A couple of years ago, my friend Brett and I were sitting in the office (at the “day job”) and I noticed he looked less jovial than usual. When I asked if he was okay, he conveyed that it was his birthday which (as an adult) wasn’t itself a big deal – but it was is fortieth birthday. It seems no one had made any grandiose plans for his going “over the hill” and it was kind of bumming him out.
Not one to miss an opportunity for an adventure, I told him to call his wife and tell her that he’d be home late tonight and that we had plans. ”We are we going?” he asked.
Being a fan of Man v. Food, I had begun my hobby a few years back of visiting locations from the show. The Shula’s Steak House in Miami was featured in an episode as having a legendary 48 oz. steak challenge.
I drove Brett and I a little over two hours to the restaurant and bought us dinner. Here’s my post from the meal that night: http://www.tomcroom.com/archives/6941
Last night, Brett returned the favor. We drove to the Don Shula’s Steak House in Orlando, Florida and relived the adventure all over again to celebrate my fortieth (this past Sunday.)
The servers there were great and had fun with us the whole time as “those guys” doing the food challenge. A couple at the table to Brett’s left got into it, too, constantly cheering us on. It was food made fun.
FINISHED. It was done. 48 oz. steak consumed.
But was that enough for us? HELL NO! The servers insisted on comping me a desert for my birthday:
I’m not sure, to be honest, how we finished as much food as we did last night. I’m assuming that adrenaline and a touch of insanity has something to do with it. In either case, we did it. Again.
(Luckily, neither of us is turning forty a second time – so we’re clear of having to repeat this particular bit of craziness!)
Last month, Shannon and I took our annual anniversary trip. The qualifier for our the trip each year has become 1.) someplace we’ve never been to together and 2.) someplace that has a Hard Rock Cafe.
Rule 2 is because of Shannon’s HRC Teddy Bear collection (that is now up to 32 bears.) Here’s a link from two years ago detailing it: http://www.tomcroom.com/archives/7854
The only EXCEPTION to Rule 2 was the Grand Canyon… BECAUSE IT WAS THE FREAKIN’ GRAND CANYON! http://www.tomcroom.com/archives/7113
That said, we’ve started taking cruises a couple of years ago since they were cost effective and almost all of them stop at ports with a Hard Rock Cafe. This year we did a cruise to Aruba – and while it wasn’t our best cruise experience, it was still a lot of fun. Here are the four cruises we’ve experienced ranked in order of overall value. None of these were bad, per se, but some were better than others.
1. Disney Cruise Line http://disneycruise.disney.go.com
2. Royal Caribbean http://www.royalcaribbean.com
3. Princess Cruises http://www.princess.com
4. Norwegian Cruise Line http://www.ncl.com
So our Princess Cruise experience was fine once we got on the boat, but getting on the boat was a NIGHTMARE. We spent over two hours in line (which can happen – we understand that,) but the lack of communication from the Princess staff was horrible. No staff were on hand around the line and so I tried to reach out via social media for some answers. Instead a response, I saw this: https://twitter.com/PrincessCruises/status/399285443378053121
Princess Cruises’s claim to fame is (of course) being the cruise line in the classic seventies TV show The Love Boat. As a matter of fact, they played episodes of the show every night in our cabin. Check it out:
That said – the cruise line needs to get out of the seventies and get current with modern times. Use social media a conduit to your customers (especially when your on the ground staff are failing at communication.)
We visited some great locations: Princess Cay (their private island,) Curaçao, and Aruba. Of the three, Aruba was the best location. While on the trip, we saw some amazing sunrises…
And just as amazing sunsets…
Overall, we had some great fun and much needed quiet time. Shannon and I are talking about which cruise line to try next (or whether to repeat one of the ones we’ve been on.) If we DO repeat one of the cruise lines, we’d be hard pressed to do Princess again – at least until they catch up to the twenty first century.
You can see all the photos from our trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomcroom/sets/72157638272821315/
Also – here’s a photo I took of some fish while at the Princess Cruises private island because I think it’s pretty cool.
I love social media. I’m mean, let’s face it: I’m a social networking whore. Practically anything that shows up with even the slightest bit of home of being a viable social network tool gets me as a user with the name “TomCroom”.
Being a film nerd and collector of “cool stuff” – I fell in love with GetGlue pretty quickly. It was a clever social network concept: reward users for using their network to keep them active. In the case of GetGlue it was these awesome little round stickers.
