When Irish eyes are smiling

Damn! I remember it like it was yesterday, but actually it was about a quarter century ago when I first met Vincent Keely and his son, Brian.

It was Halloween day and I had just started my new job as a reporter for the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier.

Back then, the Courier office was located on Washington Street in Biddeford, directly across the street from the Wonderbar restaurant.

At that time, the Wonderbar (as I would soon find out) was a political and social epicenter, where everyone felt comfortable knowing that their conversations were confidential, off-the-record and checked at the door. It was also a comfortable haven for those of Irish descent.

The Wonderbar restaurant 0n Washington Street in Biddeford

It was a place where political deals were struck, but more importantly it was a place where everybody knew your name, comforting and familiar, sort of like the television show Cheers.

And now it is for sale.

Back to Halloween 1998.

I left the office to pursue a feature story about downtown merchants handing out candy and other goodies to small children. Brian Keely was standing in the middle of the road, wearing a chef’s apron and clutching a rubber chicken in one hand and a toy axe in the other.

I had no way of knowing back then that Brian Keely and I would become close friends.

I soon became a regular at the Wonderbar. I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my veins, but the Wonderbar became my home away from home.

I would marvel at the way that Mr. Keely — with his mischievous grin and a sparkle in his eyes — poured a pint of Guinness, forming a shamrock in the foam of the beer. That was a trademark of the Wonderbar that I have not seen since.

Every time, I met a new woman to date, I would bring her first to the Wonderbar for a drink. Following my date, Brian, Vincent and other regular customers would rate those women, always with a chuckle.

I recall late nights hanging out with former school superintendent Kent Webster and some members of the school board after school board meetings, and I remember watching Super Bowl games from my favorite seat at the bar.

Soon after my first date with my wife, Laura, I brought her to the Wonderbar for inspection and evaluation. On the next day, I got a unanimous thumbs up from Vince, Brian and some regular patrons. Who knew then that I would eventually become married to that woman?

My friendship with Brian Keely grew stronger with each passing day. We started a call-in political “talk show” on Biddeford’s public access television channel and later served together on Biddeford’s Downtown Development Commission.

I asked Brian to be the best man at my wedding. He readily agreed.

Laura and I held our wedding reception in a function room above the bar and restaurant.

The Wonderbar was and remains as an intrinsic part of my life. And although now it is for sale, I hope that my memories of the iconic business will endure.

I spoke by telephone with Mr. Keely a few days ago. He told me that he purchased the Wonderbar nearly 30 years ago in 1992 from Edward “Ted” Truman.

I asked why he was selling the business.

“It was a matter of time,” he said. “Covid didn’t help matters any.”

Keely will soon be celebrating his 87th birthday. He said he routinely has back pain and often feels weak when standing too long.

“I didn’t get any help from the city, the state or anyone else,” he said with a tone of frustration.

He said he has had several calls from potential buyers, but most of them were “tire-kickers.”

For me, the Wonderbar was always so much more than an Irish bar and pub. It was my home.

To Vincent and Brian, I offer this Irish blessing “May the road rise to meet you; May the wind be ever at your back; May the sunshine warm upon your face; And the rain fall soft upon your fields; And until we meet again; May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Slainte.

Originally published on March 24, 2021 in the Saco Bay News

More than this . . .

I have made more than my fair share of bad decisions — from thinking I could drive just a few more miles to the next rest stop, to throwing some kerosene onto a campfire.

For more than nearly 30 years, I lived my life with no clear direction, no purpose, no meaning.

Failure, it seemed, was at every turn. I joined the Air Force but washed out after nearly completing basic training. Then I went to college. Yup, you guessed it: I dropped out. I toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, but that did not last more than one summer.

I crisscrossed the country in search of peace, stability and worthiness: Maryland, Tennessee, Arizona and Oregon. No matter where I lived, I felt lost and lonely, unable to hold down a job for more than a year at a time.

Flash forward to 1997 and my return to Maine. I worked a few odd jobs before being hired as a sports writer (bear in mind I know nothing about sports) but I loved that job. I loved the idea of getting paid to do what I love: to write.

In the autumn of 1998, I was hired as a reporter at the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier. I was working in my hometown, getting paid to be a political junkie. Suddenly, my life had some meaning. I think if you ask my publishers (David and Carolyn Flood) they would tell you that I worked my ass off. But it didn’t feel like work.

It was fun.

I became the editor of that newspaper and David gave me a wide berth when it came to the newsroom. I started a column called All Along The Watchtower. Suddenly, people knew who I was.

