So since I've moved into the neighborhood there's always been this local neighborhood guy, Tom, who would sit in front of the bodega. Pretty much every day he'd be out there watching the flowers. I think he swept the store sometimes and did some other random jobs like unbundling newspapers or whatever-- but mainly he was on the box watching over the flowers. Almost like a greeter for the bodega. I wrote about him a while ago. Linked here if you want. Can read it or skip it if you wanna...
Tom was always chatty and nice. He never begged for money with a cup or whatever-- but people would give him a buck or two when they came out of the bodega. He seemed to know everyone who was open to talking to the guy who sits infront of the bodega on a metal box. Total local fixture in the neighborhood. He always smiled. Always seemed chin-up proud and interested in conversation. He didn't bother people who didn't want to be bothered. Sometimes I'd go into the bodega and he'd hold onto Roscoe while I shopped-- Roscoe is allowed in the store but he seemed happy staying with Tom. And Tom surprised me every year because he always knew my birthday date. I'd walk past in mid-September and he be like, 'Todd, you got a birthday next week...' It made me wonder if he knew everyone's birthday.
I admit I did screw up a few christmases ago because I had a winter coat that was pretty new but I didn't wear often at all. I was a nice coat but third in line. So I decided to bring that coat to Tom for the holidays. It seemed like a good thing. But as soon as I showed up with the coat-- I could tell he was sort of offended by the offer. He thanked me but just asked me to set the coat down by the flowers. He didn't want to touch it. But he thanked me. It was awkward. I felt badly after that. I realized I'd crossed the line from friendly few dollars here and there nice nice neighborhood-- to him being 'needy'. I always regret that breach of protocol.
Over the years, I grew to appreciate Tom's presence. His hello was part of my routine. It was coolio extra if I was with people from out of town and we passed by Tom. I thought it was very neighborhood cool of me to pass by the local guy and we'd say hello to each other by name. It seemed small town friendly and legitimized my nice guyness in the offhours.
Sometimes weeks would go by and I wouldn't stop in the deli or whatever (and I admit I shyed away a bit after the second time he nicely asked me for a $20 "loan"-- which I did give him. But over the years he only asked for that 'loan advance' twice.) There's a few other regular streetbound people around the neighborhood who have stations and ask for money-- but none really have nearly the same impact on me as Tom. Like the church guy always seems a little too drunk and he seems grumpy if you stiff him. But Tom was always rock solid. Same guy day after day. Year after year. Smiling proud face, fan of Roscoe-- and birthday reminder. Same amicable mood.
Anyway, over the past few weeks I noticed Tom wasn't around at all. I wondered if it was the weather just being cold and rainy-- and assumed he'd be back in the Spring or something.
But Tom isn't going to be back. The other day, I walked by the box where he sat and saw this memorial. I asked the woman in the bodega what happened and she said Tom died of cancer. I didn't even know he was sick.
I just figured he was one of those guys who would be there forever.
I did go back later and write on the sign. I told him I missed him and thanked him for always remembering my birthday...