Dad recalls himself with his son Jos

[0, 1, 2, 3]

Dad recalls himself with his son Jos

In happier days I was Popster (daily) and Popalop (affectionately).

My earlier Jos memories [0, 1, 2] were mostly about Jos. Now we come to stories of Jos and me together.

I have trouble pulling up memories of Jos from second grade to seventh grade. As Mother says, I was always at work. Also, during those years, the house was dominated by his two older brothers. He was simply the cheery little one, always interested in people and things, always in good spirits. We didn't realize then how that would come to define him in later life -- that he would do that better than anyone. And how wonderful that would be.

His congeniality concealed a seed of genius which would grow. I'll write more about that later.

I remember Jos clearly in first grade and eighth grade. I was on sabbatical those years. When he was 5 years old in first grade, we were in Cambridge, England. He rode to school on the back of my motorbike. His big brothers rode their big bicycles. I got him a little two wheel bicycle and he did well -- except for the proximity of the rose bushes. Ouch! He had a few playmates there on Gough Way, like Adam Squires two doors away. I wrote some early Jos stories. The story of the year though, was that Jos was in love with his kindergarden teacher, the young redheaded pretty Miss Jacobs at the Newnham-Croft School.

Eighth grade in Hawaii

In 1987-88 I had a sabbatical year in Hawaii. Jos was 13 years old in eighth grade. He liked to play with our Macintosh computer. I recall him playing a game called Sim City where you simulate the growth and collapse of cities. Another game was more like a graphic arts tool; you could make a tiny movie.

Our rental house included cable TV. Jos liked watching World Wide Wrestling and he refused to believe that it was faked for entertainment purposes. When we got home from sabbatical I got cable TV for him (and me) and bought a large screen TV. Now mother uses it with the WebTV.

Jos and I had eight months of frequent snorkeling expeditions directed at taking pictures of fish. He was better at it than I was. Oahu's famous Hanauma Bay was only about three miles from our house and we knew its secret nooks and crannies. Here's a slide show of 22 fish. Sometimes Andrew came along, especially when we journeyed further. Imagining him her now, below is what I'd say to him about our fish adventures:

[Others might want to skip this.] Remember the three scribble file fishs that circled us? Remember we saw that fish that wasn't in any of the books; we called it the Sargasso Wrass? It looked like a leaf and flopped around like one, about 4 inches long. First at Shark's Cove and later we found one in the deep water at Hanauma Bay. We tried so hard to get a decent picture but he would hardly let us get near enuf. I just looked again at our picture (your shot?). Maybe it was a juvenile lion fish. What do you think? Gee we could dive deep and stay down long then. I was wearing eight pounds of lead. I'll bet we were 20-25 feet down.
Remember the time at Crouching Lion, we swam a long ways out to the barrior reef and then we couldn't get over it? Too shallow and rough. Started to swim around but it was too far. Neil says sharks hang out there. Anyway we got a good picture of a giant box fish.
Then there was scuba. And the day you got your certificate, remember the near disasters out off Niu Valley? Then there was that night with Andrew at Black Rock...

For a moment now I jump to later memories: And our night dive on Kauai'i... And the night squid on Bonaire and the aggressive moray. At Keauhou on the Big Island was that quirky humuhumu who circled us; and the clear deep water at Captain Cook, Napo'opo'o with brothers.
Lastly Maui, the catamaran to Molokini and "Turtletown", later by car south past Wailea with Mother, our last snorkeling trip together. Forever. ***many tears***

In seventh and eighth grade, Jos was chubby. Some of the photos of these years have been put away. These were the height of his television watching years. Because of his overweight I insisted on taking him to swim team practice which he strongly resisted. Hawaii Kai swim team practice was grueling. They swam steadily for two hours every day. He got me to compromise: I agreed that he could skip the swim meets (irking the coaches). Then he started growing taller at a rate of about an inch a month. When I realized he would soon be taller than me, I started calling him "Shorty". Being in eighth grade, he started noticing girls, and he began a lifelong attention to fitness and diet.

Jos told me one day at the Niu Valley school there was a tremendous noise, bang, crash, bang, bang. A bulldozer had rolled off the cliff above demolishing itself upon landing near the school.

In student government Jos became a star performer. He was chosen to represent his school in island-wide student government conferences and retreats. Being a haole (non-native) he felt discriminated against in competitions. But he won some anyway because of his performance, enthusiasm, and extraordinary good humor. The school had some big Samoans who liked to fight. Jos could usually distract them.

