This afternoon brought a joyful, awful occasion in the memorial service for Jim Ponichtera, an old friend who died suddenly last week. From the first moment I saw him on stage, a few days after I started my freshman year, I idolized -- and envied -- Jim. He was wildly funny, brilliantly silly, and sharp as a Ginsu knife. His wit was sly and devious, marked by a magical ability to conjure unexpected, pitch-perfect cultural hooks, both high and low. He harbored love of equal depth for John Donne and Scooby-Doo; Cassavetes and ComicCon; Le Bernadin and IHOP. Anyone who knew Jim knew what it was to cry from laughter; it was his singular talent to find the comedy in anything, not least himself, even when he was battling the cancer he ultimately beat.
After college, I hung out with him first occasionally, whenever I found myself in San Francisco, then rarely, then not at all over the past decade. I regret so acutely that long drift. What shone at the memorial service was his most excellent life centered on his much-beloved wife and 11-year-old son, with whom he did everything from Tae Kwon Do and the latest flavor of Super Mario to learning banjo and wearing coordinated, bacon-themed apparel.
If this is how it begins -- the long, slow march of loss and heartache -- it seems unconscionably cruel that it should start with Jim. He was one of the truly good ones. RIP.
This photo, posted by Brook Butterworth, captures Jim as he was when I first got to know him.