Jim and I met at our town’s school for grades 5-6, probably at chess club, which was less about playing chess than speedrunning Oregon Trail during lunch. One kid’s idea of a finishing strategy was trying to drop his apple on the king so that it pierced through. That might have been Jim. I remember noticing right away that he was funny. He was always on, in a way that can be annoying when you’re an adult, but is intoxicating when you’re a kid.
When the teacher would kick us out of her classroom for egregiously not playing chess, and we’d have to eat lunch in the basement cafeteria, Jim might hold court at the end of a table. “Time for Cooking With Jim,” he’d announce in a hilarious voice, and then mush two or three components of his meal together. We’d continue to eat lunch together all throughout high school, often at my house. One time he emptied a cup of peanuts onto the trampoline in the backyard, shouted “Cooking With Jim presents: peanut butter!” and hopped around in a circle.
He taught himself how to play guitar, and so I asked my parents to buy me one, and followed his same trajectory at a six month lag. His house had video game consoles and mine didn’t, so we spent hours at his place laughing at the poop monster in Conker’s Bad Fur Day or marveling at the first Halo. He would even host LAN party sleepovers in that age before WiFi, and we all would spend too much time trying to network the big computers we’d lugged from home before giving up and crowding around his.
Of course, I had other friend groups growing up, and Jim did too. He spent summers at a camp in Canada, becoming a counselor in high school. One autumn he threw an archetypal parents-away-for-the-weekend house party and it was a lot of his camp friends. They had all smuggled vodka from Canada in their Nalgenes. Even though I didn’t know most of the people there, Jim made sure I had a good time. It was the first time I got drunk.
Our high school had foreign exchange programs, but either I rarely crossed paths with the exchange students or we only got a handful a year. I will never forget, however, the day that an exchange student from France walked into our senior year English class. She had what could generously be called a resting glum face. Jim tapped me on the arm and said, in a deep hushed voice that was wildly different from his usual bright boisterousness, “that’s the saddest person I have ever seen.” And I didn’t retain a single thing from that class because I spent the full fifty minutes trying not to burst out laughing.
I got involved in the theater department by trying out for a Shakespeare play in ninth grade. It was very cliquey and so I got sucked in and stayed, despite the main class track being more about interpretive dance movement than stage acting. The bright shining spot was the spring show, featuring shorter plays written and directed by the students. Jim played a maid in one of those, with the full outfit and everything, and it was the only time we overlapped. His performance was a surgical strike of humor in what was otherwise four years of controlled breathing for me.
It was your typical theater kids clique, even without the added weirdness of leotard-clad capoeira. The kind who wrote French maid characters into their scripts before they were 18. Jim did impressions of a few of them, none funnier than the girl who was maybe cream of the crop kooky. Like all the best impressions, Jim’s didn’t ape her voice or physicality, but invented a goofy behavior that exemplified her unique choices. Rather than own a Discman like the rest of us, Jim’s impression had her placing a CD down an index finger and spinning the disc with her other hand, the way a Harlem Globetrotter balances a basketball, then singing the hits of the day out loud, in Jim’s operatic falsetto: “Can you take me-ee higher? Doodley-doodley-doo!”
Jim stayed in Ohio for college, and I went out to California. We chatted consistently over AIM, sharing photos, music, and stories. I still have a photo he sent me from his final summer as a camp counselor: he’s sitting on a beach holding a bowl of soup, wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt that’s in Spanish. The bowl of soup is resting on a kid’s head, one of his campers who has been buried in the sand. Both Jim’s and the kid’s expressions are priceless.
He sent me an essay he wrote that first year of college. I think he’d gotten it graded already, and shared it with me in the spirit of “look what I got away with.” I don’t remember what it was about in general or what class it was for. All I remember is it included the phrase “cell phones, which are sandwich-sized devices, …” and that phrase still comes to mind every once in a while.
