On Friday night, I attended an invitation-only Celebration of Life. It was unusual, and a first for me, because the life we were celebrating isn’t over. The honoree was there, at the YOU (Youth Opportunities Unlimited) Cafe in downtown London.
Mike Sloan is a polarizing figure in London. He is, as one of his friends said on Friday, “a real-life Holden Caufield. (The Catcher in the Rye) He hates phonies”. He lights up Twitter with complaints and information about homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity – much of it from personal experience. Mike has PTSD and lives on disability, which isn’t much. He abhors waste and high-priced studies. He often says things that others can’t. He’s direct and fearless. And now he has a rare form of terminal cancer: Anaplastic thyroid cancer. It moves fast and is resistant to treatments. He has been told he has a few months to live.
My interactions with Mike began as many others’ did, on Twitter. His attacks don’t just focus on an issue that he thinks is unfair or a waste of money, he goes after the people. As another speaker said on Friday, “He showed me how fragile the people at the top really are”. One of Mike’s favourite targets is the London Food Bank and its director. But he also aims at the Medical Officer of Health and various Executive Directors and CEOs of charities.
I would DM him and say, dude, you’d be more effective if you attacked the institution but not the people! They’re doing what they think is right the best way they know how. Mike disagreed: By taking part in a system he sees as flawed, they’re part of the problem. His solution to poverty is a basic income for everyone. That would allow folks to buy their own food and not, in his view, create a “poverty industry” whereby people make money off seeming to do good works that don’t repair the broken system.
Mike would never budge. And that’s one of the things you grow to appreciate about him. He is unapologetic (except when he makes a big mistake!) and unflinching. He makes you think.
We had him on our CJBK show after which there was an incident that involved a classic Mike Twitter attack based on a mix-up with two similar names. After that, it was made clear to us that he wasn’t to be invited on again. Until he lost his voice because of his illness, he made appearances on AM980 roundtables to stir things up.
Mike contacted me during a trying time in his life and showed me the vulnerable, flawed human being behind the brass-balls persona. There’s a real person in there behind the words that upset so many. .He dares you to look at the way things are and reimagine them. He’s relentless. He’s also kind, and has a wonderfully dark sense of humour that I relate to. One day it occurred to me that we had become friends.
On Friday, politicians, media types, Mike’s family and lots of familiar names (and now faces) from Twitter were invited to pay their respects. Many of them started out with Mike as I did, asking themselves, who IS this guy and why is he attacking (insert issue/person/institution here)?
He accepts his diagnosis and the fate that’s before him like no 50-year-old I’ve ever known. His voice is a whisper now, although he pushed that whisper to a scream on Friday night, amid roars of laughter and many tears. He wants me to proof-read his obituary and says he needs a good photo. I offered to get him a photographer. “I don’t need a professional!”, he said and I could sense the horror in his typing! He was no doubt thinking about “wasting” money. Well, Mike, a photographer has to eat, too!
This DM from him sums us up:
I know you’ve had your issues with me and my negative attitude, but I’ve always appreciated your kind way of putting it. I am difficult, no question. But I hope as we’ve gotten to know each other through direct messages, you perhaps have a better sense of who I really am.
I have. I personally like one of his favourite Twitter targets, but life is complicated and I believe I can also like Mike, too. Read more about what drives Mike in this London Free Press column by Chip Martin HERE.