Friday, November 30, 2012

No. 552 – Weak and Powerless

Performer: A Perfect Circle
Songwriters: Billy Howerdel, Maynard James Keenan
Original Release: Thirteenth Step
Year: 2003
Definitive Version: None

When my lease ran out and my time in Cleveland was up at the end of March 2004, it was a bittersweet departure. In the past year, I had gotten a lot of valuable work done, learned a lot about myself and fallen in love with the city.

But I was leaving for a good reason. After being a baseball fan my whole life and spending the past year with it as my daily avocation, now I was actually going to have a job in professional baseball. I never was going to be on the playing field, but I still made it to a certain degree, even if it were just the minors.

I was feeling as good about myself as I had in a long time, so now was the time for the final step of my rehabilitation. One of Laura’s friends decided to take it upon herself to play matchmaker with me back in town. Kathy asked whether I minded if she set me up on a blind date with one of her friends from work. She gave me the hard sell: She’s smart, pretty, takes good care of herself …

Well, she didn’t need to bother. If the friend were breathing and had all the proper equipment, that was good enough for me. I figured that Kathy wouldn’t set me up with a loser, and I was game. It would be something more to learn about myself.

There was one problem, Kathy said. Ah, so this is the part where she tells me she has a hairlip. She’s a vegetarian, Kathy said. Yeah, and the problem is … ? Well, I didn’t care about that, as long as she didn’t mind that I wasn’t. Kathy said she didn’t.

Then I asked, so have you told her that I’m a 40-year-old living at home with my parents? No she hadn’t. Um, OK. My guess was that information would go over like the Hindenberg, so let’s just keep that to ourselves for now, shan’t we? Kathy then passed along the name, Vicky, and a phone number.

I had just found an excellent Indian restaurant not far from where I lived that I reviewed for The Dispatch, and I knew it had dozens of vegetarian entrees on the menu, so I decided meeting there for lunch would make a good introductory date—low pressure, good food, in and out, see how it goes.

I called Vicky and she, as thoroughly prompted as I was and equally intrigued, readily accepted my offer. It was low-pressure, but I also followed through on something I had decided in Cleveland—I wasn’t going to cheat myself. I wasn’t going to smother her, but I also wasn’t going to play any games.

Before I got to The Bombay Grill, I stopped off at the Big Bear to buy a basic flower bouquet to present and got there early to make sure Vicky wouldn’t have to wait for me. I was by the door when I saw a blonde woman make her way to the entrance.

I had no idea what Vicky looked like other than she was blonde, but I thought this might be her. It was, and the surprise was that she was as advertised—slim and very pretty. Geez, I hope Kathy didn’t oversell me …

Anyway, we had a nice lunch. Vicky got an aloo dish, I think; I assume I got rogan josh. (I don’t remember.) The conversation flowed effortlessly, well past the expected wrapup point. In fact, the restaurant, which closed between lunch and dinner, was packing everything up before we got the hint.

Lunch was a success, and we decided to meet again later that week for drinks. She told me to call her. So far, so good.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No. 553 – Journey from Mariabronn

Performer: Kansas
Songwriters: Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh
Original Release: Kansas
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Two for the Show, 1978

At the same time that I was helping to make Exit Chicago as much of a reality as possible, a different reality was closing in on me: I was about to leave school for the last time, and I had no job. I had interviewed at a couple of trade magazines in Chicago, but nothing came of it.

As November turned into December in 1987, I expanded my horizons. I didn’t want to work at a newspaper, because I didn’t think a daily deadline suited me, but you do what you have to do. I also began to consider writing-related work in nonpublishing businesses.

It was with that in mind that finally in December I applied to a job on the Medill job board at the News-Dispatch in Michigan City, Ind., and a tech-writer job at a downtown Chicago business of which I long since have forgotten the name. I heard back from the business first; they offered me an interview.

OK. Classes had wound up at Northwestern, and Jin and Scott had driven to Chicago to help me move my stuff home from Evanston. My time had run out, and my prospects similarly had diminished to zero. I scheduled the interview for the afternoon before we’d load up my and Jin’s cars and head home for the holidays.

Then the day before that interview, I heard from the News-Dispatch. The editor also wanted to interview me, so I scheduled it for that next morning. I figured that Michigan City was about an hour and a half away, so I should have enough time to drive down, interview and make my afternoon appointment in Chicago.

