I think I met Tom Thomas in September or October, 1975. I would have just turned 16. I was with Max, Tony, John and probably someone else... I dunno' - and we went to Tom's place to score some weed. In those days we were still buying $20 an ounce Mexican marijuana. It was the first place that I remember Tom living at, a few doors east of church on Gloucester Street in a rundown, cabbage-stinky, brownstone. This was the place that he called "the salon". I had never met Tom before and until this point was unaware of his existence. I was a little surprised that the guy we were visiting to score off was around 40 or so, and I remember being struck by this as I saw him for the first time. After ringing the buzzer, he appeared to us through the heavy glass door of the foyer, grinning happily as he jogged down the hall to greet us and let us in. Apparently, his intercom entry wasn't working.

He was a small, skinny man with square shoulders and wiry muscles. He had a shock of dirty blond hair that swept to the right across his forehead. His hair was otherwise longish and curled out into little wings down past his ears. He also had a moustache and goatee that projected a devilish quality onto an otherwise impish face. He kind of looked like Charles Dickens dressed in a white t-shirt, jeans and bare feet. It was still a little bit unusual in the early days of the 70's to see someone over the age of 25 in jeans and t-shirts like this. I had a vague sense of unease upon first seeing him. I was unused to doing drugs with anyone over the age of 20 and going into new situations like this always made me a little nervous.

He was curiously friendly, articulate and welcoming. There was a real energy in the clear intelligence of his eyes. I wondered how Max and Tony knew someone like this. his apartment was a small, dingy bachelor on the first floor with a closet, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom in the far corner. He slept on a thin piece of foam decorated in a colourful Hindu bedspread, and the only furniture in the place was a small Formica-top kitchen table with aluminium legs, a few folding chairs, as well as some cushions on the floor intended for sitting. There were posters tacked to the walls. In most ways it was a pretty typical minimalist hippy pot-smoker pad and smelled of Mexican weed, tobacco and cheap incense. He had no television and I don't remember him having a radio either, although he probably did. His only piece of home entertainment equipment was a folding, portable hi-fi that sat in a corner on the floor; and the only record I remember him owning was a budget/pickwick33 release of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Minneapolis philharmonic in A Hero's Life by Richard Strauss.

In my youthful naivete, I couldn't help wondering what a clearly educated, middle aged white guy was doing living like this. The experience of meeting him was full of mystery and I must have felt - going into this environment - that I was experiencing the drug counter-culture on a more serious and adult level than I had just getting high hiding in the bushes and hanging out in some park. If I had been bothering to think about it, I probably would have assumed that Tom was homosexual.

I don't remember much else about my first visit to Tom's place, except smoking a lot of weed and leaving to go home being alarmingly wasted. Tom reassured me, seeing me to the door, that I was welcome to come back and it had been a pleasure meeting etc., and I remember noting for the first time what would become his familiar parting salutation: "Walk good!"

How Tom came to be selling weed in the heart of what would later become the gay ghetto area in Toronto was an interesting story in itself. Tom, it turned out - as I found on subsequent visits - was a contemporary of both Max's mum and both of Sasha's parents. They had all worked in television together at the CBC and OECA. Tom, I believe, was the first person to actually hire Max's mom to work in TV when he had had something to do with programming in the early days of OECA.

His real name was Norbert Hall Thomas, and was the older of two sons of Welsh farming immigrants in Saskatchewan. He had a startling intelligence quotient of 200 and had done his entire high school by correspondence courses, growing up working on his parent's farm. He once explained to us the nuances of adolescent bestiality as it is practised by farm boys universally.

"It was better not to fuck the pigs," he explained, "and much better to fuck the goats. It was easier to fuck the goats; and besides, you had to kneel down to fuck the pigs and you would get your knees dirty, and you wanted to avoid that, because if you came in with dirty knees your mother knew that you'd been fucking the pigs."

Tom chided us for laughing and grimacing in disbelief - not at his story, but the fact that he had told us this at all.

"Yes, you laugh at this," he stressed, frowning in earnest, "it is a common and normal practice among farm boys all over the world!"


"Yes," he replied, stressing his point, "and like adolescent boys all over the world, we would get together and make the normal relative comparisons of our masturbation experiences!"

