Dedicated to Pete and Matt, Mike’s brothers, and their family.
You get to a certain age and the news of friends and family fighting similar battles against the same diseases which have no cures starts to add up when it comes to the battles and lives lost to, say, pick one disease: Cancer.
I’ve no doubts—despite each of us having our differences—that we can agree to renaming cancer as the biggest fucking asshole disease amongst a gang of deathdriven diseases known to all living organisms. It’s a monster hiding deep behind the lingering shadows of joy within in each of our lives, reminding us to enjoy each waking moment while we can.
The randomness of it all—life and death—hits differently each time, and every loss adds up. I often feel lucky and guilty for being alive and healthy. Some of us get to know and process this emotion earlier than others; some later on, luckier maybe?
I’ve also established a misunderstanding anger towards anyone who dares to openly proclaim a willingness to die sooner than intended— especially around those who are sick, fighting and laughing to get through another day the best they can. There are songs by artists I can’t listen to because of this personal awakening.
I tend to bottle up those conflicting emotions and privately deal with it; not this time. This one’s been tough to wrap my head around— it has taken months for me to come semi-circle on, and I’ve faced cancer before when my grandpa was quickly taken ahold by brain, prostrate and lung cancer in my early 20s. A quick exit he strangely prepared me for with his wisdom. He somehow fooled everyone for years by appearing strong and with one goal, outlive grandma and then go.
This loss is/was different. This was severed, silent, and from a distance… From another era that came and went far too quick but still close to me.
Mike Gulatto was a dear friend of mine growing up. Met him during my junior year of high school, around 1990 into 1991, and by a shared fortune of coincidence and creative skills, we ended up being offered the same fine arts scholarship in the late spring of 1992 to attend Bradley University together—to focus on the fine arts—where we were roomies right off the bat in the fall of 1992.
Mike was an incredible artist to begin with; I would say he was miles ahead of what constitutes most young humans living through their teens. An age where being labeled raw with talent, amateur even. Mike was not such, he was creatively gifted.
What defines an artist as a pro? That they are consumable? That they can host a gallery? That they can sell work to pay some bills?
Mike became a creative confidante to me when no one else could identify with what that meant. It meant being tough on the process of creation and the results, and without a care for what others thought, or what academia intended to drill into our impressionable brains.
He was quiet and private to a trusting fault; and loyal beyond what these words will failingly describe about Michael Gulatto. To those lucky enough that he let down his defenses to show his gentle side, he was a protector of friendships to all he let in no matter who you were and who you associated yourself with. There wasn’t much to do to get past his security gate check besides be real— and as he and I discovered, to embrace being unmercifully honest to nurture a trusting friendship.
I discovered via his youngest brother, Pete, that Mike’s 4 year battle to cancer came to an end after Thanksgiving weekend of 2021. I’m processing the memories every day. His passing has triggered a floodgate of stories that Mike and myself shared, good and difficult but always rewarding, that I’d like to share about this wonderful human whom I had the luck of befriending, studying and working with, living with as roomies, and always looking out for each other during our transition from teenagers to young adults in a strange place called Peoria, Illinois after leaving an incredibly weirder place called Rockford, Illinois.
I don’t know how to deal with death and how to approach it, and from the time Mike and I shared together, we sure as shit didn’t know how to deal with life then but it was all the more easier to manage and enjoy as long as we had someone to trust and turn to when the times got tough.
I wish I could have one more conversation with him out of the blue, random, at any point in the last few years to pick his brain about this thing we call art, life… And death. Approaching death… I failed him.
These are snapshot memories of my friendship with Mike Gulatto. They and he, those we met, cross my mind often in the last 25 years since I left Peoria; which is where he stayed, finding his place and making a life of it in Central Illinois…
Mike and Pete Nichols were best friends during our last 2 years of high school. Pete migrated from Indiana after his dad passed. A sweet soul and good friend who worked at the Diocese of Rockford alongside ol’ St. Pete’s Cathedral hill like I did outside of our schooling with a work permit.
