A descent into madness

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_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

The first time I met Tommy was a good 10 years ago. He just called himself “Tom” back then.

He was a pure dynamo, 5-foot-nothing of balls and gumption and harebrained schemes. As a fellow Long Islander, I took comfort in his accent, his drive, his clean suits and shined shoes, the trappings of success in the place we both called home.

Tom was a businessman. A sharp one. When I met him he helmed a national chain of commercial office cleaners, with headquarters in Greensboro. His boardroom table was a pool table. His bathroom looked like it came from the future.

Great story: Tom said from the very first day in business that his was a national company, though he had just one crew and a couple of accounts in the Triad. And when he got the call from out of state — Michigan? Minnesota? — he put his crew on the next flight out there to take the gig and secure the contract.

I admired him, the way he took this abstract idea, pulled its threads from his own mind and built from them this… thing that spun off enough money to keep him in suits and fast cars. I was young, just starting to understand the concept of business as a form of creative expression. And I had never seen anything like this guy.

We lost touch, like people do; we would maybe run into each other every couple of years. The last time I saw him was when I had just started this company and he offered to be my CFO.

But while I was out on Saturday night covering a rock show I saw him on Tate Street. And I could barely believe my eyes.

Tom’s becoming known around Tate Street as the latest itinerant on the block, where so many homeless drunks have tried their luck before.

He was hammered — no big deal; it was Saturday night — but he looked like he had been that way for awhile. Like three or four days. And there was something to his eyes. Something that was missing, and also something that was new.

Tom’s becoming known around Tate Street as the latest itinerant on the block, where so many homeless drunks have tried their luck before. And it does not seem to be going well.

His right hand was wrapped in an Ace bandage, covering 26 stitches, he told me, then 10 stitches, then 17. He got them at a bar around the corner, he said, the night he claims to have lost a sum of money so large I’m terrified to check it out.

He’s been getting arrested a lot lately, he told me. Sleeping outside. With real sincerity he expressed a desire to run for political office. And then he stood on a patio chair and shouted an absolutely crazy story about me… that happened to be true.

Tom’s not the first of my friends to fall from high favor and land on the streets. But he is the latest. And I’ve learned that when a man gets like this, there’s nothing I can do for him. I’m hoping someone who reads this can.

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  • John Davis

    I met Tom about the same time that you did and was equally impressed with his business acumen. While it is a mystery as to what happened to cause him to lose all that he had built, it goes deeper than the easy answer that he flew too high and spent beyond his means. When I see him – and that always involves talking to him; he has a drive to engage anyone and everyone in conversation – it feels as if a switch has been flipped in his brain.

    Last week, he came into our shop, and when we tried to ignore him he went into a dressing room, pulled the curtain and laid down on the floor. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he had fainted from all the blood loss (reference the injury you mentioned), even though he hopped to his feet when I insisted he could not stay there. We finally had to call the police to get him to leave. I told him, “Tom! Something happened! You are not making sense!” He did not deny it.

  • Jessica

    I have seen this happen too many times…usually due to drugs in the beginning, then added problems due to homelessness and mental problems after they become addicts. This happened to someone who was a role model to me when I was in school – one of the best teachers I ever knew, and it breaks my heart every time I think about it. Also, former classmates who were top of the class and seemed to have it all together are either in prison, dead, or addicts…

  • Jay

    Tom is a great man who has helped many people throughout the years. To anyone who happens runs into him please take pity on him and take care of him. Offer to buy him a meal. Offer to get him some clean clothes. Offer to listen to his stories. He is not on drugs. He is not dangerous. He is actually very very funny. He is harmless and just wants to chat and tell you one of his many amazing life stories. He is unfortunately mentally ill. He suffers from bipolar disorder. He is a brilliant guy and his illness causes his brain to work 10x faster than yours and mine. He has attempted to treat this condition in the past with prescribed medications and it worked. However, he does not like the meds. They slow him down too much and cause him to be depressed.

    I am not in North Carolina. If I were I would seek Tom out and help him in any way that I could. If you are in the Greensboro area and have the pleasure of coming into contact with Tom I beg of you to do the same. Encourage him to get back on the medications. Listen to his stories. Share some stories of your own with him. Good karma goes a long way.

  • Jason Reiner

    Great reporting. Always love hearing about the old company I worked for.

    Tommy Lee for President!

  • Jason Reiner

    Hi Tommy, always good to hear from you! Yes, it’s me!…., Reiner, the same that was fired by your majesty back in 2007. I do miss the good ole days. It was one heck of a run! I remember some quotes: “too little too late” when I was dismissed after consecutively achieving your sales goals for 12 consecutive years! Another phrase I remember is “I’m going to hit bottom so deep that when I bounce back I’ll be higher then ever!” I especially like that phrase. It really encompasses your amazing life and your most recent path to the Whitehouse.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn6JynlkK_I

    tommy lee for PRESIDENT!

  • Theresa

    What happened to the Tom I knew….in Mankato? So sad.