For Cozmo

Five years ago this week, I lost a good friend, Gerald “Cozmo” Guido. Like myself, Cozmo (or Coz as we all called him) was a web developer who came into my life when I was still a teenager and hadn’t even decided that web development was where I wanted to go with a career, yet had an immeasurable impact on me and my younger life at the time.

Coz was about 18 years older than me when we first met in Tallahassee, FL (where I grew up). Born and raised in Binghamton, NY he was loud and very uncouth with long, metal head hair (though he always called himself a “fucking hippie” despite not expressing any hippie like tendencies) and a stocky build that showed he could mix it up in a mosh pit pretty easily.

My first job was for a local ISP when I was 14, around 1996. They had a local portal (sort of like an online newspaper) and they wanted someone to write video game reviews for their site. So I was paid in video games, and also learned all the skills to build a website. When I turned 16, and decided that I needed actual money to do things (one can’t live off PC games alone), the ISP hired me on for basic data entry and primitive site building sort of things.

I used to take the public city bus from high school to the ISP every day after school, and I remember the day that Coz showed up for his interview because he stood out so much against the rest of us clean cut, nerdy looking geeks. He was there to interview for a developer job, as at the time the local portal was built using Cold Fusion (remember that?), and apparently he had the skills because he was hired. Coz took a very strange route to being a developer - after living in New York when he was young, mixing it up in the metal/punk scene and apparently doing coke in the bathroom of a Catholic church on Christmas Eve, he moved to the Florida Keys. He always said he went there for a vacation, and left 11 years later. He worked as a cook and on fishing boats, then decided to grow up a bit. He moved to Tallahassee to get a degree from Florida State University in Psychology. He struggled with dyslexia but he said that his professors were always incredibly impressed by his writings and his insight, a fact that he was never shy to bring up. He worked in the psych computer lab and taught himself how to program and got good enough to get a job as a developer.

The ISP was a small company, and was comprised of the actual IT folks, a small computer repair shop, and a whole content team for managing the online portal (so three businesses in one building), but there were roughly 15-20 people there at a time most days. Coz and I didn’t interact that much at first, as I felt that he was too loud, too abrasive and a little intense. He had a habit of pacing around the room, talking to himself when he was working out a coding issue, and then would say something like “Fuck yeah”, jump back into his seat and then get back to work when the answer came to him.

However, after a bit of time, and listening to him talking to some of the other folks there, especially our receptionist (who was two years older than me, very cute, and wayyyyy out of my league), I realized I had misjudged him by his appearance - he was actually a big softy, very funny (in his own loud way) and never talked down to anyone, a rarity then (and sadly still) in the tech world.

I worked at the ISP for a couple of years, before a couple of the people there left to start their own company and snagged me to come with them. It was a good career move, because now I was actually focusing on building Professional Web Sites as a job. Their company continued to grow pretty rapidly and eventually they needed more developers…and they hired Coz to come on board.

Other than my current job working for Lullabot, the next 4 years were some of the best of my career, professionally and personally. The company grew to about 15, and the culture was one of great fun, learning and just generally everyone enjoying doing the work. I got better at HTML, moved into doing some Cold Fusion myself and for a 19 year old kid at that point, was making stupidly good money. And this time, Coz and I were paired together in an office.

Once we were working together, our work relationship became a much closer friendship, and I think that he sort of started viewing me almost like a younger brother. We would code, bitch about George W. Bush, and realized we had a very similar sense of humor (though his was much more on the scatological side than mine). Coz introduced me to Tom Waits, who over time has become one of my favorite musicians, by stating that Waits “sounds like a guy who smoked a carton of Pall Malls and gargled with Draino” but could write a hell of a love song (which is more than true).

I’ve got all these random memories of Coz from around that time:

  • Coz stealing some of my Chex Mix that I had on my desk, calling the rye chips “melba toasts” (not even close).

  • The time we took a company trip down to Universal Orlando and he and another co-worker were smoking pot in the back of my car while I drove down I-75, trying to keep up with my speeding boss and not getting pulled over at the same time.

  • The time he and a bunch of co-workers took me out for my 21st birthday and he and I remained the only ones not puking by the end of the night (he wisely stuck with beer).

  • Watching him pace around the room, a handful of nuts in hand, as he talked through a problem, tossing them into his mouth and clearly talking with his mouth full of food, code knowledge and nut pieces spewing everywhere.

  • Coz attempting to play Tribes 2 with the rest of us on the company LAN and just getting his ass handed to him, but cackling loudly the whole time.

  • Coz commissioning the creation of an “Elvisfish” magnet for his green Tacoma pickup, a bastardization of the “Jesusfish” magnet with Jesus replaced with Elvis.

  • And on and on…

But of course, all good things come to an end. The company slowly shifted their focus from building sites for others to just building their own website product (which still exists today, almost 20 years later!), and the work for the developers drying up. I was one of the last ones left before I saw the writing on the wall and, before my senior year of college, resigned to go work for my Dad rather than get laid off.

