Jos the Sophomore

Jos the Sophomore

Gwen M: I first encountered Jos in late August, 1993. It was the eve of our sophomore year at Pomona College. He and I were both sponsors in Mudd-Blaisdell, a dormitory on the south end of campus. The sponsor program placed new students in housing together, ostensibly based on common interests and tastes. A group of first year students lived in a hallway with their sponsors, while transfer and exchange students were dispersed across the campus and met with their sponsor groups for dinner or planned events. I was a sponsor for first year students; Jos sponsored transfer and exchange students.

All the sponsors had gathered for a meeting in the lobby / lounge of the two-story pink stucco dormitory prior to the arrival of our "sponsees." We all wore burgundy T-shirts ("Sponsors: Kid Tested, Mother Approved, 1994-1995" on the front, a box of cereal with all of our names as ingredients on the back). Jos sat on one of the lobby's pale blue velour couches, holding court. Anyone who knew Jos knows what I mean, either everyone in the room was paying attention to his stream of one-liners and puns delivered in his commanding voice, or they were trying to pretend like they weren't. I remember two petite young women perched on his lap, one of them Kim (her last name escapes me), whom I know had a possessive boyfriend. I wonder now if he was nearby. I'm sure Jos wouldn't care if he were. I can remember being drawn to this incredibly gregarious person, but remarking to myself, "I'm too tall."

I honestly can't remember the first time Jos and I spoke; Pomona's casual social environment has made such an occurrence hard to pinpoint. There were many occasions in the first weeks of that year to meet new people, with sponsees getting to know their own groups and the other groups in the dormitory, and functions and parties designed to get students together before the academic year swallowed us whole.

I remember liking him instantly, though, and wanting very much to be liked by him. He was intriguing, smart and funny, and he had one of the coolest rooms in the entire dorm. It essentially had two entrances, one that led to the hallway, as with everyone else's rooms, and a set of French doors that led to the building's interior courtyard. The large courtyard housed the old Gibson Dining Hall, which had been converted to a computer center. I can remember traversing the courtyard, looking up at Jos's room. You could see the warm glow of his torchière lamp, sometimes you could hear or see him playing bass, or talking to a friend. Once I found out where he lived, I was drawn to his room, even just to peer in on my way to Gibson.

Jos's room was decorated with posters from South America, a few band posters, and a gargantuan bed platform he had constructed during the early part of the year. As I've heard Jos's family observe, he was not an aesthete, but he made an effort to make his space comfortable and distinctly his.

My first bond with Jos was built over the ups and downs of being a sponsor. As to be expected by a group of kids brought together merely by virtue of a transfer or exchange, Jos's sponsees were a varied bunch, and he had good stories to tell about them. I remember the giggly S o l v e i g L u b e l e y, the German exchange student who appeared to have a painful crush on him, and the very pretty Caitlin, and another sponsee whose name I can't remember, who was a rabid gay basher. I remember discussions with Jos and another sponsee about this unfortunate behavior and the latent homosexuality it probably indicated.

In Jos, I found an ear for my own troubles with sponsees. My group seemed poorly patched together. I had two sets of roommates that got on so poorly together they needed to move, which at the time seemed a great failure on my part. Jos listened with sympathy and a certain amount of good-natured delight to my troubles and their antics. Jos was also a good source for back rubs, which we began to trade that semester.

I'm not sure what led me to be over at Jos's room late one weekend evening, but there I was, and one thing led to another, and we had fooled around a bit, but I remember mostly just sleeping over in that great big bed. I related the experience to a sponsee with whom I'd grown close, Amy T o m s i c k She thought it was great, and so did I, but even as I told her, it felt as if it hadn't happened. It had occurred with a mixture of friendliness and nonchalance, and he had confessed desperate crushes on a couple of other women on campus the next morning. He also offered schoolwork as a reason not to get involved at the time. It seems strange to me now that I'd accepted what he'd told me at face value and remained friends with him, but I did. I was disappointed by the case he'd made against involvement between us, but I left that morning certain it wouldn't change anything between he and I. It turned out I was wrong, it had, but Jos didn't let on until much later.

The crushes Jos confided to me are significant because they illustrated Jos's taste for particular types of women. One, J e n B a r o n, was a champion mountain bike racer with a very pretty face. He penned an essay about her entitled Jen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance, which he would share with me during our senior year. The other was W o u t r i n a Smith, an exotic-featured tennis and soccer player from Alaska. Jos had an appreciation for strong women who excelled in typically male pursuits. I think he liked the idea of being with a woman who could dust him on a mountain bike trail or could pin him helplessly to the ground in a wrestling match. He appreciated other people's accomplishments, and I often had the impression that he'd much rather be humbled by a mate than humble her.

His crushes on J e n and W o u t r i n a also exposed another part of Jos I didn't understand until after his death. These women both had serious boyfriends. I think there was a security in pursuing two people that were not likely to be his. The least accessible of his interests received the highest, most public of praises. He made what I sometimes thought embarrassing confessions of undying love in front of them. I think I understand now that at the time, he found doing so much easier than going after someone who might turn around and return his adoration.

The year wore on. I started dating someone else, and Jos continued to pine for a series of athletic beauties, or so I imagined and he let on. Some strong memories remain of the time; I remember waking Jos up one evening after a performance for which I had my face painted gold. He opened his door half asleep and was struck speechless. He didn't recognize me until I spoke to him. He then invited me in to examine my face for a half an hour, amazed at how different it looked.

I remember listening to Jos on the college radio station and discussing his taste in music. He very proudly shared with me the postcard he'd received from the lead singer of the punk group L7. While I know it bothers Diane, his mother, he thought it particularly cool that she opened the note with "Dear Loser". In the face of powerful women, he felt no need to defend his pride.

As a sponsor, I was in the habit of leaving my door unlocked or open, and I would sometimes return from a class or a meeting to find Jos sitting outside my door with his hand in my giant jar of animal crackers, talking to my sponsees. He never revealed how much I'd told him about them, and I appreciated how he befriended some of them. It made me feel like he was helping me out. I also found his ease in helping himself to my animal crackers or whatever else I had available to eat touching. To me, it implied that we shared some space or some intimacy that was inviolable.

That year, I met Catherine, a former girlfriend of his from high school. She visited Pomona while on vacation or a leave of absence from her college. Jos had given me a little information about her, and I remember trying simultaneously to quell my curiosity and wanting to learn as much about her as possible from our brief encounter. I guess I thought I might understand Jos better for it.

In the spring, Jos launched a campaign he called "Full Flirtation Chaos", or something like that. He posted a flyer on his door and went around campus asking attractive women if they'd like to be subject of the "full flirtation chaos" he was about to unleash. When asked if I'd like to participate, I remember shooting him a skeptical look and asking how full flirtation chaos would be different from any other time between me and him, or he and his other targets, for that matter. He had written "canceled due to lack of funds" across the flyer a week after its posting.

Jos took the next year off from school, and I spent it abroad in Strasbourg, France. We had no communication during that time, but I was vaguely aware of his plans to fish in Alaska.
to Gwen's index to Antics of the Upperclassman