I dropped off Jin and Scott downtown, figuring we’d meet for lunch, and headed to Michigan City. The job was to be associate editor of the Harbor Country News, a weekly newspaper that covered the southwestern tip of Berrien County in Michigan. I didn’t want to work at a newspaper, but a weekly might not be too bad, and it seemed from the posting that I’d have a lot of responsibility. That interested me.

I interviewed with the editors of the Harbor Country News and the News-Dispatch and probably a few other people. I don’t remember much of the interview itself, although I got the sense that time was passing and I was doing well. They said they wanted the associate editor to live in Michigan to be the face of the newspaper locally. No problem.

They had me take a couple of copy-editing tests, and I knew it was going well when they asked me to have a seat in the newsroom so they could meet in private.

I remember feeling very nervous while waiting, with the hope that I might get an offer right then and there. As luck would have it, a couple of reporters came over to introduce themselves and chat, and it turned out I knew one of them—a guy by the name of Jim, whom I’d met at Northwestern.

He had been an undergrad at Medill, graduating the previous summer, and worked in the sports information department doing p.r. for the Northwestern baseball team. He said apparently I had done well if they were in conference.

I might have done well, but when the conference concluded, I had no job offer. I also had a major problem. The interview had gone much longer than expected, and now I wouldn’t be able to make it back in time for my second interview. I hadn’t planned it this way, but I effectively just put all my eggs in the News-Dispatch basket.

So I doubled down on the commitment. If you can believe this—I honestly can’t, and I was there—I NEVER called the other business, not only to say I would be late but to say that I wouldn’t be there at all but thanks anyway. (I did at least call from a pay phone to tell Jin and Scott where I was.)

I blew off the downtown business completely, which has to rank among the most irresponsible and frankly boneheaded ideas I’ve had the misfortune of conjuring. To this day, they don’t know whether I was killed in a car crash or just a jerk. I’m certain it worked out fine for them in the end: Who would want to hire some immature little boy?

But I didn’t want a professional job—that much was clear. If I couldn’t have a magazine job, I wanted a newspaper gig or nothing. So I left Evanston for the Christmas holidays with nothing save for a promise that the News-Dispatch would call me after the holidays to let me know of the decision.

As you know if you’ve been paying attention, I got the phone call on Jan. 2, 1988 and heard what I was hoping to hear. I lucked out: I was heading to New Buffalo.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No. 554 – Woman in Chains

Performer: Tears for Fears
Songwriter: Roland Orzabal
Original Release: The Seeds of Love
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

You know how when you fall in love with someone and you move in together and everything’s great at the outset? Well, sometimes it doesn’t always work that way.

When I moved in with Laurie in September 2005, I was as happy as a clam not about to be dunked into a pot of boiling water. I was in love; I was in Chicago. I didn’t have a job, but I would work on it.

Laurie was happy, too, but … well, she was making a huge adjustment. She had lived with a guy nearly 20 years before, and since then had only one serious boyfriend, who didn’t live with her. Now, all of a sudden, here I was—a total leech. (At least I wasn’t just lying on her couch and watching TV all day.) I mean, she did offer me to stay with her until I got a job, so it wasn’t as though she were having a change of heart or regret. She just needed some alone time.

I had wanted to go to Milwaukee at some point and go through whatever baseball-related files that were at the library, and as soon as the Christmas season was over after New Year’s, Laurie asked out of the blue: “You know how you said you wanted to go to Milwaukee? How about this weekend?”

What do you say to that? Um … OK? So, yeah, she was giving me the boot (temporarily). I wanted to go, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t say I wanted a helping foot out the door.

I hastily made a reservation at a cheapie motel near the airport (I hadn’t yet made any money at AM News, so I couldn’t afford anything more) and drove up Friday. I figured if I were going to do this, I might as well do it right and get as much research time in as I could.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t really all that much to be had there. Milwaukee is a great baseball city with a rich heritage in terms of minor-league and major-league baseball that reaches back more than a century, but you’d never know it gauging by the materials that are at the public library—the minor-league part of it anyway.

I don’t know what I was expecting—clips files, I suppose—but apart from access to microfilm of old Journals and Sentinels, the library had nothing, at least the downtown branch. I went through as much as I could over the weekend, but I discovered only one interesting tidbit about a long-forgotten pitcher named George Harper.

The rest of the time, I worked on other things I brought with me—job-hunt-related as well as book-related. After Cleveland, I found I was (and still am) very much at home and productive at a library, so it was no trouble passing the time. The trouble was when I got back to my room. I had free Internet through my dial-up provider, so, again, I didn’t lose too much in terms of productivity, but dinners were another matter.