Jos was a terrible procrastinator. His standard reply to me to delay any action was, "Hold on." Eventually, I caught on to him so whenever he said, "Hold on." I repeated "Hold on!" and a kind of nagging merriment ensued.

He liked his shop class. After we returned home, he would often work with tools in the garage or yard.

The wild west with Jos

Once I took him on a spring trip to Sedona, Arizona. The weather was much colder and wetter than I had anticipated. He seemed grown up and independent but he was not the "boy scout" that I had been at his age. He was improperly equipped and I realized it was my fault. We abandoned the canyon and found some sun and dryness elsewhere. I felt annoyed at my bad planning but he enjoyed it so much that in his college years he returned and "did the canyon" with a young lady friend.

Jos and I often drove Andrew to college in Colorado. These trips were a great joy to me, driving there and back, one way with both kids, the other way with Jos alone. Jos, however, was not much interested in sightseeing. I recall more than one scenic vista where I got out and he chose to stay in the car and read.

For me the most memorable of all our travels, was the two of us arriving in Death Valley. Earlier we kept plastic milk cartons filled with water, but these tended to tip and leak so, being about supper time we dumped them. As we descended into the valley the temperature rose. We saw dark clouds and rain showers in various directions. Then, inexplicably, we saw rocks here and there in the middle of the road. Suddenly, we rounded a bend and there was a rushing torrent crossing the road. We didn't dare cross it. We had no choice but to wait it out. The temperature was in the high 90s even though it was turning dark. I noticed that we were dehydrating but we had dumped our drinking water. Finally around midnight the raging water level dropped to where we could cross. We got a hotel room down in the center of Death Valley. It must have been about a hundred degrees Farenheit at midnight. Next morning we went home, postponing sightseeing there. He never got back.

I am ever grateful to Fry's Electronics Store for their one-month no-questions asked returns policy. You all know that Jos was very persuasive. Somehow he convinced us to purchase for him a large and heavy $1600 video camera for making movie animations. As we predicted, he soon lost interest. Lucky then that Fry's let us return the camera. Whew! That was a close one.

High School

In his grade-school years he was confident that his occupation would be psychiatrist. He liked to figure out peoples' problems. It all ended at one critical moment in high school when he decided he was not interested in biology. (Mother says he simply had a bad teacher.)

As others have noted, he went to Hawaii a chubby juvenile and he returned a charming young man. He was a self described "couch potato" before and a track team 500-miler after. Click the nearby picture to enlarge it and you'll find Jos surrounded by 12 chicks (and 3 guys). I recognize only one of his friends here and wonder if the others know that he is gone now.

I was working in the front yard with Jos one day when a little girl came to us with two balloons, a white one and a black one. With the balloons was an invitation (from her big sister?) to a high school dance. By way of reply, Jos was to break one of the balloons. He broke the black one and sent the little girl back with the white balloon meaning that he accepted the invitation. I often thought, "what a charming way to handle an awkward situation." That young lady's father died abruptly (as Jos did) not many years afterwards. Her name is Andrea.

In high school, Jos had lengthy relationships with two stunningly beautiful young ladies -- very intelligent too. The second young lady journeyed from afar to bring flowers to his grave. The first young lady was another story.

Applying to college

Only the most haphazard planning preceeded Jos's brothers leaving home for college. I resolved to do better with Jos. The summer before his graduation, I sent him off to a college summer school in Alaska to alert him to the change in life ahead -- to get him to planning.

Jos and I enjoyed recalling years later, how "I had tricked him into applying to Pomona". We had just visited U.C. Santa Barbara where he stayed in a dorm while I stayed in a nearby hotel. Next day he reported how the students were all boozed up and threw furniture down the elevator shaft. Then he wanted me to drive to U.C.Riverside. On the way, I told him that we were driving past Claremont where there were five little colleges and I told him that he had to pick out one to see since we were driving past anyway and it would be a good place to stop. [I think a Gunn student already at Pomona hosted him a while. Her name might be Cora Schmitt.]

Although bright, Jos had no evident focus. But he didn't mind working. He liked projects. He applied to eight colleges spanning a range of prestige and distance from home. We were amazed to see the outcome of his applications.

Choosing a College

Having been admitted to all eight colleges, he had to choose one. Being admitted to all colleges, he was "full of himself". That's when he began using the expression, "The heist goes on!" He made it very clear that he did not want to go to school where his father teaches even if he was invited to live away from his parents along with the other students. His mother and I preferred he attend Stanford. I was not very adamant. His high school grades were not exceptional, even less his focus. I remember big classes at MIT. I thought a smaller environment would not be bad for Jos. Retrospectively, mother was correct. Pomona was too small for someone with Jos's self confidence and diverse interests.

