Improv memories on the passing of a friend

paul steffy michael michele

I lost a dear friend recently. A friend of nearly 30 years. He was by trade and by nature a jazz musician. So I thought I would improv some memories of Michael Allan Slaughter.

As a professional jazz musician, Michael was of course licensed to invoke the word cat, as in cool cat. Most who are thus privileged do not use the term anymore, I believe. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it has become … mossy. I think I would inwardly cringe if I heard it in conversation. But Michael employed the word frequently, easily. And it never sounded one bit mossy to me coming from him. I never understood that.

His love of archaic and esoteric language — a fair walk beyond cat — was a regular feature of his emails, although not so much in person. His emails were also scattershot with Italian. Friends, I can personally testify to the positive evolution of Google Translate since its inception.

One of my job responsibilities is writing Action Alerts, alerting PPJC’s members to the need to urgently contact Congress so that imminent catastrophe may be averted (almost never works). This would entail writing a handful of paragraphs for background info.

This is the scene where Editor Michael makes his appearance. (He was an excellent editor. That’s why he was the editor for Doug Dowd’s later books.) I would often get responses to my backgrounders, worthy suggestions all. I benefited from his feedback.

One particular instance has stayed with me. It was about George W. Bush having “abrogated” some international agreement or another. Not long after sending the missive, a one-word response from Michael arrived in my inbox.


Gadgets. He loved gadgets. He loved passing on gadgets when he either upgraded the gadget or tired of it or, rarely but on occasion, admitted he didn’t really need it in the first place. Over three decades I have acquired a snowdrift of gadgets from Michael. Widgets, gizmos, thingamabobs, contrivances, and contraptions.

Some of the gadgets were gifts, and I received them that way. We shared a love of photography and he passed along a number of related gadgets, including cameras.

Manuals. Home-printed user manuals for every gadget he passed along. Hundreds of pages all told. I always assumed he had printed them for himself when the gadget was new. I’m pretty sure he preferred the printed page over the digital version included with the gadget.

Each manual came in a nice colored plastic file folder kind of thing. We still use those folders. The paper from the manuals was reused and recycled.

Pockets. He was in favor of pockets. Safari vests. Like this (harvesting wild chestnuts)

michael pockets

The pockets were not ornamental for Michael. I am sure there was always something in every pocket. I experienced multiple occasions when more than 90% of the pockets participated during a single lunch. At least one often brought forth a gadget to be passed along.

The one pocket item that always appeared: a 3” x 5” spiral note pad. Michael took careful notes during our lunches. He always got back to you.

Lunch was the thing. How many lunches? Four or five or six times a year over 30 years? Add in lunches and dinners with Michele and Barb and Steffy over the same timespan.

Conversation. Not talk. Not chit chat. Conversation. Hundreds of hours of meaningful, thoughtful, warm, fun … conversation. From the Latin for keep company with.



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