Word came the other day that TJ Shorter, 54, a longtime Real Change vendor, passed away on Aug. 9, 2011. Though this obituary comes a few months late, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on how we knew him here at the office. Because, well, he is hard to forget.
TJ was a character. In a May 2009 Vendor of the Week feature I did with him, he described himself as "the hippest, the coolest, and the most laid back vendor you're ever gonna meet." In the same article I called him "distinctive and charismatic." Others regarded him as "rambunctious," and perhaps even a bit full of himself. I think it's safe to say that he was all of these things, and that is just what makes him so memorable.
TJ was intelligent, clever, good-hearted, empathetic, sassy, offensive, and foul-mouthed all at the same time. If you wanted his respect, you had to earn it. His honesty cut like a knife and his swagger was impressive, and don't even think about patronizing him.
Beneath it all, of course, TJ was as sweet as pie. As Virginia Weihs, a former AmeriCorps intern at Real Change, recalls, "He was interested in people and perceptive of them, and he could make interesting conversation with anyone. His commentary on people and the world was hilarious and piercing."
TJ came to Belltown in 2001 from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., and began selling Real Change in 2004, as vendor number 8782. Belltown became his stomping grounds and it seemed like everyone there knew him. I remember during our 2009 interview we must have been interrupted, like, 20 times, just by people stopping to say hello. But the person in Belltown who probably knew TJ best was Dave, who runs "The Belltown Barber," where TJ was a frequent customer.
The barbershop near Second and Blanchard was like a home base for TJ, who would come in, hang out and talk to the clients. Dave and TJ became friends over the years. In the six months prior to his death, Dave even cut TJ's hair when he visited him at the nursing home.
In TJ's last two years he struggled with lung cancer, a brain tumor and multiple strokes -- not an easy couple years to say the least, but he still managed to keep a sense of humor. I remember visiting him in the hospital in 2009 when he had his lung removed. We thought that was it, and I think he did, too, but he was back to being himself in no time. During the next couple years his health waned, and he spent more time in the hospital and at the nursing home than he did selling Real Change.
TJ was a rare person whose company was truly a gift, and I'm glad I had the chance to know him. He will certainly be missed, but will not be forgotten.
To see TJ's video interview and read his Vendor of the Week article, visit realchangenews.org/index.php/site/archives/2504/.