There are at least three people who read this column every week: 1) my born-again-Christian mom, who Sharpies out the swears so she can show my articles to her Jesus-praising friends; 2) this ruddy-faced fortysomething who lives with his mom, fibs that he’s out on a date with me whenever he goes out boozing (Mom disapproves of his benders), and supposedly integrates details from these pages into these elaborate mommy lies (I’m not kidding — hi Paul!); and 3) Padraig Shea, an Emerson College freshman assigned to follow one local journalist’s work for the spring semester, interview him or her, and then write about what he’s learned in the process. The first thing Shea learned in January after emailing an interview request to “Mr. Dodero” is that, well, I’m not a dude.
I agreed to meet Shea last Friday at Boston Beer Works, where the 5’11” member of the class of ’09 learned something else about me: I’m not Hispanic (“I knew a kid in high school named Camilo. I thought it might be the same thing”). Settling into a booth, Shea starts in on me: How’d you get into journalism? (College internship.) Where do you get your ideas? (I give some convoluted answer about paying attention.) How did “ID Check” start? (I pitched the idea last June.) What’s your official beat? (Ghetto chefs, super-secret-dance-society members, and electro-retro DJs.) Basically, I tell him I can make anyone interesting over the course of 750 words.
We talk for about an hour. Then I have a question for Shea. How about I write about you? (My mom and Paul are out as subjects: she deserves a whole book, and Paul scares me.)
“I’m just worried that I’m not interesting enough,” he says bashfully, neglecting his half-eaten stir-fry. “I work too much and do too much homework.”
After a while the hedging subsides, and Shea agrees to be my subject.
In his first semester at Emerson (he transferred from Holyoke Community College, which he says was tantamount to “taking the semester off”), the 18-year-old already writes for the student-run newspaper, the Berkeley Beacon, for which he has covered topics like burglaries and alternative spring breaks. He has also been handed the unenviable Jacques Steinberg–like task of reporting on his editors: at the end of February, he covered a public forum held on the Beacon’s decision to run the infamous Mohammed cartoons.
He plays shortstop on Emerson’s club baseball team. (His lifelong nickname is “Paddy,” although teammates call him “Paddy O’Shea” when they’re sober and “Pint” when they’re not.) In the past, Shea’s sports career made him something of a hometown hero: he played first base for the West Springfield Terriers, 2005’s state champions — “I couldn’t go to the local ice-cream shop without someone saying, ‘Are you Paddy Shea?’ ” he admits, sounding bemused. The surprise triumph also made Shea something of a hometown heartthrob. One local mother approached him, cooing, “ ‘My daughter is 11, but she thinks you’re the cutest thing.’ She asked for my address and she mailed me a picture and had me sign it for her daughter.”