Mostly, it was fast food. One night, I decided to treat myself to a nicer dinner at an Italian place within walking distance from my motel. I don’t remember the name, but it was among the worst Italian I’ve had. How do you mess up Italian? By making it flavorless and the pasta doughy. I don’t think I finished my meal, which was saying something back in those days. At least it didn’t cost much.

Finally, my exile was up, and I headed home Sunday. Laurie greeted me warmly and said that although she enjoyed being home alone again, she found she missed me more than she expected and said she didn’t think she’d need to send me away again. Thank goodness for that.

Since then, we’ve been apart for one reason or another for even as much as a week at a time, but it’s never again been for reasons of “space.” We all need our space—and one measure of a good relationship is how you work that out between the two of you—but in January 2006, when The Seeds of Love was a regular play on the tape machine, Laurie discovered that she didn’t need quite as much space as she thought.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No. 555 – Owner of a Lonely Heart

Performer: Yes
Songwriters: Jon Anderson, Trevor Horn, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire
Original Release: single, 90125
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: Union Tour, 1991

This is coming a bit out of order in the scheme of things, but that’s the way the songlist worked out. I suppose I could cheat a bit, but I won’t. This post will make more sense in another week or so when I give you the background.

Anyway, the winter of my sophomore year at Wabash was spent being the voice of Wabash College basketball. Over Christmas break in 1983, Wabash scheduled to play two holiday tournaments, both of which were in Ohio, which was convenient, considering I was home for the holidays. The first one was at Kenyon in Gambier—about an hour’s drive away; the next was the next week at Ohio Wesleyan in Delaware, which, of course, was just up the road a bit.

The team brought over the equipment from the radio station. My plan was to drive up from home—I would be working solo—do the game and drive home each day of the two-day, four-team tournament. This would save the radio station some hotel money and save my sanity a bit, because, well, I had to be home.

This was, as it would turn out, THE vacation when Beth and I finally consummated our relationship. Needless to say, after it happened on the occasion of her 17th birthday, I didn’t want to spend any more time away from her than was absolutely necessary, because, well, it might happen again.

Unfortunately, as bad luck would have it, a big ice storm hit the day of the first games of the two-day, four-team tourney in Gambier and made everything a mess. I left extra early, but the roads were bad by the time I got north of I-270 on I-71. I couldn’t go any faster than 45 mph, and a one-hour drive took two hours. Fortunately, I had just bought 90125, so I had some new music to keep me company during my odyssey.

I arrived at the arena with plenty of time to call in to the radio station, check the connection, which, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, worked, and call the game as scheduled. But as Wabash got pummeled by Northern Kentucky—now a Div I school—the storm continued, and after the game, it was clear that there would be no driving home that night.

The good news is, in keeping with the Scout’s motto, I put together and brought an overnight bag, just in case. The team had extra room for me in with the team doc, so it worked out OK, although, obviously, I wanted to be home.

The team stayed in Mount Vernon, up the road a bit, and we all went to a movie the next day before the game to have something to do aside from playing pingpong or chess at the hotel. I can’t remember now what we saw. I want to say Arthur, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.

Anyway, the next night, Dad came up to watch me do my thing in the booth, and Wabash won, so it was a much better day even though I got home too late to see Beth that night. There was always the next night, and when I saw here again, I was like a kid on Christmas morning.

Monday, November 26, 2012

No. 556 – Glynis

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: No Alternative
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

I suppose I should write about an AIDS-related experience considering the song and the album, which goes to benefit AIDS research, of course, except I didn’t have any direct contact with anyone who had AIDS until long after I met Laurie more than a decade later. In other words, although it certainly touched me; it didn’t directly affect me at the time. So, instead, I’ll write about something that was happening at the time I bought this album.

By 1994, I had been looking to get out of Flint for a couple of years with no success. As I mentioned, I had sent a blind letter to the sports department of The Columbus Dispatch in 1992, but nothing came of it.

But in March 1994, when I saw in Editor & Publisher magazine that The Dispatch was looking for a news copy editor, I decided to do something I don’t normally do—I called in a marker.

It wasn’t a favor as in someone owed me something, but my history was such that I either had to or felt I had to figure things out on my own. That was fine; I’d done well using my own wits, and it gave me a sense of pride to know that my accomplishments were entirely my own. I wasn’t beholden to anyone.

But every now and then, even the most independent of folks can use a helping hand, and because this was the first time I’d seen a direct advertisement for a position at The Dispatch, it was time to call in the big dog. I wrote a letter to my grandfather.

