I just received an e-mail notification that an old friend, Mike Marklew, has passed away.
I first met Mike when he was managing the now-defunct Tokyo British Club in Ebisu. I was a member for the last year of its existence, and spent a lot of time talking and drinking with Mike both in the members' bar upstairs and in the public bar, the Barley Mow, on the ground floor. It was he who gave me my "Big Mike" nickname, because there were so many other Mikes among the regulars there; it could get complicated to figure out which of us was being discussed in some of the ale-fueled conversations. Toward the end of the club's existence, when money for wages was tight, I did some pro bono bar tending in the Barley Mow to help provide some time off for the depleted staff. Mike was always quick with a clever quip or a well-poured pint, whichever side of his bar I was on.
Shortly after the British Club closed its doors for the last time, Mike oversaw the construction and opening of The Black Lion Pub in Meguro. I was a regular visitor there even when the pub was still a construction site in what had been a parking lot and small office, before they had their operating license, when--since they weren't yet legally allowed to sell drinks--the "bar" was an ice chest filled with bottled beer, and there was a bucket for "building fund donations" in lieu of a cash register, and I've been a regular there since. Mike ran the place for a few years before moving to other places, and eventually moving to the UK to care for his elderly mother.
We've kept in touch by e-mail since then, with much of the volume of our correspondence being a constant flow of jokes and amusing pictures or videos from him to me and a huge collection of his friends, interspersed with a few more serious messages and updates on what he was up to. Once in a while he'd ask for help or advice on some computer problem, which I was always happy to give if possible. More often he'd pass along information about mutual acquaintances in various parts of the world--and even in Japan after he left--with whom he kept in touch far more diligently than I have.
I'll miss Mike's loyalty to his friends, and his witty observations on just about anyone and anything. I'll miss his inexhaustible stock of anecdotes, many from his extensive travels and numerous jobs throughout his life. I'll miss seeing his name in my e-mail inbox and wondering what odd bit of humor, wit, or clever observation I could look forward to seeing. I'll miss the feeling that, even though he's far away, an old friend is--or soon will be--enjoying a pint and observing, with an amused twinkle in his eye, the human condition.
I'm pretty sure that Mike had a firmer belief in an afterlife than I do. I hope he was right, because I'd like to think that he's sitting at the corner of some celestial pub's bar, where the pints are always perfectly poured, and it's always Happy Hour.