John Desmond Ott


The Core Belief


This item caught my eye as it came over the newswire.  In Western Australia, a family learned about the death of their daughter via Facebook.  The police were in the process of contacting the parents of the 16-year old girl.  The speed of the internet wins out again.  As social networking sites become a larger part of our lives, I assume we will hear more stories like this.  It’s just one of those things we’re all going to have to learn to deal with.


I logged onto my Facebook account three minutes later.  Within two minutes of being on the site, I had joined the page ‘In Memory of John Ott.’  It seems as though Facebook is intent on being the clearinghouse for obituaries on October 10, 2009.  My old pal John was murdered on October 26, 2008 in Quito, Ecuador where he owned a bar named Bungalow 6 with his buddy Sean Carter.  He left behind a wife and an infant daughter.


John Desmond Ott was my first New York friend.  We were Michigan boys who enrolled at NYU in 1987.  John and his roommates Howard and Paul lived two doors down.  We met at the 15th floor’s Day 1 orientation.  Our RA Kerry gave had us introduce ourselves and then gave a quick rundown of where to walk and not walk.  After that few minutes, we were expected to fend for ourselves.    


Ott’s family moved to Greenwich, CT a few years before so he knew the City, not well but better than I.  Shortly after being thrown to the wolves, John and I went to several Fraternity parties.  By 3am we were staggering down Broadway, past Tower Records on East 4th Street giving panhandlers quarters and drinking cans of Genesee Cream Ale out of paper bags.


Along with Gregory Umgelter, Wayne Thompson, Rob Lawson and Howard Sauerteig, we listened to the Velvets, copped bad drugs, drank really shitty beer and acted like college students were supposed to act.  John kept the mood light.  No easy task with the all the Lou Reed/Bob Dylan worship, my burgeoning drug habit and the general pull towards the dark side of Manhattan the student population of NYU had decided was ‘cool.’  It was all that damn Midwestern Irish charm.  I let him talk me into letting his girlfriend Phoebe cut my hair once.  Fortunately, she went into Finance instead of the Beauty Salon business. 


By the time our sophomore year had ended, Ott decided to take a leave of absence to work and roam.  This was his MO until he finally graduated in 1995. John ran in and out of school, enjoying his college experience.  We managed to keep in touch throughout the early 1990’s. The last time I saw my friend was on the steps of a non-descript office building on 52nd Street and Park Avenue in February of 1995.  I was returning something, a book, a tape; an LP whatever and we made plans to get a beer later that week.


The next thing I knew, it was 1998 and John was in Florida.  I sent a letter but never got a reply.  I don’t even know if I had the right address.  Every now and then, I’d think about John, where he was, what he was doing and what sort of mischief had gotten himself into.  John had the blessing of light hearted: he never got into shit, just mischief.  I envied that quality.  He never worried.  In San Francisco, Boston and finally Quito, John lived his life with that damn Irish whimsy.  It pissed me the fuck off.  How could we be from the same gene pool, the same state and he got to be Alfred E. Newman and I fret and pace all the time?  Personally, I blame Lou Reed.


I’m in Scottsdale tonight, looking at the declining half harvest moon next to the McDowell Mountains.  The memories, names and sheer joy of those years when I tried to be the Dark Man on Campus are right in front of me and John is in most of them.  I’d like to cry for my friend but that would be a terrible insult to the memory of a man who liked to move from party to party and place to place.  Even that horrible cat hair infested walk-up he and Derrick Lee shared on the corner of 28th Street and 3rd Avenue was lighter because John was there, if only for a moment in time.


Fuck Facebook for telling me the bad news but thank you for showing me that flat nosed Michigan Irish-American mug again.  I wish we could stagger to the Brooklyn Bridge at 3am one more time but not with Genesee Cream Ale.  After September 14, 1987, I haven’t been able to smell that shitty bad beer let alone drink it. 










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