I’ve in the past dedicated books of various character to my wife, my brother, my daughters, Mom, and most recently to my favorite bartender.
So I’ve bestowed this singular honor on people I love, people who support me and on some guy whom I rely upon for daily inebriation.
Michael Patrick Shiels, to whom I dedicate my new Arnold Palmer book, is none of those. In fact, Michael Patrick Shiels and I barely know one another. I’ve spent great swaths of life with family members and, yeah, the bartender. I’ve probably spent a total of three days in Michael’s company. But, oh, my, what glorious days.
It was probably 15 years ago. Michael and I were on a lavish Puerto Rican golf junket with a cartel of big time New York City golf writers. They were very cliquish.
It makes me sad whenever anyone behaves exclusionary toward anyone else, especially if it’s me who’s being excluded.
But I had two things going for me. I have a very resilient personality and the host El Conquistador resort had thoughtfully welcomed us with a gift basket that included a bottle of fine Puerto Rican wine.
And a man blessed with resilience and free hootch can overcome a lot of social injustice.
I took my wine and headed to the swim-up pool bar, which for some reason was empty. It had no bartender, no customers, no activity. But — and this was key — it did have a corkscrew, which at that moment was all I needed in the world.
I opened the wine and began to sip straight from the bottle.
“Mind if I join you?” It was Michael and I didn’t mind one bit. I offered him a swig.
I wish someone had recorded the next hour of conversation. It could serve as a Master Class on how to make lasting friendships in 60 minutes.
I’d say he and I just hit it off, but I’m certain Michael just hits it off with everyone he meets. He’s engaging, funny, open-minded, intelligent, colorful, a lively and experienced storyteller and a thoughtful listener.
So I was having a great time when a dark thought began to stampede my serenity.
The wine was almost gone. I wondered how my new best buddy would react if he saw me begin to weep.
Then, miraculously, Michael did something that right there — if he never did anything else for me — earned book dedication status.
He somehow conjured another bottle of free wine!
He was like this big friendly altruistic wine-bestowing genie.
We kept in touch. Over the years, I learned Michael was family friends with George and Barbara Bush, that he was one of the top radio talk show hosts in all of Michigan, that he golfs with Jim Nantz and is so beloved in parts of his ancestral Ireland he’s welcomed as a grand marshall at some St. Patrick’s Day parades.
He became a fan of my stories, especially “Use All The Crayons!” He’d invite me to guest on his radio show and I’d gain readers from all across Michigan.
He was a true friend, one who made it known he’d pull strings to advance my sometimes hapless prospects.
I thought of him when rejections for my proposal for a book about Arnold Palmer and his hometown Latrobe began to reach critical mass. Inconceivably to me, no one — neither agent or editor — wanted anything to do with it. They thought it was a loser.
So I called Michael. He saw the merits of the book right away and sent an introductory e-mail to the acquisitions editor at Triumph Books. He said I was a great writer, easy to work with and, I think, was pleasant company if the editor and I ever wound up stranded at some Puerto Rican swim-up pool bar. And he included me in the email chain.
I had a contract in five days.
“Let me know,” he said, “if there’s anything else I can do.”
Uh, could you put me in touch with Jim Nantz?
The dedication reads:
“For past reveries, current considerations, and future frolics, this book is dedicated to the inimitable Michael Patrick Shiels.”
Inimitable means impossible to imitate. That’s Michael.
To me, the key third is the future frolics. I believe fate will one day lead us to to a swanky dinner, a posh golf course or — who knows? — maybe another swim-up pool bar and I’ll get to again revel in his splendid company.
Because graciousness is another of his admirable attributes, he posted he felt “Honored and overwhelmed” to be the subject of my book’s dedication.
He thanked me.
It’s maybe the one time when this insightful gent has it all backwards.
I thank you, Michael.