I was shocked when I read the news. Gary Tomasulo slipped from the top of a building on Washington's Main Street to his death. He had recently bought the building and was doing what he loved to do...putter around fixing things, making plans, doing it himself. It was a dreary, rainy morning on Monday. They say he must have slipped on the wet fire escape. He was 62 years old. The same age as me.
Gary was our first landlord when Fred Atwater and I opened the original Wine & Words II at 120 W. Main Street. We had the usual tenant/landlord tussles -- "You said you were going to fix the (whatever)" or "Were's the rent?" And sometimes we had strong disagreements about how Washington's downtown should be developed. Gary was aggressive, combative and controlling in a way that revealed his career background as a corrections officer at New York's Reiker's Island prison. He alienated a lot of people with his New York "I'm walkin' here" attitude.
I never warmed to Gary personally. But I can't get the image of his death out of my mind. All week I've had what I think of as "mortality attacks." Little twinges of realization that we're all just passing through. I imagine Gary saying goodbye to his wife Monday morning as he headed down to Main Street to do some project on the new building. No one knew he wouldn't come home. I see him falling over and over in my mind's eye. Just that one little moment's lapse, that extra half inch over the edge...and he was gone. It could happen to any of us, at any time. I'm paying closer attention now to my daily goodbyes. I'm being more careful on ladders. I feel closer to Gary Tomasulo now than I ever did when he was living.
And how should I best honor these memories? Gary's New York approach was a difficult fit in courteous, Southern, small town Washington, North Carolina. But he did get a lot of things accomplished. He was tireless in his promotion of downtown events and store front merchants. Everyday we could see him walking up and down Main Street, stopping people with his large presence and challenging, "What's goin' on?" Sometimes the question was annoying. But it always got me thinking. What is going on? What am I doing to promote downtown businesses? How am I and my business relating to the community? Am I doing my best?
"What's goin' on?" We'll never hear it from Gary again. But I'm going to pretend he's still challenging, still asking. I'm going to make sure I'm paying attention. I'm going to be part of "what's goin' on."
My heart goes out to Gary's family. I can only imagine their loss. I'm holding onto mine even tighter. What's goin' on, Gary?