Yesterday, though, I got this email:
Their “clever” replacement to the sticker program? ANIMATED GIFS!
How cool is THAT??? I can totally put those bad boys on my Geocities or Myspace page and be the envy of all my friends who check out my website from their dial-up Internet connection. WELCOME BACK TO 1998!!! </sarcasm>
The website’s name is Get Glue. GLUE. As in stickers. No stickers = no glue. (Unless they plan to start an incentive program with Elmer’s, but who knows?) Stickers are a physical manifestation of something fun and creative people come up with creative things to do with their favorite stickers. I’ve seen some amazing things in the Artist Alley section of a number of fan conventions and many of my friends have done some creative things with theirs. It’s hard to not walk in geek circles and see someone with a laptop or tablet COVERED in GetGlue stickers.
Here’s how we’ve been using our stickers in the Croom house:
Alas, no more glue… and no more interest in staying involved.
Good-bye Get Glue. Let me know if you ever get the actual glue back – and then I’ll stick around again.
That’s a great question: so now what?
The past couple of weeks have been so overwhelming and so much of a blur that my usual knack for “just do this” hasn’t completely kicked in yet. Thus, I’ve decided to fall back on old reliable habits – in this case, make a list.
Before writing this blog post, I cracked open my copy of Microsoft Word (because, you know, yellow note pads are SO 2010) and penned a list of things I need to do every day. The list includes life related stuff and business. Nothing fancy; just a “you should spend time of each of these things at least once a day.”
The list, right now, is fifteen items long.
Two of them are being accomplished with this post.
NUMBER 1: Blog
When my father passed away just under two weeks ago, I wrote about it. It helped me. A lot. For those that know me in real life (or even just through my online antics) being “Tom Croom” means always being busy with a hundred things at once. I’m not happy unless I’m working on a dozen projects simultaneously with my brain chugging away at a million miles an hour. The thing is, some of my millions of projects (it seems) served more than just being something to occupy my time… they were actually healthy for me.
Writing about my father and the events of the past two weeks has not only been a sanity saver, but it also reminded me that writing regularly helps me keep my addled brain active. (And since I’m practically a senior citizen as of yesterday, I need to find something to keep my brain cells intact.) As I was reminded when dealing with my father’s passing, you should NEVER be too busy for the important things.
And writing about my random life for no good reason is important to me.
Thus: this post.
NUMBER 5: Photos
I have a plethora of photos to go through. Some of them are old Green Mustard Entertainment photos while others are analog photos from my childhood and my time spent on Earth in the pre-digital era. In either case, scanning and cataloging them is a HUGE undertaking. As with any ginormous project, it is best handled one piece at a time. So I’ve opted to scan/edit/upload at least one photo a day.
Here’s today’s photo of awesome. It’s my cousin Jim and I in the late seventies sporting some GROOVY winter wear.
So here we are, folks. Living life. Moving on. Doing stuff.
Sometimes you just can’t make this shit up, folks. Seriously.
I’m not sure that life could have lined up a better reminder of my mortality than it has over the past ten days.
- FIRST, my father passed away at the ripe old age of sixty three years old – less than two weeks ago.
- NEXT, a celebrity from one of my favorite film franchises of all time passed away – and he’s the same age as me.
- LASTLY, I turned forty years old – today.
In addition, I had planned to run my first full marathon today (with friends) to celebrate my birthday. I had actually trained and stuff, but I just wasn’t motivated to take the trip north to do it. It’s been a lot to swallow these past few weeks and I’d be lying if I said it was easy deal with. Instead of wallowing in self pity, though, I decided (today) to look at my life as a whole so far. In forty years on this planet, I’ve seen and done some pretty amazing things. I like doing amazing things.
I want to do more amazing things.
So here are a selected list of forty AMAZING things I’ve done in my years on Earth to celebrate my birthday. I’ve had a pretty cool life – and I intend to keep it going that way.
1. VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – I married my best friend.
2. ORLANDO, FLORIDA – I met my other best friend (hetero life mate) and, subsequently, introduced him to his spouse.
3. ARUBA – I went swimming in the bluest waters I’ve ever seen.
4. ANAHIEM, CALIFORNIA – I went to Disneyland.
5. ATLANTA, GEORGIA – I watched my team from Wasabi Anime win “Best of Show” at the Dragon*Con Masquerade in 2007.
6. AUSTIN, TEXAS – I saw a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse.
7. BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – I had crab cakes for dinner on the bay.
8. BELIZE – I drove a right-side-drive land cruiser off road through a rain forest and felt like Indiana Jones.
9. BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI – I watched my wife win over $100 on a slot machine.
10. CANCUN, MEXICO – I visited the pyramid at Chichén Itzá.
11. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – I watched the Cubs play at Wrigley Field.
