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And there goes Joe.

Joe Gallo was a friend of mine, and I don't have many. In the 1990's he wrote a zine called Gulp Life, in which he chronicled his lousy job at a 7-Eleven, and every other aspect of being a fat misfit. It was handwritten but perfectly legible, and it was rude, anti-social, revealing, and funny. I will tell him now, again, that he was a damned fine writer.

We met by mail, circa 1996, because I was writing a zine too. We traded zines and letters, and eventually he decided that San Francisco sounded more fun than New Jersey, where he'd been born and raised, so westward he came. Back then, San Francisco was where you'd go to reinvent yourself. It worked for me, and it worked for Joe. 

I don't like people, and even people I've liked via mail (and nowadays, email) I don't like so much in person, but Joe was an exception. He had a sad soul and a sour outlook, but so do I so we became best buddies. 

He settled into the same rez hotel where I lived, one floor below me and across the hall, and we often went together to the movies or a doughnut parlor. Or simply sat and talked in his room, or in mine. 

For a few years I saw Joe almost every day, and he was my best (arguably, only) friend in that stretch of my life. We must've been quite a sight, two big fat white guys walking side-by-side on the sidewalk, visiting the zine stores, riding the bus to a double feature at the Balboa or taking BART to a ball game in Oakland.

Joe walked slow and precarious, because he had a disease, the name of which I've forgotten, but it's related to multiple sclerosis. He never used a cane or a walker, but walking was difficult. The long-term prognosis, he told me, was that it would get worse, and walking would be more and more difficult as he got older. "So I'll be in a wheelchair, but what the hell, I'll go fast and everyone better get out of my way." 

Over the course of just a few years being in-person friends in San Francisco, Joe told me all about Joe, his upbringing, his politics, his best stories and his worst.

By far the worst was that he'd fallen in love with a woman, but she'd been sexually abused all through her childhood and couldn't give him or anyone anything but friendship. They ran away together for a long, chaste road trip, and he'd fallen deeper and she, of course, simply couldn't. They'd parted with a kiss on the cheek, and then she'd disappeared from his life, and from the world, and he never saw her again, never heard from her again.

After that, perhaps because of that, Joe drank a lot. When we were pals it was always the three of us — Joe, me, and a 40-ounce malt liquor. He explained to me once, that malt liquor has the highest alcohol content for the lowest price.

I'm a very rare drinker so I'd have a Diet Coke, and we'd sit in his room watching TV, watching VHS, reading zines, whatever, and he could hammer home amazing quantities of malt liquor. Three bottles in one evening that I recall, though two was his usual. 

He had a stable job and liked it, and being with Joe when he'd had a few 40-ouncers wasn't any different than being with him when he hadn't. Or perhaps I never noticed the difference because he always had malt liquor in his veins. Whatever, neither he nor I considered his drinking a problem.

Other than the booze and the movies and the laughs, most of the specifics of my many days with Joe have faded into time.

What I remember that matters is, Joe & I could and did talk and joke about almost anything — the news of the day, his job at the video store, an uncomfortable pimple on my buttcheeks, anything.

Both of us were lonely, but then, same as we'd found friendship through zines, both of us found love through zines. I met and married a zinemaker named Stephanie, and we lived happily ever after. Joe met and married a zinemaker named Shauna, and she's a great lady and was great for Joe, and they thought they'd live happily ever after.

For the next few years, the four of us were friends. Sometimes we all did things together, but just as often it was me & Joe spending an afternoon eating too many burgers and fries after a movie or a baseball game.

There were always a lot of "Ya bastards." We called each other that perhaps too enthusiastically. One evening, the four of us were dining in style at Burger King, and Joe arrived a few minutes late, so I said something like, "About time, ya bastard."

And he replied, "Ah, stick it, ya bastard." 

I don't remember which of our wives said, "Love the male bonding and all, but could you guys male bond at 25 decibels instead of 75?"

In 2001, the cost of San Francisco living evicted Steph & I, and we moved several states away. Joe & I kept in touch only via emails, but of course that's not really being in touch.

He & Shauna moved from SF a few years after Steph & I, and they lived near Fresno until, in what sounds like a cliché from a sitcom, she realized she was a lesbian. They divorced but remained friends, and Joe eventually moved back to the east coast. 

For years now, he's been living with a potter named Virginia, and when he spoke of her it was obvious that Joe loved her. He complained about the boredom of living in very rural Pennsylvania, so far from civilization that they couldn't even get a pizza delivered. "I'm a city boy," he said, "so this life is weird, but Vee is worth it." He never said an unkind word about the lady.

He also confessed that he'd recognized the drinking was a problem, and he'd joined AA. Sometimes in his emails he joked about the meetings, but he was taking it seriously, and had sobriety.

