Tommy asked for forgiveness. Tommy Panos and I were first cousins; our mothers were sisters. Our families lived in the same city, Fresno, then on the same block, then right next door with a pass-through in the fence. Our families were close, and I am an only child, and so I always looked up to Tommy as my big brother. He was five years older than me.
I remember when I was about four years old, Tommy’s family would come visit ours on West Cornell Ave., and Tommy would push me around the block on my tricycle — me on the seat and Tommy standing on the step behind me, steering and pushing with the other leg as on a scooter. Typically, the ride started out fun, and then got exciting, then got thrilling, then got terrifying as Tommy jumped off and I frantically tried to steer until my trike slowed to a manageable speed. Then I was ready for another lap.
A few years later we both lived on Griffith Way. I would beg to hang around with him. Tommy would offer to hike me on his bike to go to the 7-11 to get candy or a slurpee. I would get on the handlebars of his Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. Tommy would take off and by half way down the block we would be moving pretty fast. That’s when he’d simply jump off the bike and see how far it would stay up with me on the handlebars before it went crashing over. He’d laugh hysterically, but then come and get me up and hug me, and then buy me some candy.
I would beg, beg, beg for him to take me on his paper route (Fresno Bee) with him. This meant he would hike me on the back of the heavy-duty Schwinn with the paper bags. I don’t know how he survived hiking me along with all those newspapers. Getting to go along meant helping too, and that was fine with me. He would ask for papers and I would pull them out and hand them to him as needed. We would always stop at the 7-11 and get black pepper beef jerky, some candy or a coke.
There was only one catch: Rover. The huge carmel-brown dog at the corner of Swift and College or so. I can’t remember if it was a hound or what. I just remember that Tom would miss that porch and I would be sent to go get the paper and put it on the porch. That meant facing Rover. That deep bark blew my hair back and set me to tears. Usually Rover was lying around right in front of the porch and I would start to inch my way toward the ivy to hunt for the paper, the dog bellowing at me the entire time. Tommy would laugh and laugh. Then, he’d buy me all kinds of treats at the 7-11. We’d sit around and he’d counsel me on bikes and cars and making paper airplanes, anything else that his quick mind conjured. Somehow, I never got bitten. I also never quit looking up to him, appreciating his spirit, sense of fun, and sheer coolness. But I never got over my fear of dogs. It was nice of Tommy to try to break me free of it. Sort of.
We told all these stories before, when Tommy was my best man. We laughed and laughed, and ate and drank, and laughed some more. By then, he had gone off to San Francisco and success selling bond investments. He still had his sense of fun and his need to share everything he found and everything he enjoyed with those around him.
Once when I was about 17, i went to the Bay Area for a concert, and, of course, my friend and I stayed with Tommy. When my friend left the next day, Tommy had insisted I stay the weekend to hang out with him and said he’d get me home. Sunday afternoon came and no arrangements had been made. Tommy called an agent and arranged to fly me back to Fresno. The next flight out of Oakland was in about an hour. We took off from his house in Orinda, drove insanely fast to the airport, and ran to the counter. He slapped the ticket in my hand, and gave me a push. I ran through the terminal and got to the plane with the hostess impatiently holding the door open for me, the last person to get on, for my very first plane flight ever.
There were many other firsts for me and Sarah with Tommy. And Tommy always insisted on paying for everything. Our first time dining at Fourth Street Bar and Grill in Berkeley, back before anything else was there at all; our first time at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and at the famous Stars, and innumerable other restaurants, bars and theaters. My first, and only, show at ACT to see Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And to the Bammies, and concerts, and to nightclubs here and gone. He took me on my first hike up to Cataract Falls on Mt Tam, and after the hike, straight to Frogs Spa for a soak and a massage. He loved food, and loved to cook, and the list of foods and dishes he introduced me to is endless.
Tommy had keen senses and became a connoisseur of everything in which he took an interest, from primitive art to jazz music. But more than that, he could not really enjoy anything unless he was sharing it with those whom he loved. One of the things he loved to share was people. He introduced so many people to each other, and gathered so many smart, interesting, and wonderful people around him, he was the hub of an incredible 360 degrees without separation. He was the most generous person I have ever known or ever will know. He wanted to do everything for everybody. He wanted to at least do something for each person he ever bumped into.
Somehow, in a way we will never understand, this desire consumed him. His most selfish act was to take himself away from this world and all those who love him so much, in order to escape the feeling that he had to be there for everyone.
Tommy. Honey. Brother. I love you. I miss you. I forgive you. I hope your wondrous spirit will continue to teach me and guide me.
Obit in sfgate.