12. COZUMEL, MEXICO – I drank beer. Seriously, is there anything else you’re supposed to do in Cozumel?
13. CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA – I visited the Jobs former house where the first personal computer was build in the garage.
14. DALLAS, TEXAS – I had the best barbecue I’ve ever had at Hard Eight BBQ.
15. DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – I went to the Daytona 500.
16. DENVER, COLORADO – I survived Class 5 rapids via the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River.
17. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA – I hiked down into the the canyon, and back up, and almost died.
18. HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – I walked up and down the Walk of Fame.
19. INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – I had the filet at St. Elmo’s Steak House (and their world famous shrimp appetizer!)
20. KEY WEST, FLORIDA – I had the most amazing key lime pie in the world.
21. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – I stayed at the *top floor suite in the Westin Bonaventure hotel downtown.
22. LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – I saw Holly Madison’s real fake boobies at the Peepshow.
23. MIAMI, FLORIDA – I’ve cruised Lincoln Road on South Beach more times that I can count.
24. MOUNT EVANS, COLORADO – I drove on the highest paved road in the United States.
25. MOUNT FUJI, JAPAN – I drove a car up the mountain and absorbed in the breathtaking views.
26. MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – I borrowed a G-Bike and rode it around the campus of Google.
27. NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – I visited Opryland before it closed. (Long before the Internet… so no link!)
28. NASSAU, BAHAMAS – I visited one of the most amazing aquariums in the world at Atlantis.
29. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – I’ve been to Mardi Gras. (This, too, predates the Internet… so no link!)
30. NEW YORK, NEW YORK – I proposed to my wife on top of the Empire State Building… on Christmas Day.
31. ORLANDO, FLORIDA – I worked on the television show “seaQuest” as an extra while working at Universal Studios Florida. (During the days of dial-up Internet and no blogging = no link!)
32. RED BANK, NEW JERSEY – I visited Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash and made the pilgrimage to THE Quick Stop. (No link available.)
33. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – I visited the Alamo.
34. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – I has the second best barbecue I’ve ever had at Phil’s BBQ.
35. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – I walked halfway across the the Golden Gate bridge and back.
36. SOUTH OF THE BORDER, SOUTH CAROLINA – I went to the top of that giant sombrero.
37. TOKYO, JAPAN – I walked through Yoyogi Park during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
38. UNITED STATES – I drove cross country from the Atlantic Ocean (Florida) to the Pacific Ocean (California).
39. WASHINGTON, D.C. – I toured the White House during the holidays… and it was snowing at the time. (No link available.)
40. WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – I met George Takei at my first ever geek convention – an event called “Trekfest”.
Not bad, if I do say so myself. Now: onward.
A couple of years back, I read a great book by Howard Schultz called Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. I loved it and related to it – not only with my experiences with Green Mustard Entertainment, but in regards to life in general. It echoed, in words, thoughts and ideas I already prescribed to in my day to day existence and hearing them from the CEO of a company I admired hammered those ideas home even more.
I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy of it for my father to read.
For the past week, I’ve been dealing with the wreckage of father’s passing. Over the weekend, I spent time going through his house with my wife, my sister, my step-brother, and my step-sister. We found boxes of memories in that house and packed them away for storage: old photos, report cards, yearbooks, and even a love letter from my dad to his wife, Sharon.
I also found the copy of that book I bought him sitting on his dresser in his bedroom. From the looks of it, he never got around to reading it (which is a shame, since the themes of overcoming might have helped him see hope.) I can’t, though, get caught up in the “what ifs” in his life or mine. The past is the past.
Let’s face it: I lead a pretty colorful existence – much of which is a result of my “larger than life” personality. It’s granted me friends and meaningful relationships online and in places around the world. I’m a very lucky man.
All of us, though, come from somewhere and (in most cases) this involves the people who give birth to and, often, raise us: parents, guardians, relatives, etc.
While I have often noted to those who know me that I turned out to be a person very different from both my parents, I can’t escape the fact that I am who I am as a result of who my parents were while I was growing up. They are flawed individuals… but I love them dearly.
