Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Tom with the love of his life
Most of all, Tom, I remember laughter. An instant connection based on geography, mutual interests, and parents who read and ask questions. We had a built-in nudge-nudge wink-wink which was repeatedly nourished by the rich theater of the absurd all around us. Your meta was my meta.

My earliest memory:  1998. Leaning back in our rolling chairs, headset mic at our mouths, we sprung canned answers (your favorite was “The numbers pretty much speak for themselves”) - in-jokes among and for the assembled phone jockeys - to frequently asked questions from people on the other end of the country. Just because. Because taking the job seriously at all times would have been surrendering to the notion that selling a product in a call center to make a handful of rich people even richer was our raison d’etre.

When they moved us from our cozy, centrally-located Embarcadero Center digs to the Big Brother building with all the security doors at the tacky, touristy edge of town, where we discovered after logging in that they’d taken away our breathing time between calls without forewarning, you walked out at lunch and never came back. And further stuck it to The Man when you thereafter applied for unemployment and they didn’t show up for the hearing. 

After your escape, I didn’t see you often, but when I did, we picked up right where we’d left off. I’d walk into your apartment and you’d say “How’s it going thar, Danny?” and it fit, though no one else has called me Danny since I stopped watching “Sesame Street” without making me wince.

Above all, I remember sitting in your living room chatting and listening to music. The space was big and open with soft colors that were easy on the eyes and tall windows looking out onto the street. On the wall behind the stereo was a framed “Whipped Cream and other Delights" album cover. On the floor was “The Tower of Conniff,” twenty Ray Conniff 8-track tapes neatly stacked. You were on the opposite couch grinning, gesticulating with your palm up. You took perverse joy in your roommate’s sadistic habit of subjecting me to Gino Vanelli’s deep album tracks, and worse.

We shared a love of The Golden Age of rock and pop, the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the Fab Four in particular (we both favored the Beatle with the granny glasses). 

You told me that Bowie’s sweet spot was the Mick Ronson albums “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Hunky Dory,” and “Ziggy Stardust,” and I later found out that you were right.

Unlike all the people who looked on with irritation or confusion when I exposed them to “Broken Hearts are for Assholes” or “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” you got Frank Zappa, and once even sang a line from “Who Are the Brain Police?”

We also shared a love of ’70s cars, before the style and the sex and the individuality of American automobiles gave way to an undifferentiated mass of glacier-melting SUVs and boxy, faceless economy cars. Though I never had a peek, I heard many times about your famous collection of car brochures.

We shared a home state and a concomitant fondness for beer and cheese, both for purposes of consumption, and as sociological signposts. I remember you sitting Indian style on the carpet in your living room with a small cutting board topped with crackers, a block of cheese, and a roll of sausage which you casually carved as we listened to disco or bossa nova or ‘80s hair metal. You betcha!

While the music played we shared stories about the residential hotels we’d lived in as twenty-somethings, when we were getting our feet wet in San Francisco, and discovered that we’d both lived at the Golden Eagle. We got a snort out of the incongruity between the glorious name and the mold-wraithed, roach-infested reality. 

Not incidentally, we shared progressive political beliefs. But thanks to you, our discussions generally weren't filled with impotent moral outrage or the finer points of public policy. Your specialty was a darkly comic appreciation of America's right-wing freakshow:  certifiable Republican congressman "B-1" Bob Dornan, plutocratic quack economist Larry Kudlow, gun nuts, fundies. The lies coming from these quarters were outrageous, but tens of millions of people bought the bullshit hook, line, and sinker. This was tragic on one level, and ridiculous enough to be amusing on another. People are strange.  

And of course, we gloated when Slick Willie outmaneuvered the prudes. 

Your bachelor pad was an oasis on my ride back from the ocean, through Golden Gate Park. Intuitively I felt that you would always be there for a drop-by, and looked forward to future visits. In my imagination, I'd come to the intersection before the bison and head south toward the park exit at 41st and Lincoln. Once in front of your apartment, I'd lock my bike to a post, ring your bell. The buzzer would go off, I'd pass through the two gates and go on up. You'd open the door at the top of the stairs, smile and say, "Danny."

Just like that. 


R.I.P. brother, wherever you are
Late last Monday night, when my ringer was off, I received an urgent call from a mutual friend.

Tuesday, in the dark early morning on the way to the bus stop, I heard the message and wondered why he’d called me all the way from Bangkok, so desperate to talk?

About an hour later - not long after I saw a Facebook status update with a photo of a smiling elderly woman under the caption “My lovely grandma turns 90!!” - I answered an incoming phone call and was informed that you’d been permanently grounded at 40.

Over the past week, as I stumbled on vintage cars while traversing the city, or saw tasty, ironic news morsels online, I thought I bet Tom would appreciate this, then had to back off and remember, re-calibrate to the present, where our shared history is cordoned off in my inner attic.   

When they scatter your ashes across the Pacific, I’ll try to hold on to these memories, and to my gratitude that we crossed paths, and fight the urge to ask myself what if

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Dan, for a very moving tribute. R.I.P. Tom, your friends will hold the good memories tight.