Michael Ingram: An Appreciation

If you were lucky enough to know Michael Tyrone Ingram, your life was better for it.

Michael was a wondrous contradiction. He wasn’t a socialite, but every relationship he forged meant something, to him and the object of his love. If you liked Mikey, you were going to like people who liked Mikey.

He wasn’t a ladies man, but he had so many who adored him. His final conscious moments were spent surrounded by the women who meant the most to him — Mikki, Jocelyn, Rachel — and who sang him good night.

He didn’t travel much, but he could tell you more about the city you just visited than you could.

He was the kind of guy who’d offer you his kidney.

Below are some memories and anecdotes about a man who touched more lives than he could ever know, and whose life, despite burning out like a Roman candle, will glow long after we’re all gone.

If you knew Michael, please feel free to join the chorus. Share a moment, a laugh, a joke. Michael lived for those.

If you didn’t know him, read on. Michael was as welcoming as a soul gets.

And we will dearly miss his.

Michael loved the movies. He worked for years at a theater, then at Blockbuster, and finally as a Hollywood regular at premieres and screenings. He once joked he was going to change his name to Plus One, but there was no need since he was becoming a “studio bigwig.”

Michael and I met at Lenox Mall, where we worked the box office. We were the only college kids at the theater, so the manager put us in charge of the money.

Big mistake. We weren’t going to steal anything, but we were going to goof all day, by his design.

Michael loved the cuties that came to mall, and developed a system where he would knock on the counter when a hottie was coming up to buy a ticket. We knocked so often the manager once came in and asked “who the hell is hitting our windows?” Michael convinced him it was faulty air conditioning.

The system worked fine until Michael, as his nature, got competitive. The guy would dive for tennis balls on an asphalt court, and he turned the box office into an Olympiad for flirting.

If a cute girl were coming up to buy a ticket, but she was behind a sweaty hick tub of lard, Michael would intentionally drop a bill on the floor, leaving the Orca to me while he waited on the girl. I caught on, and soon we were dropping money, coins, paper clips, anything to avoid the uglies. It must have been a sight, the line running the length of the mall outside the theater, while we were stooped over, nowhere to be found.

It should have been enough to get us fired, but we ended our days at the theater for another reason.

New management had the idea of putting high school girls in the box office, thinking guys would be more likely to buy a ticket if it came from a ditz. Michael, never one to duck the moral stand, asked for a meeting with higher management. He said he would gladly go back to selling popcorn, but asked that I stay on box office to keep the lines moving. The manager thanked Michael, and said he would look into it.

Michael was fired by the time he got home.

When I came in that night, one of the scumbag bosses said Michael had been fired, and to keep my mouth shut or the same would happen to me. I waited until the weekend rush lined up, then walked out of the box office and went home.

Michael heard about what happened, found me at the small independent theater The Tara and we worked together there for the rest of the summer. We had to clean the theater after every midnight showing of Caligula, which was the equivalent of Georgia porn.

But it remained an incredible job, because we never had to face it alone.

Hobos loved Michael, for some reason. Once he tried to help a homeless woman by letting her sleep on his couch in DC for a night. She would forever love him. Occasionally, she’d leave a chair on the porch for Michael. Or you’d hear her scream from the front door, after leaving a paper bag full of beets and kidney beans on the porch, “Michael, I got some food for ya!!”

Another time, a vagrant sat next to Michael on the bus, pulled out a clove of garlic and began eating it like an apple. The smell was so bad Michael got out and walked 2.5 miles home.

But my favorite came on the METRO commuter train in Atlanta.

We had just come back from a movie, were sitting next to each other laughing, when a sanely-dressed woman in the bench across the aisle began muttering. We couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but we began hearing the vitriol boil.

She must have thought we were gay, because she kept saying “fag,” “fucking fags,” “you’ll burn in hell.”

A black guy sitting a row in front of us heard the commotion, and told her to “leave those guys alone.” Perhaps he thought we were gay, too, but wasn’t going to have that bullying.

She got quiet for a moment, then began muttering, now worse. “Fags,” “faggots,” “worse than niggers.”

That was it. The guy stood up, walked to her, spit in her face. Stood there, daring her to say another word.

She wiped the sputum from her face, stood up, walked out at the next stop. As the doors closed, she turned, put her hands to the glass outside our bench and screamed “FUCKING FAGS” as the train pulled off.

We were quiet for a moment, not quite sure what happened. After a minute, Michael looked at me.

“Do you think she liked me?”

You could make an album of Michael’s phone messages.

While he wasn’t a drinker, Michael enjoyed the occasional Ambien.

And Ambien enjoyed him. Julie and I kept a voicemail for months he left once after taking the sleeping pill and chasing it with his homemade amaretto sour.

I’m still not sure why he called, because he lived on the second floor of our house and was passed out by the time we got home.

But he loved to chat when was a little stoned.

“Howdy howdy,” he said. “I was just…calling. I took some Ambien and I’m feeling kinda spacey. I’m standing…I’m dizzy. I’m standing and I’m….DIZZY! Anyhooooo, see you in the morning.”

He never once asked us to erase it. Even enjoyed listening to it. Michael didn’t fear laughing at himself, and was usually the loudest one laughing.

One afternoon, when I was in his place, Michael hit the play button on his machine and I was surprised to hear his voice on it. Michael said he occasionally left himself voicemails to remember important chores after work.

“A lot of people do it,” he said, half-defensively. “It’s not weird.”

Except, he conceded, the part where he told himself goodbye.

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