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Stories about John Ponte

Posted by timboudreau on September 9, 2006 at 4:10 AM PDT

I got word this evening that my friend from college, and later colleague at Sun, John Ponte has died. Being stuck in a Seattle hotel room with nothing to do but ruminate, I thought I'd share a few stories about him. Given that most of our circle of friends have been online since the 80's, I hope some others will find this page and add theirs.

John On Lawnchair
I met John in 1986 when I was a freshman at UMass. We were both part of a community of extremely eccentric individuals that used the Cyber mainframe there. It was a community bound together by primitive local newsgroups called "notesfiles" and a proto-irc called "Confer". And by the fact that the terminal room closed for cleaning on Thursday nights, so everyone would gather in the campus coffee shop for "coffee break" - and to scare the mundanes with whatever bizarre behavior we could muster, including showing up in costume, more than two people making out together, musical interludes and anything else anyone could dream of that could make people think we were all crazy. It was easy - we all were.

John was one of the administrators of the system. You could get online from the dorms, but whenever conversation on Confer got heated and interesting, the buffer pushing data to your 300 baud acousticouple modem would be flooded and you'd be timed out and miss everything. So the terminal room was the gathering place.

One of the other admins of the system was the gatekeeper to the community via a simple technique: he would mercilessly hit on anyone who logged in for the first time, be they male or female, with lots of S&M overtones. If you couldn't handle that, you'd probably never dare to log in again. This was to scare the mundanes away. It worked. My first-ever electronic chat began with a man I didn't know announcing to me "I am a bottom." I think I replied that I was a left-side. Apparently I passed the test.

I really got to know John the summer of 1988 - my girlfriend Mara rented a room in the house he lived in. John had had severe problems with depression at a young age. He was quite matter of fact about it being biological and simply something he had to live with and take medication for. Aside from meds which imposed severe dietary restrictions, he had a unique and memorable way of dealing with it: Do anything that looked like fun, no matter how ridiculous. "Anything" tended to heavily biased toward physical comedy and practical jokes.

I Really Need a Shower

One morning I staggered downstairs, and was rinsing a coffee cup at the kitchen sink. I muttered to no one in particular "I really need a shower." Seconds later I am drenched from head to toe with icy water. John had gone out the back door, and come back in with the garden hose, and hosed down me and the rest of the kitchen. I wasn't too happy at that moment, but someone choosing to use the garden hose indoors was so totally unexpected that I was laughing in spite of myself.

This led to a host of other ingenious indoor uses for the garden hose...which eventually came to an end after the linoleum in the kitchen started coming up - the floorboards had to dry out enough to glue it back down.

We're Not Drunk Enough to Work on an Italian Car!

John had a Fiat, aka The Galileo (his online handle was Spock), from the early seventies. He had an idea that if he could get it past one million miles of travel, he could convince Fiat to give him a new one. It was close to half way there.
It was in constant urgent need of attention; that summer he was setting up an inventory system for International Auto Parts in Florence, Massachusetts - I suspect the work there helped slake The Galileo's never-ending thirst for parts.

John did his once a year off-the-meds month that summer, which was a bacchanal of pizza, beer and other normally forbidden foods. On another morning that July I got up at seven AM or so. I was working mornings at Augie's Tobacco Shop in Amherst (a truly surreal bit of employment - but that's a story for another day). This was a Saturday and I was not working.

I sit down at the kitchen table with my coffee, and John takes the coffee, pours it out and replaces it with an 18oz beer. "We're not drunk enough to work on an Italian car," he says. Well, drunk we got and work we did. I don't remember Mara being too happy when she got up at ten to find us reeking of beer and WD-40. I also don't know that anything got fixed. But it sure was fun.

The Flour Cannon

This is a story I didn't witness - but it is so typically John, and I heard it so many times, that it is etched in my memory as if I'd been there.

Returning from a trip to the grocery, it occurred to John that it would be fun to empty a bag of flour over our friend Andy's head. This, of course, left a huge pile of flour on the kitchen floor (not to mention on Andy). Naturally, it needed to be cleaned up. That only led to another opportunity for mayhem: An upright Hoover vacuum will clean up flour. But it's much more interesting if you remove the bag. Thus was born The Flour Cannon. I don't know that the results were ever completely cleaned up.

John was the one person I knew from our little online community in the 80's who kept in touch with everyone - I couldn't believe how many people I'd lost touch with whose lives he could tell me about when I saw him last year.