I made friends. I made enemies, but I was still having a grand time.

Flash forward to the local election season in 2001. Our country was still grappling with the horrific losses of 9/11. It was a tense time in our nation’s history. Local elections (city council, school board, etc.) seemed so trivial within the larger context of things.

There were three candidates running for two vacant seats on the Old Orchard Beach School Board: an incumbent (Sharon Inkpen) and two political newcomers: Dora Mills and Laura Kidman Hayes.

I made a mistake in my endorsements for that race (one that I didn’t consider very important) Really, what newspaper ever covered the OOB School Board? With only a couple of weeks left before the election, I gave my endorsement to the incumbent, thinking that there was only one seat up for grabs.

It was the best mistake I ever made!

Within hours of that issue hitting the streets, I received an e-mail from Laura Kidman-Hayes. In part, she wrote: “If I were the editor of a newspaper, I would get my facts straight.”

I replied with a snippy response that barely acknowledged my mistake. Later that day, I found myself on Main Street commiserating with a Portland Press Herald reporter about the upcoming elections. Without too much detail: Grace Murphy told me that Ms. Kidman-Hayes was very cute, and she showed me a file photo of the candidate.

I immediately raced back to my office in order to send Ms. Kidman-Hayes another e-mail: a bit more contrite, even though I thought she might be married because of the hyphenated last name.

I loathe hyphenated last names.

Within minutes after I sent her my second email, she sent me another e-mail and that’s how it went for a few days. Eventually, I made her a deal: if she won, I would actually cover a meeting of the OOB School Board. If she lost, I would buy her a cup of coffee because there would be no conflict.

On election night. I was a bundle of jangled nerves as I drove to OOB to “check” on the status of the polling place (yeah, right). Laura was standing in the hallway along with the other candidates, shaking hands with incoming voters.

I took one look at her and I knew that she was way out of my league. I curtly shook hands with her and dashed into the gymnasium to chat with the town clerk. I wanted to appear like I did not care.

Not a thing

The election was over. The streets were quiet and softly lit with a mid-autumn moon. I went to bed, feeling like an idiot.

On the next day, I checked my e-mail messages at the office. Ms. Kidman Hayes had sent me an e-mail. She included three telephone numbers where she could be reached: her office phone, her home phone and her cell-phone.

I could not believe it. I asked one of my coworkers if he thought that she really wanted me to call her. “She gave you three telephone numbers. Are you really that stupid?”

I called her and asked if she wanted to have dinner with me on Sunday. She said yes. I planned on eating at Traditions on Main Street in Saco. But I forgot that they were closed on Sundays. I was a nervous wreck. I was ashamed of my 1993 Ford Escort station wagon that had muffler issues. I was ashamed because she owned her own home and I was still living in a one-bedroom apartment two flights above the Happy Dragon restaurant on Main Street in Biddeford.

We ended up at the 99 Restaurant. We were seated at a back table. We were there for a little more than three hours but neither of us ordered any food. We were too nervous, but we decided — right then and there — that we would like to try embarking on an exclusive relationship.

That was 19 years ago today. Wow time flies. T-Ball games, house hunting, pets, family deaths, kayaking, camping, different jobs and home renovation projects blend into a blur of happiness, of meaning . . .

Of purpose.

The best mistake ever.

A sheep speaks out

I wear a mask when I go to the grocery store or any other place where large numbers of people congregate.
I am not a sheep. I am not afraid of Covid-19. I do not wear a mask to keep myself safe. I wear a mask because it may lower the odds (if only a minuscule number) of making OTHER people sick. I could have the virus, but the odds on that are also minuscule.
I find it sad (sometimes laughable) that some people equate being asked to wear a mask in public is some form of tyranny or as a call to arms. Jesus H. Christ, do these people get their knickers in a knot when asked to wear a shirt or shoes in a grocery store or a restaurant?
Can’t we just be considerate of others? How hard is it to wear a mask when you go to the store? Really, is this the platform for patriots to rise up against a “tyrannical” government? A fucking mask?
The biggest reason I wear a mask?
It’s because my wife is immunocompromised. She has MS, an underlying condition that increases her risk to COVID-19. So yeah, I’m kind of a big believer in wearing a mask in public.
You think I’m a fucking sheep; a dolt who is ready to submit to the evil government, the doctors and scientists who are all members of some grand conspiracy because I wear a mask?
Is wearing a mask such a burden? If you think so, can’t you at least be considerate of your fellow human beings?
Just wear a mask. Please

Press Releases: Think before sending

bluefin-tuna_478_600x450A high quality press release can open a lot of doors and  is usually the first step in landing your story, brand or project in front of a large audience.