With Tom there was always a serious point to be made, and he was really of his time. It was the business of tom's life to challenge, provoke and try to teach.

"Come with me," he exclaimed once, happily yet forcefully imploring me in counter reaction to something negative I had said, "Come with me into the age of Aquarius and we'll leave all this Pisces bullshit behind!"

I don't remember where Tom went to university, but I do remember that it was the first time he had lived away from his parent's Saskatchewan farm. He had managed, after this, to see much of the world. Of the places I know for sure, he had been to Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and most recently he had worked in Japan and lived for a short while in San Francisco. I think he had started drinking in university and became, by his own account, a terrible alcoholic.

"As a juicer one does certain things and has to learn certain skills," he explained, "first, alcoholics always drink vodka - I don't know why that is - because supposedly you can't smell it, but that's bullshit - and I would find that since I was drinking at work, I had to learn how to hold myself in, and physically walk and stand straight when interacting with my colleagues. My God! I drank starting at 8 in the morning! I remember once standing in front of my boss's desk and the floor was spinning and feeling I had pretty much mastered this. I was a desperate alcoholic!"

At the point that I met him, Tom had been off booze for a while, and somewhere along the line had become a disciple of marijuana.

"Juicers don't get marijuana," he recounted, "I had smoked it several times while I was still a juicer and the effect was always totally lost on us."

In fact, many of his great friendships that had largely been based on drinking had become strained or lost since his conversion.

"Joan and Michaela are still juicers," he spoke of Tony and Sasha's mothers, "and they cannot handle that I am no longer a juicer and I have been ostracized!"

This was the first that I remember hearing about the mounting rift between Joan's crowd and Tom.

"The other problem is that the two of them are desperate, angry fag hags and hate men," Tom continued, "and I did not turn out to be - and I was not going to be - their fag... and not faggy enough for 'em!"

Tom was referring to his current preference for women. From here, what I knew of it or was ever able to learn, the story deteriorated into a bit of a slander. Sasha, and eventually Tony, stopped coming over to Tom's place. Tony told me about the rumour that Tom had been caught once inappropriately wandering in and out of people's rooms naked in the middle of the night out at Joan's schoolhouse.

"Joan was just angry because I didn't want to fuck her withered old body," I remember Tom laughing and commenting once.

Upon subsequently becoming friends with both Michaela and Joan, I could never hold a rational conversation on the subject of Tom Thomas with either of them. I always felt their reaction to him to be kind of psychotic, and they both got a sinister, hateful look in their eye at the mention of his name.

Neither of them ever accused him of anything specific in front of me. Personally - and not wishing to cast a shadow over anyone (remembering it was, of course, the 1970's), but if the rumours were at all true, I can't imagine Joan having had any objections - and can actually picture her encouraging it. I mean, it's not as if I hadn't ever seen Joan herself, drunk and behaving inappropriately in front of teenagers before either. Yet, it seemed he was their personal Charles Manson - a reference that Tom made jokingly several times himself.

"I saw Tom Thomas recently," I offered Michaela tentatively over dinner one night.

She shot me a hard reproachful look.

"Oh, and how was he?" she asked cattily.

"I always find him to be quite sane and charming," was all I could say.

Her eyes narrowed.

"Be careful dear," she said, "he always appears that way."

As his most recent employment, Tom been teaching English to business executives for a big company in Japan. I believe he had been there for a couple of years, having gone straight there from the work he had done at the inception of OECA, or shortly thereafter.

"Yes," he told the story, "it was very sad. I had fallen in love with a beautiful, young Japanese girl, and I was going to be married and have a life there... a tragedy, really. Anyway, it is the custom in Japan - in order to save face in certain situations - to fire someone by sending them on a business trip and when they come back, they have no job to come back to. In my case I was sent on a business trip to San Francisco and stranded there by my company!"

Tom was a difficult person.

I gathered that it was here, stranded and desperate in San Francisco, that Tom had his first extended exposure to the sex and drug counter-culture of the day, and had his first good experiences with marijuana, as well as cocaine, mushrooms and acid. He probably would have stayed there except for the immigration issue, and by the time he was able to borrow the money and make his way back to Toronto, he was a full convert to a new lifestyle... his "Age of Aquarius" beckoned.

