Josh blew into Parker in fifth grade - a stifling situation for most, in such a tight knit scene. Within five months, he'd gone from obscure, to most popular, to ostricization. Suffice to say we had a violent reaction to him.He lived near school, his apartment was like a museum. His parents were former hippy New York style art freaks gone midwestern yuppie. They spent too much money on everything, he was a commodities trader, and she made costume jewelery. Their house was filled with incredible objects d'art, Zambian chairs, suits of samurai armour, modern sculpture, paintings by Ed Pashke, and tons of Robert Mappelthorpe photos. Turns out they knew him - he'd taken portraits of the Koppel parents before he died. They had a lot of his stuff, before it was trendy.
It was unusual for new kids to hang out with the popular, powerful people, but Josh expected no less. And he could talk the talk - he was a funny motherfucker, always standing up joking, and carrying around little toys and do-dads to play with - portable art deco.
Josh came from a family of performers. Being at their house was like being witness to a stand up family. One time, I remember walking into their kitchen as the family was gathered around their father, big bearded Alan Koppel, tossing pieces of fruit up in the air and chopping at them in pronounced samurai style. He made a Saturday Night Live sketch out of preparing fruit for his wife's yogurt.
It was wildly entertaining - no one else acted like that. They were always on stage.
Josh's Bar Mitzvah was like nothing I've seen since. There were huge (four feet across) portraits of Josh posing, in costume, as various comedians. Before we were to dance, Josh did a stand up routine. I was blown away by the surreality at the time, I don't remember much except his joke that his Mom's day-glow green dress had been dyed at Chernobyl.Early on, in fifth grade, I can remember being in a skit Josh directed - a lip sync of a Weird Al Yankovich song "One More Minute." I spent many hours after school at his house, hanging out with him and his family, his brother Jonah. He gave me an incredible greek temple modern art style bookcase.
Summer after eighth grade, we took a summer camp trip together up the California Coast. One night in Yosemite, we met the Knack.
That summer, I dropped by the house one last time. It was unnerving. His father, mother, brother Jonah and Josh and I sat in their recently completed library. Josh's mother addressed me twice "So! Mister President! How does it feel?" and later "We're sitting with El Presidente! What are you going to do next year?" Flabberghasted, and chagrined, I steered the subject away. Somehow we got to talking about eating disorders when Josh's father, leaning against the bookcase, turns to the group and says, "Well, Sherri has an eating disorder." My jaw dropped, and brief silence until she replied, "Yes, I like to eat good food!" and laughed in spite of herself. She was thin, too thin, and it made too much sense. Nobody else was laughing. Soon after that, I asked Josh to show me the rest of the house, or get something from his bedroom together.I called him joey, I think cuz I originally got his name wrong, and joey expressed my affection for him better than josh. so he called me "fusty" which I've used to this date for handles online (bbsing, chatting).In high school, we worked together on many projects - editing, articles, Martin Luther King day. Most of these with Stone.
End of junior year, I ran for President of the Student Government against Josh. Since we were both goal-oriented, working within the system, we'd anticipated this. We were sure we'd remain friends, because we were enlightened. That's what I thought, I guess Josh thought he'd win.
We gave our speeches, did the politicking thing, and I when the votes came in, I secured a comfortable victory. I immediately invited Josh out for coffee, cuz I knew it hurt, but lunch with the victor was more than he could stand. He called his parents instead.
We never were so close again - the parting was clear, and only became moreso over time.
When we were alone, I asked him about that strange exchange. Didn't it make him uncomfortable to have his mother flauting my presidency? Why would his father bring up such a potent subject so flagrantly?
That was just the way his family was, he explained. They are very honest about things. They don't hold back. The barbs were sharp, and I could see how they would foster insecurity. You and your problems were thrust on stage, and you'd better be able to perform, alone.
Josh is always on stage. Impenetrable, unnerving - Richard Lewis in effect. A barrage of self-deprication and self conscious wit - the shotgun approach to humour, sometimes he hits.
Senior year, when I was President, he published a humour magazine targeted at my administration, called Citizen Poke.He's actually taken this title, and irreverence, to create a college humour magazine, downloadable in PDF format. It is unmistakably Koppelian - well produced (by computer lackeys), Lampoony overarching cynicism without a message - but its long range goals include, hopefully, corporate sponsorship.
It is hard for me to read the magazine impartially. Josh was so into comedy, I listened to so much of it with him - Carlin, Allen, Lampoon, SNL - his roots are transparent to me when I read Citizen Poke. Besides the medium, I don't get a sense he's breaking new ground yet.
Josh is going to be famous someday. It has been interesting to watch us walk along some of the same paths thus far.
Josh co-edited the newspaper, with my friend Mike. As the year wore on, he increasingly retired from any role save that of advertising sales - which he did with much gusto. He and Mike disagreed over work-sharing and aesthetics, mostly personality, and Josh defacto resigned.
Then, the next year, he ran the school's literary magazine with Jeeks. Here again, he was big on promotions, but only for two months, or so. Then, he became disenchanted, quit, and started Citizen Poke.
We hadn't spoken in many months, obvious bitterness far in the distance, when he called me in December 1994 to ask about getting people at Wired to look at Citizen Poke.
My brother told me crazy shit about him, he spent the summer of 1995 selling Internet/Web Page startup kits to Chicago businesses for $5000 a pop. He is supposed to be putting the Chicago Mercantile Exchange online. A balls out web entrepeneur. Who would'a thunk it. Of course he's just the middle man, taking the money, and hiring people to do HTML, get web space, etc. Not a bad position to be in, but will he make anything other than deals?
He asked my brother about me, it seems like he'd like to be in touch. If you haven't figured out by this point, I have some reservations about Josh. Perhaps I need to get over them, and appreciate him for who he is. Am I projecting my morality onto other folks? I think I am not ready to be with people who make me feel self-conscious. He reminds me of Chandra in this way.
I'll be interested to see where we end up in thirty years. I can see us getting together - he'll be a famous comedy producer of some sort, perhaps a personality, and I'll look to see if he's become less neurotic, more humane.
I'll let you know.