Some people think that crafting and distributing a press release is easy while others consider it a daunting task. Both are somewhat true, but it’s likely that you are too busy running your business or managing your brand to give your press release the attention it deserves.

Before turning to a web site that offers “free” advice and “guaranteed” results, think about how important your press release is to your project, your company’s reputation or your marketing efforts. It makes sense to talk to a pro before hitting the send key.

What do you want to land?

In reality, sending a press release is like a day of fishing. If you just want to cast a line and hope for the best in a familiar watering hole, you’re probably okay on your own. Catch a couple of mackerel and call it a day.

But if you want to land a 400-pound bluefin tuna, it makes sense to have a knowledgeable guide with the the right equipment and the skills necessary to help you achieve success.

If you must absolutely go about it on your own,  then I offer a few basic tips of advice.

1.) Know it:  In fishing, you need to know the waters, the species you are going after and the right bait to use. When thinking about a press release, you need to know your subject matter and the media landscape. Who is writing, blogging or reporting on your subject matter? Do you know these people? Do you have relationships with them? Have you fished these waters before?

2.) Earn it: A good day of fishing requires getting up early and a serious commitment. There are basically two kinds of media: “earned media” and “paid” media. Paid media is advertisements that you pay for; liking buying tuna at the grocery store. Earned media is the result of your hard work and having the right bait.

3.) Hook it: Speaking of the right bait, your press release needs a good hook. Reporters are inundated with hundreds of press releases. How will yours stand out among the rest? What type of hook will you use to arouse the reporter?

4.) Pitch It: There are many species of fish in the water. If your are after a specific species, you have to know what you want and how to catch it. Before sending your release, make a few phone calls to targeted reporters. Don’t send a press release about a new chef at your restaurant to a reporter that covers city hall.

5.) Reel It In: You need to be patient and give the reporter room to do his or her job. Your press release needs to be well-written, succinct (no more than 1-1/2 pages) and contain basic information, including an e-mail and phone number for a primary contact. You should never send a press release as an attachment. Specify whether there will be photo opportunities and include links to your company web site.

If you just want to spend a day relaxing on the water, then you will be fine without a guide. But if you want a prize catch, then it makes sense to talk with a pro to ensure that your press release opens all the right doors.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More

The Write Stuff: Make your message sing

Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness — Georges Simenon

Most everyone thinks they are a decent writer, but there is always room for improvement.  Improving your written content — whether it’s a press release, a brochure or web-based content — is not difficult. It just takes practice and adherence to a few basic rules of grammar and style.

DSCN4461If you are knee-deep in developing a new product, launching a business or just wanting to share your message, you may not have the time or expertise to develop skillful messaging that will hook and captivate your audience.

People will judge you by the words you write and distribute. You want to make the right impression. You want your words to matter.

This is when you should consider hiring a professional writer who can craft written copy that is crisp, clear and compelling.

Pro-Tips:

Crisp: Your writing should flow smoothly, not ramble. Stick to the main points. Keep on message and use words that grab your prospective reader’s attention. If you are writing a press release, think about the editor on the receiving end of your words. The old adage applies: less is more. Don’t make the reader work to understand your point. Avoid complex sentence structure.

Clear: Writers instinctively want to impress their readers, but unless you are writing a novel keep your sentence structure simple: subject, verb, object. Choose your hook wisely and then expand on that theme. Avoid cliches and jargon. (Example: “win-win” or “let’s be clear”)

Compelling: Think about your subject matter. Make a list of no more than 10 things that make your subject important. Remember: newspaper editors and the general public are barraged with thousands of written and spoken words every day. What is going to make your message stand out?

If you break your arm, odds are that you will seek the help of a professional. It’s really no different when it comes to producing written copy for your project, campaign or business. Do you really want to wonder if there is a split-infinitive in your copy, or do you want to leave that work to a professional?

The guidelines above are just a few easy ways to improve your writing, but there are many more.

For example, if you’re writing press releases think like a reporter or an editor. The best way to do this is to write like a reporter or an editor. Most reporters and editors use the AP (Associated Press) Style Guide.

If you want a refresher course on basic grammar and style, then you should spend a few dollars and pick up a copy of The Elements of Style.

Writing is important for your success, but it does not have to be a chore.

I invite you to contact me to discuss how I can put my years of experience as a newspaper editor and professional writer to work for you.


 

Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More