When I was about 18, I worked in a small business of about 8 employees. They refurbished leased copiers for a Minolta outlet.
I spent most of my time, winter included, in the warehouse section of the building – forklifting copiers into boxes, pouring chemical corner-forms into those boxes to hold the copiers in place, taping them up and shipping them out.
For the most part, I was in that warehouse alone.
There was an guy who worked there by the name of Jeff Stark. (He and I met at my very first job – working for Dallas Music Industries / Sound City.) Nearly 10 years my senior, Jeff was the primary person who’d spend any time with me in that warehouse. This lasted for about a year.
Jeff had a fascinating story. When he was in his late teens, Jeff was in a horrible motor vehicle accident which left his face permanently disfigured. Not mangled, mind you, but some really serious scars. Which were probably worse before plastic surgery. (Ever see the bully in Three O’Clock High? Jeff looked just like him, menacing included. But he was a sweetheart.)
As a result of this accident, Jeff got a huge insurance settlement, which was held in trust until he turned 18.
Not one for money in the first place, Jeff drove around in a Chevette. He could have bought just about any car he wanted, but it wasn’t important to him.
Now Jeff played guitar – and had a really great rock and roll band. And this was the ONE place Jeff spent money. He equipped that band with the best PA and lights… because that was what was important to him.
And he truly loved music. When Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was released, Jeff loved it so much that it was the only thing he listened to in the car… for nearly a year. It was a two-cassette album – when one tape ended, he’d just put the other one in. Over and over.
I looked up to Jeff – but not just because he had a great band.
See, at this point, I had already fallen into the habit of recording at home – for about 6 years. Not having any real recording equipment to speak of, the recordings were thrown together using a real Rube Goldberg setup. As a result, they were interesting arrangements, and neat songs, however they were in NO way usable as real studio recordings – but they allowed me to express myself… even if it was only for me.
Well, Jeff was totally supportive. He not only listened to these crappy little tapes, but he liked them – complimented me on them. Treated me as a musical peer. This older rock and roller with a great band treated me like his little brother.
Well, I left that job, as did Jeff. And we stayed in touch, speaking or seeing each other once every 3 or 4 months or so.
About a year later, I was between jobs, and was home with the midday TV on… the noon news report came on, and they announced that a Jeffrey Stark had been killed the night before in a highway accident in Connecticut. At first, I was in total disbelief… thinking that it must be ANOTHER Jeff Stark…. but a quick call to friends confirmed it. Seems that, in a snowstorm, a tractor-trailer had broken down in the fast lane, and the driver never put his hazards on. Jeff hit the back of that truck at 65 m.p.h., and was killed instantly.
This was the first time I had ever lost someone. And the thing was, I loved him. And I never had the chance to tell him. Or hug him.
(To this day, it’s hard for me to hear “Comfortably Numb” without getting teary. Alone in a car with it, I’ll sing and close to weep. Sounds strange, but go through the lyrics for yourself. There is loss and longing in that song.)
From that day forward, I hugged my friends – even when they were guys who were a bit uncomfortable with it. They gradually came around and became huggers too.
But more importantly – I started making it a point of telling people that I loved them.
Never would have happened, if it weren’t for Jeff.
He’s buried in a cemetery in Mendham, NJ. On more than a few occasions, I’ve been to or through Mendham, but have never been to his grave.
I can’t say why. But I suspect that it’s because part of me prefers to remember him alive.
I do know this much. My life was irreparably enriched because of him – and to this day, I love more deeply and completely because of him.
As trite as this might sound? The next time you are near someone you care about – hug them. Make sure they know. I can tell you that every one of those moments are precious.
Jeff taught me that.
Even now, I miss you brother.