It has been quite a while since something stirred my stumps of enjoyment -- surprised me in a way that just made me smile and be happy -- but last night, quite by accident, there was Tommy Shea on the TV.
Tom is a fair-skinned, Irish-extract guy in his 50's, a guy who once shared an adjacent desk when we both worked for the same newspaper. Occasionally we would talk at length about something, but mostly I thought we were pleasantly connected chums, each doing his own job. His long tenure at the paper had taken him from sports writing to almost twenty years of writing a column about people who never made it into the newspaper ... a very popular column in which Tom could put his unremitting decency to good use: The columns skimmed along the interesting bits of people's lives like a healthy vegetarian diet and after a while left me longing for red meat.
Veteran CBS newsman Walter Cronkite once suggested, "News is not about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof," and I always had an eye skinned for the cat on the roof, or anyway had the longing and capacity to get up there. Tom focused on the cats on the ground -- the perfectly fine creatures that purred and occasionally growled, but never drew blood -- the curled-on-the-couch cats ... Tom's mission, as I think he saw it, was not to winkle out the lion who roared in the night or tore hunks out a downed gazelle. It was the extraordinary quality of ordinariness that Tom seemed to seek... an almost-impossible quest that reminded me of my mother who once said, "If you want to write a story about boredom, you don't make it boring."
Still, without fear of contradiction, I think I would say Tom was and is a "sweet" guy. Eventually, he got caught in the meat grinder of newspaper devolution, was squeezed out and ... well I hadn't heard his adventures after that.
But now, the softball public television interview informed me, Tom was off to a newspaper job in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. And I couldn't have been more pleased for him. The Middle East has oil and oil spells money -- the kind of money that can afford and English language newspaper whose name I did not hear. Tom is devoted to news -- reads voraciously -- and he had found, by what means I don't know, a venue in which to ply his love. News may be a dying-if-not-dead profession in the United States, but there was Tom in a brown, high-end suit jacket (he used to and I imagine still does buy his clothes at second-hand stores), sticking to his guns, sticking to his love and ... willing to go thousands of miles in order to row the boat he had built.
On occasion, when we shared adjacent desks, Tom liked to reminisce about the days when he was coming up, when he was wowed by the reporting passion I and others could exhibit. It inspired him, he might say. And perhaps it was true -- I don't know. I do know that I am not very good at accepting or believing flattery, so I was happy for Tom's rising good fortunes but disinclined to bite down on his praise.
But at the same time I was unwilling to play any part of the father-figure role Tom might have in his mind, still, seeing him on TV made me feel as a proud parent might. My heart rose in participatory delight -- a thing that hasn't happened in a while. I was pleased and pleased if Tom was pleased. Knowing he was going to Abu Dhabi was like taking a happy pill.
On the softball TV interview, some minutes were devoted to sun block and Tom's fair Irish skin. The show, like many of Tom's columns, was devoted to pleasantness, an uninformative-but-widely-credited means of informing people ... and I didn't much care: I was just pleased to be pleased and hoped those who to some extent came in my wake will flourish in their new adventures and, when the time comes, die with a smile on their lips.