I'll miss my colleague. . . and my friend

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald July 17, 2009 10:08 am

My colleague Mike Ferguson will leave soon for Iowa, where he will not, so far as I know, work in the corn industry.

This bothers me (Mike’s leaving, not his inability to find corn-related employment, even in Iowa) because his departure means I have to figure out who’s going to report on Baker City Council meetings and do the myriad other tasks which Mike has performed deftly and with particular aplomb since he joined the Herald’s staff nine years ago.

Basically this looks to me like something of a hassle, and I dislike those.

But there’s another Mike Ferguson who’s leaving.

I call him my friend.

His impending absence  saddens me because replacing Mike’s professional skills, prodigious as they are, seems to me a minor matter compared with replacing his presence and his personality in our newsroom.

I doubt, frankly, that the latter can be done.

On most mornings for the past several years Mike was the first of my co-workers to arrive at the office.

This ought to have been a recipe for prolonged silences, interrupted only by the tapping of fingertips on our respective keyboards.

I am not much of an early chatter, is the thing.

Yet Mike’s gregariousness and enthusiasm are so infectious that even on winter mornings, when we both show up well before dawn, I feel not merely compelled but actually happy to indulge in a few minutes of kicking around with Mike the inanities of our lives while we wait for our computers and, in Mike’s case, the coffee, to get warm.

(I bring my own brew, in a Thermos bottle I’ve owned for at least 20 years.)

Although Mike’s knowledge on a vast array of topics is both far wider and deeper than my own, it turns out that our tastes in music and film, at least in certain genres, cleave to essentially parallel paths.

I can, for instance, and with the casual ease of an expert, force Mike to laugh until tears leak from his eyes merely by reciting a certain line from “The Big Lebowski.”

(The line that tickles Mike, by the way, is very nearly unique, by Lebowski standards, in that it contains no profanities. The key phrase is “preferred nomenclature.”)

We share as well as affinity for “Airplane!” the movie, most British Invasion pop, and Neil Diamond, as well as an instinctive loathing for the Four Seasons and Stephen Stills.

Also, we both believe Paul Simon’s talent is diminished by his pretension, although this flaw annoys me more than it does Mike.

I don’t mean to imply, though, that I formed a friendship with Mike solely because we work together, or because we agree that P.J. O’Rourke writes brilliant satiric prose.

The truth is that it’s hard to know Mike and not be his friend. And I’m someone who has made a lot more acquaintances than friends.

What’s unusual, it seems to me, about Mike’s ability to cultivate friends is that he achieves this without being ingratiating or obsequious.

He gives a good speech — he was the natural choice to serve as emcee for the Herald’s annual holiday parties — but he possesses true cordiality rather than artificial veneer that distinguishes (a bad choice of words, that) politicians.

What Mike is, to put it as plain as I know how, is a hell of a nice guy, a description which needs no embellishment and in fact tolerates none.

I have known a fair number of such people and I rate myself lucky in every case.

The risk, of course, in getting involved with these people is that sometimes they go away and take with them some small, but vital, piece of your soul.

They leave you, for example, to sulk in an office where Frankie Valli’s falsetto will never again grate on your ears in quite the same way because there’s no one around who truly appreciates your disdain for such auditory abuse.

I will miss my colleague Mike Ferguson, will lament the loss of his wise counsel which has yanked me out of plenty of compositional swamps and onto solid grammatical ground.

But more so I will miss my friend.

Even if I can’t ever forgive him for putting his copy of the Starland Vocal Band’s debut album up for sale.

And it’s the LP, too, not the less-collectible, and sonically inferior, 8-track.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.