We got together a few times after college, whenever I was passing through Colorado on one of my between-contracts road-trips. He had dropped all the meds sometime in the early nineties, and as he told it, drove nonstop from Massachusetts to Colorado with a box of Wheat Thins for sustenance. When NetBeans was acquired by Sun in 1999, I did some name searches, figuring that one or two of our very peculiar group from the Cyber at UMass must be working here. And sure enough, John was working for Sun in Colorado. And was doing well - as funny as ever, and as smart as ever, and working as a sysadmin in Sun's Broomfield office. I last saw him a bit over a year ago; he was in great shape, happy with his job at a startup there and doing well. We talked for hours later by phone - he was planning the world's most obnoxious baby shower gifts for Mara and Neal, and making sure everyone from Cyber was part of the conspiracy. Captain Underpants figured heavily in the plans.

I can't really imagine a world without him in it.


If you knew John Ponte, and have a story you'd like to tell about him, you're welcome to share it or a link to it below. I'm sure others of us would enjoy reading them, and perhaps they can be gathered together for his family, if that seems appropriate.

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I had the extreme fortune of living next door to John the past several years. Since both he and I worked at home and tended to bury ourselves in our computer rooms, I probably never got to know him as well as most of you - my loss - and certainly never saw the John who dumped flour over your head or gave you a shower with a garden hose in the middle of the kitchen. He was a wonderful neighbor and a good friend, always helping me and my 2 kids with whatever we asked, and more.

He taught my son how to drive a stick shift - not in the legendary Fiat, but is his most recent mode of transportion, a Ford F150.

Thank you all for your commentaries, which have comforted me and I am sure will do the same for his family. I will make sure they see this, and will try to find some way to "include" those of you who cannot come to the memorial in that service.

Photos: I have a couple - just two, maybe three - will scan and post a link... Peter

Just because reading these has made me think of more, and more, and more....fixing the mini-buses for Community Homes, in February, in the dark and freezing cold. PWAH runs of all kinds. (I still have some of those milk crates, 20 years later. How messed up is that?) Evil Vulcan Cleanser. (Kids, don't try this at home!).

More recent memories - bathtub sized martini glasses. His unwavering hospitality.

I have no photos of him, though. Not one. If anyone can rectify this, send me email at alyxx at

Also, Nick (Shadowspawn), Jeremy (Frodo) and I (Archer) will be meeting at a local pub tonight, 7:30 - 8:00ish PST, to hoist a few in his memory. If you are in Seattle, feel free to join us at the Kells. If you are elsewhere, lift a glass at the same time, please, if you can?


Baghead, you might be gone, but you will never be forgotten. You are the big brother/bad influence/best friend that we all needed, and I am only sad that we weren't there when you clearly needed us.

Does that thing really have a sewing machine engine?

Wow reading these over brings back so many memories!!!!

I so remember Peanut butter pizza

Receiving a bag of black powder in the mail... with nothing but a note saying spaghetti sauce

Exploding Toilets

Heating your Apartment with the steam from the shower

Spock finding so many of the props for Rocky

So many memories. The world isn’t quite as bright without him in it.

I was very fortunate to know John through the years - I spoke to him last in July as he was helping me remotely diagnose whether or not I had blown a head-gasket in my Saturn. "Do you see any Chocolate Milk???"

One of John's many gifts was his ability to find fun and humor in any situation as a way of connecting to the world, and he brought everyone he met some happiness as he did so. There's a lot I want to remember and preserve about John (including one of his favorite pictures), and its going to take time to write. Knowing John's sense of humor, I think he'd prefer any kind of memorial to be punctuated with the humor and smiles he brought to so many people. So this one's for you, John...

Requiem For A Baghead

- Jim/The Shadow

As many other posters have indicated there are so many stories to post about John. To this day I still chuckle about his cleaning techniques.

Brian: "John lets go brew some beer"

John: "Need to clean the house"

Brian: "Sigh ok"

John brings in leaf blower and opens front door, blows all the the dirt out.

John: "All clean lets go brew some beer"

John's other events that make me laugh is how he forgot about his potato in the microwave. I think he wanted to find out the explosion point for the potato. To this day I think the show Mythbusters was based off of John Ponte's antics.

Finally, helping John and Mike Nagle remove some fence posts via his "little pickup". He tied a chain around the posts and pulled. To this day I have never seen Mike Nagle wife go from calm to enrage so quickly. I was thoroughly impressed albeit not all parties that day were ;)

John we fell out of contact but in the short period of time that we knew you, you left a life time of memories. We do miss you!


