When I found out that Tom Snyder walked his dog in Tiburon every morning at 10:30, I was on it. The first attempt at stalking him I scored.
The date was April, 25, 2007.
I spotted him sitting outside a card shop with his big dog as his girlfriend browsed inside. I walked up and we had eye contact. He nodded. I nodded.
“May I pet your dog?” I asked him.
“She’d hate it if you didn’t,” he said
“Tom, my name is Mark Pitta and I’m a comedian that runs a show in downtown Mill Valley…”
“Oh, I don’t make personal appearances anymore,” he said.
“No, I’d like to invite you to a show this weekend as my guest.”
His next response took me by surprise but it was pure Tom Snyder.
He said, “Well, I have leukemia, I feel like shit and I don’t get out much.”
I feebly said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Still thinking he could rally if he knew who was performing I told him that Dana Carvey was appearing on the show. Tom then made a sound; a sort of grunt. I knew exactly what it meant. The sound was that of a man who was disappointed that he couldn’t attend because the disease was winning. It was a sound of regret that I’ll never forget. I felt stupid that I tried to bait him with Dana’s name because at that moment I felt sorry for him.
Tom Snyder did not feel sorry for himself. The moment quickly passed and he started chatting me up.
“I saw Mort Sahl in San Francisco a few months ago and he said, ‘I asked for a newspaper and the man said, sorry, sir, we don’t have a newspaper, we have the San Francisco Chronicle.”
Then Tom laughed that big laugh of his. The one I was used to hearing on his show Tomorrow and then on The Late Late Show.
Tom was great for comedians. Our shows usually ended after midnight and when you got home he was the one we watched. I loved not knowing if he was going to lose his temper with his crew or a guest or engage me with stories you don’t normally hear on television. This was before cable when there was only a handful of channels so Tom had the market.
Unbelievably, he would do things on his show that were absolutely ridiculous, like pull out a new game (at the time) by Milton Bradley called Simon, and play it with his guest. That’s all they did was play Simon for ten minutes!
His guest that night was Donald Rickles; not the comedian, the NBC announcer.
I wanted to be cool when I sat with Tom that morning trying hard not to show how excited I was to be talking with him. He was so comfortable to be around and was at ease starting every conversation.
“You know when I read in the paper today that Jerry Falwell had died I’ve been singing all day, One Less Asshole In The World,” he said, followed by the big laugh again.
Without a beat he was on to the next subject on his mind.
“Have you seen what they’ve done to Blackies Pasture? (a field named after a horse in Tiburon) They’ve put up these big white tents for the Tiburon Wine Festival, it looks terrific.”
May I remind the reader that all this was said in that rapid fire way he had of speaking. I felt that I was on his show waiting to be introduced or hear him say my favorite line, “We’ll be back in two minutes and eleven seconds.”
A man walked up and joined us and began talking about food. Tom had a story.
“You know, the other day I was talking to Leslie Vickers who produces the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and she was telling me about going out to lunch with Jay and he would order food, finish it, then order some more. The man is expanding.”
I mentioned I had been on Jay’s show to clue him in that I knew that part of the business and I’m glad I did because I got his unsolicited review of late night TV.
“I saw Jay interview a guest, a big name, an A-list actor like a Paul Newman and then I saw the same actor on David Letterman; it was night and day.”
I took it from his expression that he perfered Dave.
Then, quickly back to the topic of food:
“Like I said, I don’t get out much but I went to this restaurant in Corte Medera called Il Fornaio, by golly, if you want good coffee you gotta go to Il Fornaio. It was outstanding.”
The mention of Corte Medera gave me an opportunity to be part of the conversation again and maybe stop being awed by the man.
“Tom, you rented a tuxedo a few months ago from a friend of mine who runs a store in Corte Medera,” I said.
“Oh yes, what was his name again?” Tom asked.
“Ken,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah, Ken. Nice guy.”
And then a dose of Tom’s honesty, once again, leaving me speechless.
“I’ve lost fifty pounds since I rented that Tuxedo.”
The disease again.
Tom did look different. Tall but gaunt and not the face I was used to seeing. The voice, however, was identical.
A woman walked up with her dog and Tom’s girlfriend got all giddy and began speaking to the animal as if it was a child the way people do.
“Oh great,” Tom said, “That’s what we need, more fucking baby talk.”
That was one of the highlights for me. Hearing Tom swear. He was a human being and not a TV personality.
I wanted so much to hear some stories from his days on the Tomorrow show but it was not to be. I tried bringing it up by saying,
“You know, I’ve been enjoying the DVD box set with you and the punk rock stars…”
Tom merely waved his hand, as if swatting at an annoying fly. The gesture said, “that’s the past…”
Tom was very much in the present.
A half an hour had quickly gone by and Tom dropped the hint that the visit was coming to a close. He spoke aloud to his dog but I knew the comment was meant for me.
“Well, Trevor, it’s time to go.”
I stood up and shook his hand and thanked him for his time. Again, I felt like I was on his show when he said in that Tom Snyder voice, “Good luck to you and yours, sir.”
As I walked away satisfied that I had gotten to meet him and chat so casually, he surprised me again with his final words…
“And thanks for petting my dog.”
Rest in peace, Tom.