You could always hear his smile
That’s the photo of himself he used for his Facebook Timeline; I figure it’s one of his favorites, and it’s one of mine, too.
That’s sometime mid-60s, me to the right, Jorge to the left and his brother Steve—between 3-4 weeks my senior—in the middle. Notice who I was looking at. Jorge was born in February of 1956 and me, just shy of being 5 years junior, January of 1961. Early Jan for Steve, late Jan for me.
I like how that I, at least, dressed up for the event, complete with bow tie and suspenders. What’s interesting is that those those three kids up there ultimately, many years later, came to share an intellectual view about human existence that is quite apart from pretty much anyone and everyone else in our entire family.
I also like to think that one of the reasons Jorge and I got along as we did—he never spoke a cross or admonishing word to me in all my life—was that he grew up with one younger brother and that one younger brother was almost identical in age. I’m sure Steve was the one who caught any “bad side” of Jorge, if it even existed, and it was spent by the time he got around to me.
Jorge died last sunday evening, on the eve of a trans-Atlantic cruise from Miami, to be accompanied by a cousin from his dad’s side, from Austria. …It was supposed to be a fun, post-run swim in the ocean. He got caught in a rip current and didn’t make it out alive. It was especially devastating to me, because Jorge has long been a rock climber and mountaineer, two things requiring very specific knowledge about what can kill you. And, he was a lifelong and enthusiastic teacher of both.
My first true experience with Jorge the teacher was when I was somewhere around 12 or so. He grew up in the Bay Area where I live now, and I, in Reno, NV. He was there for a time during the early 70s and both he and his brother were pretty accomplished skiers. I was still some years away from becoming very good at it, but on this day, we loaded up into the car—he was maybe 16 or 17—and headed up to Mt. Rose, the highest peak in the Tahoe region. We skied the day and then at the end, he says, “let’s ski down to Galena Creek and hitch a ride back up.” Having had my dad tell stories about how he and his brothers used to do this at the end of the day, I was game. It’s quite a long trek, perhaps a few thousand feet vertical, and there’s no prepared surfaces. You’re just navigating through the trees on powder. But we made it, hitchhiked back up the highway to the car, and that was that. But all along the way, he had his eye on me, encouraging me, reassuring against any fears I expressed.
I had no concept at the time—it would be years until I found myself living in and traveling foreign countries—but Jorge’s parents had a foresight of wisdom that had him doing regular trips to Europe on his own as a young teen.
“Hey kid, here’s a plane ticket, a backpack and some cash. Make the most of it. Learn a thing or two while you’re at it.”
Jorge went on to attend UC Berkley under a Navy scholarship and upon graduation, went to flight school in Pensacola, FL.
…But just prior to his reporting for that, something happened that was to change the course of my own life. My dad was a Air Force guy, a jet engine mechanic and I had grown up with the stories. As happenstance would have it, there was a period of time between Jorge’s graduation and commissioning and his showing up, so he was assigned temporary duty to Fallon Naval Air Station, about an hour or so from Reno. And one day, he showed up in uniform, at my school, sporting the shiny bars of a new Ensign. The very next day I was in my dad’s truck, camera in hand to go visit him at Fallon NAS.
I spent the whole day, saw every sight I could get my eyeballs on, and was all ears all the time.
About 5 years or so later, I too got my commission as a US Navy Officer. Steve, Jorge’s brother and also a graduate of Berkley, took a commission with the Marine Corps. A year prior, while on my Midshipman summer cruise, I got to see Jorge on a refueling stop in Japan, at a P-3 base in Hokkaido.
I think it must have been several years before I saw him again. Some months before I left Japan in ’89, I was back home after almost 5 years, on a temporary duty assignment for just a few days. My mom arranged a dinner. Knowing by then I’d be back and going to the language school in Monterey (DLI) in a few months, I went looking for a car and I bought a Corvette to store until my return. So, Jorge shows up. I show him my new car and he looks at me with a wide grin and says, as though it was an unexpected discovery—I said right up front that you can always hear his smile—”Rick, that’s your dick!”
