Quentin “Q-Ball” Blake: November 2, 1980 – June 15, 2014
Today it is an honor and a blessing to pay tribute to a man who wasn’t just my best friend – he was a husband, a father, and possibly the craziest person any of us has ever met.
If you were to Google the phrase “wild card,” Q-Ball’s picture would be the first thing to pop up. He epitomized the footloose lifestyle many of us might have liked to live, but never gathered the courage to try. Luckily for his friends, he liked to take us along for the ride once in a while.
Many of you have woken up at 6 a.m. to Q-Ball knocking at your door, his van still running in the driveway, saying, “Get up! We have to go on an adventure!” It’s not that he didn’t know we had responsibilities; he just thought it was much more important at that moment to go on an impromptu trip to Denver, or Philly, or Dallas, or wherever else struck his fancy. And the funny thing was, many of us would go with him, even if it meant calling off work for three days and getting fired. He had a magnetism that drew others to him.
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In light of how suddenly and soon he got sick, I have to wonder if Q-Ball wasn’t born with the drive to live at a faster pace than most. I’m sure he didn’t know he wasn’t going to have the opportunity to grow old and sit on the porch with his grandkids, but maybe on a deeper level, he was pre-wired to pack 80-some years of excitement into 34.
Regardless of what made him the way he was, it was the joy of my life to act as his occasional sidekick.
My earliest memory of Q-Ball was when we were seven years old, and he decided we were going to ride our bikes to Hawaii and become big wave surfers. Obviously, we hadn’t progressed far in geography lessons, so we were not aware Hawaii was way out in the ocean and inaccessible by bike. (In retrospect, Q-Ball probably wouldn’t have let that knowledge derail his plans at all; he would have simply decided we could stop at the California coast and catch a barge the rest of the way.)
He came over to my house around 8:00 on a Saturday morning, waited for me to get permission from my mom to “go ride bikes,” and then off to the side, he suggested that maybe I should pack a bag with food, water, and a change of clothes. I immediately became nervous, because unlike Q-Ball, I was an anxious kid. He could climb the highest tree in the woods, jump off a bridge into a lake, or grab a snake off the ground without flinching, and I would be standing off to the side saying “Hey man, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
Which, of course, is what I said on that morning, to which Q-Ball replied, “Don’t worry! It’ll be fun.” So – as always – I did what he said, packed my bag, and we were on our way.
He had this little compass he wore around his neck wherever he went; he occasionally whipped it out and made it look like he was “gathering our coordinates.” At that point, though, I doubt he had any idea how to use it. So when he pulled out his compass and asked me, “Okay, which way is Hawaii?” I became even more nervous.
He finally decided Hawaii was “west,” so we set out in that direction, only my street went north-south. Instead of turning onto a cross street, we barreled through people’s yards. We kept having to get off our bikes and walk around fences and shrubs.
We weren’t even in the next town by the time someone decided we were up to no good and called the police. When Q-Ball told the officer what we were trying to do, he laughed at us. Q-Ball laughed, too. He could not care less that his trip to Hawaii had been thwarted; he planned to try again another day.
If at first you don’t succeed, right?
It only took thirteen more years, but as we all know, he eventually did make it to Hawaii (along with many other places), and he did learn to surf a big wave. In the process, he met Kimi and talked her into marrying him. The guy was unstoppable.
Q-Ball and I didn’t see each other for a few years when I went away to college, and he went off to travel the world. But wherever he went, he sent me postcards – and, later, pictures and videos – of all the places he visited. I’m sure I’m not the only one; I think most of us lived vicariously through Q-Ball.
But of all the adventures he undertook, I think his greatest journey was becoming a father. Anyone who has had the privilege of seeing him with Shana can see what a blast parenthood was for him. He literally never worried about anything, not because he didn’t care about keeping her safe or healthy, but because he had complete confidence that whenever she was with her dad, nothing could touch her. And he was right.
Not long after he and Kimi moved back to our hometown, something happened that showed just what a phenomenal dad Q-Ball was. Shana was six years old, and she was not happy about being uprooted from sunny, beautiful Hawaii and forced to live in the blandness that is Ohio. (Honestly, can we blame her?)
So Shana – remember who her dad is? – decided she was going to go off and live in a tree house in the woods. She actually went about half a mile into the woods behind their house, chose the tree, and started gathering sticks to build her new home. She disappeared hours at a time for days before Q-Ball caught on and followed her.
Of course, when he found out what Shana was up to, he thought it was a great idea. But he wasn’t too sure about her chosen construction method, so he went up to Home Depot and bought everything he needed to build a proper tree house.
At this point, Q-Ball was quite sick; he had lost a lot of weight and was sleeping more often. But he went out there every day and worked from dawn until dusk until that tree house was finished. Shana helped, of course. (I think we might have a future contractor on our hands!)
He finally finished the tree house about a month later, and as far as I know, Shana still goes out there every day. I can only imagine what she dreams about while she’s up there, remembering her dad and thinking about all the adventures she’s going to go on one day.
Of his many accomplishments, I would have to say that girl is the crowning glory of Q-Ball’s life. Every time I see her, she looks and acts more like her dad, and it’s a little bit scary. Not because I have any doubt that she can handle herself on a bike ride to Hawaii, or a water tower climb, or whatever other shenanigans she gets in to, but because I know that one day she is going to grow up and take over the world. We all want to leave a legacy, and I have no doubt that the one he left behind will be mighty.
I don’t know if Q-Ball has any idea what an inspiration he’s been to so many of us. He was always too busy living life to worry about what other people thought of him, and he didn’t need to worry anyway. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Q-Ball encounter a grumpy grandma or a stern police officer and leave them trying (and failing) not to smile. You just couldn’t help it around the guy.
In the short amount of time I was privileged to call Q-Ball my friend, I never learned to adopt his devil-may-care approach to life, but every day his memory challenges me to fight harder for what I want. He was proof that as long as you have your life and limbs (and sometimes even if you don’t), you can still achieve what you want in life. I’m convinced that even if he had gotten sick ten years earlier, he still would have found a way to travel the world, ride a big wave, and charm the most beautiful woman in Hawaii into loving him.
As we leave here today, I know we will remember and celebrate Q-Ball every time we see a beat-up red van, a compass, or some punk kid out trying to make his mark on the world with a head full of wild ideas.
Q-Ball is still wearing his compass, and it is going with him into the wild unknown today. May it lead him into a brighter, more beautiful adventure than he ever could have imagined.