The summer after our first year of college was, in hindsight, the perfect way to exit our teenage years. Jim started a garage rock band and invited me to join. He was obviously on guitar, and his friend Bill was a guitar prodigy, so I was relegated to bass. (Luckily my brother Kevin had one that he wasn’t using.) Another of Jim’s friends Ben played drums. We never got to lyrics, but we laid down a couple melodies and rhythm sections, alternating between Jim’s garage and the big house at his family’s farm all summer. Those MP3s, to this day, have more plays than 90% of my iTunes library. Not because we were that supremely good, but because they bring back the memories of jamming with those guys.
Once we all went back to college, that was the end of the band. But Jim continued to record stuff in his dorm, messing around with drum loops and effects in GarageBand. He started singing too. Every track he sent me is also high up there in iTunes plays. The best one, the one that sums up who Jim consistently was from the time I met him, begins with him saying flatly “uh, this song’s called cheap.” He strums a four chord progression on his acoustic guitar while chirping the word “cheap” at a faster rate and higher pitch. When it’s over, you can hear him laughing at himself for a split second before he cuts the recording off. Everyone who has heard this song loves it.
Jim came out to California to visit me once at college, and I went out to New York to visit him after we had graduated. His paternal grandfather, also James Rorimer, was one of the Monuments Men (the one played by Matt Damon). As such, there was a huge apartment that belonged to his family near the Met. It was full of art pieces that I liked to imagine were on rotation out of galleries, like the giant suit of armor in the entryway. Not a bad place to stay while Jim got his Master’s at Columbia, and not at all a bad place to visit. We went to the Met of course, and the Cloisters, but also to the secret burger joint in Le Parker Meridien. I was bad at swiping my MetroCard and Jim convinced me to hop the turnstile, whereupon I was immediately caught and ticketed.
We didn’t hang out much in person after that, but we kept in touch. Jim had a penchant for business ideas and I was often called on to help execute them. In chronological order, I made him websites for the following:
- Open Computer: instead of water cooling your PC, why not submerge the entire computer in oil, which has the same cooling properties as water without the risk of short circuiting it? Open Computer develops and open sources plans and parts lists to do so.
- Wolf Shirt Girl: a lifestyle brand centered around the three-wolves-howling-at-the-moon tshirt that got popular in the late 2000s. To his credit, Jim was ahead of the curve on this one.
- NYBee: an organization dedicated to saving the honeybee in part by ensuring it’s legal to keep hives in New York City. This was by far his most successful one.
- Park Avenue Christian Church Landmark: a petition to prevent a historic church from being demolished.
- Petistal: a social network to remember deceased pets.
The last time I saw Jim in person was his wedding in July 2017, at his family farm in Ohio. The ceremony was beautiful, and the reception went long. Those of us left at the end of the night jumped (with varying amounts of our clothes on) into the pool, which was usually off limits when I had gone to the farm as a kid. Jim and WeiWei had a baby a couple years later. “Charlotte is the best and so funny,” he told me in an email. “She’s into bopping everything. She’s much smarter than her parents.”
In that same email, in July 2020, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with stage three gastric cancer that April. They were living in China, and Charlotte’s classmate was the grandson of “the best surgeon in China” so Jim was able to go through chemo and a serious procedure that removed his esophagus, but left him optimistic. “Let’s have a proper FaceTime in the next few weeks. I can’t speak but I can kind of whisper. Lol the irony”
We did have that FaceTime, and a couple more, and then we fell back to texting. They moved back to Ohio and bought a house. He continued various treatments, at one point writing “I resemble a cooked lobster.” The last thing we texted about was an upcoming remake of a video game we both played as kids.
Since learning that Jim passed, I’ve been listening to his music from college a lot. More his solo stuff than the stuff we played together, because his solo stuff has his voice. I think a lot of people are doing the same. WeiWei shared a video of Charlotte, as promised, bopping around to “Cheap”. I miss him terribly already, and it’s awful he left so soon, but oh man did he put a whole lot of good stuff into the world while he was here.