THE MAGIC OF MIKE: MY NIGHTMARE, MIKE AND RUSS, AND THE RING — A TRUE STORY

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a 100% true story about a horrible tragedy that led to some bizarre and unusual coincidences.

Submitted: June 27, 2019

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Submitted: June 27, 2019

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The Magic of Mike:

My Nightmare, Mike and Russ, and The Ring — A True Story

 

By Rich Gelfand

 

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MY NIGHTMARE

My heart was pounding, and I felt disoriented. I sat straight up in bed, shaking, sweating and out of breath. My wife woke up and tried to make sure I was OK.  At about 3:30 am on July 28, 1986, I had the worst nightmare of my life. “What was it?” she asked. I told her it was too scary to talk about because I thought I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. I told her I’d tell her in the morning and I went right back to bed.

 

When I woke up, I couldn’t remember the nightmare. I had absolutely blocked it out. I racked my brain and could not remember. I went on with my day until about 10:30 am, when the phone rang. It was my father. He blurted out, “Richard, Marty Albert just called. Michael Albert and Russell Gordon were killed in a car accident last night.”

 

My first thought was, no way. They were two of my dearest, closest friends. I said, “Please tell me you’re kidding?” His response was, “Would I kid you about something like this?” I knew he wouldn’t.

 

I started hyperventilating and shaking like a leaf. The next few hours (and days) were a blur. I called my wife at work. She was so upset that someone had to drive her home. I went through my address book from A-Z and called everyone who I felt needed to know. More information started trickling in. They were on Russ’ (borrowed) motorcycle and were killed by a drunk driver! This couldn’t be happening. And as far as how convoluted and crazy this story is, the drunk driver’s attorney was my father’s best friend.

 

I began to wonder… was my nightmare in any way at all related to their accident? Could I be clairvoyant?

 

 (As I am typing this, my cellphone rings. It is Russ’ brother, Peter. Hmmm…)

 

The time of my nightmare roughly coincided with the time Mike and Russ’ parents got the dreaded phone call. Could that have been it? I have dwelled on this from that moment to this moment over 30 years later. I even went to a hypnotist who felt I really didn’t want to know. He tried. I tried. No go. To this day, I haven’t remembered what happened that night in my dream. Maybe I don’t want to… but I really don’t believe that.

 

MIKE AND RUSS

They were such amazing guys. We had so much fun together. They died at the ridiculously young age of 26 yet lived remarkably full lives. I met Russ through Mike when we were about 10 years old. We hit it off immediately. He was engaging, different, funny, kind and extremely sensitive, even at a young age. In high school, Russ was a state champion wrestler and football player. Sports were his life. He was built like an Adonis — even before he started lifting — yet was gentle as could be. He was raised as a hardcore Christian Scientist. No medicine, no doctors. No alcohol, no drugs. The first doctor visit he could remember was his mandatory physical to play high school football.

 

In 1979, I saw Russ’ life change practically in front of my eyes. The three of us, along with our friend, Jeff, went to see the band Chicago during the summer at a great outdoor venue in Connecticut called the Pinecrest. Sadly, Jeff also passed away a few years ago. (It’s heartbreaking to think that I’m the only one left.)

 

While we were waiting for the concert to start, Russ was offered marijuana. For the first time in his life, to our amazement, he said yes. In typical Russ fashion, he took a joint and ran up the hill behind us to try it in solitude. (Also, in typical fashion, he smoked the whole thing by himself.) He came back down a completely changed person. Literally. He was always relaxed and mellow, but this was very different. For the next few years, he tried almost every drug under the sun, loved his scotch, read Jack Kerouac books and became a bonafide Deadhead. He grew his hair down to his shoulders and morphed into Jim Morrison. It was as drastic a personality and lifestyle change as you could imagine. He dated a beautiful woman named Camille and they got married a few weeks after my own wedding in 1985; I was honored to be in his wedding party. They were supposed to move down to South Carolina, where he had secured a teaching position. Those kids missed out on having one hell of a cool, compassionate and interesting teacher.

 

Then there’s Mike. There was nobody like him. Quick-witted, inquisitive, intelligent, hilarious. Everybody loved Mike. And the girls? Forget it. They loved Mike. We were close friends from age 4 until he died. We never argued, and I only got mad at him one time in my whole life — when he was late to meet up to go to an Elton John concert. He was always late, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were very close to missing the beginning and I got a little miffed. I was over it within minutes.

Mike and I were inseparable (until we were permanently separated). I spent more time with Mike than I did with any other close friend. Our childhood adventures were too numerous to go into here, but they involved lots of laughter and sometimes lots of trouble! He would often do something in class to make you crack up while keeping a totally straight face, and you’d be the one to get kicked out of class. After college, Mike interned and worked at NBC in New York, first as a Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live page, then as a Guest Relations Assistant for the network. (Among other tasks, he had to open and deal with Mr. T’s fan mail.) When he was a page at Late Night, he was briefly on camera during the infamous Jerry Lawlor/Andy Kaufman fiasco. Another time, Dave interviewed some pages on-air, including Mike. He got us into many Late Night and SNL tapings — even an after-show SNL cast party with celebrities galore that was still raging when we left around 4am! Mike’s keen and quick sense of humor was sharper than anyone I have ever known, and I know he would have ended up enormously successful at whatever he had chosen to do. He had left NBC and applied for a position at a local TV station in New Haven. They called to tell him he got the job — about a week after he was killed. His mother had to tell them why he couldn’t accept the offer.