Too many - the Yamaha from hell that we assembled down to the last bold in my garage -broke off the stud and tore it all out of the frame and did it all on a new frame in 30 minutes...

The starship (if you have to ask...) in my garage kitty-corner because it wouldn't fit any other way as we did a front brake/rotor job on it in mid-winter...

And the computer center --- "What does THIS button do?"

Damn. There's gonna be a big hole in the world...

Peter deFriesse

I guess I was one of the lucky ones who knew John pretty well in the early days. John and I ran the first "Pwah!" mission to get milk crates for him to move out of his dorm room in Spring 1985. That night we got 19 milk crates (stored them in my dorm room, woke up my roommate loading them in!) and a couch. The couch is the more interesting part.

John taught me to drive, in both the Starship Dodge and the Fiat. I remember when we were in the Fiat and I wasn't doing too well since it was a stick, and John told me to get out of the car and look into the vents just under the windshield wiper fluid spitters. I looked in, squinting, and saw a bumper sticker that read, "Are we having fun yet?" John just laughed in that way he had and took a drag from his cigarette.

I am pretty sure I was even with John during the aforementioned mission to bug Neil at work. John showed up at my house one night and said we had a mission. We didn't know Neil worked "for a distributor of the Boston Globe", so we first went into Dorchester to the Boston Globe headquarters, and they pointed us to the place on the South Shore where Neil actually worked. This probably coincided with John teaching me to drive the Fiat.

Then of course there were the various McManus runs in the middle of the night, which reminds you just how tough it is to find an all-night place out there. I wish I could remember them better, but the middle of the night isn't the best time for forming long-term memories. But I remember they were a lot of fun.

I think of John whenever I hear "Urgent" by Foreigner - it was like a theme song for him. He often had the boombox in his car cued to it waiting for just the right time. Sometimes the right time was just cruising through some small town in the middle of the night on the way back to Amherst.

John always seemed to see the best in everyone, and every situation, which is certainly something to strive for.

tcorning at

John was always just a fun guy to be around. I'm pretty sure it was he and Steve Halpin who got into a tickle fight that wound up crashing into a full fish-tank. He started the one major food-fight I've ever been in at a public restaurant, it's a wonder we didn't get arrested.

At the beginning of 1986, people voted for various made-up awards for members of our community. Here's what John received:

  • Charisma-man of Cyber
  • Most Relied Upon
  • Most likely to be PWAH!ed for a McManus run-Spock (et le Starship Dodge)
  • Best Arbitrator
  • Best At Helping With Problems
  • Most Uplifting
  • Daintiest Most Feminine Cigarette Smoking Movements.

Simply put, everybody liked John. He encouraged you to be true to yourself, not worry about tomorrow and enjoy the moment. The world desperately needs people like that. I'll always think of John when I see the sign for Dover, MA.

mdickerman at gmaildotcom

More than John, I miss a time when John was part of my life. I admit, I've fallen out of touch with 99 percent of the folks I knew from the terminal room, and from UMSFS. Sargon had to track me down through hints and google searches and coded comments on a public web page. I'm glad he did.

In many ways, John was a "grown up" to me. I came to UMass way to young -- I couldn't drive when I got there. So naturally, having someone around who could not only drive, but drive a bus and help fill it up with milk crates to the savage cry of "Pwah!" was an important step up in the world for me.

It was a really scary, crazy, wonderful and humbling part of my life. Many of you were part of it, and now 20 years have gone by, and I realize there's a hole in there where y'all used to be. If we all met in one giant room, let's face it, the first hour or so would be awkward as hell. Little pods of us that have kept in touch would gravitate to each other, and instead of the 40 folks who would decend on the campus center, there would 12 groups of 3 and a few of us sitting uncomfortably alone. All our conversations would start with "sooo.... how have hhe last 20 years treated you?"

Of course, if Spock had been in the room, we'd all be doing something stupid within 10 minutes, and it all would have been fine. That was his gift. And no matter how far we've all gone our separate ways, the world will be that little bit colder now.

Peace: Grot/Dave/
mail atsign nadigdotcom

He was never too busy to answer a question, even if the question seemed utterly clueless (as most of my computer questions were at the time). But what I remember the most was John's unerring sweetness--perhaps this isn't something he showed to most of the world, but I was privilaged to see this side of him. You knew that things affected him very deeply, but he didn't talk a lot about it--one word said usually left ten words unsaid, but he felt for everyone who was troubled. He made me feel grateful that he was my friend.

