The email was sent as part of a protest. Rich Zubaty was submitting a letter to the editor in support of an eventually successful effort to prevent a cruise ship from anchoring at Molokai.
By happenstance, the submission included a photograph of a painting, an image of a man heaving a throw net into the ocean. The painting, not the letter, prompted a reply that included: "If you ever get to Maui, give me a call and we'll get together. I can put you up at my place."
I had no idea what I was getting into - a most turbulent friendship.
Rich showed up, ending two years of living on Molokai. Until he could get a place, he was a house guest. His passionate side showed up during "Operation Enduring Freedom." He watched the invasion of Iraq with unbridled anger. The anger spawned tirades about President George W. Bush using 9/11 fear to support an unwarranted military action.
At one point, he called his mother. Sitting in her Chicago suburban home, she said the invasion was necessary because of the terrorist attack. Rich's attempt to convince her there was no connection between 9/11 and the invasion fell on deaf ears.
That launched another ongoing rant about how George W. was skillfully linking terrorists and the war without actually saying it.
Rich was nothing if not passionate about his beliefs. A favorite target was the mainstream media, which "lies to the public." One of the few times he was speechless came when I agreed with his basic beliefs, and "I read nothing but The Maui News. How do you explain that?" He couldn't.
The quiet didn't last long. He was soon off on another condemnation of American foreign policy and how it was "all about money, lining the pockets of corporations at the expense of the ordinary citizen."
He'd written two books, "The Corporate Cult" and "Your Brain Is Not Your Own." Both are available on Amazon. The latter was a science fantasy centered on how American men were being emasculated by a feminine-warped society.
At one point, he invented "The Rude Guy," an audio blog on the Internet. He used it for his political ideas as well as a marketing tool for his paintings and books. Google "Rich Zubaty." Many of the blogs were written and produced in a work-for-rent Haiku cottage that had no plumbing.
"I've lived this way before," he said, mentioning Fiji, other South Pacific islands and Peru. He said he liked living abroad. His first trip, he said, was to avoid getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. He routinely maxed out his credit cards, traveling to the Mainland, Southeast Asia, South America and Europe.
"Overseas, I'm just one those crazy Americans," he said.
Rich loved living in Haiku. For a while. He got into some sort of dispute with the landlord and moved out. That began several years of being homeless. He lived in a Ford Bronco. He kept up his Internet efforts by tapping into Wi-Fi hot spots here and there.
In the middle of this experience, he took off for the East Coast to take part in anti-Bush demonstrations and then over to Europe. I stored his stuff, awaiting his return. He spent three days or so in the house, as usual arguing and complaining. His constant attacks on American media, which had supported me for decades, raised my hackles to the point I said, "If you want this friendship to survive, get the (blank) out of here." He understood.
He eventually moved out of his Bronco into a small, welfare-subsidized apartment. He's on total disability due to chronic fatigue. Rich liked the apartment. For a while. His social worker found another place, one Rich thought would be more conducive to painting, writing and repairing fragile links with a son and daughter.
At this writing, Rich is in the Maui Memorial Medical Center's intensive care unit. Doctors are trying to figure out if Rich suffered terminal damage from a massive heart attack. A cop was mediating a dispute Rich was having with a neighbor when he suffered the attack. The cop got him to the hospital, but he's not responsive.
Last week, his son was discussing final arrangements for his father. This week, there are signs Rich may survive. It's as if he is refusing to die. I hope he pulls through. Despite it all, we're still friends.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.