When my wife died, Joe being a mensch dropped everything and drove across six states to spend a week with me in Wisconsin. I hadn't asked; he simply offered. He knew me well enough to give me ample space for grieving, but just the right number of hugs (which was two, one when he got there and one when he left, because we were tough guys).

He came again for an extended visit the next year, stayed a month or maybe two, and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. We rarely left the apartment; he stayed in his room, I stayed in mine, and we hollered wisecracks at each other through the walls. It was kinda like our time in the rez hotels in San Francisco, only without the roaches.

He made fancy tea daily, which had become his thing instead of the malt liquor, and he always offered me a cup, but I hate tea and only said OK once. The tea was actually good, though.

He made chicken thighs in the crockpot almost nightly, meals he shared with me, and it was always great and it was always chicken thighs. "Highest meat content for the lowest price," he explained.

After he returned to his lady in Pennsylvania, we resumed emailing, not lots but often. We emailed about insignificant things, and he'd let me know when he'd spotted a typo on this blog. He commented here as "Captain Hampockets." a name he never explained but I'm sure it meant something, probably something funny.

Having him here on the blog certainly meant something to me. It meant at least one person would get my jokes.

We sometimes had long, happy emailed conversations about the minutia of our memories of living cheap but happy in San Francisco, and we agreed that all else aside, it had been the perfect time and place for both of us. 

Over the last few days, Joe & I emailed about a chunk of tooth he'd lost, and whether the biscuits in biscuits and gravy should be toasted before the gravy goes on, and I'd added as I sometimes did, "How the fuck ya doin'?"

He'd answered "Meh," without any detail, and I never asked. "Meh" was usually the baseline for both of us. "Meh," I think, is the baseline for almost everyone.

Then came this morning's text message, "Joe killed himself."

I know two other guys named Joe, and one's my landlord, so my first thought was that my new landlord would probably be an ass. But the text was from Joe's ladyfriend, which made no sense, and still makes no sense, but there it is.

Joe & I had talked about desperation — not recently and not often, but at great length. I'd told him he could reach out and I'd be there, and he'd said the same to me. But in desperation he didn't reach out, so I say lovingly, Fuck you, Joe. You could've emailed, could've texted, hell you could've even called. I would've turned my ringer on for you, old friend.

His suicide hurts like nothing else since my wife died, but I love the guy too much to second guess his last decision. There must've been something big and painful behind his "Meh," and after saying Fuck you fifty times, guess I gotta respect his choice and simply say goodbye. And also, of course, Fuck you, ya bastard.

It's a reminder that life is shit, and it gets shittier when you least expect it, and eventually the shit ends, but it always ends real shitty.

I say that with a smile and a laugh and a tear, though, and I know Joe would smile and laugh and cry with me. 1990's Joe would've laughed with a malt liquor. 2020's Joe would've laughed with a cup of tea.

I still hate tea, so in Joe's honor I'm gonna go buy myself a 40-ouncer and drink it in my room, which will probably take all weekend because I rarely drink. This one's for you, ya bastard.

8/17/2023   

28 comments:

  1. O crap I am so sorry Doug. A friend anyone would be lucky to have had.

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    1. He was a heck of a guy, and I guess he left under his own terms, but damn I am going to miss his emails and comments here.

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  2. Seconded. I only knew him as Captain Hampockets but he was funny and a smart ass and your friendship with him always came through.

    Real condolances Doug.

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    1. Nothing much else to be said that hasn't been said already. I'll just say he was a smartass and smart, and that's a combination I like. Always admired the guy.

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  3. Sorry to read about your friend Joe's suicide. Not many agreeable people cross our path in life, so when one leaves, it leaves a mark.

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  4. Thanks, Jeff.

    I'm wrecked, but tomorrow usually comes.

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  5. I remember when another zinester killed himself. Brian Johnson. I don't know if you knew of him or read any of his zines, but, he was of great encouragement to me, we had a fairly lengthy correspondence, and then he asked me to write a story for his zine, which I did. I sent it to him, and he told me how much he liked it. He printed it in his zine, and by the time I had mailed him a reply telling him how much I liked seeing it in his zine, he had killed himself. Now, he had told me was depressed, unhappy, etc., but I had no idea he was suicidal. This happened well over 20 years ago, and I still think of him often. I re-worked that story I wrote for him many times, always trying to do it better, as if he is some place where he can read it. Some people, the memory is too much to bear, but others, the memory is heartening.

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  6. The name Brian Johnson is too generic for me to remember; what was his zine?

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  7. His zine was called Fun House. He had a couple other zines, also, but I don’t remember their names. He was from Greenville, PA.