Godspeed, dear friend.

I remember the aftermaths I always walked in after things happened. I remember walking in after a flour and water fight, I was asked to help clean up the house because some Parents were coming over the next day. And I see the mess and John looking at me and saying "Water and Flour make Paste!".

I remember him writing to do lists on the wall in the kitchen, only to find out Dry Erase doesn't work on a painted wall.

I remember him trying to teach me to cook. I was delared a cook when I started a fire boling water. And I learned the smoke detect is just another kitchen timer to let you know dinner was ready.

He put cinnamon in everything and baking soda in tomato sauce so you didn't get heartburn.

I remember him yelling at me from the driveway once. I had driven Mara's car back from Sunderland and he needed to move it. He got into the car and yelled loud enough that all the neighbors around heard "Jennifer, you are too short, I just hit my nuts on the steering wheel!"

I remember the year I turned 21, he was off his meds. Neither of us remembered much of that summer.

And more recently when his gift for Mara and Neal's baby arrived at my house for the baby shower I asked if it was safe for public consumption, he insisted it was... it wasn't.

I will miss you John. Hloe!

Just one? Not possible. John was one of the best friends I've ever had, and certainly is responsible for some of the memories that are most important to me.

Nailing the chairs to the walls of his apartment. How many people CAN you fit in the shower? Spicy food - so spicy your eyes were watering just from being in the kitchen.

Scrambled eggs with cinnamon. And he didn't even EAT eggs then!

John took care of me in so many ways, I always loved him in ways I could never express in words - not to him, anyway.

I'm a little overwhelmed to be coherent right now, but reading everyone else's thoughts is bringing tears and smiles at the same time.

Spock-wad, I will always have you in my heart.

I remember....

...Spock helping Jim fix a hole in his exhaust pipe with a Coke can and duct tape (hint: don't try this at home, at least not without nose plugs)

...and then teaching Jim how to drive standard in the Fiat in the local shopping center parking lot and having the cops stop by to see why people are doing donuts at 1 AM.

...aiming the windshield wiper fluid nozzle on the PVTA bus so it would squirt jaywalkers.

...the rallying cry "PWAH!"

I miss you,John.

- Johnna/Romana

145db of Tears for Fears

Yet another 'very John thing.' The last summer I lived at home I had a job working for a distributor of the Boston Globe. This involved - among other things - getting to a warehouse in the middle of an apartment complex 30 miles south of Boston at about 2am to meet the truck coming in from Boston with the papers, and getting them separated into routes for the paperboys and route drivers.

One morning a bit after 3 I was waiting - impatiently - for the truck to arrive when the phone rang. Desparately hoping the person about to call in sick or with car trouble didn't have 400 papers I was going to have to deal with I answered the phone.

A familiar voice asked "Is Neal Lastname working there?" to which I answered "Yes I am." The response was "Oh, yes you are eh?" followed by a loud and hearty exclaimation of "Baghead!"

And a click.

So I figure John is monkeying with his medicine, more than a little manic, and unable to sleep out in Amherst.


Less than five minutes later, I hear the unmistakeable sound of John's then-favorite cassette - Tears for Fears' Songs from the Big Chair - and I expect to see the Fiat or the Charger pull around the corner at any second.

But it just keeps getting louder.

Eventually, the beatup blue Fiat comes around the corner. I would never have guessed that you could get that much volume out of a Fiat. Did I mention that the warehouse was in the middle of an apartment complex. Or that it was around 3am?

...But even with the trouble I got in for having noisy friends, Shout never sounded quite so good.

Actually, I can feel it

Staying with loud, there was once a place called Andy's Pizza. It was just south of UMass Amherst's Southwest residential area.

They had a jukebox.

The jukebox had a volume control, and John had found it.

The jukebox also had the Quiet Riot single 'Cum on, Feel the Noize'

..and John had turned it up so far that you could.

We were encouraged to call for delivery.


I have too many stories about John to possibly post them all, or even really to pick one. John was the big brother I never had. He was there for the hangovers, before and after. He taught me responsibility. He taught me never to grow up. He taught me to cook, balance my checkbook, change the sparkplugs on a motorcycle and the oil in my car. But most of all he taught me that everything was fun, or at least it could be made fun if you just adjusted your thinking a bit.

John, I didn't know how much I missed you...
always your little sister, Mara