I drive by his gravesite each time I leave or come home.  He’s buried in a small hillside private cemetery I can see from our master bathroom window if it’s winter and the trees are barren.  And that’s how it was on January 16, 2012.

I spent some time with the Crazy Chef Guy that day.  They asked ahead of time if you wanted to view the body.  I said yes and was sent to an annex.

“Take a seat and we’ll call you.”

Lots of time went by.

Nobody called me.

I went up to this guy who looked like he was in charge of something.

“Can I view the body?”

“Of course.  Just go.”

I walked up an aisle to the front of the church to take a gander.

Waxy.  30 years old.  Car accident on a notoriously curvy and dark back road that snakes back to Charlottesville from Monticello.

That was on December 23rd.  He spent a couple of weeks in critical, was sent home, and the rumor mill says he went in his sleep from a blood clot.

The guy I’m standing in front of is real to me.  He died 4 days prior.  He worked in our cafeteria for years.  Picture Flip Wilson as a straight guy.  Quick with a million dollar smile and some smart-aleck stand-up chops.  I can’t vouch for his work ethic, but as an entertainer, he kept me in stitches on a lot of otherwise dull mornings.

Rolled six times.  Found in his car upside down.

Damn, dude I’m thinking as I’m standing over him.  Slow down.

Left a fiancé.  A brother.  Parents.

Damn, dude.  Going out at 30?  I was 56 that day, I’m 63 now.  That’s a lot of stuff to miss out on.

“Hey, dude,” I whispered.  “We had some laughs, didn’t we?”

I’d boiled it down.  ‘Nuff said.

I went back to the annex where we watched via closed-circuit TV on a big screen.

The church was packed.  Hundreds of people.  I was 20 minutes early and the church was already full.

I recognized the pastor immediately.  He is a Sunday regular on our local cable access channel 13.

It was all very southern Baptist.  Bordering on Nazarene fire and brimstone.  Not only was there a lot of gospel inspired hooting, the pastor made sure to include a 10-minute altar call at the end of his 30-minute sermon that impeached the unsaved to just throw it down right then and there.  The pastor spoke for Crazy Chef Guy.

“He would have wanted his death to be the vessel for your conversion.”

There were no takers.  Doesn’t hurt to try.

We proceeded to the cemetery.

New additions at the cemetery are rare.  We might see one burial a year.

I knew Crazy Chef Guy was checking in the previous day.  Just 24 hours before, I heard the first big clunk.  Mini-steam shovel.  Looked out the back window.  Saw the grave being dug.

So Crazy Chef Guy is no more.

I’m one lucky MF.  Or blessed maybe.

Blessed.  Lucky.  Interchangeable to me.

I’ve driven too fast.

I’ve been distracted.

I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel.

I’ve done all these things.

I’ve put myself and others in danger.  Knowing full well I was pushing the envelope.

The only difference between me and Crazy Chef Guy is I had longer to figure things out.  Longer to try and calm the hell down.  Longer to realize I’m not Superman.  Longer to understand I’m not the center of the universe.

Not to mention I had the advantage of scores of random elements that fell from the sky on the wings of angels, always just in time to prevent me from killing myself.

Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison bio has a beautiful moment near the end during the final interview segments with George’s friends from The Traveling Wilburys.  Tom Petty speaks about the day Roy Orbison died.  Roy was well loved.  George called Tom.

“Aren’t you glad it wasn’t you?”

Tom said he was taken aback at first, but then he said, “Well, yeah, I am.”

It’s okay to be with that.  At least that’s what I was thinking as I stood over Crazy Chef Guy.

For whatever reason, I am still here.

The more I drive, the more it becomes painfully apparent I am at the mercy of the gods.  Judy watched a car roll 4 times in front of her just a week ago.  There one second, gone the next.  Talking on the phone.

I’m dangerous enough to myself.  I don’t need one out of every three drivers swerving near me on the way to and from work every day.

But in the big scheme of things, I’m doing pretty damned good.

Godspeed to the Crazy Chef Guy.

And just be glad today it wasn’t you…