Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Every time I remember Joe I remember this:
I met Joe in the summer of 1991 during the golden age of the BBS.  I saw the flyer for Paradise Lost on an actual bulletin board at some computer shop and went home and logged on.  Eventually, my cousin got into some BBS chat altercation with a friend of Joe's and it was decided to meet at a diner and ‘sort it out’.  I attended as Second for this event and so did Joe.

As my cousin and I approached the table we see two skinny guys, as pale as the winter's sun.  One with straight red hair of impressive length and the other dark haired with a short no-distractions style military type cut.  Both seated.  Short-hair guy has one foot lightly raised and one firmly planted, pretending to be looking at his fries.

Joe's first words to me, while eating a fry: "Black belt..." *chomp chomp* "Berzerker.."
Still totally calm and without emphasis, Joe shifts slightly, looks directly at me, "I'm a Black belt and he's a Berzerker"

The implication immediately was that, should there be any trouble, it was going to be costly.  This was Joe's tactical genius.  His matter-of-fact delivery designed to throw potential opponents off guard, invoking a reaction and giving Joe time to read and analyze the situation.  At the same time ultimately intending to prevent conflict from erupting in the first place by an intimidating show of force, and failing that, give him time to identify and enumerate our weak points. He never looked for trouble, always prepared for it and never ran when it occasionally found him.

Glad to learn trouble wasn't a forgone conclusion, my response was a cheery, "Cool, is the food any good here?"  The brief flash of amusement on his face then a wry smile that he couldn't help let slip out told me I liked this guy.  He had worked out that I had worked out what he had worked out and he knew that we both knew it.  Joe had an affinity for knowing the reason why one did what one did and if the circumstances called for it, intentionally acting without thought.  Then, just as quickly, expressionless as he shrugs at the food with a somewhat disgusted/commiserating "sucks ballz".   Joe pronounced the "z" in that.  I don’t recall the rest of the evening but Joe and I hit it off.  It's hard not to like a guy who is usually the smartest guy in the room, and doesn't want to be. 
While discussing the merits of martial arts a couple of weeks later we ended up deciding to spar each other in a park to see how it would go.  Second time ever seeing this guy, (a black belt in martial arts, clearly ready to throw down and an unpredictableness about him you could see in his eyes) and I'm basically in a loosely controlled fight with him.  Sounds like a crazy thing, unless you've met him.  Joe practically radiated integrity.  I knew without question it wouldn't get out of hand, and if something crazy did happen, Joe and I would be back to back.   

You could trust him.  With the heaviest, most sensitive, important, shit on the planet, you could absolutely trust him.  Joe was fiercely loyal.  We had an agreement that should an unexpected and, most importantly, unannounced, package arrive from one to the other, it would not be opened.  It would be secreted away someplace nobody knew about.  Only the sender was allowed to speak of it.

I am confident he had this agreement with others.  Joe wouldn’t limit his success by single sourcing his “head in a box” disposal services.

You could trust Joe with your life.  This is not hyperbole.  And it’s not just because of his sense of honor and integrity but also because he was competent beyond measure.  Not only did you not have to worry that Joe wouldn't do what he said, but you never had to worry about what would happen if something unexpected came up.  He'd figure it out.

By December 31st, 1999, Joe and I had assembled what they call today “Bugout Bags”.  Joe called it an “Oh Shit” bag.  Car loaded with food, ammunition, and other necessities.  The plan was, should any form of “all hell breaking loose” begin to break loose, we’d gather at my parent’s farm which had a generator, a well with a hand-pump, and as he put it, “a comforting field of view for popping balloons”.
He was a protector, unwaveringly defending the innocent or helpless.  I’ll leave the stories of EMP bombs and spork revenge to others but believe when I say Joe would not brook any sort of infringement on the security of his friends.  To attack those Joe named ‘friend’ was to attack Joe himself, and to attack Joe was just a bad idea..

Joe was always prepared but he never took that for granted.  He liked learning things.   He liked better things.  He held no sentimental attachment to ways or methods or processes that didn't work.  He'd take the best parts of a thing, discard what doesn't work and keep the rest.  

He appreciated competence in others.  He fostered it.  When he’d throw a Virtua Fighter party at his place, he was the first to appreciate it when the Stun Palm Of Doom came off, even as he was the recipient.  On the nights we’d be testing BFRIS he was absolute-focused on reproducing, then finding and fixing some particular bug in the code, but soon we’d all be flying around shooting at each other.  Joe loved fun.

When I started a Kung Fu school, Joe was one of my first students.  As the school grew and he became one of the senior members, his compassion and ability to help others was easy to see.  He would regularly spar with the less experienced students, knowing this was the most dangerous.  Their new-found techniques, awkwardness, and general lack of skill with those techniques led to many unintended hits to their opponents.  Joe saw this as a great way to exercise his defenses while offering opportunities for his fellow students to learn.  
One night, while sparring a 6' 4" junior student, Joe was demonstrating the setup for flying kicks, what to look for and how to handle them.  He launched an amazing double spinning kick.  He had telegraphed it twice earlier in the session, practically wrapped it with glittery paper and rainbows.  There was no way his opponent would miss it.  Except somehow they did.  Halfway through the kick, Joe realized he was going take this guy's head off.  So he pulled it.  Knowing that his chances of injury were significant as he would end up with both feet in the air and his momentum that would carry his legs back down would be stopped.  This was the martial art equivalent of teaching someone how to throw grenades and then seeing them pull the pin and drop one.  Joe was not going to have a student get injured sparring with him.  He shifted the angle of his kick so that it would hit the student's shoulder and subsequently went down right on his head.

