I didn’t want to overshadow yesterday’s good with the overwhelmingly sad so I decided to wait a day to share, but I found out yesterday morning that my friend Cal passed away.
We don’t know anything yet other than his landlord found him, and the police are investigating. He was best known as =Judgecal= and many would say he was an online legend. I knew Cal fairly well through Pseudo, but I met Mark in DC through CNN. He’d hate that I was sharing that little nugget publicly (though he would appreciate and respect the provocation and embrace it wholeheartedly), but Cal was just a nickname. His real name was Mark, and Mark was the guy I got to know in 2005. He’s the guy behind the tattoos and the piercings and the darkness. He’s the guy I learned to care for and will miss. A lot.
Cal and I could not have been more different. He’d been at Pseudo for years. He was an icon. His show – High Weirdness – was the most popular weekly show on the network. He knew the world online better than anyone. He found an ease working in and around it. I was intimidated by Cal. We shared office space in this dark dingy corner of the building of Broadway and Houston, and he was just about 10 times cooler than I was on so many levels. He never wore shoes, just rollerblades, and he always seemed to look at me as if I were too clean-cut to even get the joke most of the time. He’d flirt on occasion, but I never felt there was any substance to the act – just his feeling it was kind of the thing to do because I happened to be the female in the room at the time. The women he went after were larger than life – big, busty rock chicks with years of hard living under their belts and stories to tell. We had nothing in common.
I grew up in the suburbs of Miami. He ran away from home. I went to a private prep school. He was smart and self-taught and learned from the streets. I studied. He lived. But when we met at Pseudo and ended up working together, something clicked. We balanced each other out.
Cal and I lost touch after Pseudo folded, but then David Borhman – our former CEO – called and asked us both to fly out to SF to interview together at TechTV. He was consulting at the time and wanted to bring interactivity to the network. The formal business environment was a rough fit for the two of us as a team. I needed to shift back into the comfort of conventional TV mode. Cal stayed true to his raw defiance. We were mismatched outside the walls of Internetland. I remember having some time off between meetings and dinner. I went back to the hotel to shower and change and call my boyfriend at the time. Cal went to a strip joint. In a weird way, I admired his rebellion.
Neither of us got the gig, but we crossed paths again in the following years. He managed to score a role in helping the new owners of the Pseudo assets figure out what they had and what they could do with it. I struck a deal to organize their library of tapes in exchange for access to my old on-air work which I needed to move forward in the business. We didn’t chat much around that time, but it was good to know he was keeping busy and doing alright.
Then in 2005, I was unemployed and looking for work. Kuma laid off most of its fulltime staff, and their freelance opportunities weren’t lucrative enough to cover the bills. I sent out a note to everyone I knew saying I was looking, and Bohrman got in touch. He sent a note asking for a conference call … with Cal. Bohrman was now a bureau chief at CNN and wanted to cover the Internet on TV. Could the two of us come to DC and help him figure it out? We both said yes.
Cal and I traveled to DC together on Valentines Day 2005 – the first of 5 months of weekly commutes to and from the city. We preferred the train, and we had a routine where we would just plan to meet in the quiet car each Monday morning. He’d fill me in on his weekend – when he wasn’t too grumpy and tired to share – and I’d recount mine – when he wasn’t too grumpy and tired to listen. Then we’d sleep.
We lived in the same corporate housing in DC and got to know each other well. We went out together a lot. We shared a lot of meals. A lot of conversation. A lot of drinks. I know he was uncomfortable here. Out of his element. DC didn’t suit him. Corporate didn’t suit him. He was supposed to be my partner on TV and got a bad case of cold feet right before air the first day. I know he regretted that decision, and it haunted him. Being behind the scenes was uncomfortable for the man who was larger than life, and ultimately, he bowed out. I got on the train one Monday morning, and he wasn’t there. That was the end.
Cal would email me or text me from time to time. It was always a kind word. During our time in DC, he let me in on some secrets. He brought down the wall. He was more human and vulnerable to me now. He’d become Mark. I liked that guy. And I cared about him. I worried when he was unhappy. I worried the sadness would swallow him whole. I didn’t want him to be lonely. I knew he wanted to love.
I got a note from Cal about a month ago forwarding me the news that Josh Harris had declared Pseudo a fake company. In fact, there was nothing false about it. It was probably the most real venture I had ever been a part of. It was the kind of place where someone like Cal could thrive because it felt like home.
When I found out yesterday morning that Cal had passed, I scrambled for information. What happened? How did it happen? Who was there for him? Was he alone? I started to cry. I dug up old email and scoured for personal information. I was looking for anything that would help his friends and the cops find his next of kin. I found his Social Security number in an old email and passed that along. It didn’t feel like enough. I just wanted to do more. Even though he was gone, I wanted to prove to Cal that I cared. That he had a friend he could count on.
I miss him already. He left a mark. The group email now compiled to share memories and information is miles long and proves to me that he touched more people than he knew. He had friends from Pseudo, from the Burning Man community, from Crobar, and from life in NYC. If no one finds his family, it’s alright. He had family. He had all of us.
I remember when Cal and I took that trip to San Francisco, we had a few hours to kill before flying back to NYC. He took me to the Haight. We walked the streets, and he told me stories about his time there. We stopped into a pizza joint to grab a slice. He found a homeless girl begging for money to buy a ride back home. He befriended her. He bought her food. He listened. He cared.
Cal wasn’t perfect, and I don’t mean to paint him with false gloss now that he’s gone. But he was truly unique and special in his imperfections, and I believe that more than anything, he just wanted to be loved.
I can only hope he passed on knowing he was.
more: I just found this old write about Cal’s work at the Republican National Convention in 2000. I remember it well. He was a rockstar.