Terrible O’Meara

By David Grima | Feb 12, 2020

My dear friend Terrible O’Meara, late of the Bangor Daily News, is dead.

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From what I can tell, and it’s very hard getting information from him at the moment, he died on a lovely, sunny Saturday morning in February.

Naturally, we keep waiting for him to show up somewhere and laugh, saying “I fooled ya!” and delivering one of his range of classic insults. But it hasn’t happened yet, and as each new day passes I am becoming more certain it never will.

* * * * *

I can only conclude that he is really gone. This means, of course, that in about 10 months Facebook will cheerfully try to tell us all to send him 80th birthday wishes. Those total idiots.

Why, this very morning I was invited by Mr. Zuckerberg’s pernicious little toy to send birthday greetings to another former newspaperman I knew who died a couple of years ago.

You know, I think that as more of us die, which evidence suggests we all will, so Facebook will eventually turn into a palace of digital ghosts, the cyber equivalent of an overgrown gothic cemetery, haunted with emotionless pleas to terrified passersby that we should greet those who are no longer with us.

* * * * *

This means O’Meara will not see the Tall Ships sail into Rockland Harbor this summer, to help celebrate Maine’s bicentennial.

As a matter of fact, so far as I can tell, none of us will see them. They’re not coming.

Nor will we gather this August on his deck over Lobster Festival weekend, to recycle old stories about days of yore. This is a great pity, because some of these stories have been getting better and better these past few years, and now have independent lives of their own, far beyond the reach of any fact-checker known to journalism.

They would only have gone on getting better.

Terrible O’Meara was not sentimental, at least only in the way the Boston Irish can sometimes be. For example, he used to wax almost poetical about his family roots in Ireland, but as he had a mortal terror of flying, I think he only went there once.

Speaking of flying, he well knew (as we all should) how to capitalize on his own shortcomings, and once wrote one of his most amusing columns about trying to fly to Florida.

After sitting on the plane for a few moments during which his terror meter went from zero to 100 in just seconds, he got up and got out, taking his dearly beloved with him. It was convenient that the plane had not yet begun to move, of course. Even if it had, I believe he would have found a way off.

His baggage was not so quick to exit the machine. I think it remained on the flight to Florida, and had to be retrieved by methods far too complex for me to recall.

He had certain unique accomplishments. For example, he was an excellent and most accomplished saboteur. Here’s what I mean.

One evening, I was watching a selectmen’s meeting on TV in his living room, and just as they took a vote he hit the remote and turned the TV off. I had to find out in other ways how they had voted. Lucky I was not writing for a daily paper.

He would also watch the selectmen on TV to see who he knew in the audience, and would then dial their cell phones to make them get up and leave. He did this to a fellow Bangor Dreadful newsman, once.

Dreadful O’Meara.

* * * * *

As is the case with many of us, he seemed to live his life externally. But he did have an inner life, though he usually concealed it.

He grew up infected with the casual and instinctive Bostonian racism of his time, thinking it perfectly natural to disdain the non-white and the non-Irish. Then one day during his 20s, he had an experience functionally equivalent to St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, which completely changed his attitude and his behavior for the rest of his life.

Several years ago, he wrote about this radical change in a column which the Bangor Dreadful News, in a classic act of nerve-wracked news judgment, refused to print.

These days we can hear reports of people who have quit being white supremacists, for example, and instead offer to talk to people they used to gang around with, to help them put it all behind them. But apparently the BDN wasn’t going to risk leading the way in this direction.

Not that this conversion made him a saint, or anything close to it.

Once, while doing something vaguely recreational in northern Maine that involved canoes and some sort of river, he locked a childhood friend from Boston outside their cabin when a bear came into the compound. Wouldn’t open up until the bear had gone, despite his bosom buddy’s increasingly desperate pleas.

There were some afflictions he was never cured of. Football, for example. He knew full well that football gives me a skin rash, just the very idea of it. (Far too slow a game for my liking. The whole point of it seems to be to prevent all action from happening, and taking a yawningly long time to do so.) However he did start to wane in his enthusiasm for baseball, and admitted it only a short time ago.

Or was it baseball he remained faithful to, and football that began to bore him? How could I tell?

Awful O’Meara.

He had other delights. As a boy, as he insisted on explaining to me many times in detail, he loved to light fires in the woods so he and his pals could play on the fire trucks that showed up. I am not sure, even now, that I have permission to tell his story about setting the bathroom curtains alight.

On the other hand and as an adult, he did have several positive qualities. Just enough of them, it turns out. Loyal, companionable, hospitable, Irishly affectionate, and so forth.

Therefore I was always willing to forgive him, such as when he insisted on driving his car onto my lawn (he called it my dirt patch) when arriving for Memorial Day and Fourth of July cookouts before I moved into the concrete towers at the foot of Mechanic Street, where I am forced to live.

He said he did it so he wouldn’t have very far to carry his cooler and camp chair from the trunk. I am sure he was telling the truth. In a way.

Terrible O’Meara.

* * * * *

There were three newsmen associated with the Bangor Dreadful News bureau when I arrived in Rockland 32 years ago: Ted Sylvester, Walter Griffin, and (to give his full name with all well-earned honorifics) Robert Emmet Dreadful Awful Terrible Lunchtime Couch-Potato O’Meara.

In the end they all three got away from us.

Or at least, I haven’t heard from them in a while.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at davidgrima@ymail.com.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: SUSAN THOMAS | Feb 15, 2020 11:35

A wonderful tribute to your friend that shows your heartfelt loss in the guise of humor.

Posted by: Ann flagg | Feb 12, 2020 22:23

What a perfect tribute to that rascal :) you did him proud. I'm sorry David I know how much he meant to you. I'll miss him too.

Posted by: Robin Gabe | Feb 12, 2020 10:52

David, as soon as I saw the announcement of his death, I knew you would exceed yourself this week. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

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