Ken Kiesler, 1945-2003

Posted by Dave Winer, 9/19/03 at 3:14:14 PM.

My uncle died yesterday.

He was a relatively young man, 58 years old, in relatively good health, or so we thought.

He was more like a brother than an uncle, he taught me so much, was a role model, both positive and negative.

Today, while waiting for the Verizon repair man, I watched On Golden Pond, an amazing movie for pulling the feelings out.

When Ken was born they broke the mold. A hippie and an engineer, a great thinker and reasoner, with blind spots you could drive a truck through.

When my aunt Dorothy died of cancer almost fifteen years ago it set Ken adrift, he never found his grounding again.

As he aged he became more loving, more of a friend, and more resigned to his own death, which he obsessed about.


Me And My Uncle, 1957 or so.
When I was a kid he was a teen. We rode go-karts together at the beach in Rockaway and sent secret messages up to kites we flew over Jamaica Bay. If he could read this he'd tell me to get over it. But he had a sentimental side, sort of an Eastern European sentimentalism, although like me, he was born in the US.

He read voraciously. He did crossword puzzles. He swam every day. He smoked a lot. He fussed with cars. He built a windmill. It's rusting in a palmetto field west of Crescent Beach, FL.

He was raised in a brutal household, he lived a lot of his life in apposition to his father who beat him every day when he was a kid.

He could solve a math problem like no one else.

Along with Scott Rosenberg he was one of two people I knew who solved Don's Amazing Puzzle without even thinking.

He was puzzled by the Dancing Hamsters.

He told stories, told them over and over again. I got to numbering them, in a playful way. I'd say "oh that's story #2764," as he'd start to tell it. He always said he'd write them, but as far as I know he never did.

One of my favorite DaveNets was a recital of a Ken Kiesler rap, about the relationship between security and money. I wrote about Ken and Jamaica often in DaveNet and on Scripting News.

He was one of the first to have a Manila site along with Dan Gillmor, and Jamis MacNiven at Buck's. I introduced Ken to Jamis. He was impressed with Jamis's Russian cosmonaut suit, hanging from the ceiling at Buck's.

He practiced self-deprecating humor. He'd put both hands on the sides of his head and say in a mock-frail voice "I'm soooo confused." It was a joke, but he only said it when he was really confused. He probably said it about the Dancing Hamsters.

Once in Miami I turned on the radio and they were playing a Rolling Stones song from the 1960s. He didn't know who it was. He said he stopped listening to new stuff in the 50s.

He was a musician, but a dabbler. He formed a band called The Matanzas River Mud Stompers with people who hung around his 25-acre hippie commune in the palmetto field. The did an audition tape of a commercial for a local music store. I have it somewhere.

His uncle, Arno Schmidt, was a famous author in Germany with a cult-like following. He never met Arno. They will want to know that Vava died. They probably didn't even know he was alive. He was Lucy's son.

To my brother -- yes this is going to hurt. You've known the guy for many years. He bounced you on his knee.

He liked to call himself The Great VaVaVoom, said he was a professional wrestler, saying he used the line to pick up chicks on the beach (at your service ma'am), but we knew he never did and kidded him about it. We called him Uncle Vava. Even people who weren't his nephew did. Then a new twist as his hair went white. He looked like Santa Claus. Kids on the beach in Negril would call him Uncle Santa.

I had two uncles. Both are dead. My other uncle was murdered.

A few years before my grandmother, Lucy Kiesler, died, Ken asked her if they could pre-arrange a signal that she would send after she died that would prove conclusively that there's life after death. Something we might call up at a seance. She refused. Ironically we never got around to agreeing on something between ourselves. Oh well. I'll have to wait till it's my turn. ;->

Some of Ken's friends: Woody and Nancy Pine. Barry and Elizabeth at Gloria's in Negril. Thurman Wartloe. Sparky. Clayton Straight Arm.

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