Home goes the sailor l Chuck’s World
Last updated 9/12/2018 at Noon
We stood on the sidewalk outside Starbucks, momentarily awkward. It was just a goodbye, just the end to an hour of sipping coffee and catching up, just three men of a certain age. We’ve done it a bunch of times.
But this was the last time, so we stood there, arms full of parting gifts we’d brought along. Bags of plums from an over-enthusiastic tree. Homemade cookies laced with the most addictive substances known to man (i.e., butter and chocolate).
And a bottle of a favorite adult beverage, handed to one of our favorite adults. Larry was leaving, finally moving back to familiar territory on the Mississippi after decades in the Northwest, and Sid brought him what he’d hoped would be a good bottle of bourbon. Larry slipped it slightly out of the paper bag to read the label, and grinned.
“You done good,” he said, and then we had one last moment of sentiment, when Sid tried to reconstruct how this unlikely relationship started. It wasn’t complicated, just two guys who had a friend in common, and so on. We met for coffee one day and never stopped, end of story.
It’s just that I know a little bit more about the beginning of it.
Twenty years ago, I read the Beacon consistently but casually, skimming stories and stopping only when something caught my eye. I wasn’t much interested in columns or columnists.
One day, though, my wife read me a few funny paragraphs out loud, then tossed me the newspaper. “This guy is actually pretty good,” she said, and he was. This was Larry Simoneaux, once a mainstay of Beacon commentary and now the proud owner of a bottle of really good bourbon. I became a regular reader.
He was more of a bomb-thrower in those days, alternating wonderful stories of his long career on the sea with provocative politics slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, as he would say. He annoyed me, enlightened me, made me laugh, and inspired me, finally.
I didn’t want to argue with him in print; I just thought he could use a complement, someone who could let him take on the serious issues of the day while I delved into the proper way to load a dishwasher, or what happens when your teenage daughter decides to put highlights in your hair.
We could be a team.
That’s how it happened, then. We became roommates in community newspapers, and less of an odd couple than you might think. We agreed on a surprising amount, and sometimes only differed on minor strategies to fix the world, which we knew how to do otherwise.
We also shared the pain of children moving out of the nest, and once some love for a 1963 Rambler I took a ride in.
It was after that column on the Rambler, in fact, that Larry dropped me a note in response. A few months later, after mentioning in print that I’d never taken my son fishing, Larry got on the phone and a few weeks later we were floating in a lake, our kids with us, sitting in the sun and becoming friends.
Dr. Sidney Schwab has been one of the Northwest’s premier surgeons for decades, with a passionate interest in politics. He disagreed with one of Larry’s columns and emailed him, politely but firmly pointing out the errors.
Larry responded, and soon enough they were regular correspondents, and then buddies. Sid eventually began writing his own column, thanks to Larry.
Here’s what was supposed to be unusual: these two men are diametrically opposed when it comes to political ideology. They are on the opposite side of the room, and it’s a big room.
But they reached the middle of that room often, and sometimes all the way to the other guy’s side. The theatrical conflict that we imagine these days, raised fists and blazing torches, never happens, never comes close.
I was the third wheel, added in as new blood, since we all write for newspapers and we’re all interested in current events, but that never happened much, either.
I’d never argue that we were an average sample, but in our case it turned out that if you put people in a room together, people who could certainly battle over serious social and political issues of our day, they tend to gravitate toward showing pictures of grandchildren.
Toward discussing recent hunting trips. Toward wives and their mysterious, charming ways (I’ve been married 35 years and I’m the newlywed in this group).
This is the time of year for goodbyes. Some of you have seen children headed out the door to far-away colleges and universities. Famous people have passed on recently. It feels like the season for saying farewell.
And for saying thank you to Larry Simoneaux, who graced these pages for years with his insight and wisdom. He didn’t inspire me to write; he made me want to write alongside him.
He served our country, he served our community, he married a superhero and raised some outstanding kids. And he showed us that political disagreements don’t have to be deal breakers, or even all that important.
Treating each other decently makes much more sense, and Larry set an example.
Bon voyage, Larry Simoneaux, and thanks for everything. Enjoy your bourbon and the humidity. We’ll keep a chair for you at Starbucks, because I know you’ll be back. For one thing, you’re definitely about to run out of those cookies I gave you.
I know what I’m doing.