An Angel in Disguise

At the suggestion of my colleague  James Kreger, I went to see Tom Chalmers in order to study and do some work on the Alexander Technique. The first thing Tom said to me was, “I charge $25 if you are working, $15 if you’re not.” That one statement defined the totally altruistic attitude of a saint. The essence of Tom  is reflected in all the good works that he did without any desire for adequate compensation.

During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, volunteers were encouraged not to work with more than one or two AIDS victims at a time. Tom worked with 8, and sometimes 10, of these victims. Additionally, he adopted their animals when they died. His apartment was a menagerie of dogs and cats, all of whom received his loving care and attention. When my elderly aunt had Parkinson’s Disease, he would travel to Brooklyn from his 14th Street apartment in Manhattan, to work on her and offer relief from her stiffness, pain, and involuntarily tremors. He did not charge more than his usual $25 rate, in spite of the fact that he had to travel an hour each way to be with her. When my young nephew was getting bar mitzvah-ed and liked coins, Tom presented him with a sock full of $150 worth of nickels, dimes, and quarters.

I spent a lot of time with Tom, and aside from a lot of good jokes, and the fact that he straightened out my body on a regular basis, it remains within  me his consistent good will towards everyone. This was particularly unique, considering the many hardships he endured. Tom had been a high-level executive in a well-known temp agency. When the agency was destroyed in a hostile takeover, Tom lost his promised pension and was forced to live on those $25 Alexander lessons, and eventually Social Security.

Often, I would try to give him money, and so would my sister Annie, who loved Tom even more than I did. Finally, she convinced him to take $1,000 from each of us “for the animals”. He was too proud to accept help from anyone, even though he badly needed it, and it was available from many people who loved him. Unfortunately, it was too much to bear for Tom to be seen as less than what he was.

He will always be a part of me, and I will always miss him.

Another saint in my life was Jody Speckman. Jody was a chiropractor, who was skilled in all forms of manipulative medicine. She knew acupuncture, naprapathy, and various other oriental cures for whatever ails. Besides her skill, she had a generosity of spirit, second to none. One Saturday morning, I woke up with my left arm semi-paralyzed with an important concert on Sunday afternoon looming. I called Jody on her day off and she told me to come right down to her office. She then spent three hours working on me until I was loose enough to be able to play the concert. This was only one of 100 times she got me out of trouble.

During the years that we did the big 5 hour Wagner Operas, she would repair the damage after each performance. Her largesse was not confined only to me, but to many other members of the Lyric Opera orchestra. Like Tom, she would lower her rates in order for people to see her twice instead of once a week. Most of all, she was never satisfied until she found a treatment (one of a large number of possibilities that she had at her disposal) that would solve your problem.

It’s the selfless people like Jody and Tom that can give us all faith in humanity.

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