He stopped by our booth as the art festival was winding down. He wanted to sample our panini, but he also wanted to show us his wares. They were ceramics that bore the unauthorized likenesses of favorite cartoon characters. They could be used for certain illicit purposes if that was one's bent, but they were cool in their own right and he enjoyed sharing them with us.
He had a ready smile and a deep laugh; a kindred soul in a neighborhood full of the proudly idiosyncratic. We worked a trade of merchandise and banter, and he moved on to try his luck with the other vendors. Later that night we met him again over a beer to unwind from a long weekend's work. He introduced himself as Tommy Long, and pulled a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket.
He'd found a poem he'd written years back, and he wanted to read it to us. Struggling to decipher his own handwriting, scribbled and now faded, he couldn't hide the joy of it. It boasted about this our city, Chicago. It wasn't very good, but it made him happy and that was good enough for all of us. We parted that night and I fully expected to bump into him again soon on one of the many well-trod paths of our neighborhood.
Today, a little more than three weeks later, the news made it back to me through the local grapevine that Tommy Long had died at the too young age of 49. Known by some as the Mayor of Jarvis Beach, he took his usual swim yesterday evening but couldn't make it back to the shore. Rescued but not revived, Tommy Long passed on to the realm of legend at 7:22pm on September 18 at my namesake hospital.
I hope those laying him to rest will read that poem over whatever place serves as home to his remains. It would make a most fitting tribute, and I can imagine him smiling in spirit as they do.