My second week at Mt. Sinai (six years ago in June), I met Tom. Tom is a gypsy cab driver. He is in his late 50's (middle 50's then), is swarthy, heavyset, Jewish, talkative, and friendly. He has thinning grey hair, oily skin, and midnight bushy eyebrows that frame some very intelligent hazel eyes. He wears glasses, but always takes them off in traffic. Tom has well manicured nails, but very bad taste in cologne (which his cab always smells like).
I like to talk to cab drivers when I am in the mood for stories. They always have at least one. I pay attention to the storyteller almost as much as the story – usually the tale is somewhere between the teller and the words they speak.
Tom was an interesting guy. He is a native Brooklyn man. His father worked 53 years as a meat packer, then retired to Miami, where he died a year later. Tom's mother died when he was "pretty young". 28 years ago, Tom met and married his wife. He has a son by her, Daniel., who is my brother’s age, plus two days.
Tom is a sad and lonely person. He frequently works double shifts, but rarely back-to-back. He lives in Rockaway. He talks to his fares regardless of whether or not they care. I do actually care, and he knows it. I know more about Tom than some people I worked with, hell, even people I have lived with. As illogical as this may sound, it is because of cosmic coincidence.
Tonight marks the 12th time in nearly 6 years I have ridden in Tom's beat up black Lincoln town car. When you consider the statistics above, this is a fairly significant meeting of odds. I have not always met Tom at the same place. A few times were going to 125th street from Sinai. Once was 86th street. Once was freaking Houston Street. A few times it has been coming home late from 125th, as it was tonight. A few times it was early in the morning, at 116th street. Once it was 79th street, on the West side of the park.
I don’t take cabs everywhere, but I take them probably 3 times a week. The math still fucking scares me, especially since my meetings with Tom have not beholden to a pattern of time or place.
Tom and I had a good chunk of time to talk that first ride. Traffic on Madison was horrible. We talked a little weather, a little baseball. He asked what I did at the Hospital. I explained about computers. He asked if he could “axe me a complicated question, but one which would involve some complicated explanation. I agreed.
Tom had recently left his wife, at the time of this first meeting. He was several years her senior, and apparently, in the throes of menopause, she had taken on a lover. The divorce was bloody and messy. Tom lost a lot. Most importantly to him, his “wife fucked up their son” by lying to Daniel incessantly, and berating him about all his father’s shortcomings, and his personal failures. Apparently, Daniel was not going bright enough to end up being the lawyer or doctor she wanted, and every minute of his life with her was to be screaming hell because of it.
Tom, apparently, worked a lot of double shifts after his ex-wife and he split. He needed the money. He gave her everything.
He was infuriated that her boyfriend moved into the house he paid for over the years. He was even more infuriated when the boyfriend kicked out Daniel on his 18th birthday.
All this, according to him, was caused by emails his wife was fabricating. She, apparently (as I explained to Tom it was completely doable and simple) falsified many emails using his email address, and sent them to the son. To family members, and, ultimately, the court. At the time of this meeting, Daneil had just been diagnosed with depression, was living with his father, and the mother was suing him for alimony, and back child support.
I’ve never told Tom much about myself. Obviously, he knows where I live since I moved to the city. Before that it was just Westchester. The last time I saw Tom, was in August,. He knew about Richelle, simply as “my girl”. He knew about Marley, and drummer guy, and had a vague understanding of the life I wanted to build. He was genuinely surprised when I told him tonight she had left me.
“You doin O.K.?”
“You got another girl yet?”
“When did she leave you?”
“You should get another girl.”
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
“You and I, we are the same, we take care of our women, and they fuck us over for some big-dicked bastards who fuck them ragged.”
The least I could do was chuckle.
Tom does not know how old I am. He does not know about my family. He does not know what I do for a living. He knows I know about computers, politics, religion, baseball, current events, and physiological psychology.
