Corey Pope died last week.
On the one hand, the death of a fellow human being is a rather unremarkable event. People die all the time. But I happened to know Corey. I knew him during a time of life when we were both young(er), free spirits and when the world was new. At least, that's how I look back at the mid-to-late '90s through rose-colored tints. In truth, it was often a miserable, lonely time for me but, as with most things, distance has put a shine on the experience.
Corey and I weren't close. He was a regular at Chester Street Bar in midtown Champaign, He also, sometimes, worked there, as did I from 1998-99. I never knew quite what to make of Corey. It seemed that he almost always had an impish grin. It was both charming and unsettling. He liked to drink, and to serve drinks. He liked a lot of the dance music that was played at the club. He was formerly a medic. There was, as is the case with many people, more to him than met the eye.
Rakish, thin, with chocolate-colored skin, Corey was capable of evoking various emotions, from leaving me speechless, to making feel me grateful, to making me wish he'd go away or at least let-up from teasing me. It ran the gamut.
I'll never forget the occasion when we were chatting, and he casually mentioned that he went tanning. I laughed at first, until it became clear that he was serious. Then there was the time, on my twenty-third birthday, when a night at C-Street, full of folks buying me drinks, resulted in an episode of me passing out at the club. After the bar was closed, Corey and Ryan (another employee) took me between them and helped me to Ryan's car, so I could be taken to elsewhere. We went, as I requested, to my mother's house, wherein I remained in a stupor for most of the next day.
Corey could also be a tad grating at times. The aforementioned drunk incident, for which I was very appreciate to him and Ryan for getting me to safety, was later overshadowed by Corey's insistence, for the next several months, of bringing-up the episode at inopportune times. "I remember that night you got drunk," he would say. "We asked you where you wanted to go, and you said, 'Take me to my mommy's.'" Now, for the record, I did not say "mommy." I never do that. But, the point had been made. I would never live it down.
There was the time when, after finishing a night's DJ set at C-Street, Corey entered the DJ booth and mentioned how much he liked Diana King's version of the Say a Little Prayer song. I had played it earlier in the evening, and he asked if he could "borrow" the CD of it. Sure, I said, hesitantly. Dear reader, I never saw that CD again.
I did see Corey again, here and there, around town over the years. The most recent time was, coincidentally, just a few days before he died. I was driving down Neil St. in north Champaign, and he was walking on the sidewalk. I slowed down for a moment, thought of asking him if he needed a lift, but then thought it might be awkward, and drove on. The next week, he was dead of cardiac arrest at 44.
Say a little prayer for him, if you would.