Those two clowns let me into their world of amazing music, coffee and cigarettes, and ignoring the social peer pressures that our high school’s amateur-aged sports ball minded peers excelled in. They were not one for parties and snobbery. They were real and didn’t give a shit about that nonsense. We laughed often at the absurdity of sports altogether. They welcomed me in.
I discovered the music of The The, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, the editing room artistry of Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and the joy of coffee and pie at Aunt Mary’s restaurant on East State street in Rockford, Illinois on a Friday and Saturday night in Rockford while others our age cheered on strange high school sports ball games.
Mike and Pete were the dichotomy of peasantry interests— humans amongst apes. I discovered another metric of cultural taste to hold up alongside new ideas, words, songs, and teachings.
Mike and I were taken on a private recruitment/field trip in early 1992, together. We didn’t think or know much about what was happening, or why Bradley University took an interest in us because our high school grades were shit.
The head of the fine arts department from the esteemed college, Dick Reedy (I think I have the name wrong), and its printmaking professor, Oscar Gillespie, had received a body of our work (slides) from our high school teacher, Lynn Janicke (Stockton).
They looked beyond our grades— as great educators should do. They wooed us with lunch, dinner, Bradley and Peoria. They were were good guys introducing us to the idea of college before it was offered. I didn’t believe I could go to college with a 2.2 overall high school GPA.
Bradley’s admissions—because of Lynn, Oscar, and Dick’s abilities to push us through, and for seeing through our mutual disinterest for the entire high school experience—made it possible.
Upon receiving a letter via the USPS for a fine arts scholarship to Bradley a week before we graduated high school, I called Mike immediately to alert him of the news. My parents were caught off guard more-so because my grades were shit.
Mike’s response stays with me, “I got the same letter. Pays to hit shit grades, right?” He was so calm and filled with humor, the opposite of my bewilderment.
The occasional weekend trips from Peoria to Rockford and back with Mike during the next few years included a stop at the Pizza Hut off of I-39 S in Pekin before taking the backroads back to college. We always fought for the tab while insuring there was enough for the tip.
Mike transitioning from tall and clean cut to black jeans, boots, flannel, long curls, and black hat backwards, hair shaved on the sides with Camel cigs always on standby during the tail-end of high school into our freshman year at Bradley.
His transformation was quite amazing over a short amount of time. He prepared himself a new identity for our forthcoming college adventures. Here we were in a new city and school, away from home, surrounded by a predominantly clean-cut crowd.
In many ways, we were shellshocked by this new life adventure and couldn’t admit it to each other. yet. (We did eventually.) Over 75% of the campus student body belonged to a fraternity or sorority.
These frat boy and sorority gal weirdos would come out of nowhere and scour the dorm halls for young-ins to recruit based on whatever intel they gathered about the incoming student body.
They targeted kids of families who previously attended Bradley. They targeted children of wealth. They didn’t bother with us, ha! The entire greek life model is based on paying for a social life.
That was creepy to myself and Mike to understand, and we held true to that belief but not to the point of shielding new friendships. We welcomed anyone regardless of the Greek life pay-for-friends weirdness; leaving our door open all the time to enjoy a Sega Genesis football or hockey game.
We became known as art weirdos—but people liked us in this environment, it was new and strange—whereas where we came just from, we never felt that kind of acceptance. Where we came from, Rockford, we were the fucking weirdos who liked to draw and paint while listening to weird music and not being a part of social bullshit.
Somehow we became nicknamed by our dorm hall roommates as “Axl” and “Raven”— for reasons I’ve never figured out, so we rolled with it for the first year before correcting peers.
Mike and I quickly established ourselves as independents—GDIs, goddamned independents—but it was well known we were a fraternity unto ourselves. We did not like people in large sums, or mother fuckers all talking at once. People, herds of, were mutually offensive to us.
