Keeping the devil from the door

Knew a guy named Don, had the same first name as me.

We met while working together for a weekly newspaper in Providence. I was managing editor. He was one of the reporters.

Soon after he came to work there I was told he would be taking my job and I would be taking his. I was angry. Didn’t like the guy, even though he had done nothing to me.

We were different. I was sophisticated, knew all about stocks, ran a computer business on the side. He typed with two fingers, read The National Enquirer, couldn’t even use a calculator.

But we were alike too. I had just been fired, humiliated in front of the entire staff. He had just been through a hellacious period –his business went bankrupt, his wife left him, and his house was taken by creditors.

He was always asking me to go with him for coffee. We talked about the decline in professional standards. He loved great writing, wanted to improve the paper. I loved good writing too, but all I wanted to do was leave.

I quit after a few months. He stayed a year and then met the same fate I had.

After a few months he resurfaced as editor of the Barrington Times. He called first thing and suggested I do some writing. Said he wanted to run a first-class newspaper, put the emphasis on good writing.

He had deep feelings. I respected that.

Over the next several years he worked into the job, getting more comfortable as time went by. We’d meet for coffee at Romeo’s or the Country Kitchen. He said over and over that this was the best job he ever had. These guys really know journalism, he would say. They supported his decisions, letting him do what he felt was best and never interfering with his judgment. He laughed when he compared the situation with our former employers.

I saw someone who was happy for the first time since I’d met him.

Then one day he called to say he was leaving the paper. Lung cancer. The editors had treated him great, gave him a laptop so he could keep writing from home, but the doctors told him he was in for rough times.

The last time we were supposed to meet he called and canceled. “Not a good day,” he said, struggling to breathe. I could only imagine what he was going through.

I left town for a week to visit relatives and heard about a new cancer drug that had great promise. I vowed to tell Don when I got home.

But first thing in the door a message on the answering machine said Don Abood had passed away.

I’d missed the wake, the funeral, everything. No miracle cancer drug now. Only a sympathy card.

I still think about him, about his efforts to produce a quality product, his vision, his faith in hard work and dreams.

That day he called to say he was quitting he said he wanted very much for me to keep writing these columns, to keep writing the way he would every day for the short time he had left. As if the very word “column” still had some magic left in it, as if the writing could keep the devil away from his door.

The columns don’t always come easy but that is the nature of the beast.

This one was easier than most. This one’s for you, my friend.

This one’s for you.