Joe Jonah Euclid

Something reminded me of Joe Euclid today. Something reminded me of Joe Euclid years ago, and lots of times in between.

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When I was a grad student, everybody knew him, but I’m not sure how many talked with him. He had bushy hair and a stack of papers he carried with him. He’d visit University events (University being Stanford, so there was lots of food). He’d visit them because nobody would ask him to leave, and there was always food.

I’m not sure when we started talking. Grad school took it out of me at times, and I had lots of extra-curricular activities to make it even blurrier. We got familiar in my second or third year. My advisor was bucking for a Nobel Prize, which he eventually got, but was a turn-off for a grad student trying to salvage his love of the physical world.

I’d run into Joe every couple of weeks. We’d talk.

After the First Bush vice-presidential debates, I ran into him at the Student Union. He’d been posting flyers on campus about a conspiracy somehow tied to his apartment and world events in the New York Times. He cornered me, and asked if I’d seen Quale debating Ferraro. I said I hadn’t, and he said I should have. Joe, the man with the stack of yellowing newspapers and unwashed hair and clothing, looked at me like I’d missed the Higgs Boson hosting the Oscars, and said, “You didn’t see Quale debate Ferraro? Seriously? Now that guy, he’s crazy!”

Then he got pensive.

“You know,” he said, “people like someone who’s nice. That’s why they like Quale. They like him because he’s nice. That’s my problem. I’m nice enough!”

Amen. The world needs more nice.

Several years later, I was barely holding it together in my 7th year in grad school. He  saw me boarding the Stanford Shuttle, the Margueritte, or something like that. I think I was returning from buying in discount underwear at Macy’s. I was getting by. He looked at me in shock, like he’d seen a crazy person board the bus.

“Are you STILL here!?” he asked.

I nodded and vowed to graduate.

Shame was all it took.

One last memory, and then I’m good.

Out of the blue, I ran into Joe Euclid in the outdoor break area of the physics department. He had his papers, and was writing a pronouncement on a blackboard on the wall. I couldn’t follow it, but didn’t think I was expected to. I was relaxed.

I put a bowl of instant  soup into the microwave, and started it going. Joe looked at me, and looked sad.

“You know,” Joe Euclid said, “you should really put a lid on it. Heat will escape, and it’ll take longer to reaching boiling temperature.”

He was right.

After I put the lid on my water, he continued.

“You know, most people only do important things about 0.1% of the time. At that rate, it’ll take thousands of people to do anything important. That’s why the world is so screwed up.”

He was right.

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