Next Time, Drew

I remember Drew. He was a very kind hearted person and by far the most consistently funny person I knew. Unfortunately as I have learned throughout life that the people we meet who are most funny are usually the most unhappy individuals as well.

I met Drew while working at my (then) job in Texas. He was brought into the Industrial Design department as one of the Leads. Each Lead had 2-3 people who didn’t necessarily ‘report’ to that person, but they were responsible for managing and overseeing the daily tasks that needed to be accomplished in order to fulfill the overall job we were all employed to complete.

I had already worked at CTAS (Chrysler Technologies Airborne Systems) for a short while, but I’m guessing not more than one year at the time Drew was hired. I can say this with certainty because at the time we only had one vehicle and Irene drove me to work and picked me up every day.

Drew was a large person, a few inches taller than me but with more weight on him than he should have had. Fortunately for him, his size did not impede on his physical ability to move around due to his very early forty-something age. He was not huge, but almost. He was big.

I remember shortly after he started working at CTAS that I had a rough time getting used to his incessant talking and sarcastic humor. I didn’t know it at the time but this was his defense mechanism, and this was the way he coped with his own outlook on ‘self’. His insecurities were hidden in jokes and laughter, and I believe he probably struggled with his own gender as well. There was never any woman in his life, and there was no man either.

In the morning, while Irene drove me to work I would often be complaining about Drew and how obnoxious he was. He was like the little kid in elementary school who just can’t shut up. The one who is always craving and receiving attention. The one who is essentially saying ‘Hey listen to me, listen to me!’

He loved to tell stories and I found it irritating that in a short span of time, I was often listening to his repeated stories. To me it was like I was watching reruns on television and my patience fuse would frequently run short with him as a result, but he just took my annoyance and allowed me to be me.

One day when Irene came to pick me up from work, Drew and I were walking out at the same time and he indicated that he wanted to meet my wife. He had heard about Irene for sometime now and when the two of them met, he chatted up a storm. This was an instant perfect friend match for Irene because she became part of the chat-storm and instantly there were common interests and a lot of laughter.

I remember clearly that day, but I don’t know why. Irene was driving our Honda Accord and she was parked facing southwest in the drop-off, pick-up zone at our building. I know this because the drivers side was alongside the side of the building and Drew had stopped to talk to her on that side. The sun was on it’s slow arc to the West and there was a lot of light reflecting off the West side of our building.

Drew just stood there talking and talking as if there was no rush to do anything else in the day. I apparently was still getting used to the whole Southern Hospitality thing because I wanted to GO and there seemed to be no sense of urgency for anything. I do believe that this very first conversation was when Drew and Irene started talking about the then soap opera, All My Children. Not at all sure how that came up, but it did.

I remember Irene telling me afterwards that I needed to be nicer to Drew. She saw the person in him that I did not initially see. In hindsight, she saw a vulnerability that made Drew, Drew.

In time I grew to understand his type of sarcastic humor and better understood who he was. I found that I was always laughing when around him, and was able to ‘read’ him well.

It didn’t take long before Irene and I started to spend a lot of personal time with Drew and we all became very good friends. One year we drove to Dallas to experience the annual Dallas Blooms gardens together. Drew loved flowers. He loved architecture, and he loved the beauty of good design. The three of us would go out to dinner together, the movies, lunch, whatever. He knew a lot about everything. He was kind of a know-it-all in the literal sense. He read like crazy and was able to multi-task with everything that he did. He was a fast talker and if you weren’t paying close attention to his conversation you’d miss an important (or not-so-important) detail because soon he’d be talking about something else.

I think it somewhat bothered Drew that I didn’t have a subscription to any newspaper. Not that I was against reading the newspaper, but we didn’t have a newspaper subscription at the time. He would consistently ask me in his snarky manner “Why don’t you read the newspaper?” My snarky response to him was always the same, “Why should I waste my money on a newspaper when you tell me about the news every day!” He would give me his ‘look’ of irritation and slightly tilt his head, cross his eyes, and slightly stick his tongue out of one corner of his mouth. Then he’d move on. Not to his cubicle, but move on to his stories.

There wasn’t a morning where Drew wasn’t telling stories at my cubicle. I would arrive in the morning and sit in my chair, Drew would walk over and stand at the entrance of my cubicle and lean on one of the partitions. He had this way of ‘perching’ his upper body on his elbow so that his upper arm and hand had easy access to be able to pick at the top of his ear. This was something that he just always did, very carefully and very meticulously. The mornings always began with much laughter only because when Drew shared a story, well…that’s how Drew shared a story.

It was while we lived in Texas that I started to play the piano again. I had played for four years when I was a kid but then stopped because I entered Junior High School and I guess was either too busy to practice or just too lazy to put in the time and effort to improve. Much time had passed since I last played and now I regretted quitting so long ago. Twenty additional years under my belt would have been amazing for my playing ability.

We purchased an inexpensive keyboard so that I could play. No sense in spending a lot of money on something that I wasn’t going to devote the necessary time and take seriously. I practiced regularly and soon became, what I thought, almost as good in my playing ability as when I stopped playing as a kid.

For whatever reason, Drew always wanted to hear me play. Perhaps because I talked about it so much. I loved how I was able to come up-to-speed in my playing ability within a relatively short period of time. When Drew came to our house, he’d always ask to hear me play and I always had an excuse to not play for him. ‘Next time Drew, I need more practice before I play for you’. My struggle with perfectionism was really the reason. I didn’t want to play for him unless I was able to play perfectly. Actually, I didn’t want anyone to hear me play unless I was able to play without flaw.

Years went by and we moved out of Texas. Drew had also moved on to another job in a different part of the country. We spoke on the phone often though, whether it be he and I chatting, or he and Irene. He could talk for hours if you let him. Now, located in near opposite sides of the country, our daily discussions, cubicle visits, and home visits were missed. At least we remained in touch.

There were, I believe, three instances when Drew came to California on a business trip and he would visit Irene and I at our home. We’d all go out to dinner and have a great time and he always insisted on paying. Drew was a very generous person. Drew was the same Drew.

Once on one of his trips to California he asked me again to play the piano as I had always promised to play but had never followed through. Again I told him no, next time. My high level of personal expectations made me too nervous to play because I didn’t want to make a mistake. I promised Drew that next time we were all together I would play. I remember him saying that he would hold me accountable and that he would hear me play. I was already feeling the pressure but at least felt a little better because I was ‘off the hook’, this time.

One afternoon while at home, I received a phone call from a mutual friend. The message…Drew had died. He was found alone in his apartment, sitting on a chair where he had his heart attack days prior. He was only 50.

The very first thought that came to mind was that Drew never got to hear me play the piano. I knew Drew for years and selfishly never played the piano for him. The fact that Drew never got to hear me play the piano is still a burden to me.

Drew had quite an impact on Irene and me, and we still talk about him from time to time. December 10th is his birthday and he would have been 67 this year.

Over the years, I have continued to practice and play my piano at least 5 days a week. I love to play and will typically practice for 2 hours at each sitting. I am not selfish of letting other people hear me play anymore, how could I be? Drew taught me a valuable lesson.

I hope he is listening to me play now, I will never again say ‘next time’ to anyone. As if I could hear his voice today, I can just hear him saying to me as I practice, “Aren’t you done with that yet?”