Antics of the upperclassman

Antics of Jos, the Pomona upperclassman

Gwen M: Jos and I probably spent most of our time discussing ideas. They ran the gamut from genetic engineering to screen plays, religion in America to women's rights. He always had something interesting to say or had some new book I should read. He was constantly testing theories and had a penchant for generating far-fetched utopian theses. He once opined, (I think he really wanted to believe this), that stripping was a feminist act, drawing on an experience he had in a strip club in Alaska. Intellectually, nothing frightened him. He turned things over, took different sides, considered everything he encountered.

Jos was undoubtedly the most fiercely brilliant person I have ever known. Intellectual torpidity frustrated him. He could forgive someone without schooling their lack of knowledge, but he found close-mindedness and unexplored assumptions distasteful in his fellow students and especially galling in his professors. The Claremont Colleges had its share of both, which I believe contributed significantly to his dislike of the place in general.

He did have favorite classes and professors, though, including David Meneffee-Libey and Professor Whedbee. He had generated an interest in religion in America, in all its strange mutations. He had purchased a book called Because The Bible Told Me So, which cataloged the various ways people have used The Bible to justify their beliefs. For Professor Whedbee's class, Jos chose to examine the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" for his final project. He planned to deliver the sermon to the class as part of his presentation. I remember him rehearsing and thinking he'd put the fear of God in his classmates with that booming voice and the theatrics he was putting in to it.

Jos took delight in throwing potshots at canonized groups and ideas on campus. While he harbored few prejudices about anyone or anything, he found the rampant political correctness on campus abhorrent. He derided the frequent "open forums" about controversial issues on campus. He felt they rarely allowed for truly open discussion, and joked about the apparent necessity to offer free food to draw students to attend. These peeves manifested themselves in the flyer for the "open forum / inquisition" to decide whether or not Alex Cabrera was the Anti-Christ.

Jos generated an interest in Mufti, a group of vandals who would paper the campus in black and white flyers loaded with puns about recent college events or scandals. Finding Mufti's flyers wasn't always easy. It became a badge of honor for some of us not only to decode them, but also to find one before campus maintenance removed them. Mufti was a secret society, both by necessity (it was vandalism), and because I think there's a thrill in belonging to a secret society.

At one point, Jos had an inkling of the identity of some of Mufti's members, who happened to include some close friends of mine. I met with a member of that circle of friends on one occasion and discussed her bitterness in not being included in Mufti. She corroborated Jos's hunches. Jos decided he should form a new secret society. He asked me what "young girl" was in French (I forget why) and based the society's name on the words "jeune fille", or "Jenife." He then wrote a Jenife manifesto, and gathered a painting party to decorate Walker Wall in the middle of the night with a Mufti-style mural.

Of course, Jos wasn't able to keep anything that exciting to himself. He discussed Jenife openly with Mufti members and anyone else who cared to listen, and we produced one more banner for Frary Dining Hall that included puns based on the names of Mufti members.

If you were to ask me what Jos's idea of fun was, I'd point to the wacky elaborate projects, such as Jenife or his screen plays. (He almost always seemed to be having fun). However, I do remember Jos participating in some of the more common place aspects of campus life. Sometime during our senior year, we went to a rave. He came in colorful Converse high-tops, bike shorts with day-glo inset panels, one of his wildly printed shirts, his purple-lensed sunglasses, and lots of jewelry.

One day, I told him how much I enjoyed pinball as a kid. We played a few games at the student union, and he was hooked. In an effort to exercise self-control, he would quit for weeks, then play again, blowing a pocket full of laundry money in one stretch. His well-documented yen for thrift store shopping was already established at Pomona. I remember participating in at least one hunt for shirts at a local second hand store.

Like his parents and many other people at Pomona, I thought Jos was headed for life in some sort of policy think tank or public service. But he had a fascination with technology that made his choice to work for WebTV seem not so far afield from his interests at school. At the beginning of the year, he showed off his new Macintosh laptop, which had a sound card. The computer read (or sang) essays back to you. He had it singing in Spanish. He had also discovered long lists of newsgroups on the Internet, and had subscribed to several focusing on religion and politics. He could not resist, however, logging on to a couple of the bestiality groups he'd found. On several occasions, pretty much against my will, he updated me on the relationship a subscriber had begun with his great dane. The Internet was an ideal place for a person with his unprejudiced curiosity.

None of his diversions kept Jos from studying for too long. He would throw himself into one of his extra-curricular projects, only to snap back to his books as if on a bungee. I think he sometimes dreamed or wished for an academic life absolutely undisturbed by life's interruptions, including emotional entanglements or other messy parts of life. He discovered he could reserve a carrel at the Honnold Library and did so. He liked the absence of distraction and the monasticism of one's own secluded corner among the books. For a time, the only place I could visit Jos was in the library in Carnegie Hall, the politics and economics building.

Jos took his health very seriously. He made comments that before his death I took for mild hypochondria, but now find chilling and strangely prescient. One such comment was uttered while a group of us had sat down to a fattier-than-usual breakfast at Frary. "Cholesterol," he declared, "give your heart the workout it really deserves!" He loved to eat, but I sometimes had the impression that it took extra self-control on his part to eat well and not indulge a taste for sweets, fats, and salts.

The air in Claremont bothered his sinuses, and he took to working out indoors because of it. I joined him during a binge of stair-master workouts, and for a time, he scaled Claremont McKenna College's climbing wall with Deb. During fall of 1995, he lived in a room in Clark V that had a crack in the floor that ran under his wall. He traced it to the toilet in the hall bathroom next door. He was certain raw sewage would seep out of it any day. He swore his room smelled of it.

Jos was a Spanish speaker, and exercised his abilities frequently in Pomona's dining halls. He had befriended some of the workers there and knew them all by name. It disturbed him a little that I was French major. One of his few prejudices was against the French, I think for their perceived superciliousness and their part of in the Holocaust (he was appalled that I'd taken up German while in France. He told me he found that language wholly creepy the same reason).

Because of his feelings for the French, I told him the phrase I think I heard most frequently there: "I'm not a racist, but I don't like (insert your despised group)." I taught him how to say "I'm not a racist, but I don't like the French," which he ended up using during his semester in D.C., much to the confusion of the person to whom he was talking (see the letter from D.C.).
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