Happy Birthday, Mitch

No matter how much longer I live, whatever else happens, when it’s over, one of the best friends I ever had will be Mitchell Wirth.

Mitch would have been 65 today. But next month is the 10th anniversary of his death.

Some years, the little Lent between his birthday and his death day hits harder than others. This morning, it occurred to me that I will not be as good at being 65 as I would have been with the benefit of his example. He would have really been something.

Mitchell was good at life. Probably closer to say that he was good at his life. In theory, blowing a fortune as fast as you make it and having too much fun and doing crazy mystic shit and getting married 3 or 4 times is inadvisable. But he did it like it was the right thing to do and, turns out, it was the right thing to do, for him. He didn’t know he would only have 55 years here, but he acted like he only had 55 years, and in hindsight that was a sweet play. Mitch left it all on the dance floor.

Here and there, across many walks of life, people are feeling his loss extra today. Artists and criminals and Tai Chi masters and businessmen are out of sorts, like me. But you are probably not one of them, and I doubt my ability to reduce to the written word what made Mitch Mitch. So I am going to instead tell you one story, and ask you to trust that it is representative.

It is a story he told me, shortly after moving to a big loft in Tribeca. Mitchell was one of my only friends who owned a car — who drives in Manhattan? — and he needed long-term parking. So the day he moved in, he got in his weird-looking Euro car and drove around his ‘hood, looking for a parking lot where he could get a monthly thing going.

Who drives in Manhattan is no one and everyone. There is no parking. Not available parking. It is easier to find an apartment for your body than one for your car in lower Manhattan.

But Mitchell was, to put it mildly, an optimist. He told me he drove around and around, in increasingly wide orbits around his building, being turned away from one garage after another like the Virgin Mary.

He ended up all the way in Little Italy, where he basically gave up and started to try to wind his way home. But he got caught up in all the tiny streets down there and ended up trying to make a K-turn in a cul-de-sac in front of one of the local social clubs.

As he moved his funny-looking car back and forth, one of the men watching him from in front of the social club walked up. Mitch told me that the man looked to be about 80 and was wearing a track suit with a gold chain and a fedora and huge thick-rimmed eyeglasses. I am not profiling here. That’s just what the man was wearing.

The man in the track suit inquired as to Mitchell’s business, and Mitchell told him: just moved to the neighborhood (or, at least, the next neighborhood over), needed to get a long-term parking space, looked all over, couldn’t find even one. I don’t know what all they talked about. But at some point the man asked him, “Where exactly do you live?” Mitch told him. And the man said, “There’s a big garage right by you,” and Mitch said “Yes, but he said they were full.” And the man in the track suit told Mitchell, “That would be Sayeed. You go back there and you tell Sayeed that you are a friend of mine — I’m Don Paolo [not his real name] — and that I would consider it a favor if he were to accommodate you. You tell him that.”

Mitchell thanked Don Paolo profusely. They shook hands, and Mitchell got his funny-looking car out of the cul-de-sac and returned to the first garage he had tried hours earlier.

Sayeed saw him coming and met him in the driveway, shoo-ing him with both arms. “I told you — ”

Mitchell rolled down his window and smiled. “Yes, you did, I understand, but I was talking to my good friend Don Paolo a little while ago and he thought that maybe you did have a space and he asked me to tell you that he would consider it a personal favor if I could rent it for whatever you’re asking.” Then he smiled some more.

This clearly set Sayeed off, but he didn’t say anything. Instead he shot daggers at my friend for a while, and then he paced a little bit. Finally he spit out, “OK. Park over there.”

“Thank you. Very much.”

Sayeed started to storm away. But then he turned around and rushed back up to Mitch’s window and stuck his finger in Mitch’s face.

“But NOT because he said!! Because I LIKE YOU!!!

That was how my friend was. I miss him.


Woodstock, 2004.

Originally published at adambalm.wordpress.com on February 17, 2016.

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