This past Thursday morning after I got my morning coffee, I was checking out the LinkNews at my dining room table like I normally do. When I got to their "Notes Around Town" section where all the local scuttlebutt was listed, I saw a picture of my friend Mike Rafferty. Imagine my shock and disbelief when I read the caption below his name, announcing he had passed away.
To say Mike's death was a complete surprise would be an understatement. While I know Mike wasn't in the best of health over the last couple of years, his death really rattled me.
Mike was a fixture here in Long Branch, a real character -- but in the good sense of the word. I first met him about seven years ago. Both he and I were appointed to the Long Branch Cable TV Commission at the same time. Like me, Mike had a wealth of experience in media, first as a photographer for the Asbury Park Press, then as the owner of West End Photo & Video on Brighton Avenue.
But when Mike found out that as a commission member, he couldn't get paid for any services on any of the cable TV commission's productions, Mike abruptly resigned after only two months and started applying for any work that the commission had available.
Mike set out and did many of the commission's videos over the next six-plus years. Parades, Oceanfest, public ceremonies -- you name it, he taped it. He was a hustler who didn't let anything get in his way of doing a photo shoot or video. He shot weddings and receptions, made film transfers -- he did it all.
Unfortunately, his health sometimes slowed him down a bit. Mike suffered from asthma, and I remember him telling me that if he shot and outdoor job during the summertime, the heat and humidity would set off his asthma so badly that it would take him a day or so of resting inside his air conditioned house just to recover from the job.
Then a few years ago, Mike was in the hospital after a bad bout with pancreatitis, which eventually turned into adult on-set diabetes. His doctors prescribed insulin injections to help him cope with his condition.
But he would always come through for us and for his regular customers, in spite of it all.
Over time, Mike and I got tighter, and we shared a few laughs together. I enjoyed hearing his war stories from his days at the Press, and I used to give him advice on what kind of video equipment to buy for his business.
Over the last several weeks, Mike's health had turned on him. His asthma had gotten worse than ever. His every breath was accompanied by a constant wheezing sound.
I went to his wake last Sunday to pay my respects to his family and to say a final good-bye to him. While I was at the funeral home, I noticed a poster of photographs of him and his family and also from his days at the Press, along with portrait shots that either he or someone else had taken of him. There were pictures of him without a shirt on and with dungares and a medallion around his neck, looking like a '60's throwback. I overheard a few of the mourners say to his family that Mike was "one of a kind", that he "got to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted", and he was "the last of the bohemians".
Mike's sudden passing left his family and friends asking why and wanting more, but I could tell that he packed a lot into his 61 years here on Earth. What more could one ask for out of life - to be able to live the life you want, to do whatever you wanted whenever you wanted?
Rest in peace, Mike -- truly, the last of the bohemians.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri's blog on his Facebook page, "Jersey Shore Retro" as well as on Twitter @jsretro).