So here he was in Toronto, on welfare, living in a rundown, cockroach-rid brownstone, freshly estranged from his old friends, selling weed, and thinking through the argument of style vs. content in order that he might apply his conclusions in the business of running his "salon".

"Style is everything!" he once declared, "The importance of style has become painfully obvious to me in how I have had to conduct myself in regards to the operations of my salon. The other day, for example, my welfare worker dropped by to see me without warning. I was asleep and still in bed, in my pyjamas - I still had a piss-hard-on, for God's sake! and I asked him, in a very civilized manner, to give me a couple of minutes. He said he couldn't wait and insisted that he come right in and was an utter barbarian! He complained to me - and was upset that he had had to wait and that I had made mention of the fact that I still had a had a piss-hard-on! Now that is someone with no fucking style!"

The welfare worker was always a contentious issue with Tom. Welfare workers, in those days, used to visit all their clients in home on a regular basis. It was a much more intrusive system than it is now, and Tom challenged it at every turn.

"He suggested I take a course and become an airplane mechanic," he ridiculed the man to me one day, "and I said, 'Oh, and I bet I'd be good at that because I'm small and could crawl into tight spaces, is that it?' and he said 'Yes, that's exactly right.' The man is an idiot - I have told them that all I want from anyone is that I be reinstated to my position in society as I was when I had my apartment at 100 Wellesley!"

He thumped the table insistently, rhythmically emphasizing his final point. Tom did not make all his challenges intelligently.

"I have also been honest with him," he told me on another occasion, "and have told him that I cannot survive on my welfare check alone and explained that I have to move a little bit of marijuana to make ends meet!"

I can't imagine why he would have bothered to put himself at such risk in confronting an essentially unimaginative low level bureaucrat with the immediate reality of his situation and the pressing issue of drug prohibition. I know he would have disagreed with me long and hard, but Tom revelled in sensationalism. He was also always up front about the sexual experimenting that went on at the salon, although I never actually saw or participated in any of it.

"I once slept with a member of the Australian rugby team," Tom recounted an early homosexual experience, "and when I approached him again he wouldn't talk to me, and rejected me totally! I was stunned and hurt! Can you imagine the shame and denial that would cause someone to do that?!?"

There was the occasional time that you'd show up at his place - and he'd warn you over the intercom or by yelling through the window - that you were welcome to come in, but would have to take your clothes off at the door if you wished to do so. I was offered this opportunity only once, but felt I was not ready to be able to happily consider such a possibility.

Max recounted that he once witnessed John and Tom in intimate circumstances in Tom's washroom; whilst Tom's friend Martin attempted - unsuccessfully - to get into Max's pants, after the four of them had done cocaine and took acid together at the salon. Obviously, Max had been a bad bet, as well as a waste of drugs in this case.

"I have had the opportunity to live my own psychodrama!" Tom insisted dramatically in focused earnest, explaining his sexual experimentation to us, "do you have any idea how how powerful and profound an experience that is?!?!"

Tom seemed to have a close inner circle of friends who frequented the salon. Through hanging out at Tom's place, I became fast friends with Dominic, who had Tom's trust and respect. There was, of course, the rumour among the Rosedale boys, that Dominic and Tom had had a long time homosexual relationship; but most of them were regular sleazy little teenagers who had never met Tom and Tom did not want to meet any of them; although, I know that Judson had been there once or twice. Tom became terrifically fond of John as the time passed; and there was James, who was a nice guy, but I never warmed to him personally. He was also privileged to be a favourite friend of Tom's. I would sometimes see Allegra there - and, since I fantasized about her sometimes - speculate about her involvement at the salon. She, of course, was friend's with Natalie, who was Tom's girlfriend. Natalie, who was 18 - and just as with Max, Tony, Sasha, and Allegra - her parent's were professional contemporaries and friends of Tom's from having worked in television.

I didn't know Natalie that well - and I never met her parents, but I was able to gather that they disapproved of the relationship; and, just as with Joan and Michaela, had broken with Tom and now regarded him as a Manson/Svengali character.

