The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

And so it goes...

To whom it may concern...

Tucked away on page 171 of my book Wampeters Foma & Grandfalloons is one of the more unique obituaries ever to be published in the Rapid City Journal. The obit was for my friend Joe Krebs, who died last Thursday at 52. The book, a collection of opinions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was a gift from Joe. He signed it for me in 2007 as follows:


Joe and I came to know each other through Al Fazenbaker. Al was helping me on my journey through the first three degrees of Masonry. Joe was helping Al at several of his businesses. Joe and I hit it off from the beginning.

I had a love of music. He was a musician. He had a love of great writing, specifically Kurt Vonnegut. That I was for a time able to eek out a living writing interested him. And I shared his regard for Vonnegut.

His obituary in the Journal began with To Whom It May Concern... and ends with "He has been cremated. No services are planned at this time...And so it goes."

And so it goes is a reference to Vonnegut's anti-war book, Slaughterhouse 5. If you have not read it, then you've little excuse for reading anything on the internet, including this blog It should be required reading in every high school and college in the country. Read it twice or more. You won't regret it.

I've spent several days trying to come up with some notion of what I would write about Joe. And, he probably would be disgusted with this post as it will likely not have the requisite beginning middle and end that identifies every good composition. This is going to ramble.

I've referred to Joe in my newspaper columns. He was my Slats Grobnik... He was Jay Stevens and J.K. Manshok. Manshok is a German word for big man. Jay Stevens is a big and tall menswear company. Joe was big and tall.

Joe was a musician, an engineer, a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, a philosopher, an altruist and a philanthropist. He was a man's man, who loved Mama Cass Eliott's voice. He was a master of conversation, both intellectual and mundane. He could exchange views on everything from Voltaire to favorite movies with gratuitous nudity. He was a friend.

You've seen him here in Rapid City. He was born and raised here. He was difficult to miss, for many years seen riding his bicycle in all kinds of weather while wearing his trademark all-weather shorts. For some time he rode a classic AMF Harley Davidson bagger in unmistakeable buckskin and brown paint.

He chose his friends carefully. But, he wasn't all that interested in sharing them with others. I had known Joe for many years but never met his best friend Sohrab Banker. He spoke of Banker often, with great praise for his intellect. Fridays were reserved for Banker. He once told me that Banker and I would enjoy each other's company. When I suggested he arrange a meeting, he told me his time with Banker was unique and between him and Banker. Perhaps I'll meet him soon.

Over the years, Joe gave 300 units of platelets at United Blood Services. The Krebs family is honored on the walls there.

He was an intensely private man. One did not knock on his door unannounced. Call first, after eleven. He stayed up nights. He read. He would read anything from technical manuals to the Torah.

Raised a Catholic, he was not religious. Several events in his life turned him away from organized religion. I'm not sure what they all were. He told me some and kept others to himself. He claimed to follow the teachings of Zoroaster, making him a Zoroastrian. He was clearly not an active, practicing Zoroastrian. There was no place to do that here in the Black Hills.

He was in love twice that I know of. Neither romance worked out. Both nice ladies.

And he loved the Black Hills. He tried to leave them a time back, but was drawn back by "friends and family."

He was among the stubbornest men I've met. I never saw him change his mind. Sometimes he would take quite a while to make up his mind. But once a decision was made, there was no changing it. If someone gave him bad service once, he forgave it. The second time was the last time.

He disliked and distrusted medicine and the medical community. The thought of purchasing medical insurance repulsed him. He had a hernia operation some time ago and negotiated a cash deal with the surgeon, paid in advance and got the "deal" he wanted.

He suffered from respiratory problems all the years I knew him. I'm told that during this season's last blizzard, he suffered what he thought was a heart attack. I saw him about three weeks before he died at home with his brother Anthony by his side. He had recommended a column by Frank Rich of the New York Times. I wrote of it here in piece called "Is The Culture War Lost." Joe looked horrible. His voice was weak, and his voice was never weak. I did everything short of beg him to see a doctor.

Joe apparently had congestive heart failure. I'll know more someday. But, he for his own reasons, chose to let nature take its course without interference. I don't recall ever having an argument with Joe. It would have been pointless. If Joe was willing to argue about something, he knew he was right from the start.

So I did not argue with him about seeing a doctor. He had made his decision. If he had to make his peace – which I doubt – he had. And so he checked out on his terms. None of his friends with whom I've spoken were particularly surprised by his decisions to die rather than seek medical help or to forego a funeral. And so it goes...


Cigarettes and Centerfires... said...

Sounds like someone I would have liked. And someone I'm not sure would have liked me. Nice tribute, Mike.

Donna said...

Great job, Michael. I truly think it is a wonderful description of Joe. Those who did not have the pleasure of meeting him, surely got an idea of some of his unique qualities. Joe was definitely his own man. Though his cirle of friends was small, those who knew him thought very highly of him. That speaks mountains of his life.He was big and tall, inside and out.

Katie said...

Very amazing job. Joe taught me alot. Before I graduated from high school he would ask every day "So Katie, What did you learn in school today?" I would usually come up with something because if I didnt say anything, he wouldnt take that. Joe taught me things like learn to let go. He once skrewed a paper coaster to the desk I work at every day because he noticed that when it was in my way i would toss it aside. It was one of his many practical jokes that he played on me. I didnt think it was funny at the time but now i can look back and laugh at how upset I would get over something that really wasnt that big of a deal. Joe was a very smart guy. He will be missed greatly. May he (and Bingo) Rest In Peace. (Bingo was an imaginary bird that Joe tried to tell me that I let get sucked into a vent. OOPS!)