NEW YORK – Ada and Thomas Zarobinski weren't watching the Academy Awards on Sunday night when Adrien Brody gave his memorable shout-out to their son, Army Reserves Specialist Thomas Zarobinski Jr.
"We were flipping between the Oscars and the news," recalls Ada, from their home in Rego Park, Queens. She's been glued to the war coverage ever since her son Thomas Jr. was deployed in January.
So they happened to be watching another channel when Brody sent his old high-school pal best wishes from the podium.
"I have a friend from Queens who's a soldier in Kuwait right now," Brody told a TV audience. "Tommy Zarobinski, I hope you and your boys make it back real soon. God bless you guys. I love you."
Many of the Zarobinski's relatives heard Brody's moving speech, and soon their phone was ringing off the hook.
"Everyone was shouting they'd just heard Thomas' name on TV," Ada recalls.
In a terrible misunderstanding, she thought at first his name had come up on the news.
"I got sick to my stomach," she says. "I thought he was one of the prisoners of war."
But fear soon gave way to relief and then excitement about her son's sudden celebrity.
Brody and Zarobinski met at age 13, at Manhattan's La Guardia HS for the Performing Arts.
Back then, both boys mostly seemed interested in having fun.
"Adrien was very mischievious and a bad influence," Thomas Sr. recalls affectionately, noting he used to tease Brody by calling him "Pee-wee Herman."
"My son always used to cut school, and I blame Adrien," Thomas Sr. recalls with a laugh.
"I hate to imagine what they were up to. Probably smoking in the subway."
The pals took different paths: Brody got his first movie role at 16, while Thomas later dropped out of school and took a job as a security guard at NASDAQ's offices next to the World Trade Center.
He was there on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We didn't hear from him until 10:30 at night, and we were worried sick," Thomas Sr. recalls.
Even after Brody became a star, "he was his same old self," Ada says. He gave her the baseball jersey he wore in 1994's Angels in the Outfield, and an acoustic guitar that's still in their living room.
A few years ago, soon after arriving back in New York from an Australian film shoot, Brody called Thomas at 2:30 in the morning, insisting they get together to catch up.
Thomas picked Brody up in the used Olds 88 he'd just bought, and they "drove off to Flushing Meadow to relive the good old times," Thomas Sr. recalls.
As Brody said in his speech on Sunday, "There comes a time in life when everything seems to make sense -- and this is not one of those times."
Ada Zarobinski can second that emotion. She admits that she cries often these days and has trouble getting to sleep most nights.
"My mind is with Thomas and nobody else," she says. "I just want him home as soon as possible."