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  8. I do remember a zine titled Fun House, though nothing further comes to mind, sorry. It's good that you remember him. The ones who went before us ought to be remembered.

    Thanks for all of this, Henry. What you've written here is helpful and appreciated.

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  9. When I stumbled into this joint it felt like the right place. I'm not a movie guy and most everybody here talks about movies. I like 50s R&B and rock 'n' roll and everybody here likes movies. I knew if I was going to hang around I'd have to sidestream for a long time, but Cap addressed me directly, as if he were your social director or Vice President in charge of Volcanos. You made me feel welcome, but Cap didn't have any obligation to do that and he did it anyway. He seemed like a generous and very informed soul. I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. I feel that loss tugging at me even though he and I didn't have a past and didn't have much of a present. But he was kind when there was no obligation to be kind. Exactly the kind of guy you'd want in your life.

    John

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    1. He was a guy who made it easy, intentionally, for people to hate him. You should see his tracks on Reddit, where he and I both posted — he'd be blunt if someone said something stupid, and go radioactive if they said something *really* stupid.

      He was kind to you because, well, you never say anything stupid, but also because I'm sure he sensed that you're one of the world's half-dozen decent people.

      I'm glad he had a chance to get to know you a little, and you him.

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  10. Good morning Doug, you may have heard of me my name is Panda. I definitely have heard of you.

    Joe and I have been whatever passes for close friends for him since he moved to PA.

    We communicated mostly about video games and board games and movies and pop culture, and also about tea. We bought grand amounts from Yunnan and divided up the spoils of what his girlfriend affectionately referred to as "Chinese bullshit" - meaning not proper English tea.

    I heard from him nearly every day through text or group chat, and we attended a board game convention bi-annually together, before the pandemic fucked that up. There were times when we saw each other nearly daily, I worked in the pottery studio, and in that time we commiserated about all the bullshit in the universe, and also chatted about our favorite cartoons. He would come to visit me after I moved away and I would come to visit them, but the pandemic fucked that up as well.

    During the pandemic Joe delivered groceries to my elderly parents who still lived in his town. He listened to their silly demands for just the right half and half and never asked for anything in return.

    Just like you I am shocked because I saw no immediate signs, he left no messages for me.

    I will say that at the reunion of our convention after the pandemic, which just happened July 4th weekend he seemed very poorly. He was having a lot of trouble moving around and he gave me shit for giving him a hug, he said he felt too unsteady. He didn't attend most of the activities we signed up for, I thought to myself. "Joe is not going to be able to attend another one of these"

    I loved Joe, we have matching tattoos, he was one of the funniest, wittiest, silliest people I've ever known and he was a joy in my life.

    Captain Hampockets is my joke and Joe always said it was the funniest fucking joke he ever heard.

    It's part of a much longer joke but I'll give you the gist. "Hampocketing" is keeping a secret, but more specifically it's the look on your face and the pleasure derived from withholding the information, while letting the audience know you know they know.

    It's a "wouldn't you like to know" attitude on someone who gets a little too much joy from having information.

    A greasy piece of ham, seeping through your pocket, everyone can see.

    These are my types of jokes, elaborate descriptions of niche feelings and scenarios that bleed into absurdity.

    Joe thought I was really fucking funny and he said so often, a lot of people don't get me and I loved that he got me, followed my meandering absurdities. I called him "Orange joe" a Futurama reference, and he began to call himself that too.

    I never knew how to help him and he would never let me try. I am crushed. I understand his choice but I am angry he didn't fight harder, refused to see a doctor. But I understand. I hate it, but I understand

    Thank you so much for your beautiful write up. It's all true and infuriating and I'm so mad and sad.

    Please write if you like,

    Panda 🐼

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    1. Thank you for this. It's beautiful and I needed it and it helps, and I know exactly what you mean by being "whatever passes for close friends" with Joe. He was aloof and inward and sandpaper rough, but once you found a way around all that, he was sure as hell worth the effort.

      All day and all night and now the next day I've been wondering why he left, and why didn't he reach out, and there's an answer, I suspect, in your mention of seeing him struggle some a month ago.

      He'd told me when we were young that his physical challenges would get worse as he got older. More recently — late last year, I think, but not since — he'd mentioned that he was having increasing trouble with stairs.

      Joe was stoic. Unless talking about something would be funny, he always kept his troubles and worries to himself. And now I'm starting to think that's the answer to the questions. If he believed there wasn't much that doctors could do, it's not a great stretch to imagine him deciding, to hell with it, goodbye.

      At least, that's the closest I can come to making any of it make sense.

      Again, thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to write this and send it.

