Panegyric: Joshua Atkins

This is my intent in writing panegyrics.
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Come in under the shadow of this red rock.

T.S. Eliot didn’t write that about Joshua Atkins, of course. But it reminds me of him. In my mind’s eye, Josh is a red man, red hair, red beard, a great red rock.

Josh is a large man, quiet, but with marvelously expressive sinuses. He snorts much, and as you spend time with him, you soon learn to distinguish between an amused snort and an aggravated snort. It’s a valuable indicator to his mood.

Josh is the single most sarcastic person I know. This is up against some serious competition, but Josh takes the title. Josh can roll his eyes in the dark. If Josh had given the Gettysburg Address, the war would have ended that day, because both sides would have felt too silly to go on. Even as I write this, I can hear in my mind’s ear the cadences of his sarcasm, his slipping from one particular mode of sarcasm to another as his rhetoric demands, forming an awe-inspiring mosaic of snarkiness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Josh is one of the few people with whom I have lived for any length of time. There were two occasions I shared a home with Josh: in college, my senior year, at the Writers’ House, and the summer of 1998, when Josh lived with my wife & I while getting established in Boston.

The year in the Writers House was my senior year and Josh’s junior, and it was the best year for either of us at Allegheny. The house was a warm place—not physically, let me tell you, but personally. The four of us enjoyed being together. It had the feel of a group home. The last day, after we had graduated, we returned to the house to find Josh gone. He hadn’t been able to bear the thought of saying goodbye, and had left a heartfelt note taped to the TV. I understood why he did that, because it was months before I could look at that note without crying.

The second time was right at the end of my stint in library school. On the night of my very last class, that night of glorious freedom, he was there to welcome me home. We watched France win the ’98 World Cup together. It was a marvelous summer, having him sleep on the couch, like we were back in college again.

By August, he’d found a job and a place of his own, but we still saw him frequently. For years he was in our gaming group. He was in my wedding party; I was in his.

Josh is a man of taste and astute critical eye. He has a deep love of comics books, able to peer through the great mounds of detritus produced by the industry and come up with those titles worth the reading. He is a devout hockey fan, once an expert to be consulted on minor-league Pittsburgh teams.

If I were ever in a real struggle, with enemies arrayed against me, I would want Josh by my side, and I know he would be. I can hear him even now: “We’ll get those assholes.” He would be sarcastic, smirking, unimpressed by any enemy. I can rely on the shelter of his red rock. Josh is ballast to right the world.

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