Why he started out with a major in Latin American studies, I'll never know. Perhaps it was because he enjoyed travel in Mexico and Ecuador. Even in his first and second years, Pomona had not the depth needed in his area of interest. I took him seriously, but he wasn't very serious. A couple years later after he dropped out of school and had a year of struggle in Alaska, he wrote a thoughtful article for the student newspaper about dropping out and why and what he learned from the "school of hard knocks".

Choosing a Major

During the Alaska interlude he found a focus. I tried to convince him that it would be futile to major in religion. "Nobody is ever convinced of anything that anyone else says about religion," I said, "Knowing all that religion could hardly help a politician."

He had a thoughtful response to my criticism. He said if he knew all the Bible verses on both the pro and con sides of the abortion issue and on other controversial cultural issues, that people would respect him for that. After gently showing people that he knew both sides of the story, they would be friendly.

If you ever saw him in action, you would know he was right. He could start by building up the argument that his challenger might make, but do this better than the challenger could. Then he would simply continue on to tell the other side of the story with the same persuasive gusto. People would know that he knew their point of view, even if they were not clear about what his view was. In high school he'd enthusiastically quote Shakespeare in his dinner time conversation, and soon just as enthusiastically, we found him quoting the Bible.

RVing with Jos

We bought an RV for vacations and for our frequent trips to Pomona. Particularly notable were (1) a trip to Indian Oaks Campground in Temecula which taught us that December is too dark for camping. (2) a trip from Stanford to Pomona along the coast where Catherine Price was along and had a cold night at Morro Rock. (3) a trip with Jos to Las Vegas which was a real joy. This included a show "Ballys' Jubilee" that the guidebook called "quintessential". It was. He and I liked it more than Mother did. We drove on further to Boulder Dam. Mother and I also had memorable times on the other halves of those trips without Jos. Camping and RVing were not in his blood. That part of it was mostly for me, but he was always in good humor and fun to travel with.

Adult entertainment industry

Jos wanted some genuine celebrities to endorse his Toessels. He talked about contacting celebrities with this proposal: A free toessel in exchange for a photo of the celebrity wearing the toessel. He told me there was a model in the "adult entertainment industry" that he had his eyes on.

Her name was A:s:i:a C:a:r:r:e:r:a. Not only was she outstanding in her profession, he said, but her SAT scores were higher than his. She was also her own webmaster and he admired that too (not an easy task in 1999). I don't have any evidence that he actually contacted her. He might have seen her announcement that she was planning to get a "boob job". If so, he'd have been disappointed. He would not have mentioned it but it likely would have caused his attention to drift away.

In later years Jos watched TV judiciously but he included some of the worst programs. In particular, he regularly made a fuss about what was on the "Jerry Springer" show. I could not and cannot understand why a normally intelligent person would pay any attention to this program. Springer is a talk show where the participants describe bizarre love life, scream, fight, cry, etc, seemingly for real but to me as obviously faked as the TV wrestling he watched as a boy.

Economics versus religion

Jos liked his Religion professors and his Economics prof too. You won't be surprised to hear of a clash of world views. One day Jos got a term paper back in a Religion class which was criticised for being too "economistic". I asked Jos what the prof meant by that and how he'd handle it. He said something like this,
"Something will happen and a case will come up where their principles conflict with one another. Then they'll need to be economistic too."

Economics, human ecology, and death

I tried to interest Jos in natural history books like those of Richard Dawkins. He showed me his economics books. He put me onto the book, "Moral Animal" by Robert Wright. In that book we found common ground. Economics and Ecology were converging.

The photo below is six weeks before his death. We were at Grandma's cottage on Lake Michigan. He was reading Dawkins' classic book, "The Selfish Gene". He wasn't just reading it; he was marking it up as if he were going to take an exam on it.

If he were here to discuss the reason for his death, I think he would believe as I do, that there was no moral purpose for it. He simply had bad luck in one of his body parts. Life is not fair; it never has been; we've always known this; even Mother's rabbi says it. Ecology builds species by the death of many individuals. Natural though death may be, and illogical though it may be to be angry with fate, I am angry with his fate. He did nothing to deserve it, exactly the opposite. He was kind to everyone and he took good care of his body.

Mother and I cannot help but speculate how we could have guarded against this tragedy. It is an anguished path of hypotheticals leading us nowhere. Almost nowhere but not quite: I'm a light social drinker; if I could relive the year of his conception, I would not take one drink (and I'd eat especially safe foods). Little odds of it turning out any different, but I'd surely try.