We carried that belief throughout our college days, establishing trusted friendships with anyone and everyone regardless of greek life memberships. Our motto was, “We’re here for you after they turn you away for speaking your peace. Fuck them.”
There was no one else like Mike on campus at Bradley in Peoria in those days— he stood out like a blueberry in a bowl of peas. Me being a pea, 100%, and feeling like a blueberry and Mike seeing me as fellow, rare blueberry. And that’s all that mattered on my end.
Mike always talked me through overwhelming bouts of depression that first semester. I was ready to quit school and move home around the time of Thanksgiving break, go to junior college and work full time at Schoening’s paint store where I had been returning home to work.
They held a job aside for me whenever I’d come home for breaks— lucky to always have a job waiting. One of the best jobs I’ve held in life, and with the best bosses. Raises gifted without timing or reason— show up, work hard, make good decisions, be good. Pretty simple stuff.
Mike and I shared many deadlines and overnight study groups for much of our college experience— but the first semester was a genuine test on each of our spirits. One event before break was a 20” x 30” still life illustration deadline.
Mike had found his passion in Burne Hogarth’s work, learning the anatomical ropes of illustration. He was so fucking good that I was starting to question my skills. He dove into every project with passion. I was lost as fuck. I hadn’t found any creative inspiration yet. To this day, 2022, same story, art is shit, I'm not inspired by anything going on out there.
Mike saw me struggling one night with 10 hours to go until our 9AM class deadline before break— a large empty illustration, paper blank, brain blank, nothing working, and I’m laying there on the upper bunk staring at the ceiling. I got up to call my parents ready to quit and move home.
This wasn’t the first time. Mike was there for all of it. On top of it all, I wasn’t enjoying the social and educational scope of Bradley yet. Mike was okay with all of it, so he appeared, calm and willing to socialize more-so than I was in this new life.
I was teetering on a creative and personal breakdown, basically, and depression was kicking my ass. He said to me, “Dude, you’re not quitting school. I need you here. We can be something here. You will feel nothing at all if you move home.”
I told him that I felt nothing in that moment and unsure of what to do, pointing to his focus and determination. He had found his inner voice through Hogarth’s works— I was lacking ideas, mute to an inner child still. And then he said it: “Draw a fucking bag, draw anything. Find the dullest idea and sharpen it. Get it done and repeat. None of this has to mean anything, just get it done and if anyone has a problem with it, fuck them. Pick and idea and go with it, create, destroy, repeat.”
That was that, and I’ve been following that ethos—in all of its reflections and intentions—since.
I illustrated a 20” x 30” paper bag, we laughed.
I drew so many dumb things because of that advice—as I still do—never giving a shit about what anything means at all; and never questioning any of it. Who cares?
That’s how we pushed each other moving forward. I didn’t drop out; I learned to love this new life and creative ethos that Mike helped me fight through to find an intent: Find the dumbest, dullest idea, and sharpen it. Thanks Mike.
A long lost cousin from my Dad’s side of the family, Val, that I’d never met happened to be passing through Peoria en route from Springfield where she worked at the state capital.
She read my name in the paper after myself, Mike, and two other peers had been recognized by the Caterpillar corporation for a published science experiment that the Bradley art department tossed us into against the engineers’ experiments—for reasons I never figured out.
Val is a firecracker, first off. I didn’t know who this woman was that found my name and room’s phone extension through the operator and student directory. I received a call one night from this woman, a stranger to me, telling me she was a cousin, a scientist in Springfield, who read my name in the paper, and was going to be in town tomorrow, and wanted to treat me, her cousin, to a steak dinner at Jumers Castle Lodge in Peoria. A famous location during those days.
I was befuddled to say the least—”Val, how do I know you’re my cousin?”—denying all of her efforts to meet her, she was persistent and said, “I know your dorm and # now, so be ready tomorrow at 6pm for dinner, I’ll pick you up.”
