I look at this picture of myself for the 1986 "Shepherd Avenue" book jacket and I wonder: What the hell was I so grim about? I'd just sold a book! I should be smiling!
Well, you know how seriously you take yourself when you're young. Also, I wasn't trying to be serious - just determined. And on top of that, I was convinced that any pictures I'd ever seen of myself smiling made me look goofy.
The man on the other side of the camera, Michael Norcia, was a friend and colleague at the New York Post. He was the best photographer around, whether he was covering a war or doing a story about a puppy in need of a home.
The funny thing is that most of the time I was with Mike, I was more than smiling. I was laughing out loud. He was one of the most inadvertently funny people I've ever known.
He had a big temper to go along with his big talent. He was street smart, having grown up in New York City's Little Italy. This gave him a way of putting things that shined with the kind of insight that hit you like a truck.
Like the time he was venting over his troubled marriage one Saturday afternoon at my apartment.
"I got a theory about people who argue all the time," he said.
What's that, Mike?
"They don't like each other."
Bang! Years of costly therapy averted with one sentence.
Another time we were at a Greenwich Village bar hoisting a few when Mike, who was not much of a sports fan, noticed a baseball game playing on the giant overhead TV. It was the final inning, and the batter said a quick prayer and crossed himself before stepping up the the plate.
"Why would God help anyone hit a baseball?" Mike wondered out loud. I thought it was a great question, but before I could even attempt to answer it the batter popped up to end the game.
If that doesn't sum up life itself, I don't know what does.
Michael Norcia died ten years ago at age 59. If there's such a thing as heaven, I'd love to know what Mike said to Saint Peter at those Pearly Gates. He would have made him laugh, that's for sure.