The Passing of a Friend

I met Tom Dark at Ebertfest the same year I met Roger Ebert there.  Unlike Ebert, who I didn’t meet until the second day of the festival, I met Tom on the first day, between showings of Metropolis and Natural Selection.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I was going to seek him out, as he had been a bit of a dick lately on Twitter.  Convinced by a mutual friend that he was not like that in real life, I decided to approach him if I saw him.  Here is what happened:

During the intermission, I heard that Tom Dark was lurking around, and in fact I saw him on the way back from somewhere, talking to vanyc. When I went up to him, he said, “And who’s this?”

“Litdreamer,” I said, and stuck out my hand.

That caused Tom’s face to light up as he gave me a big bear hug and said, “Now we have someone to pick on,” and playfully shouldered me. Then he told me, “It was all in fun. I hope you know that. Thanks for being a good sport.”

Soft spoken, kind, like a big teddy bear. And as I walked away to head back to my seat, I found myself faced with the impossible task of trying to rectify the cursing curmudgeon on Twitter with the soft-spoken, sweet man I had just met. I guess the Internet does turn people into trolls.

Two years later, I still can’t think of a better way to describe him.  He was also intelligent, a good writer, an excellent storyteller, and a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is usually when I would ignore him on Twitter.  He was a curmudgeon, but a likeable curmudgeon.  And after all the picking he had done on me before the festival, he wrote this about me on his blog, which I took as a high compliment:

Owing to the insolently slow progress of my own Secret Plan for Global Domination, I can afford to skewer the odd ego now and then – even relentlessly – without fear of consequences. “Careful who I may meet on the way back down”? Fiddlesticks.

Take, for example, Greg Salvatore, @litdreamer on Twitter. He’s here too. I’ve been waving my “VIP” pass gaily in his face and monkeyshining about the free food I get. He’s a good sport. Tip: whether you’re on the top or the bottom of the banana, don’t attack people you don’t think you’d love in other circumstances.

(And yes, he did wave his VIP pass in my face.  That bastard. ;-))

When Ebertfest ended, I still hadn’t gotten my photo taken with the man, and I had to head to the airport.  Luckily (and most things in my life have happened because of luck), he was right outside the theater, and I was able to get this wonderful photo with him, my last picture from Ebertfest:

6. My Nemesis, Tom DarkAlmost two hours ago, I discovered that my friend, Tom Dark, has died.  I have no details of how he died, or where, or when.  I can only assume it happened tonight.  Like with Ebert, I found out through Twitter.  It seems unfair that both men would die the same year, and yet oddly appropriate, since Tom came to “Internet fame” through him.

I have yet to go back to Ebertfest.  I was thinking I might go back next year if I don’t decide to visit my brother and his wife on the East Coast.  I will be turning 35 during the festival, and I can’t think of a better group of people to celebrate it with.  It just saddens me that two of the people I hoped would be there won’t be able to make it.

Rest in peace, you big teddy bear.  What I wouldn’t give to hear the conversations you’re having with Roger now.

UPDATE: A memorial fund has been established to cover funeral expenses for Tom.  Go to to contribute.  The link is also provided in two of the comments below.


Remembering Roger Ebert

This is one post I wish I didn’t have to write.  Roger Ebert — film critic, friend, and mentor — is gone at age 70.

People who didn’t meet him might think that calling him a friend — when we only met once in person — might be a bit strong, but Roger was one of those people who you feel you’ve met, even before you’ve met them.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading his movie reviews since I was in high school (maybe even since middle school).  Maybe it’s because I read almost every post on his blog.  Maybe because he had a way, whether sending a tweet or posting a comment, of making you feel as if you were his friend, and had been for years.

When I met Roger Ebert for the first (and now, sadly, only) time, the one thing that impressed me the most was the strength of his handshake.  This was a man who was full of life.  He may have shuffled when he walked, he may have been missing his jaw, but his handshake belied the fact that he was anything but a healthy, vivacious human being.  And, indeed, once in conversation with him (he kept a notepad with him), you forgot all about these things.  Heck, you even forgot you were talking to Roger Ebert.  He had that gift.

The other gift he had was writing about movies.  Not just what the movies were about, not just how the movies were about, but what the experience of watching them felt like.  And then he would go beyond the movie.  Life Itself may have been the title of his memoirs, but it could also be the title of his movie reviews.  All of his reviews brim with life.  Later, when he started his online journal, those journal entries overflowed with life, as well.

As I sit here writing, I find myself thinking about a few things.  One is this year’s Ebertfest, which will be a somber affair.  Another is his wife, Chaz, who I was too shy to introduce myself to when I traveled to Ebertfest two years ago, and the Far Flung Correspondents, whom he introduced to each other, the world, and me.  In fact, most of the blogs I follow, and many of the people I follow on Twitter, have some connection to Roger Ebert.

This has been a bad two days.  Yesterday I found out that one of my housemates had died from cancer.  Today I find out that one of my idols has died from the same.  I often wonder what my life would be like had Roger Ebert not responded to my comment on “The Blogs of My Blog.”  His was the first and so far only praise of my writing by a well-known writer.  This blog (and my other blog) is what it is because he took the time to read and praise it, as he did for countless other bloggers and tweeters on the web.

No more.  Now there are only reviews I will never read, movies he will never see, and conversations we will never have.