I was now frustrated, “I have class from 7 to 9 tomorrow night. I don’t have time for dinner.”
She says, “Skip it, that’s what I used to do in college! Dinner’s on me.”
I get off the phone and laugh with Mike about what just happened— who the hell was that person?! He, interested says, “Dave, I’ll skip class and go to dinner with her. Steak sounds great, whatever man, I got you covered.”
We laugh about the absurdity of it all and Mike says, “No worries, I’ll pretend to be you. Cover for me at class.”
I call my parents the next morning to insure that the cousin named Val is really a cousin. My mom was upset, my dad was laughing. Apparently Val had called them earlier the day before to try and track me down; and to their defenses, they refused to give her my contact info.
I mentioned that Mike was going to pretend to be me and meet her for dinner. That made them all the more uncomfortable. The night comes around and Mike is off to dinner with Val, pretending to be me. Hours pass, Mike returns. “Dude, your cousin is cool. She bought me steak and drinks. But she caught on to me not being you. She was asking questions about your family that I lied through best I could with vague answers, but after the third drink or so, I flat out told her, “Val, I’m not Dave, I’m Mike. We’re roommates. He went to class, I opted to do dinner.”
Val was so pissed and proceeded to get Mike drunk—who, by the way—was 19.
Mike started hanging out with a few people away from school by our second semester freshman year that I didn’t care for. My radar for negative influences keeps me on guard. I don’t like most humans as it is.
One of them, Greg, was a peculiar individual. First time I met him he had on sports boy clothes, seemed normal. He had an interest in art, was a decent illustrator— raw, and what he lacked in skills he made up for in passion… Something wasn’t ever right about Greg, however.
He liked to get into fights, drink whiskey all night. Dumb American hillbilly shit like that. Greg began dressing like Mike, too. He transformed himself overnight to clone Mike. All black clothes and boots replaced the university sports sweats and tennies.
Others noticed it happening, questions aimed at me based on living with Mike and seeing firsthand the influence Mike possessed on strangers. It was strange to me, worrisome, as Mike was tall, and Greg was barely 5’ 4” if memory serves right. It was similar to that Danny DeVito movie with Arnold, “Twins”.
I didn’t have time for time wasters then, still don’t today, and Greg was an enabler for time-wasting and trouble. He was a prime candidate for time wasting and life wasting.
Mike was far more accepting of others and knew that I didn’t care for wasting time around particular types of clown and artsy fartsy outsiders. I saw Mike change in ways before me that I wanted to protect. He was sleeping longer into the day—not noon, we’re talking 4pm—pretending to be a vampire.
During one of his school day sleep-ins, I had bought a few rolls of Scotch tape to dress up his entire dorm room in a spider-like web of sticky annoyance so that when he awoke to arise from his bottom bunk bed, he awoke and rose to a closed off, black blankets that prevented sunlight from creeping in, like a fly to a web.
And so that happened, not once, twice.
The second time I taped up the room, I did it before I fell asleep while he was out, so that when he returned by sunrise after being out all night, he would walk into the web of Scotch tape.
Mike didn’t care for any of it in the moment, but I know he loved it.
The worst sleep-in trapping prank I pulled on him was with a penny jam lodged into our dorm door; meaning I couldn’t get into the room all day, and he couldn’t get out of the room once the sun settled and he would awake for dinner. That was a bad one.
We needed campus maintenance to undo that prank. I didn’t do that prank again. The point was, as Mike knew, stay in, turn your days back around. All in all, we never missed a daily meal together.
Greg’s influence was taking hold. I had some strong words with Mike about trying to stay focused; that what we had in Bradley was a gift, to not fuck it up. Mike didn’t care for me calling him out in that moment, and ultimately that’s what led us to needing to find new roomies to start sophomore year.
It was the right thing to do— and strengthened our friendship over time. I was so worried by his behaviors that I began conceiving pranks to trap him in the room to protect him. He was sleeping from 5AM until 5PM by sophomore year, skipping classes, awaking to have a meal, draw, and then disappear into the night with Greg and a group of mother fucking clowns.
