J. Michael Pearl had the makings of a larger-than-life kind of life, even in high school, when I met him: tall, fleshy in a way that entirely fit his large frame (he wasn't obese, in other words), hilarious, geeky, and, shall I say, not dissimilar in appearance to a high-school-age Jim Morrison. I was Class of '92, he was Class of '94, and we met during the 1991-'92 school year on the James Madison High School newspaper Hawk Talk. I was Entertainment Editor, he was a budding writer for the paper, and we worked together. And we turned out to share similar tastes in humor, geekiness and women: I found out 'round '94 our fellow students he'd tried asking out, and thought I see what he saw in them. Cool. (He at the time was dating my friend Tarah, who I always felt more brotherly towards.) Mike and I got closer during that school year. Specifically, we bonded over Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He was an active TNG fan, to the point of having his own fanzine, This Space For Rent. He gave me some copies; I ordered more; and now I still have all but the first one or two issues of his publication, and only because he'd run out of extras of those. I wrote for TSFR, too, such as a report on seeing the also-hilarious Patrick Stewart at a 1993 Creation Con in D.C. and various reviews. Mike also transcribed lots of other Trek-related convention appearances, from Brent Spiner to Peter David (who said of Cmdr. Riker's middle name, "It's a real damn shame they got it wrong"), and pontificated with fannish amusement over each episode save one of TNG (he managed somehow to miss Starship Mine) and the first year or so of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And he had a sense of humor over his spelling errors (or, as he called them, "speeling errrors"), and didn't even mind my page-by-page critiques of some issues, done because I was a budding proofer/editor. Once, Mike had meant to write "a minor alteration"; but he'd written "a minor altercation." I joshed with him that that seemed more like "fleet-footed fisticuffs" (yes, I always was one for alliteration). I found out years later that he'd then been moved to write a song called "A Minor Altercation."
Life led to other pursuits for Mike: songwriting, computer webmaster work, and life at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He and Tarah stopped dating; he then started dating a fellow Cornellian named Teresa, and rapidly fell hard for her. The feeling was mutual. They were increasingly crazy for each other, and they brought out a good kind of weird streak in each other. College, after a somewhat rocky start, turned out to be a good environment for him. Even when it got hella cold. (One winter, he began an e-mail to me and several other people by imagining all of us complaining about the cold, and continued, "Bite me. Frostbite me." He then said how Ithaca was doing a good impersonation of Hoth that week...) He got involved in arranging and seeing rock shows, including one of his favorite bands, the Smashing Pumpkins. He also tried to get Better Than Ezra once, not out of any fondness for the band but because it amused him to bring a band named Better Than Ezra to a college founded by a man named Ezra.
Mike was the sort of computer geek who would find (using pre-Web internet) a way to write a giant version of the :-p emoticon. I still have a printout of that e-mail. He added a Bloom County-style "Phppppbbbbt!!!" to it.
Mike saw me through good and bad. He was my first friend to know I was dating Alicia. ("Feels great, don't it?" he said, himself being a fan of dating and being with Teresa at the time.) During some personal drama I'd frankly brought on myself some months later, in the summer of 1996, he was one of the few people I confided in as I struggled (successfully, eventually) to dig myself out of the situation. He began by evoking the film Top Secret! As if I needed more reasons to like the guy. At my times of general frustration, times when I imagined myself a few steps away from being a collegiate D-FENS from the film Falling Down, Mike was willing to read my e-mail ramblings and help me regain some perspective. And through it all, we made each other laugh.
I'm lucky in one way: Mike and I exchanged snail-mail letters in the last month of his life, as I sorted through two major changes one on top of the other (breaking up badly with Alicia, preparing for my first post-college job at the Hermiston Herald). In my letter to him, I was able to say, almost this simply: I'm glad I know you, man. We knew how we felt about each other; and we had it in writing. We also updated each other on our lives, how we'd both started reading Ain't It Cool News for instance, and he added how he could completely picture being married to Teresa. He hoped to make that happen; he hoped to make that work. He deserved to make that work. Teresa did, too. (Again: a good match, the two of them.)
And all that loving weirdness, all that humor and intelligence and love and fondness, ended during a break from college because of a driver who drank.
Mike Pearl remains the closest non-family member of mine to die. He is one of three people I know who've died in car accidents: a high school cafeteria aquaintance in 1992, a fellow Hawk Talk contributor in 1993, and then...him, that August 10th that happened ten years ago. As if the Forces That Be were trying to hit me deeper and deeper: "Thought you had trouble handling that? Handle this!"
All this length and there is still plenty to convey. So...this may not be the end of my remembering, via this journal, the specialness of Mike Pearl.
More rambling and story-telling will follow. He deserves far more words than I can even leave here.