By Jim Hagarty
I met Tom about 30 years ago. For the rest of this column, I will refer to him as Tom (because that is his name.) I think at that first meeting, we were sitting in a coffee shop near my place, and he looked over with a big smile and said “Hi.” As it turns out, that is the one and only thing he has ever said to me that I have completely understood.
On that first evening, he talked and I listened and nodded. Every “conversation” we have had since that time, and we’ve had about a dozen of them, went the same way. Tom talked and I nodded. Because he seems to be a genius and I seem to not be a genius, it has been like a dog explaining barking to a cat. But maybe I am a good listener.
Tom knows all about two things very, very well: short wave radio and cars. I know very little about either one. For a long time, I thought a cattle littick converter was an instrument we used on the farm to turn a bull into not a bull. (That was fun.)
So he talked radio and he talked the inner workings of cars and I felt like a Martian trying to understand a St. Patrick’s Day parade. (Or maybe only a Martian could.) I am polite, so I never interrupted him. Also, nothing he has ever said to me interested me enough to want to know more about it so I asked few questions.
But here’s the funny thing.
I didn’t mind listening to Tom. It was almost like watching a nice sunset. You don’t understand it, so you just enjoy it. Maybe I didn’t absolutely love every one of these sessions, to be honest, but there was something about his unrelenting enthusiasm for his two main interests in life that was infectious.
However, I usually walked away from every conversation wondering if, in fact, I am actually a stupid human being. I am not convinced that I am not. Why can’t I get any of this stuff after all these years?
Tom and I haven’t run into each other in almost a decade. Today, I pulled into a parking lot right beside him. I had my window down, he had his down and we faced each other. Tom started talking to me as though we had spent two hours in the coffee shop last night and were just completing a subject we had started. He seemed to think in his mind that he was picking up exactly where we left off talking in our last meeting 10 years ago. And who knows? He is so brilliant, maybe he does remember exactly where we left off. As for me, I can’t remember whether or not I showered this morning.
So, for 15 minutes, Tom told me about cars and short wave radios and I understood exactly as much as I did at our first meeting 30 years ago and at every subsequent meeting. But it’s the darndest thing. When he pulled out of the parking lot, my day seemed a little brighter. I had said four words, he had said 4,000 but I would say I came out ahead. Not any smarter, just somehow a little happier.
I just hope I can remember where we left off when we next talk-listen 10 years from now or so. I am sure that he will and that I won’t. And that it won’t matter.
It won’t take me long to get up to speed because when we are together, I am travelling about two miles an hour. I guess I am kind of like a long-wave radio, if there is such a thing. You know, the kind of station you can hardly hear late at night because it’s being crowded out by all the biggest stations.