Halloween and girl friends

On Halloween, it has been noted elsewere here, Jos would often don a dress to entertain everyone. When he first went to WebTV, he was something of an outsider without proper computer credentials. He encountered the Silicon Valley culture of doing things outrageously. When his company called for a party where people should come in flamboyant Hawaiian shirts, Jos came in a Muu-muu, a Hawaiian dress. He won the prize. Lots of pictures were taken. [1, 2, 3, 4]

The week following his death, his work friend Yun prepared the video homage to him, Fear of a Black Toessel, which we played over and over to every visitor to our house. About 30% of that movie is Jos in a dress. Add to that was his voice near the critical ending scenes; Diane called it his radio voice, but to me that voice recalls the LosAngeles gay world. So, there I was, in the shock of his death, and having this image repeated and repeated. Diane said I was homophobic. I saw it a little differently. This was only a 1/356-th part of Jos, but it appeared like a third. I don't blame Yun for this. We were all in shock and we all wanted to remember him as the wildly funny person he was. These pictures were clear visual proof.

At the same time, he hadn't had a visible girl friend in the two years since college. And it wasn't for lack of opportunities. I felt better when we got the warm and intimate letter from his senior-year girl friend Amanda and a little disappointed that others were slow to speak up. We had some tender words and letters from some and in time I was very pleased to receive many details from Gwen. Jos had charmed many of the ladies at WebTV, but it seems he was too busy learning this new internet business to allow himself the luxury of time that serious romance requires ("chaos" he would say). Since you have patiently come this far, maybe I'll show you my secret repository of pictures of Jos in a dress. Just maybe, but come back later and see. (Here is one.)

Trying to define the genius of Jos, and to predict what might have come

Jos taught me something I did not know and never suspected, that congeniality can grow into genius. His childhood congeniality concealed a seed of genius which grew. I came to realize this only in the last year of his life. His childhood teachers told us he was not the brightest of our children. He enjoyed building things, but brother Andrew built things better. In school he was successful in mathematics and physics but he was no more than successful.

Jos's mind was receptive to people; he would remember them and what they said. He would speak to it, and add to it. His congeniality grew into youthful charm. Being a good listener was part of his charm. It went deeper than that, however, because of his genuine interest in ideas. All kinds of ideas: literary, social, political, media, technological, business ideas. He would dig up these ideas and turn them over in his mind and come up with his own twists. Then he brought these ideas to us, bubbling with enthusiasm, drawing out the listener's opinions. He became a wonderful story teller, arguer, explainer and teacher. Then came the internet. Not only could he assemble his ideas into stories, but he could turn ideas into realities. And he did. That was the genius of the intellectual side of him. You see it here on the index page.

He had another genius in how he related to people. It somehow linked his personality and his intellect. You see that here on the memory page. Nearly everyone would like to be able to relate to people the wonderful way Jos did. But we are not able to. I have been trying to understand this so I could explain it to myself and other people. When I proofread his Culture Wars site, I admired the way he wrote about controversial emotional divisive topics in a warm, human, and inviting way. He combined factual knowledge with humor.

Forgive me a little fatherly hyperbole: Given more time, I believe he would have become a leader. Not only because he was a visionary (the world has many of those) but because so many extraordinary people would have wanted him to be their leader. He'd have become a leader of extraordinary people. They would have accomplished great things.

And now

And now I miss him very strongly and emotionally. I am angry that his future was torn away from him. No more ideas, no more amazing projects, brilliant writing, aspirations ended, no new friends, no sweethearts, no marriage, no children, no plans, no future. All destroyed. Blown away. For no purpose. He was kind and gentle. He was careful with his health. He cared about the world and about his intellectual life. His life gave great joy to him and to all around him.

I was wonderfully blessed; but in an instant it was ripped away. I'd much rather have given my life than lose his. A sociobiologist would say I lost 25 years of parental investment. I'd add that I lost the good fortune that had given me this golden child. My expectations for the future are a shadow of what they were. I feel Devastated. Shattered. Stricken. Despairing. Overwhelmed in a sorrow that never should have been.

I write this eight months after his death. He jumps into my mind about a hundred times every day. It is not him in my mind. It is my memory of the terrifying loss. The Jos in my mind is not the Jos we knew. We are not together any more. ***sob*** If I write more, I am writing about me without him. This path [1], [2] brings no joy nor enlightenment, so I stop writing.

It consoles me to learn of new joys in the lives of Jos's friends. I'm sure he would be pleased if you would write to me. I'll pass it along as best I can. I leave now to reread the

the life of Jos and memories of Jos.