Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Previous Life - My Friend Roko

In 1994 I took a job at a start-up telecommunications company, that had just been courted for acquisition by Hewlett-Packard. I was looking for an engineering position, but the job market was tight, the job I had at the time as a hardware engineer at the Massachusetts Eye and Eay Infirmary's Audiology REsearch lab was driving me insane (actually, it was my boss, the only person I ever _really_ wished would die a horrible death). So I took a job in manufacturing as a senior technician, one of three.

Another one of the three was a character named Roland. Roland was quite odd, and under the influence of several medications from several different doctors. My first exposure to his quirks was when he used to eat his late breakfast at his workbench, a bowl of shredded wheat, and he used to sing a little ditty he made up:

"when you eat your colon blow, everything will floooooowwwwww!"

Since he was on meds for his mental stability as well as a heart condition (brought on by years of partying with many different drugs, though he was under 50 at the time), he would often have extreme emotional reactions to his environment. One afternoon I came back from a meeting, and he was sitting at his bench in nothing but his underwear, socks and shoes, his clothes neatly folded on his workbench besides him (he was always very clean, manicured, neatly dressed, and his work area was spotless). His excuse was that he was very hot.

But I liked Roko, a lot. I knew we were to become friends after the following exchange: I had only been there a few weeks. The manufacturing engineer (who had hired me) was giving a functional description of a new feature in the product, and it wasn't working right.

Eng: I think I should call someone
Roko: Who, any vegetable?
me:Well, who are gonna you call, Billy?
Roko: (with a look of joy) Billy was a mountain!
me: ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder!
Eng: (at me) DON'T GET HIM STARTED!!!
me and roko : biiillllyyy the mooooouuunntaaaiiiiiinn!!!
Eng: dear god, what have I done?.......

Yes, Roko was a fan of Zappa.

He also had a complete video collection of everything John Waters made with Divine. He could quote from Pink Flamingos as well as the rest of us could recite the ABCs, and knew trivia about the two of them that the rest of us neither knew nor had any reason to seek out.

Roko was also a fan of Yoko Ono. Really. I'm not kidding. He genuinely liked her ever you might wish to call them. He had seen her live several times, and had pretty much every recording he could get his hands on, including a laser disc from japan of some concert she did there.

He had seen her video creations, including one called 'erection' which was a 30 minute slow motion video of Johns penis getting hard, and one called 'fly', which follows a fly around a room which was empty, except for a nude woman lying on a table. She dubbed in 'fly' sound effects with her own voice, as an interpretation of the sounds a fly would make if you could hear it.

The real kicker was the Ono Box. Ono Box was a small road case with a lock, and a handblown glass key, designed to hold her new CD box set of 'greatest hits' and 'rarities' (this was all yoko - no john, no beatles). The key had a tag that was numbered and signed by Yoko. In 1996 he paid (I think) 125$ for it - this was _without_ the CDs.

This is what earned him the nick name 'Roko'.

Other fabulous Roko-isms:

* he would listen to CDs at work with headphones and sing loudly. He had an exceptional voice, so we really didn't mind, though it was startling sometimes ( he was the front man for a local band in the late 60's/early 70's ). However, it was annoying when he would sing to Ono music, which sucked. Often he would simply jump up and start dancing, usally some pop dance from the '50s like the Mashed Potato.

* One day, when the doctors had been tweaking his medication. He came up to me at work, more glassy eyed than anyone I had ever seen, smiled, and said "I am soooo stoned" then fell asleep on the table in the break room.

*Since he had the longest tenure of the technicians, he was given field returns. One day, one of the sales people (whom none of us liked) went up to him when he was wearing his headphones to ask him the status of a repair. Roko never took his headphones off or turned down his music. He looked the salesguy right in the eye and said loudly "I CAN'T HEAR YOU, I HAVE MY HEADPHONES ON", then turned away and went back to work.

* One late afternoon, he was drumming wildly on his bench. I asked him what he was listening to, and he replied, in key, with a maniacle laugh, then "WIPEOUT". Taking the bait, as he drummed madly on his bench, I jumped up on a swivel stool and pretended to surf. Without missing a beat, he looked past me and said loudly "isn't he good?". I turned around and the General Manager was shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

Roko Often used to say it was a good thing he stopped his substance abuse before he met me. I would have to agree, for both our sakes. Roko and I had great times in and outside of work. I can only imagine what would have transpired if drugs were involved.

I don't hear from Roko anymore. I can't say as I miss him, though I do longingly wax about that time in my life, and about friends like him. That 'silliness' is sadly missing from my life. Roko would be unable to fulfill that void, due in some part to his age, and some part to the fact that he no longer needs medication. Still, I have an unmeasurable appreciation for him and the piece of my life that he helped create.

Till we meet again, my friend....

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