I was going through a breakup from my freshman year girlfriend, Alyssa, to start sophomore year. She was the Farmersville, IL county queen. and a week before school started back up, I had taken off the last week of my two summer jobs at Ingersoll and Schoening’s to visit her in her little town. To hand off the crown of county queen to the next queen.
Slow-dancing to Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” in a makeshift open lot amongst the entire town, a population of about 700 people max I recall. It feels like a cinematic joke these days, actually. I walked around the entire town, including the high school, within 10 minutes.
Returning to Bradley was an excitement.
I was happy to give up the 60-70 hours a week I was working, saving money for the school year. My first day back I met my new roomie, Steve, a nice guy with a love of football. We had nothing in common.
Later that day, Alyssa came by to break up with me on day one of sophomore year. It was out of nowhere. She said that she met a minor league baseball coach from Springfield—fucking Darren was his name—the week after I had visited her hometown. The only week between the end of my summer jobs and starting school. The irony was too rich.
Darren the baseball coach, and Steve the football loving roomie.
Mike and I enjoyed every meal together still through this humor-filled transition between the Darren and the Steve factors. Mike was in another dorm building, University Hall, and offered his room to be my escape whenever I needed it. I needed it everyday.
He would come to my dorm building, and I would go to his. We still had every class together, having scheduled it so. I became good friends with his roomie, Jon Mayor, another independent amongst weirdos, who is now a filmmaker. Through process and error, their room hall monitor worked out a deal to move me into their hall— to save me from fucking STEVE.
Steve had no interest in a friendship, which was fine. He was a Sigma Ep fraternity bro, and loved frat boy life— he loved talking about banging girls, drinking, and sports. He was strange to me. My favorite memory of Steve is this: I bought my first compact disc, ever, it was Teenage Fanclub’s “Thirteen”album on the same Monday evening midnight sale that was promoting the new Pearl Jam release— the one with the dumb goat on the cover, “Vs.” (What a dumb band!)
Upon putting on “Thirteen” on my boombox player that night around 1am, Steve said, “Is this the new Pearl Jam?” I said, “No, it’s the new Teenage Fanclub.” Steve said, “Huh, sounds dumb.”
Ahahahhahaha, fucking Steve! I knew then in that moment that there was no hope for a decent friendship with the Steve.
Mike and Jon worked with their hall director to insure that I could move onto their floor come 2nd semester with another mutual friend, Dae DiGiovanni, who had become a good friend during our freshman year.
Dae had a regiment schedule like mine, shared many of the same classes— and because of his soccer schedule, practice, focusing wasn’t an issue around me. Mike recognized that I was going through a tough breakup with Alyssa Sohjanowski and wasn’t talking about it.
One night, Mike asked me what it was about Alyssa that I missed. I had nothing. We laughed. Then he said, “What does she have of yours that you need back?” I told him of the drawing I made her a year earlier, that was framed and probably hanging on her wall in the next building dorm where she roomed with Melna.
“Let’s go get it, that’s your property.” Being foolish, we did so.
Melna answered their door, and Alyssa happily handed it over, but I decided to turn around and slam it onto the dorm hallway wall for special effects— like, “Now we’re really done. Good luck with life and Darren the baseball coach, Alyssa!”
The artwork now dangling in the frame, broken glass everywhere. Their hall director comes out of her room screaming at us to get out of their hall as we’re clearly walking away happy. She was louder than the actual action is all I recall.
Mike and I are walking across a campus parking lot with this dumb art, and out of nowhere 2 fake student cops come running after us. One grabs me from behind, the other takes the art, and they start walking/dragging me backwards with a hand over my mouth to muffle me.
Mike slowly walks towards both of these clowns telling them to let me go— it’s cold and dark out keep in mind, one parking lot light overhead. Each student cop yells at Mike to back off, and that they’ll be back for him.