"Oh dear, that poor girl Natalie," Michaela declared years later, when it was all over, "can you imagine having had Tom Thomas as the first great love of your life?!?! What a trauma!!!"

There was also the people who Tom did business with. Martin was very obviously "the man". He actually lived at the Harbour Castle Hilton, managed a dinosaur era bar band called Zachariah, and owned a bogus ginseng importation company that served to launder the money made from drugs. He was a pretty typical sleazy music business lizard of the time and I had never really liked him. Throughout the next year, I became best friends with Dominic and spent endless late hours at Tom's getting hopelessly wasted. He would let us bring over our records and discuss the music that we liked - mostly heavy and progressive rock that was popular at the time, and the conversation was always good and challenging.

"Have a look at this," he beamed once, thrusting a Saturday Night book review into my hand, "Robert Nye has written a fictional memoir of fucking Falstaff! Can you imagine what fun that would be? If only I had the time at the moment and wasn't preoccupied with the business of the salon - that is a book I would fucking well read!"

And he didn't let you get away with casual or lazy manners.

"That is barbaric behaviour!" he would declare at social carelessness or a breach of etiquette, and proceed to dress you down sharply for it.

For me, Tom's apartment was always a bit of a magical place. I don't remember exactly what happened... perhaps the cops showed up, or the superintendent threatened to call the cops – I seem to recall something like that... might have even been Natalie's parents who called the cops, I dunno' - I can't remember. In any case, there was a crisis in early 1977 and Tom was forced to flee and abandon his "salon" experiment.

He re-emerged some months later, living a block or two down on Dundonald Street on other side of Church, in a smaller less comfortable bachelor. Although it was a generally cleaner building than the old place, there was little of the same atmosphere; and even though Tom was still doing his thing, it was clear that the practice of keeping an active "salon" was no longer the order of the day. He was being much more selective and private about who he would meet and see, and I only reconnected with him through my long time friendship with Dominic.

Whatever the crisis had been, Tom, it seemed, had avoided any legal charges but had clearly been shaken a bit by a bad experience and the consequent move. His company was still charming and challenging as ever, he was still together with Natalie, still fighting with his welfare worker, and he still did business with Martin. But, many of the other old faces disappeared and the smoke-filled opium dream of Tom's civilized salon in an Age of Aquarius along with them.

After the summer of 1977, I drifted considerably from my old friends, Dominic and John in particular. I had been increasingly identifying with, and hanging out in the local punk-rock scene that they didn't take any interest in. They stayed more or less true to the old dinosaur music. I eventually joined a band called The Androids and became best friends with Danny. I also had a wider range of sources for drugs, these days, and I didn't need to see Tom as much as I had in the past.

I saw Tom once at the corner of Yonge and Bloor early one evening, nervously looking around as if waiting for someone and holding an umbrella under his arm. I was struck by the fact that it was the first time, in all the years that I had known him - besides having accompanied him several times on his daily excursion to the Devon Restaurant - that I had seen Tom out in public. I was crossing the street towards him, and sure that he had already seen me. I stepped on to the sidewalk preparing to say hello. Just then, he turned abruptly, his eyes seeming to avoid me, and headed at a brisk pace in the opposite direction back down Yonge street. I had been within ten feet of him and couldn't believe that he hadn't seen me. I immediately wondered if he was upset with me for some reason. I was able to ask him about it later, when I saw him again. He said that he had not seen me, and would never had done such a thing as turn and walk away even if he was upset with me, which he wasn't. Tom reminded me that in any event or circumstance, he would have been "civilized". That turned out to be the last time I saw Tom.

Early in 1978, the RCMP busted into Martin's apartment at the Harbour Castle one night and they were all arrested and charged. It wasn't just the marijuana and the fact that it was large quantities, but it was also a major cocaine bust. Later that year Tony told me that Tom, facing time in prison, had committed suicide. That was the last I ever heard of Tom Thomas, and I have always assumed Tony's news to have been correctly informed.

Tom belonged to the era of R. Crumb comics, cheap incense, head shops, Mexican marijuana, 8mm peep shows and sleazy body rub parlours. The world was a different place and it was still possible then to make a film version of Death in Venice. Tom reflected his time and could not have existed outside of it.