On Monday evening, November 18, 2013, my father passed away at the age of 63 years old.
I’ve been through A LOT in my life and dealt with some hard struggles, pain, and challenges. The passing of my father, though, has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to handle. (Just typing that last sentence has, again, brought me back to tears. For those who know me “in the real world,” I don’t really cry… but I haven’t been able to stop, off and on, for the past three days.)
In 1986, my father bought me my first computer: an Apple IIc. He used to sit in front of it with me watching me learn to write code and help type in some of the longer programs I would find. Oh, the hours the two of us spent together typing in the lines of code to play Star Trek the text game in BASIC. The result of experiences like that in my childhood turned me into a child of the computer age. Thus, here I am turning to the thing that makes the most sense during this time of turmoil in my life: blogging.
I struggled with what to write and what stories to tell about my father, but, right now, my mind is swirling with thousands of memories. I’ve decided to make things as concise as possible by going the “short list” route. So here you go: three things you didn’t know about my father:
NUMBER 1: He used to have hair.
This “you didn’t know” really only applies if you met him. For the majority of my life with him my father had a shiny, shiny head. I honestly don’t remember him any other way. I spent middle school and high school being told I, too, would lose my hair which (in the era of long hair and metal bands) was a BIG deal.
Then I took high school biology and learned that my mother’s father’s full head of hair would be my destiny.
My father always seemed okay with his lack of follicle action, but when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered and Captain Picard made bald cool… MAN, that was a happy time for him.
The being bald/I’m not bald dynamic was an ongoing part of our banter and relationship. It was our thing. Our joke. Part of us being us.
While sorting through his house in the past couple of days I found many of the old photos he kept and, among them, I found a number of baby pictures I hadn’t seen in years. Here’s one of those photos proving the proclamation: He used to have hair.
NUMBER 2: He took his own life.
I’ve struggled hard over the past couple of days regarding how to approach this since it is such a volatile part of the pain I’m dealing with. I’m opting to not suppress the info (and the pain) because I’m hoping that transparency and truth about this will help with the healing.
So here goes:
Eighteen months ago, my father lost his wife of sixteen years to cancer. Sharon Croom passed away on May 1, 2012 and my wife and I were there with my step-siblings: Jack and Whitney. When it happened, we all worried about my father. You see, he and Sharon were bona fide, honest to God, absolute pure and priceless soul mates. The two of them completed each other in life. They were two flawed human beings that found perfection in the happiness of one another.
When Sharon passed away, my dad was lost. He was in pain. All of us did all we could to help him manage that pain… but he was a private man. For the past year and a half he became more and more of a hermit, but we all worked to find ways to battle it. I even got him onto Facebook and taught him how to play Words with Friends (things that, in retrospect, I am now eternally grateful for because of the interactions it created.)
We spoke regularly – about four to five times a month. By most accounts of friends and family, everything seemed “normal” with him. Since October, though, things weren’t normal. He quietly began planning to end his pain since early last month based on the information and records I have found. He kept up normal appearances up until the end.
His last post on Facebook was about one of his two dogs celebrating his third birthday:
Later the day of that Facebook post, he stopped by McDonalds to buy himself lunch (a McRib) and two plain hamburgers – a treat he often picked up for the dogs.
At about 6:00 PM that night, he made his move on our game of Words with Friends. He played the word “RECLAIM” for 56 points. I saw the move that evening, but hadn’t had time to reply with my move on my via cell phone. This moment would constitute the last interaction I had with my father.
Christine, a neighbor and friend of my dad’s who came by daily to walk the dogs, said she saw him around 7:00 PM that evening when she stopped by.
After that, I’ve pieced together what happened to be best of my ability based on the information at the house and the police investigation: Later that evening after Christine left, my father found a dark blue folder he had that contained information from a local funeral home including paperwork for his pre-planned and prepaid funeral services. In it, he placed a copy of his last will and a note to Christine (who he assumed would find him.)
In the note, he apologized to Christine for putting her in the middle of this, thanked her for being a friend. He explained:
“My life ended with Sharon’s passing. I’ve only existed since then. I now choose to no longer exist.”
In true Russ Croom fashion, the note was short, apologetic, and polite.
Then, apparently, he sat at the kitchen table and swallowed two partially filled bottles of prescription painkillers left over from his wife’s battle with cancer and drank them down with a large glass of water. He then got up, trudged into the bedroom, and laid down in bed. His two loving dogs, Benny and Sophie, went to bed with him.
