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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