      Hugs from a distance

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    2. I agree that I think he felt something was wrong and that he had reached some pique of condition where it was no longer tolerable.

      He was looking into going to faire and having to navigate uneven ground, long drives, and lots of emotional and physical labor.

      I wish he'd made a different choice. I think the conditions were just too difficult. I know he had falls, and I suspect that there were more unreported. It was my sincere hope that his struggles would lead him to the doctor but that just wasn't the case.

      Thank you for reaching out. I feel like the only person that was able to get through the shell sometimes, and even then it was just a peek.

      Panda 🐼

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    3. Some leftover thoughts from your first comment…

      In addition to loving the unraveling of his moniker 'Captain Hampockets', I keep thinking of something else you mentioned, about Joe delivering groceries to your parents.

      He always was a nice guy, but he never wanted anyone to know, so I could nearly hear him saying, "Please don't print that." We're ruined his reputation.

      "I am angry he didn't fight harder, refused to see a doctor," you wrote, but I'm coming close to understanding, especially if there was nothing much the doctors could do, and if he was falling more often.

      My wife was killed by a slow disease, and the doctors couldn't do anything for her, but they 'monitored' her ceaselessly, and she had to see a doctor and have blood tests (literally) monthly, in addition to the daily dialysis. She hated all of it, hated being what she called "a professional patient," and I might say "Hell no" myself, if anything even vaguely like that was looming over me.

      And in your second note you said: "I feel like the only person that was able to get through the shell sometimes, and even then it was just a peek."

      My man Joe had a shell almost as thick and impenetrable as my own. It was hardened armor, and life was a battle, and he never took the armor off except around the people he really loved. That included you, and you should take that as about the biggest compliment Joe could give anyone.

      Hope you'll stay in touch.

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  11. I haven't been reading this site long so I hesitate to say but my condolances on losing your friend.

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    1. You're invited to say whatever you want to say here, never hold back, and thanks for saying something kind.

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  12. Just read about Joe Gallo's death in your blog. Terrible news. I've been going down a bit of a personal zine history rabbit hole this week and was thinking about you.

    Heath

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  13. Hello Doug:

    Thank you for telling parts of Joe's story I didn't know. He sure loved you.

    I am angry at Joe and heartbroken that he didn't reach out to any of us. Not that he owed it to us but it would have been nice. I don't think he even wanted it to end nice.

    He is irreplaceable. I adored him. He was hilarious. I am not ok with his choice of exits. Thank you, Doug.

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    1. Hey Christy

      Joe spoke of you often and loved the heck out of you and Henry.

      This might sound certifiably stupid -- still mulling it over in my mind and still heartbroken but there's a weird thought bubbling up that I haven't been able to pinpoint yet & probably shouldn't try putting it into words so soon or ever, and yet...

      I am ANGRY that Joe's gone and DOUBLE-ANGRY that he didn't give me a chance to change his mind, and wish OF COURSE he hadn't exited at all, but... choosing his own exit beats being splattered on the freeway or gunned down in a crowd or wasting away with cancer, the deaths of other people I've known.

      Joe's stupid decision leaves only one person to be angry at -- Joe -- instead of the whole damned world.

      I am hoping that makes sense. My apologies if it doesn't.

      Thanks for reaching out

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    2. Hey, Doug. Damn, sorry that I'm just now reading this. I'm gaining ground on your posts, but still about a month behind. I'm so very sorry for your loss. Obviously I never knew the Captain, but felt like I did since I read every single one of his replies on your posts. I could tell you two had a history, and it was great to learn more about it in your post above. I hope you are doing well. I'll keep reading and eventually find out! Take care....

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    3. Thanks for the kind words and condolences, man.

      I'm glad so much of him came through just in his comments here. There were also lines he posted that were jokes only he and I got.

      Glad he was here. Glad you're here, too.

      No worries about me, though. I'm doing as OK as an old man can do.

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  14. I certainly didn't know Joe as well as you, Doug. But I knew him well enough to realize he was a good dude. We shared some Facebook messages back and forth, and he was always hilarious and kind. My deepest condolences.

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    1. Thanks, Mr Jeff. To know him was to hate him, unless you were a kindred spirit and Joe & I were more kindred than kin. I was lucky to have him as a friend.

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  15. Thanks for this write up. We only knew Joe thru Vee (a friend since ==1981). It was nice learning more of Joe's story. I knew he was struggling with different problems, but didn't know the depths of some of them. I know he made Vee happy.
    I'm so glad he had you, and y'alls friendship. Reading this post I could easily picture it.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. Hey, thank you. Friendships, maybe love if we're lucky, are what matter. Everything else is a distraction. Feel free to toss in any memories you remember.

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