If there was an implicit admonishment there, it was only for me to think about.
Within a few months I was at DLI in Monterey, and he was teaching physics at the Naval Postgraduate School, also in Monterey. It seems odd to me now, that in that six months or so I was there, we got together only a few times. We were young. The world is still so enormous. Everyone has places to go, people to see.
Jorge went on to do his regular Navy tours and at some point he got off active duty, became a reservist, moved to Sacramento, got a most wonderful cottage in an awesome neighborhood, and began a second career teaching physics at a local community college. It was only a few years ago that he completed that assignment and focussed his life on friends, family, and every adventure he could get his hands on.
I don’t know the details and as much as I’ve spoken with him over the last few years, refrained from asking. He had developed kidney disease, likely as a cause of one or more important bouts of dehydration on some of his hiking and mountaineering trips. I believe there was one in particular, in South America, but I’m not sure. Like I said, I never asked.
That’s because he would not slow down, ever. In the last few years, he’s been traveling, exploring, adventuring almost non-stop.
Having a blog and even a Facebook relationship made things different. You consider that original B&W photo up top. But we lived in different places, saw each other at holidays and other important events; everyone has their own life to lead and so on. But having this blog changed things between us, profoundly so, and I’ve exchanged more thoughts with Jorge in the past few years than all the rest of life combined.
It went like this: Hit publish and about 10 minutes later my cell would ring. He loved my blog, and it’s not at all because he agreed with everything. Hell, he probably didn’t agree with a lot or most of it. I never cared. He only encouraged me to keep writing it. It was only a few weeks back when he rang me up and I spoke of some of the things I was doing in terms of shutting down my company, trying to figure out what to do, etc., and he said to me, in that smile I could always hear, “Richard, you’re a writer.”
I still don’t believe that, but I’m at least taking it more seriously, now.
In this end, which so sucks because I have only in these last few days begun to understand the enormity of what his life was attempting to teach, Jorge was the best sort of teacher. He taught what he loved and was passionate about but so lived it, too. “Frugal” would be the wrong word to use, because it implies some ethic employed for its own sake. No, Jorge simply had little use for what wasn’t immediately and regularly useful. A small, 2-beroom house that was paid off for years was plenty. He could put up his guests. A car that got him where he wanted to be and back was enough. This modest lifestyle has been a thing of envy for me for a long time, more so now than ever.
Jorge was never, ever the custodian of a bunch of largely useless stuff. He was never flashy. He impressed people by means of his friendly character…never wit, sarcasm, intelligence or how well read he was.
Well, as I told his brother in an email exchange yesterday, life will never again be the same without him…and that’s life.
I don’t know, there’s no data I’m aware of, but it seems to me that those who live the biggest lives often get to live them for less time. Which one would you choose?
Jorge is survived by both of his parents, his brother, and a multitude of family, friends and ex-lovers.
He was 50; she, an absolutely luscious 20, working on her degree in geology. I was visiting them in their Sacramento home and shot this at morning coffee.
He’s also survived by his dog, which Beth will be taking back with her.
I would appreciate comments. However, I already know my loss and it pales in comparison to Jorge’s own, and the loss of others, including his surviving mom and dad, and his brother. If I may, can I request that if you post a comment, you tell us what this means to you, beyond just an expression of sorrow for a loss? Jorge was a teacher, and if I have managed to stumble through this and give you something to think about in terms of advancing your own life in terms of getting along or adventure, please do.
And if you had the privilege of knowing Jorge, I would love to hear of your favorite anecdotes, stories, lessons. I’ve assembled some favorite pics of mine, about 75 or so right here, on Facebook. (Update: someone asked for potentially higher resolution for prints, so I created a Set at Flikr.)
I will miss you forever, “big brother.”