Friday, November 16, 2001

About Tony

Setting: This morning, front entry, my company.

Me: Good morning, Karen [receptionist]
Karen: Good morning, Christine, how are you doing today?
Me: Great, and you?
Karen: Good, and you?

Luckily I made it to the next door and into the hallway. Otherwise that could have gone on all day.

More work related info: Today is the day I normally would relinquish possession of the A9 Parking Tag and give it to the next user in line. I checked with our Admin and she said since next week is a short week should just keep it for the three days so the next user can get an entire week. She also told me that she thought the gifts were wonderful and commended me on throwing a great party.

I thanked her on both accounts. The parking pass remains mine for three more work days, and I rejoice.

BNL, tomorrow night. cough. hack. wheeze. Oh why do you taunt me O Lord, why?! Well, I will be sure to dose myself with the best non-drowsy cough medicine ever and thoroughly enjoy the show. After all, I've adored these guys for so long, and this is my first time seeing them. I'm not letting a little phlegm stand between me and joy. In a couple of days I'll be 35, which slightly freaks me out, but I'm at the core comfortable with my age and okay with where I am in life.

Aside from my BNL obsession and my cold, there is nothing interesting to report. So I've decided today to write about an old friend who has been gone for quite some time, about six years this Christmas to be precise. His name was Tony.

We used to work with Tony at this coffeehouse in Marblehead, MA which has unfortunately folded. It was a great place to go while we were in college and of little money... then we got to know the staff, then we got to volunteering (which got us in for free, super bonus for that no-money college status) and then after that I ended up doing the booking and publicity for the shows. I think we get sucked into stuff a lot, and this was one of the better ventures we have been involved with.

Tony worked in the coffeehouse kitchen and was in his early 50s. From what we came to learn over the years in getting to know him, in his salad days he was a speech therapist, married, with two young boys. But he was in a car accident in the 70s in Pennsylvania, and ended up with a rogue bloodclot in his brain which resulted in right side paralysis, and a near complete loss of speech. Quite a horrible blow for a speech therapist.

And quite a blow for a man who was professional, fastidious, and proud.

And now there he was, divorced, estranged from his wife, far from his boys, kind of sad, and handicapped. Tony landed in his childhood home of Marblehead, in a large rambling Victorian, which was ill kept and messy, not because of lack of care on his part but lack of ability. He'd rented out the upstairs to people over time, some of them more noble than others. And we were living in Beverly and had to move out. He offered the upstairs to us for a song. 500 bucks a month. If we'd help him keep the property.

It was a disastrous mess up there. Years worth of abandoned furniture, boxes, crap, cracked window sashes and a layer of dirt thick as my arm is long covering everything. The last tenant had left an ton of belongs behind, most of which we threw out, except for this really cool army satchel which I used as a pocketbook for a few years and a very strange journal called "the book of knowledge" which we read and laughed at, and turned into a notebook to take messages from phonecalls in. (She showed up a year later looking for her stuff and was angry that we'd thrown her stuff out. I don't know what the hell she expected, she was a serious pothead, and someone who I am sure was a nice person at heart but abjectly clueless to the core).

It took me three months to get the upstairs livable. I cleaned every day after work, sometimes with Jessica (who was about 1 at the time) with me, other times joyfully alone. Tony would come up to check on me sometimes. He couldn't speak very well, but could let me know where things should go (trash, basement, keep it) and he was happy to see the place getting cleaned up.

We moved in July 4th weekend, 1993. We lived there until August 1995.

It was the best place I've ever lived. Downtown Marblehead, walking distance to my favorite Mexican restaurant. Walking distance to my job. A two bedroom, one bath, huge eat in kitchen, wonderful living room with little built in mini-bar, which we used to water the plants and kept guest beer in. Common entrance, no locks on the doors for him or for us, we could spend time with him, feel comfortable there, and play in the yard to our hearts content. He gladly let us get Missy, and loved having her there. He loved dogs. Doug would go downstairs and watch football with him. Because of his inability to speak, watching a football game was sometimes painful, especially if the Patriots were losing. Tony was full of nonverbal communications, and actually was quite happy to have Doug there with him to watch the games. They had a good time together.