No one messes with Mike whether it’s day, night, summer or winter, note.
Mike puts up his fists and tells the fake student cops, “You have three seconds to make a good decision; let him go— One…. Two… “ And they let me go.
They make a few remarks about how they’ll find us and we’ll go to jail. Campus police did show up to talk to our hall director; and then to us, we told the truth— Mike didn’t do anything, keep in mind, besides protecting me.
I took easy blame and accountability for my actions; for destroying my art in a dramatic fashion. The cop made me give back the art and mentioned he understood why I did what I did but that it was considered property damage unto the school. Bullshit cop talk.
When it was all said and done, I was written up, reported, and needed to go see a school counselor to talk about my feelings, which really wasn’t the problem. Darren the baseball coach from Springfield hillbilly Illinois was the problem, and then he wasn’t anymore.
Darren could have been anyone at that time.
Destroying that particular piece of bad art was the cure, and Mike knew that. We learned how to count on each other in new ways, and we still never missed a meal every day despite the chaos of classes and new circles of friends taking shape— or the romantic interests in women that provided nothing good in return.
I missed being at home in my room, the comfort and warmth of home cooked meals. The dorm meals sucked. Chicken fried steak sandwiches 4 times a week? What the hell is that bullshit? It was always chicken.
My disgust for chicken didn’t start in college however, it started at home. My dad didn’t like chicken, therefor I don’t like chicken! Mike loved it all. It perplexed me. I hadn’t found the comfort one yet. I didn’t see how wonderful it was yet to be amongst this new crowd, with our days mapped around meals and classes.
He and I missed having jobs, too, a stream of income to survive. Signing our names to loans to cover fees that our scholarships didn’t cover. It all felt weird to be a part of this university life. Like outsiders let into the party we weren’t invited to, but welcomed with open hearts.
I’ll never forget our first figure drawing course together. A general introduction to anatomy and illustration. He and I couldn’t believe that no one but us came equipped with graded pencils, tools— meaning, no one understood what Ebony pencils (grade 9B) were.
We were pointed out for being prepared, but we left concerned. “How are we surrounded by this amount of people in an illustration class at college, and no one but us knows what Ebony pencils are?!”
We were less than impressed with first impressions of our peers. Our courses, of which Mike and I shared the classes for much of the first two years, presented much of the same doubts. Maybe high school over prepared us? How was that possible?!
All of a sudden, my bad grades from 4 years of high school started to look great amongst this crowd—2.2 average HS GPA was dancing around the 3 to 4 point mark— and the same went for Mike. It felt off, like high school was a heist we escaped.
Everyone on campus initially perceived Mike as being punk and tough, but underneath that shell was a sweet, caring human who everyone came to love. I can think of two individuals that tried to dress like Mike during our days at college. Greg, I’ve mentioned, and Entionee Diaz, or “E.T.” as we nicknamed him. Puerto Rico’s finest, a gentleman artist, kind, funny, a lover of death metal, and the antithesis to fucking shitshow Greg in all manners and characteristics.
I did, still don’t, like what Greg represented— but Mike held no judgments on anyone. That’s what made him memorable.
Soon after graduating high school, the summer before leaving for college, my parents went on a vacation to Myrtle Beach with my sisters. They left me at home to work at Ingersoll Milling during the day and Schoening’s Paint store at nights and on weekend; to save up as much money as possible for school. To be alone at home and working didn’t feel like a burden, it felt awesome.
One of great childhood friends, Jim Rose, discovered I was home alone for the week and working. Jim knew everyone. People I still don’t want to know the names of at this age. Jim also knew, as he still does to this day, that I don’t like people or social bullshit.
Jim decided to have a party at my parents house after one of my work days ended. People who never talked to me, ever, showed up to my parents house. One by one. Elitist catholic hillbillies.
I was shell shocked. Cars were parked around the neighborhood.
