Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Geek Speaking of Loss

Geek Speak: The Lost and the Left Behind

This week I lost something special, unique, and irreplaceable. I lost a friend. Bill Otto was one of a kind. He was compassionately tough, seriously ornery, studiously geeky, and classically metal. A while back he was diagnosed with leukemia, and fought it. Over Memorial Day weekend he lost that battle. In the thick of the fight he reached out through his family and the power of social media to his extended network of friends and asked for pictures, music, comments, books, anything to help him fill the time, keep his spirits up, and take his mind from the pain. For a while I wasn't sure what to do. I sketched out some ideas for original art of Wolverine, by far his favorite of the X-Men, but those weren't turning out. One day at work I sketched out a long-haired, head-banging, metal dude holding a cup of coffee and yelling "FUCK YEAH!" I added a caption, "How Metal Guy drinks his coffee" and it stuck. I did several Metal Guy cartoons, and by all reports he loved them. I was working on this one when I got the news.

Bill was special for a lot of reasons, but three things really stick out in my mind. First was isn't the right word...not dedication...his reverence for The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was looking at the books through his eyes helped me to read them in a new frame of mind. Particularly The Fellowship of the Ring. Let's be honest, at the end of the day it's a book about nine dudes on a (whoa! watch out for that orc) nature hike. It's a tough read. Looking at it through his eyes I was able not just to enjoy it, but to savor it. Bill was like that. He could make you look at the world through a different lens. He's one of the few people I'eve ever known who could help a person find perspective.

Another thing that sticks out in my memory of Bill is when I had decided I was going to enlist in the Air Force to be a combat photographer. I was, rightly, surrounded by family and friends who were skeptical and apprehensive about the decision. This was the end of 2001, and the United States was already in Afghanistan, and the writing was on the wall to take us into Iraq. To put it mildly, as a combat photographer I was not going to have a shortage of work. Bill never asked if I was sure. He'd already heard through the grapevine that I'd made a decision by the time saw him. The first words out of his mouth were, "So when are you going," and the look in his eyes said "hoo-rah!" When I was barred from entrance and handed a permanently disqualified status it rocked my world. I had to look at where I was and think seriously about the answer to the question, "well, shit. Now what?" He supported me then, too. 

It would be impossible to talk about Bill without also talking about gaming. When I met Bill I was still in college, dreaming of being successful and maybe a little famous, hopelessly smitten with Mildly Sensational, and desperately broke. When you've got your head in the clouds, and a bank ledger redder than Spider-Man's long johns, entertainment is where you can find it. My friends and I often found it in role playing games. Dungeons and Dragons was a perennial favorite, but we dabbled in just about anything that excited our imaginations. Bill was there for a lot of that. He played a long running Aeon Trinity game, which then became Aberrant, and many others. More weekends than I can count were spent starting a game Friday night, playing until Saturday morning, crashing for a few hours, getting up and maybe doing a few things around the house, then getting a game going sometime Saturday afternoon which would last until sometime Sunday morning. Then, exhausted to the point of deliriousness, we'd fall into our beds and sleep for a few hours, get up in time to get things ready for the rest of the week, then collapse, sleeping with the knowledge that we'd be gaming up again at the end of the week, and dreaming of the adventures we'd enjoy through the shared experience of collaborative story telling. Bill was right in there with us, often playing one variation on the soft-spoken tough guy or another. You know. Bill. We laughed, we played, we ate mountains of pizza, and built memories that all of us will carry of each other for the rest of our lives.

Good-bye, Bill. Rest in peace. You are missed.