Back in 2004 I posted an entry called "Entropy and Death," in which Greg played an important role in helping me define my world view when I was thirty, which, at the time, was summed up as, "Things tend to go wrong. Then they get worse. And, eventually, something will kill you."
This doesn't sound like the punch line to a funny story, does it? And yet, that was the beauty of my friendship with Greg: No matter how bleak or pessimistic I could become, Greg and I could always, always find life funny. I uttered the above line about the inevitablity of death fifteen years ago on a cold, windswept beach on New Year's Eve and we spent the rest of the day laughing about it. The next morning, Greg and I drove to Shoney's for breakfast and read Dave Barry's year in review column out loud to each other, laughing until our faces hurt.
When I saw him last Monday in intensive care, he told me the story of how he'd passed out on Sunday and the ensuing adventure of getting swept off to the hospital in the ambulance. He thought it was funny that he'd crawled across the floor, unable to rise to his feet, to unlock the door to his house when he heard sirens, because he was worried that rescue workers would break his door. He'd also detoured to a portable heater he'd had running to turn it off, so that his house wouldn't burn down while he was gone. He was amused by the trivia of the things that had fixed in his mind. For instance, as he was lying on the floor unable to breathe, he'd called his brother-in-law so he could go pick up his daughter, but had never thought of, you know, calling 911. In writing, or even in person, I can't do justice to the telling. Greg had been an actor in high school and college, and always maintained the ability to turn his stories into performances. He had the gift of timing that never really translates into writing. He knew the number of beats of silence that should pass before delivering his punchlines; you are either born with this gift, or you aren't.
There's no way to pretend that dying at 48 isn't a tragedy. It's difficult to put a good spin on such a fate. But, those who knew Greg for a long time can testify that he lived his 48 years mostly on his own terms. I've spent most of my adult life working for two employers. I worked for one company for 8 years, my present employment is going on fifteen. For the most part, I hate my job, but lack the courage to just quit. I think too much about consequences. As a result, far two many hours of my life feel like they weren't truly my own; I've been selling them, at a shockingly low price, to others. Greg, on the other hand, was pretty much fearless when it came to quitting jobs. Until his daughter was born, he would change jobs on pretty much a weekly basis. He had a low tolerance for working for idiots, and wasn't afraid to just turn around and walk out if asked to do something stupid. Assuming he even went in to walk out. Once, we were playing spades with some friends; he had just started a job on third shift the week before. Eleven o'clock passed without comment, and sometime around midnight, someone finally asked, "Weren't you supposed to be at work an hour ago?"
He shrugged and said, "I quit."
"About an hour ago. They'll figure it out."
So, while he may not have gotten a lot of years on this earth, no one can say that he didn't spend the hours he had here doing the things he most wanted to do. He sometimes chose to enjoy the moment over deferring pleasure to work toward long term goals in a tomorrow that might never come. I guess, in the end, his instincts proved correct.