Amongst the many things we did in the 50 years that I knew Joe, we sailed together for nearly a year on a forty foot sailboat. Four of us journeyed across the Pacific Ocean and back in 1975. Joe always had a spontaneous and quirky sense of humor and one excerpt from 90° to Zamboanga, written in part about that adventure, seems appropriate...
Sailing south of Hawaii, we seemed to be entering an area of very little wind known as The Doldrums. The weather was hot, the ocean was flat, the skies were cloudless and blue and the scorching sun baked our bodies to a golden tan. On deck we were sweating like pigs when I came up with the bright idea to go for a swim. I tied about a thirty- foot length of rope to the stern and threw it over the side so that it trailed behind the boat. We then slowed down to about three or four knots and I walked up to the bow pulpit and dove overboard. Just as the boat passed me amidships, I glanced up at Joe who was standing up on deck, with a big grin on his face and yelling something to me, which at first I couldn’t understand. I lifted my head up to hear him yelling, “Boom, boom! Boom, boom! Boom, boom!” He was laughing and mimicking the foreboding music from the movie Jaws.
At that point, I just couldn’t get out of the water fast enough. All that flashed through my mind was the image portrayed in an article I had recently read about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the Pacific in World War II and her 900 surviving crew members in the water who were attacked by sharks. She was sunk in 1945 by a Japanese submarine and was the greatest single loss of life in U.S. Naval history. I literally ran through the water to get to the stern rope and hauled myself back aboard in what seemed like merely an instant.
Standing on Nepenthe’s stern, dripping wet, I turned to Joe. “Very funny. You scared the bejesus outta me,” I cried.
“That’ll teach you not to enter the food chain, you idiot,” Joe replied, laughing in near hysterics.
The water looked so inviting on such a hot and sultry day, however, it was the first and last time I ever pulled a move like that. Upon reflection, Joe was right. It was amazing how small, stupid and insignificant I felt in that vast ocean, exposed to whatever might have been lurking just below the surface. I could have been devoured in the blink of an eye!
Joe was truly the joker among us and many times he would come up with insightful but hilarious anecdotes to explain the obvious. We called it ‘The World According to Joe’. For example in explaining where experience was necessary to do something technical, Joe would say, “You have to learn to crawl before you can fly a Lear jet.” One time I was driving my two-wheel-drive truck into soft, wet grass in my front yard when I sank up to the frame and my wheels were spinning hopelessly in the wet slush and muck. I asked Joe if I might be able to rock it back-and-forth by alternately shifting from reverse into drive. Joe replied, “it’s stuck.” I continued to pursue my theory upon which Joe said, “Rick, you fool, I don’t think you get it. Do you really understand the meaning of the word ‘stuck’?”
Joe not only had the courage to be a pioneer in a very unique enterprise that was way ahead of its time, he also had the courage to take the responsibility for his own actions. He knew Omertà, the code of silence, and lived by it. He was a man among few others who could both talk the talk and walk the walk. When the 'chips were down' and Joe was faced with some very dire consequences, somehow he even managed a bit of 'The World According to Joe' humor in the face of certain retribution.
Following his refusal to testify, and after being ordered to serve a contempt sentence, Joe, with his usual smile, boldly and defiantly (or stupidly) remarked to the U.S. Attorney, to his face, while handcuffed and being led out of the grand jury room: “Well, if that’s the punishment you guys are handing out for contempt, I guess I’ll take one. Have a nice day!”
Joe was even profound and obtusely obvious about his own demise...
Joe was one of those people who always had to keep moving. He could never sit still and when I questioned him about it, his reply was “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” And recently in one of the last conversations I had with him he said: "Rick, in the near future if you call and I don't answer... you'll know where to find me!" This was ‘the world according to Joe’ and he could always be counted on for such minor bits of insanity-laced truths... even when there was no hope!
Joe's humor was infectious. His honor and integrity were uncompromising. His love of his wife and family and his love of life and the value of his many friendships were his soul. His positive attitude never left even in his final days he would say: "Just keep swinging!" And that was the 'World According to Joe'...
In ones life there are very few people who one could say: "I'd trust you with my life!" Joe was one of those people who I could and did say that to on numerous occasions... and I meant it!