Letter From Milo: Old Friends

July 10th, 2017

This past Friday morning, I called the Newton County Jail in Kentland, Indiana. When the receptionist answered, I said, “I’m Milo Samardzija, the Society, Lifestyle, and Religion columnist for The Third City blog site in Chicago, Illinois.”

“What can I do for you, sir?”

“Do you have someone named Thomas Esmond in custody?”

“Yes, sir. He has been detained for several months. He’ll be going to trial in a few weeks.”

“What’s the charge?”

“Attempted murder.”

I met Tom Esmond in the late 1970s, in Sterch’s Tavern on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. He was from Houston, Texas and had come to Chicago to try his luck dealing commodities at the Board of Trade.

Tom and I became barroom acquaintances. He liked to drink and smoke weed, and so did I. When Tom got high he liked to play up his Texas accent. My friends and I started calling him “Texas Tom.”

After I had known him for a while, Tom mentioned that he needed a place to stay for a few months. I was living in Wicker Park at the time, sharing a three-bedroom apartment with another guy. We had a spare bedroom, so I told Tom he could move in with us.

When I got to know Tom better, I noticed that he had some odd mannerisms. He was loud, smug and opinionated, and he didn’t understand the concept of personal space. He’d get uncomfortably close when he talked to you. If you stepped back, he’d just step up and close the gap. He also had a variety of facial tics and twitches, which made it disconcerting to carry on a conversation with him. Other than that, he seemed like a regular guy.

A few months later, the future lovely Mrs. Milo and I decided to set up our own household and I moved out of the Wicker Park apartment. But I still kept in touch with Tom, running into him at various North Side watering holes.

My dear friend, Bruce Diksas, also worked at the Board of Trade, and he ran into Tom regularly. Over the years, Bruce kept me updated on Tom’s circumstances.

Tom was doing real well. He bought a seat at the Board. He got married. He had a son. Tom was drinking a lot. He was doing a lot of coke. He was struggling. His wife left him. He lost his seat. He was deeply in debt. He busted out completely. Tom was tending bar in Uptown, in a joint that catered to Somali taxi drivers.

Tom moved back to Houston to live with his mother. Shortly after moving in, Tom pushed his mother down a flight of stairs, injuring her severely. He spent the next few months in a psychiatric hospital. When Tom was released from the psych ward, he moved back to Chicago.

As soon as Tom returned to Chicago, he began stalking his ex-wife, who was living in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While making her life miserable, he got picked up for drunk driving. He made bail, but didn’t show up for trial. He ended up doing four months in the Kenosha jail for stalking, DUI, and jumping bail.

The last time I saw Tom was purely by accident, about three years ago, at the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital. I was shocked at his appearance. His teeth were rotten, his clothes were shabby, and his tics and twitches were worse than I remembered. He looked like a bum. We chatted a while. He told me he was living in an SRO, above a dive bar, in the Grand Avenue and Halstead area. Before I left, he bummed five dollars and a couple of cigarettes from me.

Every once in a while, my friend, Bruce, would say we should go down to that dive bar and see Tom.

“I don’t want to see that crazy fucker.”

“He used to be a friend.”

“Yeah, that was before he lost his damned mind.”

Last week, Bruce was driving by the bar and decided to stop in and see if Tom was there. When Bruce asked about Tom, one of the regulars told him that Tom was in jail in Indiana.

He had allegedly stabbed a kid, an eight-year-old boy.

That evening, when I turned on my computer, there was an e-mail from Bruce, with a link to an Indianapolis newspaper. When I opened the link, I saw a scary-looking mug shot of Tom, and a headline that read, “66-year-old man stabs eight-year-old boy multiple times.”

The kid survived. Rumor has it that he was Tom’s grandson.

Tom’s trial is in a couple of weeks, and the good people of Indiana will pass judgment. I doubt I’ll ever see Tom again.

And that’s just fine with me.

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