About 10 years ago, Tom Robinson found himself in the middle of a typical Key West disturbance.
A drunken man was lost and trying to break into homes at the Duval Street compound where Robinson and friends lived. The drunk managed to get into one apartment, so Robinson called the cops.
As police officers were investigating, one looked at Robinson and asked, “Aren’t you ‘Stock Island Boy’?”
“You know you’re climbing the ladder when a police officer recognizes you,” Robinson said on Tuesday afternoon, seated at a local coffee shop beneath an umbrella helping block the relentless sun.
Today, Robinson, an affable man with a gentle voice, laughs at the recognition, which he still gets as the self-created local superhero “Stock Island Boy.” This superhero wears a cape, a black and yellow T-shirt and since 2005 has shown up at charity events, bars, parties and the annual adults-only festival Fantasy Fest.
Stock Island Boy is a bumbling character in a handmade costume dreamed up over some beers at a local dive in 2005, Robinson said with a smile. A friend created “Captain Konk,” and Robinson figured he needed a sidekick.
“He represents Stock Island and the poor people on Stock Island and he tries to fight crime and to help the police,” Robinson said, of Stock Island Boy.
But sometimes, even a local superhero needs help.
Robinson’s friends have started a fundraiser for him to help pay medical bills that his insurance won’t cover. The former bartender turned probation officer was diagnosed with Type II diabetes about five years ago.
“My kidneys failed in February, out of the blue,” he said.
His doctor said Robinson could be placed on a kidney transplant list in the future.
He spends three days a week, four to five hours, receiving dialysis.
“I’m doing OK,” said Robinson, 58, a Cincinnati native who moved to Key West in 1999. “I’m better off than some other people I see in dialysis.”
Leigh Pujado, who met Robinson when she arrived in Key West the same month in 1999, said Robinson for years was a bar personality as he slung drinks at the Green Parrot, Willie T’s and the long-gone Meteor Smokehouse.
“He’s a goofy guy; he’s one of my best friends,” said Pujado, who started the fundraising drive this week.
“He’s very proud,” she added. “He doesn’t ask for help well. Now, he’s in tears because he’s so touched. My phone has been ringing off the hook.”
Robinson gets quiet when asked about the community rallying around him and raising cash for his care, something Key West does often and with great success.
“I have a lot of people that love me and I didn’t realize it,” he said.
Robinson’s friends have planned a charity bingo night at the Green Parrot, 601 Whitehead St., from 7 to 9 p.m. on July 29.
But he can still laugh at his Stock Island Boy tales and his other costume outings. One Valentine’s Day, he dressed as cupid — with a sheet for a diaper, a red sash and a bow and arrow — and said he wound up at a bar taking photos with couples who were about to board sunset cruises.
“I had extra beers backed up,” he said. “I made like $80.”
Robinson fell for Key West as a boy on fishing trips with his father. This was in 1960 and 1970, when Key West was a far different place with a rough-and-tumble vibe downtown and Navy men in their whites filling the streets.
The funky beach town had yet to become a crowded tourist trap, and Stock Island — the scruffy neighbor to Key West proper — had no fancy hotels like it does today.
But Key West remains a gem for Robinson and still has its share of scruffy characters with mysterious backgrounds. Some are in Key West to hide from ex-wives, warrants and other troubles.
“You meet people at the bars and you don’t know their last names,” Robinson said. “You know them by their nicknames and first names. Then as you live here, you find out why. People don’t want to be known. Everyone has a good time but you keep to your own business.”
Paul Menta, who 20 years ago worked with Robinson on Sunset Key, called Robinson a big-hearted, quiet guy who has helped many locals over the years.
Now it’s their turn to help him, Menta said.
“He has always been our superhero on this island,” Menta said. “I know if I needed help, he would do it for me like he has done for everybody else. He’s a good man.”
And Stock Island Boy, who shows up at the yearly satirical Cow Key Channel Bridge Run — marketed as a “Zero K” race — to carry a “torch” and welcome the runners and walkers to Stock Island, isn’t retired, Robinson said.
“He just has a broken wing,” he said.