by Allen Darling
Uncle Mikey was many things, an engineer without schooling, an inventor, a philosopher, a true artist...painter, photographer and more... but the one thing he wasn’t was anyone's uncle. He had a brother somewhere who may have had kids but Mikey was estranged from him, as he was estranged from his ex wife and his own two daughters. As he was estranged from aspiration. As he was estranged from all the trappings of the normal life he’d tried to live coming of age in the fifties. He was Joanie’s cousin ( she who would later become my wife) but that was incidental to us all meeting up on the Gulf Islands in the freewheeling 1970’s, where this unusual guy was the archetypal and universal Uncle to a small cadre of younger seekers.
Many of us came to the island looking for a cheap place to live and an alternative lifestyle and Mikey was looking for those things too, but also, Mikey was escaping. I suppose I was too, come to think of it… as are all travellers, I guess.
Mikey got to the island before the hippies. He was of the beat generation, and even without knowing him you could see that life had beaten him in a way. Boxed his ears. Sucker punched him when he wasn’t looking. Childhood tragedies and trauma, uneven playing field, unrealized potential, bad luck had all darkened his world view. And though his hopes were dampened his enthusiasm wasn't. Mikey was cynical but joyful. Resigned but available. Uncle Mikey was unkempt but uncowled.
Unkempt? I’ll be honest. Sometimes Uncle Mikey could be a little scary. Wild uncombed thinning hair, coffee and tobacco stains around a half toothless mouth, ill fitting clothes that were in style when he last cared about such things , a LOUD laugh and a gregarious ‘let's do it, I don’t give a fuck’ attitude that masked his sensitivity.
And a keen, suspicious eye. Mikey would call you on your bullshit, so if you’re not wanting to get real don’t come around. Lots of people didn’t. A few lucky ones did.
Here we come now up to his cabin door to share a toke and solve the world's problems. Be careful of the nails he’s driven upward through the deck boards in front of the door. An "unwelcome mat” he says that he employed sometimes when he wasn’t "in the mood" for any more bullshit, even mine, but I ignore the unwelcome mat and push open the door.
Mike is teaching himself to sew on an old portable sewing machine. He’s making tiny S&M costumes for an animated film he wants to make using Barbie and Ken dolls. He hasn’t shaved in a couple of days or possibly eaten or slept. And he’s happy to see me, of course. I think.
We drink awful coffee with Coffee Mate whitener (Mike says he’s sensitizing himself for the plastic age to come) and Mikey is eager to show me the new smoking device he’s made from a soldering iron, screwed into a cutting board, some surgical tubing and a plastic jar. He drops some hashish into the hole that usually holds the soldering tip, inserts the tube into the plastic jar and holds it against the cutting board. The jar fills with smoke. Mikey explains the heat of the soldering iron unlike a flame, doesn’t create the harmful side effects of burning when smoking. It is 1978 and I enjoy my first vaporizer.
Mikey lived on welfare. Poor by even poor standards. Refused to sell his art, some of which was quite good, and had stopped looking for work before I knew him. He claimed he had been blacklisted years earlier for whistle blowing about some corruption when working as a surveyor for Hydro or B.C. Tel. Most of us thought of this as a MIKEY FACT, but it turned out to be true. He still could have found work I’m sure but the incident took away the last of his ambition along with his livelihood.
A Mikey Fact was some outrageous assertion Mikey would make - "There are only seven models in all of the men's magazines." He had an extensive collection of pages torn from 1950’s “girlie mags” indexed and cross referenced to prove this point...or…"Mushroom mycelia are the largest organism on the planet”. In the world before the internet, who knew?
Over the next decade or so we shared a lot of ocean paddling and many campfires. Among other things Mikey taught me silk screening and showed me the bays and inlets around Gabriola Island. He taught me about the tides and currents in the local waters. He snuck us into the tailing ponds behind the Harmac pulp mill to witness and photograph the pollution there. He helped build a cabin on nearby Mudge Island and refused compensation, as he helped anyone freely and happily, especially the down and out. Nor was I special. All of his few friends benefited from Uncle Mikey’s ardent enthusiasm. Over enthusiasm in fact, that you sometimes had to curb because he was no less willing or certain or adamant even when he was dead wrong. Volunteer Fire department. Community Hall work crews. Film club. In a small community where all hands were needed, Uncle Mikey had skills and would always help. Always.
He loved science, especially astronomy, and kept a tape library of CBC radio’s "Ideas “ and "Quirks and Quarks” shows.
He loved marijuana and LSD.
He loved blonde women with big breasts.
He loved life even as he hated his own.
Michael J. Dawson, Dyke Mawson, Uncle Mikey was a unique, enigmatic person. A kind and sensitive and generous human with a gruff, forbidding exterior. A troubled, insightful, creative soul, an artist, that time and history will soon forget. A good friend. When Uncle Mikey told us he was having chest pains his friends urged him to see a doctor but he declined, “Ahh, Fuck It”, he decreed. We should have been more insistent. A few weeks later Mikey was found in his cabin, dead from a heart attack. He was 56 yers old.
Because Uncle Mikey was broken he could be difficult. We sometimes jokingly said of Mike that he was easier to love when he wasn’t around. We get to love him a lot these days.