His name was Frank Langstrom III, but to me he was always, and will forever be Mike. We became friends when we were both five, after my family moved from Bethesda, Maryland to Birmingham, Michigan. He and I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was safe, all the adults were our parents, and every house was a home.
We were boys, so we liked to make lots of noise, blow things up, shoot things in random directions, build stuff, explore, get dirty, and play. It is amazing that we survived with all of our limbs and digits, because we liked to play with fireworks that were real explosives, and tried to make them even more powerful. There were a number of mailboxes and trash cans in our neighborhood that ended up being unsuitable for their original purposes.
Later we took wood and pipes and made homemade cannons that were surprisingly accurate. Many plastic models were constructed with built-in explosives so we could film them exploding. From match heads and ballpoint pen rockets to some relatively large and powerful missiles we graduated to some pretty amazing vehicles. More than a few small creatures had the rides of their short and unconventional lives due to our work. And, there were a few automobiles that had unexplained dents in them from minor guidance inaccuracies.
We made model trains, small-engine aircraft, and built and listened to ham radios. We constructed a sound-powered telephone system between our houses. We learned to shoot BB guns to pellet rifles to guns. More than once Mike’s father angrily complained about some projectile whizzing by him or his house. We built the infamous Goodbye-Grackle machine that was a marvel of ad-hoc engineering and complex ostentatiousness.
As we got older we got telescopes to explore the heavens and cameras to film our lives. We bought motorcycles together and expanded our travels. But we also loved being home, playing bridge or poker or other games. He loved to be vague about the rules until he won, or sometimes just cheated. With a grin.
He and I shared so many interests, but we were different in so many ways, as well. Mike liked to talk me into doing something while he would hang back, and laughing as I – usually – got into trouble. I would scheme and he would build; I would talk and he would think; I would lead and he would watch. I never met a smarter person, or a quicker wit. His sense of humor never quit, and he could use the saltiest of language but never leave you feeling insulted. Every time I think of something quirky I see his little smirk, and smile.
But, underneath his dark humor and clever asides, he cared and supported and helped – but never in any way that drew attention to himself. When I broke my jaw he kept an eye on me at school so I wouldn’t get injured further. When I broke my leg he was the one that carried my books, got his father to drive me to school, and kept me company wherever I went so I wouldn’t break my other leg. As our careers took us further apart he was the most supportive when I had to deal with adversity. And, at unexpected times he would send me or email me something that would make me laugh, and look at life differently.
He got involved with the charities of the Wilson brothers (of Beach Boys fame) and donated significant time and money working judiciously in the background. Upon hearing of his passing the Carl Wilson Foundation honored him.
And, he made it part of his life to help his family far beyond what could be expected. Even though sudden cancer claimed him, his final battle was valiant, and he never will finish that article on why kamikaze pilots bothered to wear helmets.
In all, in so many ways he was the best a friend could be. And through it all, from childhood to the end, we were boys. Requiescat in Pace, Mike
3 thoughts on “We Were Boys”
great remembrance of a great guy. Well written, Doug. If you ever expand, you could mention his devotion to the classic rock station, WHNE (Honey Radio) and to hi annual humorous predictions about the UM – OSU football game
Nice remembrance of a good friend. We should get together for coffee some time.
And what WAS his theory re why kamikaze pilots wore helmets???