Through much of our early years my older brother and I were constant rivals. I should preface that by stating a more accurate truth; I was the prey and he was not merely the predator, he was the terminator. If I threw a fastball, he threw one that would either bruise my palm or catch me on the chin; if I tackled him, he tackled me and threw in a body slam or two;
if I beat him at basketball, he would demolish me at ping pong then laugh while he did victory laps around the table. For roughly, and I do use that adjective with twofold purpose, fifteen years we would wrestle, box, tug, yell, hit and run, smack, trip, connive, extort, plot, attack, cry and tattle.
In spite of the angelic poses we could fake for photographers and visiting relatives as soon as the camera was off and we were on our own the Hardy Boys did a quick change into Sonny Liston and Leapin’ Larry Shane. Mark would always get the better of me because, for most of our young lives he was bigger, older, faster and yes, smarter. Not that he was above ambush or gang war.
Once, when I was in fourth grade I got a bathroom pass out of class. Much to my chagrin all the boys in my brother’s sixth grade class came careening into the restroom as I was walking out. I was pushed back into the lavatory with the tide of rowdy bullies, my brother in the lead. The next thing I knew I was pinned against a stall then doing my best to stay out of a urinal. It all made for a terrifying if not humiliating two or three minutes. Of course my brother and his gang thought it was great fun and were baffled when, in the midst of their chuckles I bolted into the hall leaving a trail of tears.
Before the dawn of equal rights and political correctness we had what was called Service Squad. That was the female version of Safety Patrol. We men folk took care of the bus stops and pedestrians ( or walkers, as they were called then) while the ladies monitored the halls. Outside the restroom I was confronted by a tender member of the Service Squad who also happened to be in my brother’s class.
“Why’re you blubberin’, crybaby?” she asked with no matronly overtones. Now, to be caught crying in school you had better be suffering loss of limb, high stitch count, severe dog bite or visible broken bones. If not you would be tagged as a wimp and that would be with you for the duration of your stay at Twin Beach Elementary. I had two years left in that building and I wasn’t going to let my image go down the drain. Feigning torment that would shock a hardened criminal, I wailed “My brother just beat me up!!”
The fact that there was no apparent damage was lost on the angel of mercy as she went scampering back to my brother’s teacher with the news that I was near death and Mark was to blame. Mr. West came flying out his classroom, paddle in hand, took one look at me and snarled, “get back to your class.”
He didn’t even stop to get my deposition. The sight of Mr. West on the warpath sobered me right up and I nonchalantly strolled into my fourth grade classroom and with absolutely no fanfare, laid the bathroom pass on the teacher’s desk and returned to my seat without a word. Out in the hall, however, was a different scenario. Either the Cold War had gone actively nuclear, Castro was in Miami with a battalion or two, or Elvis had died in a plane crash. There was an unholy cacophony in the hall and as all the students craned their necks to see out the door window I meticulously studied the intricacies of the numerous carved initials in my desktop. My teacher walked to the door, peered out, quickly stepped back and wheeled toward me, moving her lips, attempting to say something then checking herself as I shrugged my shoulders, shaking my head in abject ignorance.
That was Friday the thirteenth, sometime in the early sixties. I remember it was Friday the thirteenth because that was the only excuse I could give to my brother for what had happened to him. Just bad luck, I explained. Of course that was over the phone as I decided to spend the weekend at a buddies house. I never did tell him where.
From a stormy past one would not a expect a friendship to blossom but Mark and I have grown closer than either of us would have thought possible. We play golf, do business, catch movies, do lunch and and sometimes talk about nothing for hours. But there is a down side. Perhaps we’ve grown a little too close. People, on a regular basis, get us mixed up. Maybe it’s because our names begin with the letter M. Who knows. Maybe it’s because we are both in the entertainment business where confusion is built into the public’s preconceived notion of who’s who.
Mark owns a popular comedy Club in Royal Oak and as he greets his customers one might comment, “love you stuff on the radio.”
“That’s my brother, Mike.” he responds.
That happens once for every time the following happen to me.
“Why don’t you play at your own club in Royal Oak.”
“That’s my brother.”
“To play his guitar and entertain us with some humor, here he is, from the Comedy Castle, Mark Ridley.”
“My brother is Mark. I’m Mike.”
“You did a great job tonight. Here’s your check.”
“It’s made out to Mark. I’m Mike.”
It goes on and on. This week I was privileged to play a song kicking off Michigan Week at the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing. It was a live satellite uplink, with heavy media; radio, TV and print. Big shooters. The song I was to sing had been suggested as the Official State Song. This was not only a great opportunity, it was the opportunity. The one you wait a lot of years for.
Introducing me from the podium was a political luminary whom I had met and spoken with in the past. Stepping to the stage microphone I waited while she finished the introduction.
“Now here to close the Kickoff is our good friend from northern Michigan...”
You guessed it.
Being Mark’s brother and often being confused with him has, and I’m sure in this lifetime, never will hurt me. He is a nationally known and respected businessman, impresario, good friend and confidant to some of the biggest names in comedy. He possesses what might be called “The Nod.” If he likes you, you are in. Not because he is politically connected or can broker you a chance somewhere but because his judgment is that well respected. It is a rare quality. I’m extremely proud of him and his accomplishments and he shares his enthusiasm for my career. We are that close.
With the Governor, the Secretary of State, Attorney General and a score of other bigwigs looking on I began playing the opening chords of the song and looked across the Rotunda at my brother standing in the crowd. He was shaking his head and laughing. Sometimes revenge is subtle, coming more the route of good and bad karma. I’m not sure but I swear he mouthed the words, “Mr. West.”