Before leaving for vacation my parents said that a few people were allowed at the house and they were named off: “Eric, Joe, Dana, Jim, Mike, Pete and that’s that. No girls. Be responsible.”
My best friend, Eric, next door with his family called to warn me that they knew what was going on and that I better shut it down before they called the cops. Fair enough, I’m calling the FBI when my son pull some bullshit on me.
A hundred plus morons in my parents little house. All of who were people who didn’t dare say hello to me once over the course of 4 years at that shitty little stuck up up catholic high school.
The basement was filled with idiots smoking cigarettes and weed. Keystone Light cans everywhere. Football douchebags, Soccer drugheads and Cheerleading snobs—who never once said hello to me—all having a great time. Fucking losers, man.
It was horrible, I was in hell in my own home.
Eric and his parents were 10 yards next door, and all I wanted to do was take comfort in their home. I panicked, realizing that loser underclassmen jocks and sluts were showing up one by one.
I called Pete Nichols for help. He called Mike. Both of them showed up and we sat in my parents living room frightened at what was happening. Mike said, “I know what to do. I’m calling Matt.”
His older brother.
Let me explain Matt at this age— older, tough, tall, loud, kind but do not fuck with Matt. Matt walked into my parents house and cleaned it up. Told every peasant to get the fuck out immediately. Everyone scurried, leaving the house and neighborhood. \
A party of idiots in the basement refused to leave, two being Derek Sola and Scott Roche—two high school soccer losers who came from wealthy parents—and Matt, I’ll never forget, directed both of them in unison after their mocking rejection to leave with, “You with the frat boy hair cut, you have five seconds to make a good decision or I’m gonna beat the fuck each of you.”
Those two fucking clowns didn’t make a whimper, up the stairs and out.
The house was cleared.
Matt, Mike, Pete, Jim and I bagged up cans of keystone, cigarette butts, and took them two blocks away to the Collins Park trash can where neighborhood bags of problems ended up.
Hours later, a few underclassmen—Robbie Corirossi and Peter Gates—came back around to break out the back glass window of my 1985 Buick LeSabre because they were kicked out of the party by Matt.
Can you imagine that? You’re so upset at not being able to party with other losers that you need to break a car window? That was then, that was fucking Rockford.
I’ll never forget the loyalty and protection that Mike and his brother, Matt, displayed. That was the first time I met Matt, in that chaos. That kind of loyalty and protection is rare, and it exists amongst brothers. Mike had that in Matt, his oldest, and Pete, his youngest brother.
Mike and I decided to sit in on a round of cards amongst a crowd of college freshman idiots during our first night together as roomies at Bradley on Wyckoff Hall. Our new home, our hall. A place for late entry sports and arts scholarship freshmen.
We were basically the late entry art scholarship losers amongst sports walk-ons and engineer scholarship superstars. We were warts, artists, and yet, everyone accepted us from the get-go. Still weird to think about.
To come from an environment in high school where artists and intellects were shit on, to this, where brains were accepted.
This game of cards on our hall, where we were roomies, proceeded from coins and quarters to dollars and cocaine. The latter detail shellshocked me. I wanted nothing to do with the white powdered gravedigger. I heard and saw about it in movies up to this age.
I stood up and patted Mike on the shoulders, “Fuck this. I’m out.”
Mike patted my hand, held it for a second, and said, “Don’t worry. I got this.”
I left the game, that room, while about a dozen of us circled around.
My first night in Peoria at college.
I didn’t sleep, I was freaked out. I had never seen cocaine before. It was evil personified. I was worried for Mike, too, because he decided to stay. Right there on our hall, first night.
I left the card game around 1AM and returned to my room worried to play NHL Hockey on the Sega Genesis we set up on the 13” RCA TV I bought from my summer job at Ingersoll.
Dae DiGiovanni and I played a few games.
Entionne and I played.
Mike played cards with the drug fuck douchebags.
