Made by Hand

David Poole (September 2015)

For the first time in years I’m untangling fishing line and I start thinking about Mike, guiding my son Ben, the “Killer of Pike”, on fishing trips around Anima Nipissing. For years, Ben thought pike was a great-tasting fish because of the way Mike cooked it up in black bean sauce. Mike never could get me to cook, but I was happy to buy supplies and clean up after his cooking/performance art. I still have pumpkin seed oil in my pantry because Mike said I should keep some on hand. I have no idea what to do with it.

I met Mike when he was programming experimental films at the Zone theatre in Hamilton. He insisted that Zone should be spelled and pronounced in Norwegian. I was the experimental film distributor at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre and delighted to find an unexpected market for the work we carried. He came to Toronto to preview films; we got talking about baseball and started going to Jays games at Exhibition Stadium. My marriage broke up and Mike figured the best way to get me through the pain was to “throw the ball around”. Throwing the ball around was perfect– it got me doing something and it gave Mike a chance to talk about what was on his mind – the films of James Benning, the misery of being poor, the challenges of being a father.

We made a baseball pilgrimage to Florida for spring training. Mike found the local gospel radio station in every town we drove through, enthusiastically joining in the call and response with Southern Baptist radio preachers. He had an uncanny eye for finding dives with great food. Travel was accompanied by talk – RBI’s, which he called R’s BI because only the word “Runs” is pluralized, the state of his relationships, stuff from French psychoanalytic theory that I couldn’t follow, Melville, parenting, names and naming.

I spent a lot of time trying to catch up and keep up to Mike – to understand what he was talking about, keep up with him on portages, match him with comebacks. I spent a lot of time doubled over in laughter at his mimicry and extended rants. But I didn’t really spend a lot of time with Mike. It was only a couple of years in the mid-80’s, some visits to Isle of Pines and then more trips to Ithaca. But there was always an easy reconnection.

When he was sick we made another trip, this time to a great lumber yard he wanted to visit in Rochester. We loaded Baggs into the back of the Volvo and I drove. He talked, cursed being sick, explained what quarter-sawn timber was and bought a little block of exotic wood for an instrument-maker he knew. He had just ordered a custom-made coffee damper for Sandy, something functional and beautiful. Something you could hold in your hand and make your own through use. Something like a fishing rod, a block plane, a baseball glove, a Bolex.

I miss him greatly.