By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The only items that reflect aspects of Thomas' personal life lie in the bedroom, where a rattling air conditioner does little to relieve the stifling air. Two photos of Lillie have been placed on the fireplace mantel, which is nearly hidden behind yet another pile of cardboard boxes.
"You can see what a young, handsome, and debonair guy I was back then," Thomas says, pointing to a wedding photo that was taken in Shellsville, Pennsylvania. Next to it is a photo of Lillie that Thomas took in 1974 at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, which used to be located across the street from the Valley View Center mall. Lillie's elegance is striking. She is dressed in a floral-patterned dress, her chin resting in her hand as she smiles at her husband through the camera lens.
In the opposite corner of the room, a stuffed raccoon sits atop an old stereo system, complete with a turntable and tape deck. Thomas' music collection includes a Henry Mancini tape and the sound track from The Wizard of Oz. A box spring and mattress rest on a nearby headless frame, covered with only a sheet and two foam rubber pads. Thomas' computer, the one that contains all of his Dream Machine data, sits atop a desk just to the right of a doorway. A medication vial stands empty at its side.
"Anyway, this is how I spend my nights. I usually finish writing by midnight and faxing by 2 a.m.," he says, before he enters the kitchen and begins digging through yet another pile of boxes.
A collection of empty medication vials have been gathered on the kitchen counter, which is covered with canned vegetables and Hy-Top cereal boxes. A small, yellow sign posted on the wall offers a familiar self-help tip: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
Holding out his paw, Thomas displays a bag of Christmas candy that he bought for his ghetto kids after the holidays. The candy is brittle and stale, and Thomas says nobody will take it from him. He also shows off several boxes filled with back-to-school folders he bought for the kids. The folders were 14 cents each, but Thomas says he talked the store manager down to a dime.
"There are more ways to help kids than Grant had soldiers. Gosh, I have so many ideas," Thomas says, plopping down next to a large copier that occupies the space where a dining table would go.
A smile momentarily relieves the sadness on Thomas' face, but it doesn't stay for long. Soon, Thomas falls back into his verbal assault on the world, disappearing into imagined conversations. His voice rises and falls, interspersed with vulgarities and furious laughter, as he tells somebody, somewhere, not to underestimate him.
"Look you dumb son of a bitch, hee hee, if you think I'm going to sit around for three years and do nothing, hee hee, because you are going to sit around and do nothing, you are dead wrong.