This has been a tough year. I’ve already been to four funerals thus far and I’m still in August. Three of the four were expected. The most recent, however, was a surprise. I walked into the gym where I’ve worked out five days a week for the past eight years, only to find that one of the members had died. The German lady that uses the treadmill next to the elliptical machine brought me the obituary. Michael was gone and it was a shock. We thought he was in perfect health; he looked like a copy of a Renaissance statue.

One of the local churches offered a memorial service so I arranged to pay my respects. Michael was well-known: he was an actor with the community theater; he ran his own catering business and taught healthy cooking classes at the two hospitals. He had a great sense of humor and was active in his church, giving readings of the Scriptures for the Sunday service, singing in the choir, and participating in Bible study in the early hours of every Wednesday morning. The fact that Michael was as gay as raspberries didn’t seem to bother anyone.

The pastor referred to the memorial as Michael’s final performance, a place where he was on center stage in a play in which he didn’t appear. As usual it was a full house with overflow seating. A nice service on a day when there were too many unanswered questions. I wondered why? Why did he leave without telling anyone? Was he sick? Did he want to go out on top, looking good and strong, and feeling no pain? It pained me that he might have died alone. I remember when my own father died. I was unable to make his last play and he never asked for an explanation. After the obituary came out, like a true gentleman, he gave me one look, which told me he offered his silent condolences without ever having to put it all into words. I appreciated him for not making me suffer through that.

Near the end of the service, the pastor spoke about grief and all the things that will trigger memories of the departed. With Michael it will be the theater, a good cup of coffee, a cooking classes, and probably the absence of him walking around the locker room absolutely butt naked. Oh, and he was massive! Michael was a true showman, an exhibitionist and he put all of the rest of us to shame. We all hid out shame from him; no one would be caught without a towel around his waist . The humilliation would have been too great.

Michael was a legend in the gym. Several years ago, an elderly woman and her husband invited my wife and me to spend the evening with them on the pontoon boat, puttering around the lake. As we cruised through the murky waters, the passengers began to knock back cold beers and wine coolers. She stunned my wife and me by asking if the rumors about Michael were true. I told her yes; it was all true. The only images that came close to describing the spectacle of Michael stripped down after a workout and sauntering to and from the shower were the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Shanghai World Financial Center.

It took some time for me to get used to it. It is not every day that one is forced to confront inadequacy. Next to Michael, we all came up short. After I accepted the truth, I was able to make eye contact with him and carry on a conversation in the locker room. He had a great sense of humor and was fully aware of the effects of his presence had on everyone. After an encounter with Michael in the locker room, I’d seen more than one guy leave red-faced and in a cold sweat. I’ve overheard others talking to themselves about implants and injections, and the most memorable comment came from a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After seeing Michael, he left with a twitch in his eye and muttering something about horses. He left in disbelief, shook his head and said, “it just ain’t freaking human!”

Michael certainly wasn’t above doing things for shock value. One of the last weeks I saw him, I was shaving after my shower. I reached for a towel for myself off the rack, and with a big smile on his face he looked over and said, “Hey, towel boy, can you hand me one?”

“Get it yourself! And, cover that damn thing up. You are going to hurt someone with that!” I said.

He loved that kind of stuff. For most, Michael will remain a legend. I can only say it was true. He was Excalibur in the flesh, a mighty redwood, a budding oak tree, the night stick, the unbendable wood, the Washington Monument, and Smiling Bob from the Enzyte commercial. He was more of a man than all of the rest of us put together, or end to end. All of us will miss his presence in the gym; he was a friendly person with a great sense of humor. I don’t think any of us will miss his locker room antics, but we will certainly note the loss.

Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy:  http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=870

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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