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Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I remember seeing Joe for the first time outside of my dorm room window on my first day of college. He was laughing his ass off with Bill, a friend since high school. I can't describe my first impression. I'm sure it's the same sort of thing that went through the head of someone who ever had a chance to meet John Belushi before he became famous- a little bit of disgust, a lot of awe and a desire to get in on the joke he was telling.
Joe went through a phase between our Freshman and Junior years in college when he would steal a beer, one of your beers, stick it down his pants and rub it against his bare crotch to claim ownership before offering it back to you. Why? Because he was thirsty and because it was funny. Simple as that. He would do this in front of anyone- friends, uptight jerks like me and even any female goodly and brave enough to spend time with our circle of friends. Like many comedians, I think getting a laugh was like a heroin buzz for him- irresistible and he was willing to do just about anything to get a fix.
Joe was basically a student of Chris Farley and probably shouted the words, "LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING, JACK" while hiking up his pants more times than anyone on the planet. He adored The Simpsons and could impersonate nearly every character on the show. His Professor Frink was perfect. His favorite movie? As far as I know, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which he would quote often and claimed to have seen twelve times at Lloyd Cinemas the summer he moved to Portland.
But Joe wasn't a cliched class clown or a mindless pop culture-spewing dormrat. Sure, we spent our undergrad years on the same campus Belushi stomped around while filming Animal House but he was hardly a Xerox of the comedian's Bluto Blutarsky character. Joe was one of the most fiercely intelligent individuals I've ever met. I always envied his almost mystical ability to retain knowledge. Going up against him in a game of Trivial Pursuit was always an exercise in futility. Watching Jeopardy with Joe was always enough to make you wonder exactly how time you wasted starring out windows in American History back in high school.
He could keep up with anyone on just about any topic, jumping from an obscure South Park or Mr. Show reference to James Gleick's "chaos" theories in the space of five seconds. If he didn't know what you were talking about during any given late night BS session in a college dorm room or a tavern, he'd suck up every bit of information you were willing to offer. Then, years later, the same topic would inevitably come up and he would remember more about the subject than you could.
I'll always remember the time he nearly got me fired from a volunteer gig as a DJ on KWVA FM in Eugene. He called in to the station and wanted to talk, live on air, about what it would be like to light up a tampon and smoke it. Did I put him on? Of course. Why? Because we thought the topic was funny and this is the sort of stuff two undergrads talk about on college radio at 3:30 AM on a Tuesday in February when no one is listening. Unfortunately, someone was listening that night and it was the station's Program Director. She didn't see the humor in our dumb conversation and ordered me to "kill the mike and put on some goddamn music right now." And I'll always remember the time I got incredibly angry at him for playing Abbey Road endlessly and for eating all of my Oreos, an entire package, over the course of a single night in the summer of 2000. Our time together as roommates lasted all of thirty days.
I'll always remember his chuckle, the way he'd nervously fiddle with his hair when he thought no one was looking and his tendency to blurt out, "I said 'NO CAMELS!' That's four camels. Can't you count?!" during an awkward pause in a conversation. Why did he do this? Because, somehow, for reasons that would make sense to few, it was funny. With his wit and bloated brain he could have been anything. A chemist, a professor, or a super-smart hobo that hangs around outside the library at Harvard and dispenses precious wisdom and advice to frustrated students. A Theater Arts major, Joe wanted to be another Belushi or Farley but he never got the chance. Instead, he was our Belushi, our Farley and he'd probably hate me for writing such sappy shit about him in a public forum.
Joe's life began taking a bad turn during my senior year of college. In the final years of his life he saw and endured things I wouldn't wish on anyone, some of it self-induced, a lot of it not. Throughout it all, in the darkest of hours, he somehow retained his sense of humor, making light of whatever vicious card fate had dealt him. I last saw Joe outside of Mary's Club after a night out with friends in March of 2006. The last time I heard his voice was in the background of another friend's phone call last Christmas.
Joe was a good friend and I was not. I'll always regret not being able to take his jokes, for not being more patient with him, for not realizing the full gravity of his situation, for not doing more, for getting too wrapped up in my own problems and for not setting things right while I had the chance. I always thought there would be more time to patch things up, that it would all naturally come together at some get-together at the Goose Hollow Tavern or down at the coast, that I wouldn't have to suck it up, make a phone call and awkwardly try to make amends. I suspected but never actually thought that God would cut him off well before his time, dead and gone at only 30.
For what it's worth, Joe, there's a candle burning for you in a little cabin up by Tyron Creek tonight. One of those cheesy Catholic things you can find at places like Winco with the Lord's Prayer written in both Spanish and English on the back next to a UPC symbol, like the ones that were always burning around the house down on 32nd street in Eugene. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is on mute in the background as I type this. Elsa just dropped into the crack and now Indy's reaching for the Holy Grail. If there is a heaven, I hope you're there kicking back tequila at Farley's corner booth at the bar and laughing at this blubbering, guilt-ridden chump pounding out belated apologies and tossing them into the internet.
In closing, for no other reason than I thought they were funny, here's two goofy haikus you wrote for The Oregon Commentator what seems like a million years ago...
GODFATHER OF SOULAKU
Good God, can you fee' the funk?
Step back, kiss myself
Movin' it, groovin' it. HEY!
GODFATHER OF SOULAKU
Git' naw da sagga gibley...
git' ret' do ma thang...
unh, two, thee, fo'HAW! Aw 'ight!