Yesterday, former Bilge Pump Mike Younger (aka Kailyn Dammit the Gunner) died in Robert, Louisiana. I won't go into details about what was going on in his turbulent last few days as I'm only privy to a small bit of the big picture, and I don't want to paint the wrong image. However, I did want to confirm what everyone is sure to find out sooner or later through the lighting fast ren faire grapevine assisted by myspace/facebook. It's a shame, a tragedy, and a ridiculous waste.
Mike and I had worked together since the early days of Hawkwood and, despite our not really getting along well the first couple of years, we were placed as co-Cast Directors of the festival until its dissolution in 2001, working together on things like the Human Checkers Match, the Dragon Attack Stunt Show, and the Bilge Pumps. I didn't think we would work well together, but to my surprise (and to his as well) we meshed pretty well and after a bit, I began to regard him as my friend. Mike had the ability to be completely charming to people he talked to. He could suck you in and make you believe in him and what he was saying. Now, as many of us who knew Mike could verify, you had to take what he was telling you with a huge grain of salt as he tended to tailor his stories to fit who he was talking to and he was the unequivocal master of the "one up". That didn't detract from his charm, however. You might be forced to roll your eyes a few times listening to his stories, but that didn't make him any less fun to be around. In fact, it probably made it more fun. Problem was, you wondered where the real Mike was in the middle of all of his charm. He would be your best friend when he would talk to you, then when he would talk to your enemy he would pretend not to know you or to disparage you so he could be their best friend as well. That's the thing with Mike, he just wanted to be everyone's friend. I wonder now what his life would have been like if he'd let people like him just for being him and not the "him" that he thought they would like. I guess we'll never know now. One thing I can say about him, if he was your friend, he was your friend. There was very little he wouldn't do for people.
Well, I've never cared anything for funerals, I'm more of a wake kind of person. When I die, I'd much rather have a party thrown for me where people can gather together and tell funny stories about me and the things we had done together. With that in mind, I'd like to start something similar here, kind of a cyber-wake, if you will, for our departed pirate friend. I'll get the ball rolling with a few anecdotes of my own from the 13 years I knew the man.
Back before I even knew who Mike Younger was, he had already given me the nickname of "Fabio" after seeing me walking around Scarborough Faire in my Scottish garb. Then when I auditioned for the cast of Hawkwood, he was part of the "judges" there, being the Music Director at the time, and he reinforced the nickname then. I didn't find out about it until a year or so later when my boss at my work came up and called me that. Apparently, he had heard it from someone he met at a Sci-Fi Con who knew of Hawkwood and when he mentioned me, the person said, "Oh yeah, Fabio". I give Mike credit for never even giving a hint that I had that nickname the first 2 years I was at Hawkwood.
Back in the 3rd and 4th years of the festival, I was put in charge of the Living Checkers match, as Hawkwood was too low class for chess you see, and Mike was playing the character of Zippo the Fire Wizard. His arch-enemy in the match was a Water Wizard being played by Mary Dossey, aka Fanny the Flagmaker. During their showdown on the checkers board, each of them had a "magic" staff. Mike's was a carved wood staff with a flash paper rig on the end that would ignite a burst of flame and sparks when he fired it. Mary's was made of a thin PVC tube that held pressurized water in it so that when she fired it at him, it would dose him in water, effectively dousing his fire and winning their battle. Believe me, in the 100 degree plus heat and sun of Hawkwood, he was happy to have the dousing. However, in typical Mike bad luck fashion, something went wrong one day. Whoever was in charge of the magic staves accidentally left them out in the searing sun for a good hour before the show. Obviously, it didn't affect Mike's staff much, but when Mary opened up her geyser of water on him, he wasn't quite expecting to be hit in the crotch with super hot water. In the true tradition of Hawkwood, it was painful, but hilarious at the same time.
Now, Mike worked for me on the Dragon Attack Stunt Show from 1998-2002 and one has to wonder how someone as accident-prone as he was could possibly survive being in a stunt show. I mean, I went to Six Flags with this guy and he dislocated his shoulder trying to navigate over the line dividers to get to a ride, for crying out loud. Well, I can say this, he did tend to find out all the weak spots in the rigging. In fact it became a superstition among the crew that no one was going to be safe for the season until he hurt himself somehow as that cleared the way for the rest of us. One time back in '98, we had a well that was actually a tunnel that went under the stage and out the back. The well had a good 8 foot drop to the bottom. However, the script called for him to do a backwards roll into the thing which would not be healthy for anyone. So we installed a heavy-duty cargo net about 2 feet down to give him a nice soft spot to land on. During rehearsals one day, though, he did the backward roll into the well, and 1/2 the net gave way causing a very loud crash and a yell. I immediately ran into the other side of the tunnel so I could get to where he was and see how hurt he was. I find when I get there that I am looking at him face to face, but upside-down as he had caught one foot in the net was just dangling there with a smile and a look of pain. Another time, we had rigged up a life line using a hemp rope that we bought from an auction of stuff from the Barney show. It was used quite a few times during rehearsals and both Mary and Dave Ruffin (our own Harvey the Corpsman) used the thing during the script. However, one day during rehearsal Mike decided to give it a try and it snapped on him about 1/2 way up, causing him to come crashing back down the ground. In retrospect, it was good that it happened to Mike and not Mary or Dave as Mike seemed to have amazing recuperative powers after he got hurt. By getting hurt, I mean like the time he fired a cannon at our show back in 2001 and the entire back of the cannon (which consisted of a stove top drip pan and a spray-painted softball) fired off backwards into his chest. He might have had a huge bruise, but the show went on fine and he barely showed it even hurt.
One time, I think he actually wielded magic. It was the 2000 stunt show and he played the character of Jerricho, the evil ogre sorcerer. He had just sent me falling to my death on a 20ft high fall and I lay there in the crash pad listening to the remainder of the show and watching Mike do his lines from up on top of the wall of the stage. His line was something like, "Now I will destroy you all with my most powerful spell!" and he would raise his arms as if to cast a big spell then would be interrupted by Yohko the Dragon. This time however, he said his line, raised his hands in the air... and a huge blast of wind whipped through the forest, causing the trees to shake back and forth and a deluge of leaves to fall from them covering everything. All of us, including Mike, kind of just froze and looked around with our jaws dropped. Then the audience broke into a standing ovation and Mike smiled and took a few bows before finishing up the show.
Well, that's a just a few stories of the many stories that I have about Mike, do you have any?
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