College friend: So many memories, smiles
I was lucky enough to meet and become close with Mike when we were in college together at Binghamton University. Because much of our relationship occurred while we were away at school, I unfortunately never had the opportunity of knowing the family I heard so much about. Still to this day, I sometimes exclaim in my pitiful imitation of an Irish brogue, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Michael!” whenever someone exasperates me, reminiscent of the way Mike would imitate his mom.
I sang while in college and Mike would come to every show, flowers in hand, to watch me perform. He told me that his brother, Charlie, also sang, and had 'the voice of an angel.' One time when Charlie came to visit Mike, he made me take Charlie in the corner, and above the loud din of a fraternity party, sing to him. Charlie then blessed me with “Danny Boy.” Mike just stood aside, smiling and proud.
I have always been somewhat conservative in my nature and I fondly refer to that 1 1/2 years with Mike as my ‘wild years.’ I lived with a reckless abandonment like I had never known before; he taught me not to take life so seriously, to have fun above all else and, most importantly, he taught me how to laugh at myself.
Once when we were together, Mike burned his hand and had to have it wrapped with bandages for 6 weeks. I’m not sure of the explanation he gave to family -- he told my mother he burned it on a radiator, and she still believes this. The truth be told, in his attempt to be romantic, Mike lit some candles one evening and the nearby curtains went aflame. When we noticed the blaze, Mike proceeded to put the fire out -- with his hand. I still don’t know what he was thinking! Smoke filled the room, and there was Mike, hiding his hand behind his back. I coaxed him to let me see. Then I proceeded to march him to the emergency room. We spent the whole night at the hospital, but that was simple compared to the jeers we were met with when we got back to the frat house. The story became legendary, and that night infamous as ‘the night the Chi Phi house almost burnt down.’
Then there was the time Mike decided to profess his love to me -- and my whole dorm -- at 4 o’clock in the morning. My roommate and I were sleeping when all of a sudden there was this huge crash, and this incredible hulk of a man, clad in a green Chi Phi Kegs n’ Eggs tee with toothpaste drizzled down his chest, jumped onto my bed and proceeded to sing at the top of his lungs Frankie Vallie’s, “I love you baby, and if it’s quite all right, I need you baby!!” I later found out that the toothpaste was a result of Mike frantically brushing his teeth ‘for me’ in the cab on the way over. And the huge crash? That was Mike literally knocking down my dorm room door. It’s ok, my parents paid for it.
One night - it had to be during the summer because we were home - Mike picked me up at my house. He opened the car door for me, and then walked over to the driver’s side. When he got in, he exclaimed, “You did it!! You passed the Sonny test!! You’re a keeper. Now you’ve got to meet Jimmy-Jo.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but our plans were suddenly changed and we proceeded to go pick up Jimmy-Jo. The three of us had a great time that night. I found out some 3 years later that the ‘Sonny test’ was a movie reference from ‘A Bronx Tale,’ and that I had passed because, after he had opened the car door for me, I reached over to unlock his car door before he got to it. Because of Mike’s praise of this act, to this day, I still make sure that I unlock the driver’s side door to repay a polite gentleman.
I smile as I think of the closet Randy Travis fanatic he was; of our late night renditions of Kenny Rogers' ‘Coward of the County;’ of his corny phrases of “Yummy!” and “Who’s my super girl??!!”; the big man with the even bigger handmade sweaters; the way he would see me from a distance, unabashedly run, pick me up, and twirl me around ...
Mike and I grew apart after he graduated and left Binghamton. Time and distance were the cause, never ill-will or anger, and every memory I have of our time together brings a smile to my face. And, as I sit here simultaneously crying and laughing, I’m not sure if I’ve written this for others or myself. Michael touched many lives, and he continues to live in my stories, my memories, and my heart.
Nicole Buffalino, Wantagh