Tom’s son went from depressed to seriously depressed. When Tom hired a lawyer to defend himself against his ex-wife (the same lawyer that bailed me out of more than one situation), I made sure he understood the nuance of the technical proof he would need to show the emails did not originate from him. He did something right – she dropped the case. His son still lived with him, he moved up the block to a bigger place.
His son went from depressed to problematic. He became erratic – breaking things, disappearing for stints. Tom came home one morning to find him passed out drunk. Eventually, his son tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. The light fixture he affixed the noose to broke under his weight, and knocked him out cold. Tom returned home to find his son unconscious on the floor, bloody, with a noose about his neck, and broken glass everywhere.
Daniel was committed for a time. Tom was working extra hours to pay for things. Daniel was diagnosed bipolar. There were regular doctor visits, as well as lots of medicines, even after he got out. Tom finally got a girlfriend, a Spanish nurse at the hospital his son was at. She was in her 30’s. She was, according to Tom, short, curvaceous, and amazing in the sack. Coming from someone who had only been with one other woman, I had my doubts about his quantitative analysis. The fact that she was interested in Tom to the point of sleeping with him was also highly suspect.
He didn’t talk to his ex-wife anymore. The ex-wife spent lots of time on the phone antagonizing the son. This became so bad the son began breaking the phone every time he talked to his mother. Tom got a cell phone.
Tom asks me my name every time he drops me off. I am a sympathetic ear, but not an impressionable one, despite the fact that I am sure he could pick me out of a lineup. Part of the beauty for him, must be my relative anonymity. Tom can’t believe how often we have run into each other either. I can’t recall getting the same cab driver more than once, aside from one Dominican guy who was always outside of Sinai like clockwork for about a month or so, who made a point of picking up my friend Ken and I. I found out later that Ken told him where and when to be.
Tom’s son has been re-committed. He beat up an upstairs neighbor. The neighbor dropped charges when he found out the full extent of the situation. The eviction notice Tom had been served as a result of the assault was likewise dropped. Tom’s landlord has offered him a smaller unit in the building, since he will not be able to afford the rent on his place, as well as his son’s medical bills. The state is helping, he says. The docs at the hospital (Lennox Hill) will not release his son. They are over medicating him, Tom says. Tom is trying to get him home. He is being told that the best he can hope for his son is a supervised living situation. He is worried his son will be taken in by a dope dealer, or a pimp.
The last time I saw Tom before tonight, I listened for about 20 minutes double parked outside of my apartment. The conversation ended with Tom getting out of the cab to show me the latest ding he had gotten when he got sideswiped by a delivery truck. He shook my hand. I could tell he would have stood there all night talking to me, in the cool and dark of the night, if I had given him the chance. Tom does not have many people in his life that listen, it seems. Tonight, he simply double parked and talked for about 10 before I skirted. I was too tired to listen well anymore.
I always tip cabbies. Tom is not telling me these stories for tips. He is either an expansive compulsive liar the likes of which I have never encountered, or a sad sack of a man I have crossed paths with in an astronomically unlikely chain of occurrences.
Tom’s Spanish girl went back to her ex-husband. Tom now lives beneath a pair of stewardesses, one of whom, he says, likes him. He plans on having this one, Margaret (I think) over for cocktails Saturday, which is the first day he is taking off in the past 10.
I don’t believe in higher purpose. I don’t believe in divine planning. I do believe there are patterns to life, time, history, and our existence. I do not believe there is any particular reason or control over these patterns. I do know though, that Tom always creates a great sadness, longing, and sense of hope in me – a miasma of extreme feelings I try to shy away from, because they sap my energy reserves too much.
Tom has given me his card with his number three times. He wants me to call after Tuesday, when they decide about his son’s placement. I won’t call. I never have.
I don’t know if I will ever see him again. My part in his pattern has been a good listener, who remembers his details, and understands his plight, or the need to weave such a fantastic web of lies.
Tom is as much a part of this town to me as my favorite bar, or my favorite restaurant. He is something that could only have happened here. He is an anchor in my life, but an anchor without a chain.
I don’t know what kind of boat that makes me.