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Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

Joe, my buddy - you've enriched my life

By Joseph Sheppard

September 19, 2006 | Friendship is a funny thing. When we look for someone to make a friend with, we generally look for someone we think is like us. Someone who acts like us and shares the same interests. We look for someone who is witty or intelligent or fun.

But some of the richest friendships are with those that are completely unlike us. That's the case in one of the friendships that I most value -- my friendship with Joe Roberts.

It seems that society always needs someone to pick on. Such was the case in my high school where from the ranks of the socially awkward, the student body chose one student on whom to focus is persecution. That person was Joe.

Joe was pretty slow. He was severely behind in his formal education, but the greatest evidence of his backwardness was the fact that he didn't recognize the ridicule he received. Joe considered any attention short of a physical beating to be friendship and admiration.

The crowd most enjoyed making fun of his aspiration to become a country singer. He would carry his guitar, which he couldn't play, around the halls of the high school. The students would make requests and then convulse in laughter as he randomly plucked strings and twanged an off-tune melody. He thought those that made the most fun of him were his biggest fans.

My friend, Jon Ader, and I were both disgusted at how our classmates treated Joe. So we decided to take him under our wing, because it seemed the right thing to do. We talked to him in the halls, gave him rides to and from school, invited him over occasionally on weekends, and took him with us on our big group dates for school dances.

It wasn't the most convenient friendship ever. Joe really could be pretty obnoxious. He was loud, had terrible manners, and constantly called us up for a ride or to involve us in some crazy problem. For example, if there was a lull during a student assembly, Joe would leave the stands and grab the microphone. He was going to sing a little song to heat things up and would Jon Ader and Joseph Sheppard come down and be his backup singers?

We certainly didn't work up the social ladder through him, either. But we genuinely liked him. Joe was a lot of fun. He had a sense for what the high school experience should be and was determined have that experience. One of my favorite photographs from high school is of Jon, Joe and I proudly posing with my 1986 Mazda 323. Joe was carrying a camera with him and said that we needed a picture of us posing with it, so we got that classic high school picture taken.

Joe enjoyed our friendship and with our help he worked on some of his bad habits. He gave up smoking for us. He picked it up again after high school, but later dropped it with some encouragement. He started attending church more regularly and began associating with people that treated him well.

Joe was good at giving back. His friendship for us was dauntless -- he would be our buddy until the end. He gave us gifts, odd things that he took a fancy to. Take for example, the bronze cobra incense burner he gave me for Christmas one year. I didn't burn incense, and neither did he. It probably caught his eye at the state fair and he decided to give it to his friend.

We had started out wanting to help him simply because the way the students treated him wasn't right. Now I would give my right arm to help him because of my love for him. And I wouldn't give up the place I have in his big pure heart for all the social prestige in the world.

These days I only see Joe about once a year when I go home to visit my family. He still aspires to be a country singer and he still says Jon Ader and I are his two best friends

NW
MS

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