.

Then we drifted apart from that and several months passed without any contact. It was on Facebook that I learned of his passing, one week exactly after his 72nd birthday where I had emailed him birthday greetings. I knew he had health problems but we never spoke of that stuff in depth.

Still, when death comes, whether expected or not, it is always a shock. So long, Mike, may the triple word plays keep coming your way.

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Showboatin’…

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