Walter Blankenship passed away Friday night. I believe he was 32. I may have seen Walt a few times over the years here and there, but I really didn't get to know him until he started working at Pizza Hut with me in the spring of 2010.
Walter Blankenship was a very complex man. I can't say that we were best friends or anything. I didn't know much about his life and he didn't know much about mine. But, over the year-plus that we worked together, we definitely formed a friendship and got to know each other to a degree.
On the outside, if you didn't know him well, he could seem abraisive and maybe even a little scary. There were more than a few times when he would get angry and I would do my best to stay out of his way. But, if he let you past that exterior, you would have been pleasantly surprised to know that he was a really nice guy. Once he showed you that he liked you, your relationship with him changed completely.
One of the things that surprised me the most was realizing how smart and talented Walt actually was. As I mentioned, in the beginning, that gruff exterior was still up. Then, a few weeks after I met him, it was a busy day at work and in discussing it, he made a Dante's Inferno reference. Shortly after that, Walt randomly one day began singing Myley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" and mentioned that he had learned to play that song on the guitar. I asked why. He replied "Why not?"
When work was slow, Walt and others would grab their skateboards and goof off in the parking lot. Pizza Hut seemed to be full of employees who were either good at skateboarding, guitar, or video games. I never saw Walt play guitar in a band, but I knew of a few of his bands; Pariah Carey being the most notable. By the time I met him, music was more of a hobby for him when he had a chance and I saw him play a few times here and there late at night after a few drinks.
Like a lot of people who live in Princeton (and work at Pizza Hut), Walt seemed directionless at times. He had hopes and aspirations and things that he wanted to accomplish, but he was seemingly stuck where he was. When it seems like you can't change your situation, all you can really change is your mood. Walt, like many others around him, would alter his mood through a variety of different means.
Sometimes doing that is fun. But then sometimes you do it so much and so often that it gets scary for those around you. Last summer, Walt got to that point. I would see him at work stumbling around and nodding off, and I worried about him. We all had those conversations behind his back, like "What are we gonna do about Walt?" Nobody was really sure what to do. I had one discussion with him. Not wanting to be too direct to make him mad, all I said was to make sure nobody could tell he was on anything while he was at work. He assured me that he was okay and that those were isolated incidents.
As summer turned to fall, Walt abruptly quit Pizza Hut and moved to Ohio. I thought it would be good for him. He had family out there and often talked about his desire to go there.
The last time I talked to Walt was around Thanksgiving. He had gotten a new phone and texted me his new number. He told me he was enjoying Ohio and had cleaned up his act. I was happy for him and told him that. We agreed to stay in touch. Sadly, we didn't. I never talked to him again.
A friend sent me a text Saturday evening asking if I had heard about Walt. I said no. He told me that he had died. I was shocked. I went to Facebook to see if I could confirm it and get some details. I found several people talking about his death. I assume more people know by now, as at least a day has passed. But, I sent out a few "Did you hear about Walt?" texts myself and had to fill some people in on the information.
It looks like the rumor mill has already started churning, as somebody left a comment on Walt's on-again, off-again girlfriend's Facebook page asking if we knew who had killed Walt yet. She then stated that his cause of death was aspiration, caused by excessive drinking. When you load your body up with depressants, it's harder for your body to protect itself against things like choking or being unable to breathe. As of right now, that's all I've heard regarding his cause of death.
I've blogged a couple times in the past about Walt. In the summer of 2010, I posted a blog titled "I'm fuckin blockin, Walt" which was a short video of a guy playing a video game and asking Walt for help. All Walt would say was "Block, block, block" which prompted him to reply "I'm fuckin' blockin' Walt!" The next time was a little more personal. In January of 2011, I wrote a blog titled My headshot for life. I looked at some issues I was having regarding life and college. I posted a conversation I had regarding those subjects with an anonymous Pizza Hut employee. If you go read that blog and look at the description of that guy I talked to, you'll notice that I described Walt.
Something a lot of people probably didn't know about Walt was that he had a Twitter account. I introducted twitter to a lot of my Pizza Hut friends back in 2009 and when Walt came back into the picture a year later, they introduced it to him.
I feel like his account, @Peteyman5000, was an interesting look into his head, as he often posted some pretty intense thoughts on everything ranging from the economy, the government, relationships, laws, and drugs. He got the account back in 2010 and tweeted for a few months before forgetting his password and not caring enough to find it out again. I noticed about a month ago that he had started tweeting again. His last tweet was sent February 1, and in an odd way is somewhat fitting - "Girl, you know i'm no good at court ordered goodbyes."
In April of last year, I was working with Walt and we were closing down Pizza Hut together. A grease trap started to overflow and I thought his initial reaction was funny, so I pulled my phone out and started recording. After hearing of his death, I decided to upload it to YouTube to share with his friends. If you've been around Walt long enough, you had surely heard him get angry and go on one of his infamous rants. It gets a little morbid near the end, as he talks a little about death, but taken as a whole, I feel like it's pretty funny and is an example of "Walt being Walt."
If anybody wants to share any thougths about Walt, feel free to do so here.