Tom Menino wouldn’t want us to remember him in the gauzy, idealized way of eulogies, but as he really was.
At least, I hope so, because here goes.
Now, how to say this politely? My own experience was that he didn’t particularly like criticism. And he had his own unique methods for dealing with reporters he considered pests. I think he put me in that category, and perhaps with some justification. I did enjoy tweaking him now and again, if only to remind him that he was an elected official, not a municipal monarch, as he sometimes seemed to think.
It led to some interesting exchanges. There was, for example, the time he came to Charlestown to celebrate a youth program, a sure-fire way to generate a little coverage on a sleepy summer news day. A resident of that neighborhood, I went to the event, as did another print reporter or two and maybe one TV crew. In his patented fractured sentences, the mayor heaped praise on the program, saying that it was keeping Charlestown kids off the streets and out of trouble.
“Mr. Mayor,” I said in a mock-serious tone when he had finished, “are you saying that without this program, the youth of Charlestown would be out stealing cars and committing crimes?”
The mayor looked at me appraisingly. He glanced about, probably to see whether there were any young ears within hearing range, and then replied . . .
Hmmm. How to convey this? Well, let’s put it this way. What he said sounded a lot like: “Duck stew, Scot.”
Experiment with some different word-starting sounds and I think you’ll soon have the idea.
He then flashed that mischievous grin of his. It was such an apt and pithy answer to my trouble-making query that I couldn’t help breaking into laughter at my own expense.
Another time, not too long after the papers had reported on his newfound love of biking, Menino showed up for a joint city-state press conference a few minutes early. To me, he looked a little portly.
“Mr. Mayor, you are really packing on the old pounds,” I observed. “Are you still riding your bike?”
His honor cast a deep, dark frown my way as his press secretary tried to suppress a heretical giggle. He stomped off. And then it evidently struck him that there was a certain pot-calling-the-kettle-black aspect to my observation, whereupon he turned on his heel and came back my way.
“You’re not looking so good yourself,” he said. “Who’s your undertaker?”
Then there was the time when he whacked me with the cane he had recently started using. It was after a legislative hearing, and I was pressing him on why he hadn’t taken a bolder stand on charter schools. Growing tired of my line of inquiry, he leaned forward and took (mostly) playful aim at my leg with his baseball-bat walking stick.
He was a character. And in the battle of banter, he usually found a way to give as good as he got.