Joe did not have time to waste on worry or regret.  He didn't waste energy wishing things were different.  He would, as any intelligent person, occasionally lament the state of humanity.  We spent many an evening talking about Objectivism, the closest Ground Zero spot in Albuquerque, how to get Spike to stop doing stuff, how to get Spike to start doing stuff, girl trouble, car trouble, gun cleaning methods, games, listening to and playing music.  He was a sucker for any particularly tricky harmony part or guitar lick.  He loved besting those challenges but he also loved the musicality of it.  It didn’t matter who it was, if it was musically sound, it had merit.  The Venn diagram of 'bands we listened to' started out like an infinity symbol and ended up with edges so blurred at the intersection it was more of a musical mitosis.  I recall Joe and I, guitars in hand, sitting in my apartment and playing through practically the entire Barenaked Ladies ‘Gordon’ album.  We worked repeatedly on the break in Brian Wilson and when we nailed those harmonies the satisfied grin that he could barely sing through is how I often remember him.

Joe's intelligence, honor and integrity were matched by his impish love of mischief.  Challenging conventions was a strategically disarming move, but crazy mischief of any sort was a delight for him.  
I once sat in with his band for a New Year’s Eve party and Joe, knowing that I was being pursued by a very nice but TOTALLY not my type of girl, kept announcing my singleness and ‘availability between songs.  “Thanks people!! Let’s hear it for our drummer, who’s looking to start the year off with some sweet SWEET lovin’!!”  

Later when I found myself trapped, Joe ran interference to allow a clandestine escape.

His enthusiasm for life was child-like in it’s innocence and purity.  He loved what he loved and he goddamned LOVED it.  He was particularly fond of fireworks.  He introduced me to the thrill of “Loud ‘explodey’ ones” via the Attack Chopper.  Illegal in Albuquerque, we bought some at the firework tent on the Indian Reservation.  They were basically an M80 with a propeller attached and a pre-explosion stage that would spin the thing about 40 feet in the air.  Initially, not my cup of tea, it was admittedly awesome.  As you might imagine Joe was practically giddy with delight at process.  Find a location where there was little chance of injury to anyone.  Ignite fuse.  Revel in the shock of the explosion, car alarms, and a full neighborhood of dog protests, name the next location and then flee in different directions before the authorities arrived.  I don’t know if it was the Attack Chopper or Joe’s joy at it that made me a fan.  I do know that since then, I think of him every July 4th.
In 2003 I asked him to be in my wedding in Las Vegas.  He was deep in the crunch-time for Counterstrike and there was just no way it was going to work out.  Then he calls me the day before and asks me where the ceremony was at.  He had worked it out after all.  This was the essence of Joe.  If there was any way he could help out a friend, he would. He graciously ushered guests in and while some shot him questioning glances, I couldn’t have been happier to see that purple Mohawk getting to enjoy making people unsure if they were at the right wedding.  It was the perfect cover for the smiles and genuine happiness he showed at seeing my own happiness.   

This was the last time I spoke with Joe in person.  We had been through triumph, tragedy, song and siren.  E3, IGF (as finalists in the first ever IGF), game meetings/parties, soundtracks, Jurassic Park  (and the introduction of DTS), Independence Day (really any big explodey blockbuster), conquest, heartbreak, and apocalypse plans.  Because of Joe I’ve played PyroBall, The Assassin Game, installed a Slackware distro, slid down hills in Albuquerque parks on huge blocks of ice and know who Less Than Jake are.

Joe moved to Dallas and eventually Seattle which turned his Mohawk green. We spoke less often but we didn’t need to. I knew if I needed him he would be there.  I’d like to think he knew the same.

Many people will say Joe was a brutally honest person with a secret inner nice guy.  He had a big warm fuzzy secret heart, as the song goes.  As I’m sure his contemporaries will attest, that big heart wasn’t so secret.  I was glad to call him my friend.

Joe was a warrior. An enthusiast at life.  A mutual friend remarked that Joe lived his life the way he was going to live it, consequences be dammed.  He was happy.

I wish I wasn’t writing this.
Joe would quip that I might as well wish a unicorn would show up and give me a shoebox full of gold ingots.  Except it would be an ammo box and it wouldn’t be unicorns, but either way, the certainty of the futility of my wish would be absolutely clear.   His severity would be tempered with a manner that implied not condescension or pity but a flat unassailable certainty mixed with a flash of compassion so intense you knew he spoke from experience and his heart.

I miss Joe.  I always missed Joe.  I will always miss Joe.  There were long stretches of time that we never spoke and never needed to.  Any time I thought of him, it was quickly followed by the certainty that at some point, we'd meet up in Albuquerque, eat something with green chili in it, shoot a bunch of guns and have a damn fine time. 

Goodbye, my friend.  If you are somewhere, I’m sure you’re doing something way cooler and more kick ass than any of us could imagine.
… playing my guitar and building castles in the sun…

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