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Yesterday, as Martin's friends poured into town, I was struck by how many distinct sets of friends he had. Family, skaters, punks, his Swampland posse, his boys and his girls, Professors, colleagues, Ann Arbor friends, Chicago friends, cyberspace friends who'd never met him "in the flesh"... Trying to walk down the street with him was an exercise in frustration, as Martin's fans flocked to him like the Pied Piper. He was so much, to so many. One of his greatest gifts to us is each other.
I remember the first time I saw Marty 12 years ago. You couldn't miss him, of course. It was Computer Science 101, a lecture hall with hundreds of students. He would skate into class 20 minutes late, flip his skateboard up onto his desk, crack open a chocolate milk and begin to drink... 200 eyes on him. Martin would turn around and give us a little wave. The thing was, and it *clearly* pissed off the Professors, he routinely scored the highest marks in the class on every assignment. Immediately I said to myself, "I need to know this guy..." So I cornered him and announced, "You and I are going to be friends..." Martin looked me up and down and said, "Uh....No thanks..."
And so it began. Martin, in those days especially, had an approach to people that was at best "challenging", & at worst confrontational. Those who didn't "get" Martin brushed him off as a clown, but to those who watched, and listened, it was clear there was something extremely profound going on. Martin had an uncanny ability to see into people, to look through you, to reflect your own insecurities and hangups back at you, until you had no choice left but to drop them... and dance with him. Martin called your bluff every time... Despite his best efforts to the contrary, eventually we did become friends. I simply refused to let him go, or to let him push me away... I knew in my core that if being Martin's friend required change, well then I'd change. He was worth it...
Martin was a hacker in the true MIT tradition. As a teenager, and Marty didn't often brag about this, he reengineered some communication software into what became the de facto standard for software pirates around the world. In those days he was known by his handle, the "Redheaded Freak".
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Being around Martin was a feast for both the senses and the heart.
There are the delicious images, we all have archived in our minds... Martin was so beautiful to look at, so exquisite... His hair, his skin, his eyes... To watch him skate - a blur of red - the incarnation of intensity... To watch him sleep (and Martin could sleep anywhere - anytime) mouth open, looking just like a baby... To watch him thinking, eyes lost in space, tuning everything out while his mind unraveled the complexities of some algorithm or machine...
And then there were the sounds... The tick-tick-tick of the skateboard on the sidewalk that announced his impending arrival... And wherever Marty was, music was not far behind... Reggae, blues, rap, rock. Despite appearances & his pale face, Martin was no "white boy." Watching Martin dance was a lesson in freedom, and unadulterated joy. His Mojo was workin..
And then there were the smells... I won't get into these, those who knew Martin primarily in Cyberspace were denied this unique aspect of life with Martin.
With Martin, what you saw -- was what you got. He lived without pretense and gave of his pure heart completely. He had more "best friends" than I can count, because he made each one of us feel like his best friend. As far as I could tell, Marty never really treated anyone differently from anyone else. Marty ignored both celebrity and authority. When Senator Ted Kennedy passed through the Lab for a demo on the eve of a tough election, Marty pulled him aside and told him to "kick some ass."
Martin was utterly unique. A genius. Compassionate. Generous. Kind. Martin was not stingy with his love. He told us, and he showed us. He gave and gave and gave. Each of us knows how blessed we were to share a few moments on this earth with him.
Although what we've lost is tremendous, what he gave us is immeasurable.
To those who knew him, no explanation is necessary... To those who didn't, no explanation is possible...