My grandfather was connected to everyone in Columbus through business, or at least had been, and I knew in particular that he served on at least one board of directors with members of the Wolfe family, who owned (and still do, I suppose) The Dispatch. I told him the situation and asked whether he could put in a good word for me with the Wolfe brothers.

My grandfather called me a day or so later and told me to write a letter directly to John F. Wolfe, the newspaper publisher, explaining who I was, telling him of my interest in the job and submitting my materials.

So I did as instructed, making an overnight run to The Journal and then the all-night Kinkos in Clarkston to print out my resume and make copies of my best clips and get them off in the mail the next day.

Within a week, I got a letter from Mr. Wolfe, stating that he had forwarded my letter and materials to the night-time managing editor of the newspaper, who was the person with whom I needed to speak, and I would be hearing from him shortly. When you apply for a job, there’s nothing better than having a direct pipeline to the top of the flow chart.

Sure enough, the managing editor called, maybe even the next day, asking whether I would be available to come to town next week for an interview. YES!!! … uh, I mean, I can be there, sir. No problem.

It was only March, and snow still covered the land, but it was springtime in Michigan as far as I was concerned.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No. 557 – Wild Horses

Performer: The Sundays
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Original Release: Blind
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

As I mentioned a while back, almost a year ago as a matter of fact, when Snowmageddon hit Chicago in February 2011, it was everything that the forecasters had predicted. That in itself was amazing.

This probably is true everywhere, but when a snowstorm—or thunderstorm for that matter—is in the forecast, local news goes into overdrive warning viewers about how certain death was bearing down on the city. Then, of course, the storm would hit and there might be two or three inches of snow covering the hood of my car. That’s not a bad snow but not really the certain death I had expected.

So it was with typical newspaper gallows humor that I spoke that week about Snowmageddon. When the first flakes started to fall in the afternoon, I announced, “It’s begun! Everyone run for lives!”

Well, it turns out this time the forecasters were right. There was no question that we were being pounded by an honest-to-goodness blizzard when Laurie and I went to bed that night.

I had my cellphone on my bedside table, which was unusual, but I figured I had to be ready the next morning to get in touch with co-workers after determining whether the office would be open that day. As I mentioned, my magazine had no formal snow policy.

I got my first text at about 6, just before my alarm went off, asking whether I would make a try of it. The next text, almost right on top of the first one, said all the roads were covered and a state of emergency was announced in Lake County, which is where the offices were. My reply—the first text I ever sent from my basic flip phone—was simply, “Wuss.”

I got another text and another and replied that I hadn’t heard anything, but I would get on it, stat. The editor had a scheduled day off, so technically I was in charge of the editorial department that day and would have to coordinate with the publisher to let everyone know the program.

I retrieved my phone numbers list that I brought home, and I’ll never forget the sight out of the windows in front. Snow covered everything. It was to the tops of the wheel wells on the cars parked out front. There must have been two feet of snow on the street, which had ski marks but nary a tire track. It was easily the most snow I’d ever seen in one instance.

OK, so it was obvious there would be no getting to work today, at least by 8 a.m., for anyone in Chicago. Still, I didn’t want to assume anything. The publisher lived north, and for all I knew, he had no trouble getting to work. I called, and it sounded like someone answered briefly before the call got disconnected. I tried again, same thing. I figured the snow was affecting phone lines, so I would try again in a little while. I texted everyone saying I’d keep trying, but I wasn’t going anywhere for the time being.

I kept hearing from other people. Two people decided the previous day that they were going to stay with relatives close to the office, and even they said they didn’t think they could make it in. Still, no luck getting the publisher. Finally, I made the call for those in touch and for myself. I’m not going in; you can do what you want, but I don’t think anything’s working today.

The apartment itself was fine—nice and toasty and no snow seeping through cracks anywhere—unlike the Blizzard of 1978 in Columbus, when a small snow drift formed in our living room as the snow blew through the narrow slot between the door and door jamb. I told Laurie: Let’s get dressed and go outside and play. I was like a little kid.

The sun came out, and we hiked around—in a manner of speaking. The snow mostly was midthigh. We hiked over to where each of our cars was parked, just to see how much snow we’d have to shovel … eventually. Laurie had parked behind an industrial building and wasn’t nearly as buried as I was.

As we slogged back home, I saw a huge drift down one alley and took a running jump into it and sank above my waist. Unbelievable. If I dropped my nephew into that snowbank, he would’ve disappeared.