Doug was inspired by Tony and later enrolled in Northeastern University and got his Masters in Speech Language Pathology. Tony was very relaxed around Doug, and actually able to speak more than one or two words at a time when with him. I think our being there made him happier.

At the coffeehouse, he was friendly, supportive to customers, helpful to the musicians, even if only half his body worked. Whenever anyone would tell him something, he usually would say "Oh, yeah yeah yeah... good." And that'd be the pat Tony response.

Once when I was very pregnant with Jessica, another volunteer (if you could call him that) named Bill was whining about being tired and having a back ache. Tony and I were the only other people there, and between the two of us we were both rather infirm in comparison to this Bill.

I went down the hall to get one of the very heavy racks of chairs, there were two, and Bill didn't join me to go get the second. When it was apparent that I'd have to get the second rack of chairs, Tony stopped me. He non-verbally communicated that Bill better go get the other rack, and when Bill refused, Tony punched him with his one good hand. Klocked him right in the cheek.

Bill left I think. All I know was I was surprised and shocked, and laughing all at once. That the healthy lazy male got whacked by the handicapped one. Tony and I went and got the rack of chairs. He was so angry and so indignant at Bill's refusal to help, and was so upset that he lost it like that. His frustration level was kind of low, and he'd get a tad flummoxed at times, but more or less I always was impressed at his ability to get stuff done more so than many able bodied humans out there.

I don't think anyone deserves violence, by the way. But I think Bill was taught a lesson that day.

Tony baked like a madman. He made stuff up. He'd sometimes bake the most transcendent desserts, other baking expeditions would end tragically. But his specialty was a lemon poppies cake that I can still taste when I close my eyes and think hard enough.

He loved music. He would sometimes get in his specially adapted minion and drive great distances to Western Mass or Vermont to hear music. Our coffeehouse closed in the summer, but he was on every FolkWeb mailing list out there, and would go see people all the time. Once he caught a double booking for Vance Gilbert and had me call him to notify him. Vance had managed to get himself booked at two coffeehouses in two different states on the same night. Because Tony was on every mailing list, he caught it. And we let him know.

Tony died right before Christmas 1994. We hadn't heard him go in or out of the door for a day or so, which wasn't unusual, because he would sometimes hole up in his apartment for a few days at a stretch if he was feeling kind of down. But Doug was leaving for work one day and noticed his TV was on at 3 in the morning. When he came home, the TV was still on, and the mail was piled up. One day was one thing; two days another... so he knocked. No answer. Knocked again, no answer. He opened the door and didn't see Tony in his large wingback leather chair in front of the TV, where he expected to maybe see him sitting asleep.

Tony had gone to lay down on his bed, perhaps to take a nap. He sat up, and the aforementioned bloodclot, which had been sitting idle for about 20 years, decided to finally move. Doctors had told him it would. When he had the accident, they said it could be in a day, in a month, in a few years, but eventually that bloodclot would move, and kill him.

What a thing to live with inside your head for 20 years.

I came home from work to find the town medical examiner and a hearse in front of my house parked in Tony's handicapped spot, which he never used (he always parked in the driveway behind the house). It was a crushing blow. The Christmas before I'd miscarried a baby; this Christmas I lose one of the nicest men in my life.

Tony was cremated, his remains are in the Waterside Cemetery in Marblehead if you ever want to swing by and say hi. Right along the water, there is the Giles family plot. A small inlaid stone marks his final resting place, with a view that a folk musician would gladly write a song about.

His sons were the executors of his estate and sold the house. We were offered first dibs on it, and in 1995 paying $220,000 for a house was way above what we could handle (the house is probably worth upwards to about $500,000 or more now). I packed up a great deal of Tony's belongings. We took the spices from his spice rack. I still have the poppy seeds.

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