I got to make new friends that night who wanted nothing to do with drugs and money and gambling. Meanwhile, Mike returned to the room around 3am, settled in and said, “I get the winner.”
Dae and E.T. returned to their rooms for the night—each became lifelong friends from that moment on—and Mike was left to play me for the last hockey game of the night. The championship of nothings.
“I took the pie without the powder, next pizza’s on me no matter who wins tonight.” That next night we ordered Papa John’s, on Mike, for part of the hall— the people he thought were okay. That’s how Mike was… And that’s how I remember him.
Fast forward to 1996.
I’ve just graduated alongside working at Multi-Ad as an intern, which is now Kwikee and then Syndigo. Mike and I keep an eye on each other every week from a caring distance. I graduate, but Mike has some decisions to make and graduation is still a year off for him.
He isn’t sold on the life of an artist at this point. He has temporarily dropped out of school for a semester to evaluate his direction. This is what he and I always discussed from the get-go— “What good is all of this if we can’t support ourselves?”
Mike and I share many moments between home and Peoria that revolve around this question. I still haven’t been able to answer it— and in many ways, I failed him around the middle to the end of the 1990s in ways that I could have helped influence.
In May of 1996 I put in my resignation from Multi-Ad, Peoria. I was dreading the post-grad reality. Moving home. Moving anywhere. Working. Bills. Breathing.
Mike was still in Peoria, he was staying there. He had more to figure out. School was still in play. He lost focus in the arts, and was considering design to survive. We talked about the job/internship I was giving up at Multi-Ad.
A big brand corporation servicing blue chip accounts like Coca-Cola, Reebok, Gannet, Ford, GM, and many more. Mike was desperate for work, but also life and career focus— survival mode.
I gave him my boss’s contact and said the job was his if he could learn how to use Adobe Illustrator on the job with how to illustrate shitty Ford, GM cars and random global products.
Mike had no knowledge of any digital platform at this point, zero design experience, and was repulsed by nearly anything on a computer, but I knew he could do it when push came to shove and fake everyone out— he was a survivalist, smart, and he did it.
He got the job and then some. It provided him a road map and career path to bring in steady income at times.
In 2007, I accidentally married a thief who I would luckily be divorced from by 2008. She’s dead now of a heroin overdose (2019); fill in the blanks. One of the few good memories I have of that wedding day includes Pete Nichols and Mike showing up to the Paragon Restaurant in downtown Rockford for the reception.
I invited Mike but but never heard from him until seeing him that day. I never forget that rare moment of joy in seeing both he and Pete at the bar in the restaurant, after the service and the bullshit photos, before all of the reception roo-rahs.
I remember few, pure moments from that time—2006 through 2008—and that is one of a hand full that I go back to with a smile. We were ecstatic to see each other— much time had passed already. Over a decade since we last saw each other in Peoria.
Mike was passing through Rockford, Illinois, on a whim circa 2010. He stopped by my parents looking for me. Fast forward a day later, “You’re not going to believe who showed up at our door. He was sooo clean cut, we didn’t recognize him.”
Mike. Passing through Rockford, needed to say hello and nothing more.
Mike Gulatto didn’t partake in social media bullshit either; so, keeping tabs on him via this and that was nearly impossible. I’ve nothing more to go on in this strange, digital age besides the memories we shared. We were never ones for planning, projecting, and proudly proclaiming our place in this world.
In many ways, for a short amount of time in each of our lives, we were too busy trying to protect each other from the everyday bullshit of life that we eventually got lost in. The same bullshit we fight through to survive (wherever we are and end up at any age).
I am going to miss you, Mike. You were an incredible friend to me, and that is the memory of you that I will protect. To Peter and Matt, how lucky he was to have both of you as brothers. I am forever indebted to your brotherly respect, kindness and protection
”Mike Gulatto” Words and Images © 2022 Dave DeCastris and Andy Whorehall | haveanicedayontheinternet.com | All rights reserved | Reproduction not permitted and go fuck yourselves.