|Mystical Joe during the late 1960s|
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
This morning I thought about a very interesting, even amazing, friend of mine from college. In fact, he was even a little mystical. Therefore, I call him Mystical Joe in this letter.
You may remember that I lived in a tiny two-bed dorm room with Raymond (my roommate) during my first two years at Pitt, and Raymond and I remained good friends throughout college. During that time I became acquainted with some of Raymond’s friends, including Mystical Joe who made a strong and lasting impression on me and pretty much on everyone he met.
Mystical was average height, maybe five foot six or so. He was also just a little pudgy, but not fat. He had dark black hair and lots of it (as many of us had during the late 60s and early 70s). He also wore black-framed glasses with some fairly thick lenses. He was not the male model type, but there was something about him that indicated intelligence and strength.
At first, Mystical struck me as being a little rough and a bit of a party animal. Therefore, I was unsure about whether I wanted to hang out with this guy and I was careful about what I shared with him about myself. Indeed, he had a very strong personality and he did like to party. During those two years that Raymond and I lived in a dorm room, we hung out with Mystical every once in a while and as I got to know him better, I felt more comfortable hanging with him, but I was still a little unsure.
After spending two years in that tiny dorm room with Raymond, I joined him and his brother Jesse in a large two-bedroom apartment located a few blocks from campus. We needed another rent payer and we invited Mystical to join us. I shared a bedroom with Jesse, and Raymond shared a bedroom with Mystical. Sharing that apartment with three other guys turned out to be interesting and sometimes difficult, but we endured for one year.
Living in that apartment with Mystical turned out to be a revelation for me. I began to see through his public persona and experience his real character. As I got to know him better I realized that, although he was a little rough and wild at times, he was also a very entertaining, charismatic, compassionate, empathetic, and extremely intelligent person. He was also very serious about getting a good education. Who knew? Well, that was Mystical!
I got to know Mystical very well during our time in that apartment, and I have always been grateful. He was indeed a very interesting guy with a strong personality. Make no mistake about it, he liked to party hardy. He also liked women and seemed to have many of them to party with. He could always find (or put together) a party and it was always a good time, but surprisingly I never saw him totally wild or out of control. He drank, but I never saw him become falling-down-drunk (as I frequently became). Alcoholic beverages seemed to just make him happy and mellow. He always remained under control when drinking.
While sharing that two-bedroom apartment with Raymond, Jesse and Mystical, I was very grateful to have Mystical for a friend. I got along with Raymond and Jesse very well and they always treated me well. I liked them both, but sometimes they revealed a lifestyle and attitudes that I couldn’t quite understand. They grew up in a household that was economically and culturally well above our family’s level and (I believe) above Mystical’s. I often became frustrated by some of their comments, conversations and expectations. However, Mystical helped buffer my relationship with them. Unfortunately, when Raymond and Jesse went home for an occasional weekend, I would sometimes get drunk and voice unpleasant opinions about them and sometimes attempt to demolish some of their possessions. (I’m not proud of that behavior!) Thankfully, Mystical was usually there to get me under control. His long hair and bushy beard tended to conceal how intuitive and caring he was. He helped me through some difficult times and we became very good friends.
Living in that apartment with Mystical, I discovered that the depth of his compassionate social character far exceeded my expectations. He was very active on the Pitt campus, especially within the Pitt student association and several other campus organizations and projects. He was part of a student counseling program to help freshman and sophomore students adapt socially and academically to the college environment. In addition, as a member of another organization, he helped prepare local high school students for the academic and social expectations they would face as future college/university students. He even got me involved with that effort for a semester or so. I met with a HS student weekly, listening to his concerns about becoming a future college student and sometimes about his teenage angst. It was a humbling yet fulfilling experience for me.
Mystical was also a compassionate friend to me during the middle of a busy semester when our father died while I was living in the two bedroom apartment with him, Raymond and Jesse. In fact, I should note that Raymond and Jesse also helped me get me through that difficult time.
I moved to a single sleeping room after that year in the two-bedroom apartment. I made that move mostly because I needed to save money and my share of the rent for the apartment was more than the full rent for the single room. Mystical also moved out of that apartment and, although we remained friends, we didn’t see each other as often and eventually lost contact with each other.
It’s hard to know what made Mystical become the person who helped and inspired me back then. However, I’m sure he had good parents that played a large role in molding him. I just remembered that Mystical mentioned that he spent some time at a monastery at some point, but I can’t remember the details. Certainly, that experience could have also been a factor in developing his compassion. Whatever forces helped mold Mystical, they did a great job. He was special during those college years and he is still doing good work as a political analyst, lawyer, law professor & writer.
Bill - I don’t compare myself to people like Mystical. However, you have certainly been a factor in helping me strive to be a good (although flawed) person. I am grateful to have you for a brother. I wish we could see each other more often.