September 29, 2009
My first memory of Joe Onn, "Porky" in the then-nickname-rich landscape of Park City, has him holding court from a prominent table of a rather hip Main Street eatery known as the Buffalo Grill. His voice flat-out stopped me in my tracks. Outside, the then-quaint much smaller ski town readied itself for the 1970 ski season.
There was something about his vocal flair and the quite literate, yet highly comedic, use of vocabulary as he went about, in response to a question from another diner, characterizing the paperback novel reposing amid the plates overflowing with his breakfast order.
I don’t really recall the novel in question although Porky’s response resonated with such high-camp hyperbole as " a contemporary tale playing out against a tableau of sex and existentialist human folly." There was no need for him to continue. He had me with "hello," as they say.
And that wasn’t the only bill of goods he sold us that day. Before leaving the historic space where Pop Jenks had precariously dangled his cigarette ash over countless grills-full of hash browns, he had sold us his ex-wife’s "Head 360" skis complete with bindings and the name "Deb" engraved on each.
A more perfect fit to that Park City would be hard to imagine. Unless, of course, it would be my brother McGee, and it wasn’t long before he and Porky became joined at the hip — a marriage made in a heaven that flaunted burlesque over sobriety to be sure. Life as we knew it would never be the same.
I can see them now, laying out the program for the very first Park City Rugby Challenge Cup while they bantered back and forth at my digs behind the old Miners Hospital up at the resort.
Recommended Stories For You
Progress had moseyed to a crawl for most of the day as they kept cracking each other up while playing chess with their empty Bud cans. Talent, however, once again overcame the work ethic and the program is now a collector’s item.
Porky became a litmus test for me. If, after a certain amount of interaction, one didn’t "get" Porky, then I figured they wouldn’t "get" me. Not that many among those who failed my single-indicator exam didn’t become lifelong friends. It was just that those associations were usually conducted under a less spontaneous order of chaos.
One of my favorite all-time photographs is the one of Porky in a circus-ringmaster uniform taken at a pre-slope gathering for a very early Clown Day. Posing on one knee and sporting a top hat, ski boots, and gloves while holding a pair of K2s in front of him, his smile is jubilant.
Directly behind him in the shot, taken in front of the old Alpine Prospectors’ Lodge on upper Main Street where the Sirloin Saloon then held forth and Grappa is now, potential mayhem brewed in the form of five dozen outrageously outfitted clowns. They lined the street, occupied the entire staircase, and overflowed the balcony.
Needless to say, Porky was obviously a man in his element. Just like when he held forth as the majordomo and chief barkeep at the old Forge or while working the room as a waiter for any number of the "finer" establishments in town. Entertainment and erudition came with the entrée.
One of his most interesting and totally over-the-top gigs began when, while attempting to lift his forehead off the bar of The Beachcomber down on South Mission in San Diego, he noticed a bumper sticker attached to the opposite wall proclaiming "O. D. McGee for Mayor!" Muttering something akin to "Not without me," Porky caught the next flight out.
The dominos were falling. If McGee had to run for mayor since Jeff Packard had already printed up bumper stickers attesting to the fact, then Porky had no option but to become his campaign manager. Never had the Park City political paradigm shifted further. During the campaign anyway, the inmates ran the asylum.
Another favorite timeframe had Porky and his brother David operating the "710th Open Mess" up at their pad in the avenues of Salt Lake. Following a night of spinning obscure phonograph records at KMOR, sometimes with them in attendance, I would drop by for some early morning psychological nourishment and a cup of "mud."
Those were days of high creativity and profound wit and Porky was a prime perpetrator. There seems to be no end to the memories that have flooded my waking hours since word arrived from David that Porky had passed away earlier this month in Colorado. He stuck to my ribs. He was my ringmaster!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.