Oh all right. It wasn’t the biggest mistake I ever made. It was just the latest.
I found out last week when I went into Conte’s, my favorite seafood restaurant in the Western world, that the Rockland waterfront eatery had not been sold after all.
John Conte, who named the restaurant after himself, said the proposed deal, which would have sold the property and closed the restaurant, had fallen through. The rumor ( I heard it as fact, repeatedly) was that a national chef was jumping in with both feet to Conte’s and the neighboring waterfront building once known as the Black Pearl. So I put it in the paper.
Not only had I jumped the gun but I had ruined his life and his restaurant business, he said. People were staying away in droves, he said. I was getting “children’s portions” of swordfish for the rest of my natural life, he said.
This was a man who was upset. This was a man who had a kitchen full of knives. Sharp knives.
I said I had been told repeatedly that the place was closing and moving to new quarters.
Wrong again, he said.
I had to review my 30-odd (some very odd) years as a Bangor Daily News reporter for a dumber episode.
I blame the late, great Pete Coffey for the O. Lie Nielsen gaffe. I was writing a story about the Rockport resident who was building condominiums on Rockport Harbor, back when condos were big news. Coffey walked into my office and I stupidly asked him what the O. stood for, knowing that the sharp-eyed editor (there were a few) was going to ask the same question. He barely looked up and said “Omar.”
Being naive by nature (and on deadline) I put it into the story which ran, naturally on Page One the next morning. I got more phone calls than I got on election night, all asking for “Omar.” John Hammer, then the editor of the Courier-Gazette, gave me an award (suitable for framing) for my “excellence in accuracy.”
I think it is still around here somewhere. I never did find out what the O. stood for.
Then there was the time with winter approaching that I called a dozen firewood dealers to find out about the market, availability and price for wood. I had a dozen pages of notes and mistakenly attributed one comment about being “out of wood” to another dealer.
That too, ran on Page One and the mistake was in the lead, in the first sentence for all to see. I had to write a correction (like this one) for all to see and I think the dealer got a few years of free newspapers. I drove by the wood dealer’s house and he had piles of firewood for sale, as far as the eye could see.
Court was always a problem. People read the court cases quite closely, especially the defendants.
One day two complaints were folded together. I assumed they were for the same person, one charge of disorderly conduct then for assault on an officer. I was informed very early the next morning that the disorderly conduct case had nothing to do with assaulting an officer. Different bar, different guy.
The one that scared the hell out of me was the morning an island fisherman called to say that he was in the court news on a child abuse conviction, which came as great news to him. He had been called to court on some minor fishing transgression.
While the bureau chief, Ted Sylvester, stood over me with a baseball bat, I retrieved my original copy. I had sent the correct information and it was garbled when a line had been dropped by mistake in Bangor. The fisherman wisely decided to drop the entire matter, knowing that many more people would see the correction than the original story.
The other time Sylvester was ready to drop me out the window was when a Belfast man called to inquire why his name was listed on a child abuse indictment when he knew nothing about it. I was sweating blood when I checked my notes. Correct. I called the Belfast court to double-check. Correct again.
I called the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff, I forget who it was at the time, explained that the antiquated jail was full and he had no room for the dozen or so people who had been indicted the day before. He knew where they all lived, he explained, and he would go arrest them when a jail cell opened up.
Honest to God.
You collect news for 30 years and you are bound to make a few mistakes. A lot of mine were worse than the Conte’s gaffe.
Put the knife down, John. And pass that swordfish.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at email@example.com.