And he never woke up.
His body was discovered the next morning by the neighbors when they realized that he hadn’t picked up his morning newspaper (a daily ritual of his) and he wasn’t answering his phone.
I got a call on my cell phone (from his) at 12:06 PM. It was the neighbor telling me what had happened.
My life has been a blur since that moment.
NUMBER 3: My dad was my number one fan.
Writing this post is very hard for a number of reasons – but biggest is that, since moving from LiveJournal to “TomCroom.com” in 2007, my father was the one person in the universe that read every one of my posts. This will be the first blog post I’ve written that he will never read.
In talking to his friends and work associates over the past couple of days, I began to hear the same things repeatedly…
- “You’re Tommy? Wow. He always talked about you. ALL the time.”
- “He said you were sort of famous, is that true?”
- “That man never stopped talking about you. He was so proud of you”
A number of people have recounted stories about me that he had told them as if to confirm the truth behind it all.
Since news of his passing became public, I’ve begun getting emails from complete strangers. Here’s part of one of them:
“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you but I did know your dad in a business sense. He shared your blog and website with me one time which is how I am able to contact you, he was very proud of you.”
Dad raised me to have a healthy mastery and command of the English language and I assumed his regular reading of my blog was always an extension of that. In retrospect, though, it seems that it was always more than that. My dad was a fan. He was THE fan.
In his bedroom, I found this:
Those were bottles of ramune I gave him and Sharon YEARS ago when I first started running fan conventions. This was back before the stuff was easy to get/find and the fascination of a Japanese drink with a marble in it was the coolest thing in the world.
I didn’t know they kept the bottles. I saw them for the first time when I walked into my dad’s bedroom on Tuesday and I was speechless.
My writing and blogging has always been something that the Internet has been welcome to read and enjoy, but I have always done it for the selfish reason for giving myself a creative outlet. In short: I write for me.
It seems, though, that I was wrong – and I’m happy for being wrong. My father loved being in my life so much that phone calls were never enough and we was an avid reader and re-teller of my exploits.
My dad was my biggest fan… and I miss him so much it hurts.
I always hear about how hard it is coping with the loss of a parent, and I’m glad I always kept the stories I’ve heard in mind when handling my relationship with my dad. My final moments were all as they should be:
HIS LAST THANKSGIVING was spent putting up with my cooking. Shannon and I joined him at his house for the holiday. His face lit up as it reminded him of memories of Thanksgiving with his wife. He posted these photos on Facebook with the caption “Family is all that matters at Thanksgiving.”
HIS LAST CHRISTMAS wasn’t alone either. Myself and Jack (his stepson) came over to harass him for the holidays. We had a great time together.
THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM was Sunday, July 28th. I was in town for work and I dragged his ass out of the house for dinner. We went to Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. He told me that it was the first time he had left the house for a sit down dinner since his wife died. https://twitter.com/TomCroom/status/361601412221771777
THE LAST TIME I SPOKE TO HIM was about two weeks ago. We small talked about TV shows I thought he should be watching (The Blacklist) and how I was fighting off a really bad cold. We ended our conversation the same way we always do…
THE LAST WORDS I SAID TO HIM were “I love you.”
Do they have Internet in heaven? Is there a heaven? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know what I want to believe – and I want to believe that somewhere, somehow, my dad is still reading my blog. So:
You shouldn’t have gone. While I don’t agree with your choice to depart the way you did, I want you to know that I understand. I love you, I loved you, and I hope you have found peace and that somehow the cosmos has reunited you and Sharon again.
I’ll miss you every day and you’ll always be with me.
P.S. Karma Jean and Shannon say hi.
P.P.S. I still have more hair than you.
My father was a peculiar cocktail of anger and love all in one person. His relationships with family were often rocky since he was a private person that shied away from showing emotion. While he might not have always showed it or expressed it, I know he had a lot of love for more his family than even some of them realized.
In going through his wallet while getting his estate in order, I found the usual collection of stuff: I.D., credit cards, AAA card, etc. Among those things, though, I found three photos that he apparently kept with him at all times:
In order: his grandson, his daughter with his grandson, and his step-daughter.
In case there was any doubt, he loved you all very much and kept you with him at all times.
As I continue to go through the records and information for my late father, I have found (what I believe to be) the oldest photo of my father and I together and the final one.