In thinking about Greg, I am reminded of a comment made by satirist Tom Lehrer, in introducing the song “Alma” on the album That Was The Year That Was, where he said “It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”
That’s how I felt about Greg.
Greg is, was, a literalist. Greg’s online handle was “sarcasm is a way of life” but I think that was a cover.
Greg took literalism to a new extreme, time after time again.
Many things that my parents or I would say that were not meant to be quite literal, he would take to the nth degree.
I think that his literalism softened a bit in the last few years.
Although, in the past decade, Greg lived first in Kingston and then in Philly, we spoke several times a day, in the past 2-3 years perhaps maybe many more often than that.
In addition to his other medical problems, Greg had developed sleep apnea and that made his work and life schedule extremely difficult.
He started to participate more in working with me, writing and editing. He wanted, of course, to write about sports and baseball and statistics, and sometimes technology, but he acquiesced to helping me with my research and writing as well.
His literalism, however, made him the consummate editor. It also made him agonize sometimes over the turn of a phrase or a particular word for hours.
On the other hand, if I needed a word, a phone call to Greg would resolve that.
Whom am I going to call for that word now? – I keep asking myself.
When we were children, Greg’s medical issues were well known to my parents but not to me. I sometimes didn’t understand why they were being so cautious and careful around Greg – and this was hard for me to accept.
I enjoyed both playing with Greg and teasing (some might call it torturing) him a lot but we did conspire on some things that were fun.
For example, the time we switched rooms. He was perhaps 5, I was 11. I am not quite sure why I thought of this but my mother finally figured it out when she saw a chest of drawers slowly moving past in the distance.
Greg would also do the opposite of what I did. He didn’t want us to compete. If I went to the right, he would go to the left. If I took French, he took Spanish. If I played the piano, he studied guitar. He even let it be known that his major at Harvard was AMERICAN history because I had studied EUROPEAN history.
It was only this past week that I really gained a full sense of the wide circle of friends Greg had acquired. He kept friends and family – to a great degree – separate. I knew he had sports writing friends, baseball friends, comic book friends, Harvard friends, Bayside high school friends, friends from Beechhurst, but I didn’t know very many of them although occasionally I would run into them by accident. Once, a writer called to interview me for Slate magazine. Somewhere in the middle of the interview, he said “by the way, do you know Greg Spira?”