Classrooms and schedules can make strange bedfellows. Yesterday, I lost my roommate of 10 years, Micah Greene. And like a brother who shares a bunkbed for so long, you become so in tune to his tossings and turnings, snoring and other idiosyncrasies that you stop paying attention--at least consciously.
Drama teacher Micah Greene came to West Bloomfield High School in 2003, the second year of the new TV studio whose courses I was asked to create. He was a proud Western Michigan Bronco who had also spent some time at a Kalamazoo television station. He was a natural to teach extra sections of our Beginning Video Production program once the program got rolling and had more sections than hours available.
As any teacher can tell you, teaching from a cart can be a hectic process as you roll your wares down a quarter mile of hallway during rush hour in the 5 minute break. I would be ending my class and his students would come pouring into the room just before their teacher. Generally, as he unloaded his cart to get ready for attendance he'd be hit by five or six urgent questions like, "What are we doing today?" or "What can I do for extra credit?"
My nickname for Micah was "X Minus One" since he would always supply one bogus answer before the real answer--such as "Well, after our lawn jart tournament, we're going to work on our public service announcements."
We played off one another well, particularly when one of us was starting class and the other was picking up the hundred loose papers, DVDs and camera parts that ended up on our desk. If there was a technical problem in the studio or on an editing station (which only occurred on the sixth minute of every hour) we'd huddle together, almost as if we were looking under the hood waiting for AAA, before we'd surrender and call on a tenth grader to rescue us. We'd then laugh, both comfortable with the anarchy of our world. Invariably, if I drifted into his class while he was teaching, he'd add me to the lesson.
"So, if you have any questions about this assignment, be sure to leave me alone and bug Mr. Walsh..."
I knew it was coming so I would add, "Then ask Brad who actually knows what he's doing."
For a drama director, surrendering control can be a dangerous prospect but immensely rewarding, and Micah Greene's controlled chaos fostered incredible growth. From Rob Leider, Micah inherited the drama department's vast round room known as the Forum for his classroom--and as during Rob's tenure, the theatre-like cave with its shelves for seating became a haven for so many students who sought a home within the vast 2,000 student population. My early morning or late-night pickup of equipment would reveal students relaxing, talking, doing homework or surrounding "Signor Verde" who was always frantic behind his stacks of papers--but still giving every student his love, attention and crazy humor.
When he approached me in 2004 about merging drama and video productions into an annual festival I was intrigued, but with a 7 and 9 year old waiting for me at home, I was dubious of my ability to commit the long evening hours. Micah assured me that he'd do the late-shift. It began a string of seven annual feature films which morphed into three annual shorts--all originally scripted, shot and edited in a four-month period with the looming deadline of the first Friday in February. Many of our alum who went on to college and professional media programs recall the importance of Michah's lessons in teamwork, leadership, creativity and meeting deadlines.
As I roll through my texts with Micah over the past two years, I notice that they are riddled with quick invitations for a beer suddenly postponed--because he was with students late at night or organizing an early morning hot-chocolate fundraiser for the drama program.
One St. Patrick's Day that I know he regretted occurred when former student and producer Jason Potash brought a feature film's shoot to his street in Royal Oak. While Micah's house wasn't chosen for a location in "Dial a Prayer," it served as the base-camp for the house across the street allowing stars Brittany Snow and Kate Flannery dressing rooms upstairs as his living room became a makeup room. A tent for craft-services was in his driveway and Micah just left his place open for the film crew while I sent him snapshots of the transformation. But even the lure of Hollywood in his living room couldn't keep Micah from helping his students.
Like any brother, Micah became such an ingrained part of my family's life that it's hard to flip through my phone or Snapfish and not see him at a graduation party, Christmas bash or yard sale. He only lived three miles from us so we'd get together sometimes on just a few moments' notice--which generally worked with Micah's frantic style. He turned 40 last October and the text-conversation between us echoed our classroom banter:
"Doing anything special tonight?"
"Grabbing a beer with a good friend, I hope..."
I relayed the impromptu birthday party to a bunch of pals from the school, including Kale and Louis, former students, who came on short notice. Tom even drove 40 minutes in the rain from downriver to join us.
Micah's amazing alumni network of students kept growing, and each "generation" returned to support the current students--in drama or film production. For so many, giving selflessly to help youth, was the very least they could do since Micah had done the very same for them.
Facebook is full this morning of the hundreds of lives that Micah significantly altered--many voices who didn't know their talents until Micah's sly, fun encouragement. What I'll miss most are his "X Minus One" comments in the center of a hurricane of craziness--whether a film festival with a hundred students or a frantic rehearsal during hell-week. Photographer Susan Ashe who documented so many of Micah's shows (and who kindly let me use some in this post) wrote to me today:
When I first started to cover his plays, I would grumble about the poor lighting in the forum and he told me they were in the process of installing a skylight. I grumbled about the pit getting in the way of photographing the rehearsals on stage and he told me they were going to have it renovated so they would be a proper six foot under. When I was ill in Europe, he sat beside me on the bus and told me funny stories to keep me from tossing my cookies in front of a bus full of teenagers. I'm going to miss his friendship and humor.
Like my father's sudden death in 1997, I know that I will be hit by waves of grief over the next 12 months from unexpected fronts--which is only to be expected when such a vital and therefore naturally unconscious part of your life is removed. And for West Bloomfield High School's staff, parents, students and alumni the tremendous impact of Micah's contributions will be felt for many years.
Thank you, Micah. I know you understand my grief therapy in writing--and I appreciated your wink this morning when, while on vacation in Florida, I looked out and saw this sunrise.