I hadn’t had a snow day since high school, and it was fun, but it lasted only one day. My car was undriveable the next two weeks, but the main streets were clear and buses running the next day, so it was back to work.

When I showed up, I talked to the publisher. I tried calling several times; what happened? He said, ah, so that was it. He explained that his number was actually his wife’s cellphone, and because the number came up with a non-Chicago area code (I never switched over), she thought it was a solicitor and kept hanging up.

OK, that’s rude—why not just not answer the phone—but I get that, but … really? It never occurred to anyone that workers might be calling to see whether the office would be open? “I thought it was a no-brainer.”

So, our snow policy is get to work unless the publisher thinks it’s a no-brainer. In case you’re wondering, the level of snow that causes that hasn’t been determined.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

No. 558 – Who’s Behind the Door?

Performer: Zebra
Songwriter: Randy Jackson
Original Release: Zebra
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: None

As I mentioned, when it comes to rock, I have a pretty good ear. I usually can tell right away whether someone is going to big. I knew the first time I heard U2, as I mentioned, that there was something going on there that went beyond the sound of the time. The same was true of Pearl Jam.

The only time I’ve been wrong, really wrong, was Zebra. The first time I heard this song, probably on MTV, I thought this band was going to be huge. They just had this SOUND. It was the closest new thing I’d heard that sounded like Yes or Zeppelin. I never heard the rest of their debut album, so maybe this song was a big aberration. It happens. It’s still a great song, though, and could rank higher, I suppose. No. 558 out of all the zillions of songs out there isn’t bad.

This was a big Hawaii song, so big I put it on two different mix tapes before we went. I had to have it readily available at any moment.

When we were in Hawaii, we didn’t just go to the beach all the time. I mean, we did—we were in Hawaii after all—but we did do other things that involved wearing street clothes. We did the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor and hiked around Punchbowl, the military cemetery. We went to the Pali Gap and hiked to the top of Diamond Head. (These were different days, of course.) And … then we went to the beach.

One night, we went to Laura’s favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner, well, not all of us. Jin and Scott weren’t interested, so they had McDonald’s or Burger King (I can’t remember which) and stayed home to watch TV while the adults went out. A year before, I probably would have been with them.

When Beth and I started to date, my palate was meat-and-potatoes bland. The first time Beth asked me to take her to her favorite restaurant—the Blue Lotus—in 1983, I blanched. The Blue Lotus was a Chinese restaurant, and I didn’t like Chinese food. Beth thought this was incomprehensible; it’s good, trust me. I did, but I knew what I liked, and I didn’t like Chinese food.

Now, you have to keep in mind, this was at a time when restaurants in Columbus—at least the ones my family went to—didn’t do ethnic cuisine, except basic Italian. The sum of my experience with Chinese food was the La Choy chop suey that Mom made. Anyone who has had the same experience knows exactly where I’m coming from when I say I didn’t like Chinese food. La Choy canned chop suey? Bleah!

Beth finally persuaded me to go, and she instructed me to get the beef broccoli—about as straightforward as you can get. I took a bite, and … hey, this is pretty good. By the time my plate was clean, I loved it. In one meal, I realized I’d never really had Chinese food before, and the Blue Lotus became a regular dinner spot for Beth and me. It was good and cheap—two prerequisites.

So I was more than ready to have Chinese in Hawaii. I mean, it was in the Chinese district of Honolulu; it has to be good, right? I don’t remember the name of the place now; it was something like House of Hunan. I definitely remember that it was in a strip shopping center and appeared to be a hole in the wall lit by bright overhead fluorescent bulbs, like a high-school classroom. (The Blue Lotus was fairly ornate.) It was next to a Long’s Drugs, where everyone went to buy their wine or beer—my first experience at a BYO restaurant.

Laura and her mom, who is full-blooded Japanese, did all the ordering, and they brought about half-dozen dishes to our table, which had a lazy susan in the middle. We spun the wheel and took a bit from each plate. The restaurant didn’t look like much, but the food was phenomenal. It gave me a whole new appreciation for holes in the wall.

The funny thing is … I’m not really a big fan of Chinese now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good, but I’d rather have Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese or even dim sum … pretty much anything but the Chinese that Beth introduced me to all those years ago. In other words, anything that I barely knew or didn’t know existed back in 1984.

But your palate has to start somewhere, and thanks to Beth, I had my eyes opened enough to new cuisine to not be afraid when presented something new.

