Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's My Birthday, Bucko

Today I am 50 years old.

It's one of those landmark birthdays, you know, the ones that they make balloons for with the Grim Reaper smiling down at you from his helium filled heights.  50 is a lot of years, but it could be worse, as my son's card reminded me.  I could be celebrating my 350th dog year, or 600th month, or 18,262nd day (does that include the leap years?), or half a century.  His card also reminded me that I am older than U2, however this comparison doesn't bother me since U2 doesn't seem too old to me.  After all, it was only yesterday that Heather Carroll introduced me to the boys from Dublin in 1982 or 3 or 4.  Like yesterday.

Most significantly, 50 seems to represent the halfway mark.  50% off is half price.  50 cents is half a dollar.  50 years must be half a life.  Statistically, this is not the case.  I am aware in a quiet place inside that I am most probably more than half way.  My proverbial life span is either half empty or half full.  Today, I feel pretty full, and that's a positive thing.

This milestone birthday has led me to thoughts of mortality, and that led me to thoughts of someone who didn't make it to 50, or even 40 for that matter.  My good friend and former college roommate, Mark M.S. Bucko, left too soon.

Those who know Mark the best can skip to the end.  They will recognize how insufficient and incomplete my description is of this man/boy.  He was the personification of the Ghost of Christmas Present, eating and drinking up life every day.  I think it is safe to say that were Bucko alive today, he would have his own hit series on Bravo.  Because of his commercial success, his idiosyncrasies and avant garde stylings would make him a ideal host for SNL, or at least the foil of a memorable skit.  He was unapologetically one of a kind.

I met him during our run in the cast of the comedy You Can't Take It With You, the story of a quirky family and the search for a true definition of madness and sanity, perfect for Mark who straddled both so well.  I was typecast as the young Marilyn Munster in the family of misfits, the dullest character in the show.  Mark was the larger than life Mr. Boris Kolenkhov, the bombastic Russian ballet instructor with strong political opinions.  Mark gave such life to the character's signature line that all of us who first heard it in 1980 can hear it today by just closing our eyes - "It STINKS!"

Mark taught me how to conduct an interview, ask questions, maximize creativity, spread joy, and life without cares.  Perhaps Mark was trying to teach me how to live carelessly, but no matter.  He lived.  He was a powerful life force, and he left too soon.  I miss him, particularly on landmark personal occasions like today.

In an odd twist, I have a new friend in my community named Mark Bucko - no relation.  Mark and I have played hockey together and our sons are on the same soccer team.  It always gives me pause when I hear someone yell out, "Hey, Bucko!"  To this day, I expect to see the first Mark in a yellow blazer and skinny tie offering me a martini.  Alas, that Mark is gone and I know a different Mark today.

It's my birthday, and I feel damn good.  I look good too.  I think I can go awhile longer, even if it isn't twice as long.  Mark M.S. Bucko lived harder and faster than me I guess, and he just plain wore out quicker.  I will see him again someday, but hopefully not for another 350 dog years, 600 months, 18,262 days, or half a century.

Now off to party with my family 'til the dawn of 10 PM!!!  Today I am 50 years young.


  1. Joe, this is great. Dan and I don't believe you're 50. As if that's supposed to be a compliment, because to me 50 ain't old. I'm sad you lost such a flare in your ilfe; he taught you well and I appreciate that you share what you've learned from him. Happy Bday!

    1. Thanks...he lives on, though. I can now use his jokes without attribution.

  2. Bucko was great and was very gracious to me when I sought out his tailoring skills. He lived in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park (Lemon Hill Mansion) at the time, a wild arrangement. I visited him when he was a caretaker there and he had the run of the place in between tours. I asked him to make me goatleggings for the role of Puck in Midsummer Night's Dream and he did a great job. Unfortunately, what I paid for them was never re-paid. I only recently threw them out. What a great guy.

    1. There are very few master tailors with goatlegging experience left in the world, and for that, we should all be sad. Lemon HIll was a surreal set up, no question.