Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mortality sucks

At least, that's what I can't help feeling today, after attending the funeral of a former colleague and good friend, Tom Wiloch. I first met Tom 20 years ago, when I took my first job at Gale Research in Detroit. The absurdly low pay of the job was more than made up for by the interesting people I met at the place. Tom had been at Gale for a while when I started working there (and in fact would often shake his head when he calculated I was in kindergarten when he started college), but you never would have guessed it by his unassuming manner. He showed no sense of superiority or entitlement (although he was brilliant and experienced), only friendship, a wry wit, and a ready chuckle that was often heard in the quiet of the office. As someone said today, he was the least likely guy you would have picked to suffer a fatal heart attack in his 50s.

Tom was laid-back, but you never mistook his cheerful calm for apathy or laziness. He was a brilliant writer and an accomplished poet, with a depth of intellect that was evident whenever you talked to him. When I left Gale after 10 years to move to London, he contributed several "inspirational" poems to my good-bye scrapbook. (Yes, a scrapbook. As I said, the great co-workers were one of the benefits of the job.) These poems were inspired by various famous poets—Frost, Longfellow, T.S. Eliot, Whitman—and he turned each one into a witty meditation on my leaving, yet unmistakably in the style of the original. My favorite was one "with apologies to Ginsberg":

She saw the best minds of her corporation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the cubicle maze at dawn looking for a box of Puffs,
angelheaded editors burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry percentage increase in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up belching in the supernatural haze of task-force meetings floating across the tops of computer screens contemplating Dilbert,
who passed through websites with radiant cool eyes hallucinating hyperlinks and Blake-light tragedy among the volumes of SATA

Diane, we're with you in London
where you are luckier than we are.
We're with you in London
where you must feel very smug.
We're with you in London
where we will sponge off you when we come to visit.

Strangely enough (or maybe not, knowing his fondness for the macabre), there is one of Tom's jokes that I remember more than any other. One day, while passing around a condolence card for a co-worker, I mentioned to Tom that I hated to be the last one to sign the card, because there are only so many ways to express condolences. Tom said, "Yeah, I guess 'Get over it, crybaby' wouldn't be very good." Now, whenever I start writing a sympathy card, my first (naughty) thought is: Get over it, crybaby!

Get over it? Not any time soon, Tom.

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