 

Mike and Russ were buried on the same day at the same time… at two different cemeteries. Their parents were in so much grief that they didn’t communicate or account for the people who needed to go to both funerals. What a horrible dilemma. I decided to go to Mike’s funeral because I knew him better and a few years longer; my wife went to Russ’. It was brutal to have to choose. And what did I hear on the radio while I was driving to his funeral? “Funeral for a Friend” by Elton John. 

 

THE RING

 

 

It’s now maybe 6–12 months later, when Mike’s mom was finally ready to let me go through his room and take a few precious mementos. It was extremely emotional for both of us. I found a few silly things that I took, but as I was going through his nightstand, I saw THE RING. I had completely forgotten about it. He bought it from a street vendor in New York sometime in the mid-to-late 70’s. It was a Claddagh ring. They were very popular around that time. It was attached in the back and opened up almost like a puzzle ring, except it didn’t come apart. It was made of silver and had three parts. The top and bottom each had a hand on the front, and the center piece displayed a heart. The hands wrapped around the heart when the ring was closed. It was beautiful. And symbolic to say the least.

 

His mother had no recollection of the ring even existing; she didn’t remember it at all. She was glad to let me have it. I wore it on my pinky every day for years and years. It was extremely delicate, so I had to be careful, and as time went on it became looser and more fragile.

 

In 2006, I felt it was time to take it to a jeweler to see about getting it repaired. A local jeweler was recommended, so I stopped by there on a Saturday while running a few errands.

 

I walked in and put the ring down on the counter in front of a few workers in the store. They were admiring it, saying they had never seen anything like it. I started telling them the story about Mike and Russ and how I got the ring. The older gentleman behind the counter stopped me and said, “Are you talking about the accident that killed Michael Albert? I know his parents and the parents of the person who killed him!” This is 20 years after the accident.

 

I was floored. What were the odds? We started introducing ourselves to each other and realized that we knew many of the same people, and I discovered that I actually went to high school with one of the owners, Alan. We knew of each other but didn’t really know each other. I found myself being taken behind the counter, offered a seat and a drink, and proceeded to stay there for three hours talking while they repaired the ring… for FREE! They were as taken aback with the situation as I was.

 

Alan and I start asking, “Do you know this guy, did you know that guy?” It turned out we knew many of the same people from the area and from school. When it was finally time for me to leave, I remembered another blast from the past to ask him about. “Did you know a guy named Jay Sanza? I was close friends with him up through college, but I haven’t spoken to him in about 25 years.” Alan’s reply? “Know him? I’ve been best friends with him for the last 25 years. In fact, I just talked to him a few hours ago!” It felt like a Twilight Zone episode. I asked if he’d call him before I left so I could talk to him. Alan got Jay’s voicemail and handed me the phone. I left a bizarre message, rambling about different things from the past. He called right back, confused, and said to Alan, “Why did you just call me and say those things?” Alan handed me the phone and I dropped a few hints. He figured it out and we instantly reconnected as if no time had passed. It turned out that I drove right by his house every day when I went to work! My wife and I even went to his daughter’s wedding a few years ago, and he and his wife went to our daughter’s wedding as well.

 

We still talk (and text) all the time, and I’ve always believed that Mike’s death was directly responsible for Jay and I reconnecting. The coincidences were astounding. I attributed it to The Magic of Mike. If he hadn’t been killed, I wouldn’t have the ring and I wouldn’t have brought it into that jewelry store. I’m a true believer that something good always comes out of something bad. When I was making those dreaded phone calls to tell people Mike and Russ had been killed, I decided to call an old friend, David, who also was good friends with Mike when we were younger. We hadn’t spoken for many years. He ended up going to the funeral with me and we have remained very close ever since.

 

Let’s cut to 2013 — seven years after reconnecting with Jay. I have stayed in touch with Mike’s entire family and was thrilled when I was invited to his sister Pam’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. The ring had become more and more fragile, and I retired it a few years back. Alan fixed it again, but I decided to put it on a shelf with other Mike memorabilia and leave it there. However, I thought it would be great to wear it to the Bat Mitzvah and have a piece of Mike there with everybody. His family was touched and very happy I wore it.

 

At the reception, I started talking with Mike’s cousin Robert from New York. I didn’t know him well, but we were getting closer right before Mike was killed.  I hadn’t seen him since the funeral over 25 years earlier. When the conversation got around to Mike, I showed Robert the ring and started telling him the story, using the actual names because it was easier to tell it that way. When I got to the part about the ring leading to reconnecting with Jay Sanza, Robert stopped me and said, “Who?” When I repeated the name, Robert said, “I used to know a guy named Jay Sanza, but it can’t be the same guy. I was friends with him when I went to Boston University.”

 

I couldn’t move for a few seconds. I couldn’t talk. I had goosebumps. My Jay Sanza also went to BU. It was him… again! Robert was flabbergasted. (Needless to say, so was Jay.)

 

So, Mike’s ring “randomly” led me to two different placesyears apart — and two different people. They both knew Jay and knew him well. How could this possibly happen? And what about the jewelry store owner who knew the victim’s parents and the killer’s parents? And the drunk driver’s lawyer being my father’s best friend? I still don’t really know what to make of it all. What I do know is that Mike’s spirit lives on — and wherever he is, he’s laughing and winking and smiling about the whole thing. Ahhh, The Magic of Mike.

 

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Rich Gelfand is a Connecticut-based freelance writer, editor and proofreader… and possible clairvoyant.


© Copyright 2019 Rich Gelfand. All rights reserved.

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