Thomas was tall and lanky, around 6-2, and had long hippie hair parted in the middle. Thomas was sort of permanently locked into the 1970s street stoner look, fashion-wise.
For the last 10 years of his life he lived in a little room on Shattuck in one of the last remaining flophouses in Berkeley. His mother lived in a nearby suburb. And she helped keep his life organized. Without her help I’m sure he would have sunk like a stone a long time ago.
His room was a complete mess. One time he applied for Section 8 and they scheduled an appointment to inspect his room. Thomas spent 3 weeks worrying about the inspection, trying to figure out some way to get organized and clean up his room. But it was hopeless.
Thomas spoke in a slow, brain-scrambled drawl. “Hey Ace. . . could uh you. . . spare me.. . uh. . a. . cigarette?” And he’d sort of lisp and lip-smack the words on account of having no teeth (he got a really nice, expensive set of dentures from Medi-Cal but he put them down somewhere and lost them within two weeks).
Thomas really liked Hendrix and stoner rock. One day he brought his electric guitar up to the Ave. It’s was one of those things with a little amp built into the guitar. The guitar was hopelessly out of tune. He screeched and flailed away for about 15 minutes, striking different rock star poses. “Ah really likes me. . some fuzz tone . . . on my guitar,” he drawled.
The odd thing about his guitar playing that day. It was the only time I ever saw him show any interest in anything other than existing or consuming. Thomas was one of those guys who had no hobbies or interests other than “What’s for supper?” or “Anything good on TV tonight?” or “Do you know where I can score some dope?” I’m sure it never once occurred to him to ask: “Gee, what’s this life of ours really all about?” Ya know? That dimension was missing from him.
Thomas spent about 20 years slamming dope. The worst street garbage you could imagine. Not surprisingly he got Hep C and many other illnesses. The last 6 months of his life he got sicker and sicker.
The last time I saw Thomas was on Halloween day about 10 years ago. I was crossing the crosswalk on Shattuck and Thomas was walking towards me. At first I didn’t recognize him. Because his face had this weird, waxy orange color that made his face look like a grotesque plastic mask. At first I thought it was somebody in a Halloween costume. And his body was strangely bloated.
“How ya doin’, Ace,” he said as we passed.
And his face had a look sheer terror on in. He had probably never given a thought to the subject of death. And now, suddenly, he was just realizing that he was about to die. And it scared and bewildered him.
That was the last time I saw Thomas.