Two famous Tommys…reading Vanity Fair on a Sunday morn and reflecting on pulsars

Tommy Hilfiger is from my hometown, Elmira, NY. When we were teens, my friends and I would venture into his store, People’s Place, and buy gorgeous, modern sweaters. We were oblivious to the bong shop in the back.
Tommy Hilfiger is older and I do not know him personally, but I know his family members. His father, Hippo, was a sweet man who repaired jewelry at the fancy Shriebman’s Jewelers. His sister, Didi, coached me, with all her sweet might, during my failed attempt to make the junior high cheerleading team. When I taught, two of Tommy’s nephews were in my classroom: great kids and down to earth.

In my early 20s, reading Vanity Fair…I almost fell off my seat when I saw an advertisement for Tommy Hilfiger clothes… who knew that when he moved to NY City, he’d make it? I was impressed and the rest is history.

When I moved to Ithaca, where everyone knows famous people, or at least one famous person, in some field, I use to mention my Tommy connection. It fell on unimpressed ears. One friend said, “Oh, yeh, his first wife went to high school with me.”

My husband, Radames, the science teacher, who swept me away to our home, a perpetual science lab, said to me,

“You know, these people, these sports people and Tommy Hilfiger types, they don’t alter human history, and they make so much money. It is the people who study and add to knowledge that matter, for example, Sir Fred Hoyle, Sir Hermann Bondi, and then he’d rattle off some other names, and something about the golden age of physics.”

In the summer of 2003 I applied, through Cornell University’s temporary service office, for any old job. I received a call from the Center for Radiophysics and Space Science and an administrator described a position: memoir assistant to Professor Thomas Gold. He received a grant to finish his memoirs and she thought I might be a good fit for the job.

I took it and that day ran out to meet Radames in the driveway, he approached the house,

“Guess who I am working for this summer? Thomas Gold.” He took a step back: “You are going to work for Thomas Gold?”
“Yes,” he moved a step forward and then two backward. “You are going to work for the Thomas Gold?!”
“Yes,” I said, my giggle bordering on nervousness, Radames moved forward again:
“You are going to work for Thomas Gold! The Gold of Bondi, Hoyle, and Gold!!”

…oh, now, I remembered Gold was the other name. Finally, an impressed husband and an impressive Tommy and suddenly, a very nervous me.

I absolutely loved working for Thomas Gold but those stories are for another day. We did finish the memoirs within the year and shortly before his death.~~~~~~~

Time moves forward, I rarely mention my Tommy connections…if I mention Hilfiger, people shrug , if I mention Gold, people want to know what he did, and I never explain the science very well. I have found myself at one too many cocktail parties trying to explain pulsars, my husband bailing me out while the conversation partner just stares at me, deer in the headlights.

But on a hot August day a few years ago, while walking through the streets of Manhattan with my  friend from grad school, something very interesting happened. We often brainstorm about how we might make our millions, dreaming for the most part, but on that day, after my frequent intermittent stops into air-conditioned sanctuaries, I said,

“We should go into the Tommy Hilfiger store, I could see if any of his relatives are around that might remember me. Hey, who knows, maybe they would hire you as a model?”
He laughed and I said, “Did I ever tell you that Tommy Hilfiger is from Elmira and my connection to him?”

He slowed in his mid-town tracks,

“Claire you never told me you knew Tommy Hilfiger… how come you never told me!” Still stunned, he just said, “Wow!”

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