Coz took it all in stride though, and went on to start and run his own development company - still plugging away with Cold Fusion - and being fairly successful at it, thanks to the relationships he built with the former company’s now abandoned clients. I myself, 3-4 years later, started my own development shop, and talked to him many times about the perils of being self-employed. If we had work for each other, we would send it along, and I looked to him as one of the mentors I was so so lucky to have. We would still occasionally get together for lunch, or he would come by my dad’s store (whom he also became great friends with), which was connected to where the now defunct ISP was headquartered.

I moved out of Tallahassee in 2006, to Tampa, and we began to talk less and less, at least in person. However, now freed to work for himself, this freedom gave Cozmo the desire to reach out even more as he started a “buds circle” (his words for his closest, most trusted friends, of which there were maybe 5-6 of us) of emails that he would randomly send out about whatever was on his mind. Sometimes they were rambling, sometimes they were just funny things he found online, you never knew what you were opening when you got one of his emails.

The last time I saw Coz in person was in 2009, a year after I had married my wife. We met up in the What-a-burger parking lot just to say hi and catch up while I was in town. I introduced him to my wife and we all had about a 45 minute conversation about…everything. Both Coz and my wife were raised Catholic and went to Catholic school (she now works at one), so they had a lot in common and they hit it off. Coz was still his old self, pacing around, gesturing and talking at a rapid pace. I don’t mean that to sound like he was a crazy person or unintelligible or anything, that is just how he was, and I think that I really loved him for that. For his ability to be himself, fuck what everyone else says, he’s going to speak his mind.

Over the next few years, the emails would still come but not as frequently. Sometimes he would actually pick up the phone and give me a call and we’d chat about whatever was on his mind. He would talk about how great our time working together was, of which I 100% agreed, and it was clear that we both missed our old days together.

The very last time I actually talked to Coz was different in a way that, only with the benefit of time, do I now realize. He called me up again on some random day and his tone and the conversation were just…different. He wanted to know about me, how I was doing, how I was doing with my son (Coz had a son as well that he never saw, but it wasn’t something that he ever wanted to talk about), and about life in general. There was still work talk, bitching about Trump but it all felt very subdued, like it just wasn’t that important to get worked up about. I really didn’t think much of it till after he passed.

On August 14, 2018, I got a call from my dad that Coz had passed away, at the way too young age of 54. He apparently had been struggling with “something with his stomach” for a lot longer than he told me and I guess that was much more serious than I realized. My dad was notified because he was Coz’s in-town emergency contact and when he went to the hospital for whatever the ailment was, he never came out.

It’s somewhat ironic that his stomach was his problem - he loved food, loved to cook and had spent years as a sou-chef when he worked in the Keys. I wish I had been a bit closer with him to know some of family, to know more about his untimely death - his official obituary listed “an extended illness” as the reason - but I guess in the end it didn’t really matter.

When I found out, I was shocked and broke down on the phone while talking with my dad. I called my wife at work, and just let her know how I was feeling and broke down again. I took the time to email everyone in the “buds circle” to let them know he was gone. I even reached out to long long ago co-workers (but only the ones that Coz liked) to let them know about his passing. Given that they were just as shocked as me, and that many hadn’t spoken to him in a long time, I guess I should feel honored that he kept in touch with me enough that I even knew he had been having health problems.

Thinking back on that last phone call, it’s clear to me now that Cozmo was saying goodbye. He was doing it in his way, keeping things in the realm of topics that he was most comfortable with, without making it seem like anything was amiss. For being a big softy, who wore his heart on his sleeve, he was still pretty private about a lot of things. Had I known then, I would have taken more time to maybe see more about how he was doing, or at least reminisce some more about our great times together. But you can’t always know when a good-bye is for real, can you?

I still think about Coz a lot. He passed during the first couple of years during the Trump presidency and you better believe there were some “good buds” emails about that whole shit show. And the more nihilistic side of Coz’s humor would have delighted about making fun of COVID, anti-vaxxers and the general shitty state of the world from 2020-2022. I would have loved to talk to him more about all of that, and so much more. I think that people often come into our lives at times that we need them, whether we realize that need at the time, and when we look back is when we really appreciate it.

I’m reminded of that line by Andy Bernard from The Office:

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Because my days with Cozmo were the good old days.

I gained confidence as a developer; I realized that I had a bit of a knack for Photoshop and was pretty decent at this front-end development stuff; I understood and got more comfortable around people who weren’t like me, metal heads and hippies and just generally different than the folks I was around growing up in a middle-class world. I learned to get out of my comfort zone, to try new things and listen to different music and have new experiences and not just stick to a rigid routine I always found myself in.

And even though he never said so, I’d like to think that Coz would be proud and excited that I turned into the person I am now, with an amazing wife and two great kids and a really awesome career. He would of course never say it in so many words - that was never his way - but I think today I know that he was.

I wish I had more pictures of Cozmo, I scoured all my archives looking for them, but this one will have to do. It’s him being goofy “Uncle Gerry” with his niece (who he absolutely adored), and who I am sure misses him as much as I do, and shows a side of him that only those who really knew him ever got to see.

Miss ya Coz. But I know you’re somewhere else, listening to Zappa and fishing and living it up. If there is anything else after…all of this… I know we’ll see each other again someday.

A picture of Gerald 'Cozmo' Guido with his niece