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Celebrating Mike

by Joyce Johnson

True West by Sam Shepard

 

Paradise Valley’s Mike Art, shown here with a quote he loved by Emerson, passed away on Oct. 25, 2017. Friends, fans, family and employees past and present celebrated his life at the Livingston Elks Club last Sunday afternoon, April 22. It was a warm and lovely spring day for a Mikey shindig. This may sound like I digress way off track, but on entering the building, I immediately spied a bunch of pies and cookies straight ahead, which caused me to miss the “name tag table,” inside the entrance, because like a magnet I was drawn; and then I saw my favorite waitresses from the Beanery presiding over the pies, and former owner Phalle strolled past who said hi. Aha! So these pies are Joe’s famous creations! Mike enjoyed the historic Northern Pacific Beanery, and they loved him. For boring diet reasons I confess I had never had one of Joe’s dessert pies, but today for Mikes party I thought: diet shmiet!, go for the yum, and I did. And it was a sweet treat also, for a former Chico worker like me, to see friends and faces I hadn’t seen in a long time. People came from Mike’s home town, Chicago, and other places. I got a hug from former Chico Maintenance chief Greg Saks, who came all the way from Hawaii wearing a tropical shirt and an enviously maintained appearing, slowly acquired, real Hawaiian sun tan. Otherwise it was as though no time had passed. Mike would have loved this party. There must have been at least a couple hundred people when I arrived, mostly filling the front end of the club room, around the bar. The chatter and laughter created a cheerfully high volume soundtrack, and the flow of incoming at the entrance was non stop. Although some invitations had been sent to the many who were in close contact with Mike and the family, word of mouth got out too, and all were welcomed who had heard of the gathering and wanted to celebrate Mike.

Eve and her daughters Andy and Jackie generously provided great food and refreshments as always. The dining room was ablaze with fairy lights.

I never got to the savory tables of impressive food selections but I spied on other people’s plates—I know you are curious—but like the French, had dessert first, but then I had not room for anything else. I ate Joe’s perfect coconut creme pie with ice cream and real good, big GF cookies, one chocolate macaroon, the other peanut butter cookie which I dunked in the melting ice cream. Later when I was about to tip the plate and slurp up the rest, I heard the theme from Fiddler On The Roof start up, which was nostalgic because Mike played Tevye, the lead in Fiddler many times. The music got people’s attention and they began

to drift towards the dining area for the program. There were select readings by Jim Liska, who creatively filled the role of MC, close friend, and Minister. We heard endearing stories from several long time friends. Everyone there could have stood up and retold a fun or loveable encounter with Mike and we’d still be there, but I liked the story of Mike’s long time pals, The Three Amigos. Then one of our devoted Volunteers around town, (also a great “give back guy” and funnyman) Rob Bankston, retold Mike’s secret of his happy marriage to Eve. All was quiet as we leaned forward to hear this inspiration from Mike Art which was the following: “Go out twice a week and wine and dine, and even dance now and then.” On and on Mike had expounded to Rob on the importance of these long-practiced date nights as the key to happiness, and after another strategic silence Rob said that Mike summed it up like this: “So, Eve goes out to eat on Tuesdays, and I go out on Thursdays.”

Ha! Anyway, Rob was proudly wearing Mike’s favorite tropical shirt, given to Rob by Eve, appropriately I thought, because only Mike and Rob could wear that shirt with authority—it had an exuberant explosion of painterly splashes of big flowers in bright melon, orange, green and yellow almost leaping off the cloth (...exaggerating only a little here). Mike had said it was the colors of things he loves to eat.

Toward the end Eve Art addressed the Extended Art Family, as Eve called us, gesturing with arms out to embrace the entire crowd present, and thanked us warmly. Affection prevailed. Listening to the love and respect that people shared in story allowed us to get to know Mike even more and I felt that we are in deed a kind of big generously spilled over Art family. I enjoyed the quick tour through Mikes’ life on the timeline of photos in the slide show. Although the Arts are world travelers, there were mostly photos on beaches, their home away from home for many years, which frequent visits I suspect that beechnut, (get it?) Eve Art, had a huge influence over. On my way out I walked past the name tag table with the serving plate of giveaway tokens and my eye caught one with a cartoon heart embossed on a little disk. I reached down, flipped it over and it said “love” on the back. Yes that’s the one I want of course. I slipped it in my pocket, and felt my eyes sting...taking a little bit of Mike’s heart home with me. But as I went down the steps, I suddenly smiled at the dazzling image in my mind of what the Elks Club would have looked like had everyone been inspired to wear a bright tropical shirt to Mike’s party. (Next time for sure.)