Thursday, March 3, 2016


I reconnected with an old friend a few years ago---the magic of the web made it possible. I met Tom in the first grade at Lincoln School for the next 12 years, Tom and I shared teachers, friends, lunches, music lessons, sports and plenty of fun, maybe too much fun. Our teen years were classic American Graffiti. We didn’t reconnect until we were old men.
Tom died of cancer yesterday, it was quick and over almost before it started. Other friends haven’t been as fortunate as Tom.
A couple of years ago, Tom told me a story about his days as a young bass player. Tom was a fine musician. In high school he played standup bass with a folk trio, he played in the school orchestra and tuba in the marching band. Bill Pond, the school band director had a big band and from time to time he called on young Tom to fill in on bass. Tom said it was strange to play gigs with a band made up of your teachers, parents of your friends, local insurance men, a radio station owner and other early to late middle aged guys. But Tom was making music, something he loved to do, a kid playing in a band with all these guys old enough to be his father. They’d pack their instruments in a caravan of cars to travel to the band’s gigs, Tom wedged in the backseat. Bottles of whiskey would be passed around the car and Tom was expected to drink his share and he did. Tom said he learned to love the music most of our generation hated, playing with those old guys gave him his love of jazz and most of all it was great experience for a teenage boy to be treated as a man by men. It was, as he said, an education.
At Lincoln School most of the kids were together for years. One of our group, Mary Boe has all our Lincoln School class pictures she brought them to a mini-reunion a few years ago. Looking at them, you notice that for five years we were all happy, healthy smiling kids. The 6th grade picture is different. In the 6th grade picture we look like kids in a co-ed juvenile detention center.
Our regular teacher, for whatever reason, was gone a few weeks after school started and we had a succession of substitutes and we drove them crazy.
We invented a classmate, Mary wrote his name in the attendance book, Frank Furter. The substitutes would take attendance, calling out Frank’s name, no answer, ever. Frank was the little boy who was never there.
Usually after our little friend Frank was gone for three, four days, the substitute would ask if any of us knew what was going on with Frank. One day she asked Tom (he was called Tommy at the time) if he knew anything about Frank. Sweet, innocent Tommy immediately said, “I think his Mom is sick.” The teacher bought it. Of course Frank wasn’t in class the next week and the sub would ask Tommy if Frank’s mother was still ill. Tom would frown and say, "I believe she is." 

We worked the scam for a couple of weeks and then the shit hit the fan. The principle, Leo LaBelle took over our class. Mr. LaBelle was an ex-Marine. All of a sudden we were all in Marine Boot Camp. Lincoln School was turned into Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island by Leo Labelle. In our 6th grade picture, Mr. LaBelle is the only person with a smile on his face.
When Tom and I were seniors at Central we were in a Government Class together. It was boring, the teacher was boring and he had a short fuse. One night we were sitting at the Kegs Drive In and we decided to over-study our assignments for government class. We’d would go to the library and dig up incredibly arcane facts about the senate, house, Supreme Court, whatever we were studying at the time. Tom and I would craft questions from our fact gathering and at the right moment in class, one of us would raise our hand and ask a question of the teacher. Our questions were on topic, but very difficult to answer or explain, we asked questions that wouldn’t have been out of place in a graduate school seminar. We tied the teacher in knots. He hated to call on either of us. About halfway through the semester we really had him going one day, the teacher was so angry he broke his clipboard in half.
Tom and I were sent to see Dr. Patterson, the head counselor, her response? “Let me get this straight, you two were sent to me because you ask hard questions?” Dr. Patterson smiled and said, “Get out of here and put all that effort into something productive, please.” We didn’t take her advice.
One of my favorite memories of Tom, who as a 7th grader, decided he was going to be the manager of our Park Board Hockey Team. Our team played as Midgets and as Juniors. I can still see Tom standing next to Coach Peters. Tom dressed in a dark winter topcoat, scarf around his neck, papers under his arm, making notes on a clipboard for the coach. We were the only kid team with shot counts, minutes played because Tom recorded all our stats.
A great father to Anna, a baker and chocolatier. Ride that comet Tom.


  1. We can only hope that someday somebody will write something like this about our moment on the planet. geo