Friday, November 23, 2012

No. 559 – Effigy

Performer: Uncle Tupelo
Songwriter: John Fogerty
Original Release: No Alternative
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

This entry should be about a breakup, shouldn’t it, given that the guy who wrote it and the band that played it—at least the version that made this here list—were involved in brutal rock-band breakups. To a certain extent, this entry is.

When I got the job offer from The Columbus Dispatch in May 1994, a drawback was that I would be leaving right as softball season got going. This was a bummer, because Flint winters were so brutal—and 1994’s was particularly cold—that when it finally got warm, your reward for making it through the winter was softball. All you wanted was to be outside.

I was part of The Journal men’s team that year, and I wasn’t going to play on the coed team again unless Dave specifically asked (stories to come on all of this). Just as the calendar turned to May and practice was about to begin, he asked. Of course, I said yes. I finally was going to get all the ballplaying time I wanted.

And then The Dispatch made me an offer I didn’t refuse. (I very easily COULD have refused it; I just didn’t—but that’s another story.) My departure date meant I would play only two men’s games and one more coed game.

The men’s games were first. We had an easy blowout and then played a team that had whipped us pretty good in a fall league doubleheader and did a fair job of rubbing it in the whole time. In short, they were a team of D bags, and at the end of the losses in the fall, I couldn’t believe I shook their friggin’ hands.

So payback was the order of the day in the “real” league—the summer league. We wiped them out, and yours truly started two rallies with line-drive singles straight up the pipe. (I scored both times; the first was the first run of the game, the second started a 6-run game-clincher.) That made me 3-for-4 in the men’s league that year.

My final game was in the coed league, and we lost. I got to bat only one time, which was fine, and I’d love to tell you that in my final at bat, I hit an over-the-fence home run.

Well, I swung in attempt to achieve such a rare feat, anyway, but the result was that the bat flew out of my hands and nearly decapitated the catcher. The ball somehow dribbled through the hole on the left side of the infield for the weakest of weak singles. At least I didn’t whiff, but Dave told me that the ump warned him and nearly tossed me from the game for “throwing the bat.” Somehow, that was an appropriate finale.

After the game, the team went to Dave’s for a barbecue, and Dave surprised me by retiring my softball number, 49. By then, I actually was wearing 28, because the uniform that had 49 had the number peeled off, so I stopped wearing it, but never mind that now. Don’t go looking anywhere for a plaque that marks this august achievement, because The Journal long since has been retired as a daily newspaper. I still have the plaque, though.

In Columbus, I’d be working the night shift, so unless I caught on with a team that played weekends only, leaving Flint would mark the end of my softball career. The Dispatch had no team of any stripe, regardless, so that was that.

Once that summer, I felt the softball urge and during the day before I went in to work, I took my bat to the batting cages located at a nearby softball complex south of Downtown. I took a bunch of swings, but it just wasn’t the same. It was like having a fling with an ex after you just broke up: There was no going back.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No. 560 – Tunnel of Love

Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Original Release: Tunnel of Love
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Summernight, 1995

To say I wasn’t a Bruce Springsteen fan when I was younger would be like saying I wasn’t a fan of Barry Manilow. I mean, obviously, there was a different level of respect, but I couldn’t snap off the radio fast enough when a Springsteen song came on—particularly during the Born in the USA days.

That changed with I’m on Fire, and it really changed with this song. It was like these songs were the bridge between Bruce Springsteen, icon, and Bruce Springsteen, musician. Then again, maybe I wasn’t really ready for the Boss.

After my political awakening in 1986-87 and Jim introduced me to Nebraska at the News-Dispatch, it clicked in that there was something serious going on here. I became a fan, although I can’t say I’m a huge fan. (And I still can’t listen to Dancing in the Dark.)

Anyway, I had just added a copy of this song—the live Summernight version—from Scott for, umm, archiving purposes when I moved back to Columbus from Cleveland in March 2004, so it was on heavy rotation those first few months.

During that time, I really bonded with Casey. We always had gotten along, but now we were around each other all the time—he was a sophomore in high school—and it was fun, even though, in truth, we did almost nothing together.

The routine was after he’d get home from school and I’d get home from the library, we’d be together in the office. I’d be at my desk, with my computer plugged in to the dialup Internet, and he’d be at the other computer on the high-speed. I’d be doing whatever research I was doing or writing up an entry for BaseballTruth, and he’d be playing Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.

He got the game for his birthday soon after I moved back, and he played the online version ALL … THE … TIME. It got to be funny, hearing him announce the proceedings and urging on the cartoon battlers while calling out his unseen online teammates. He always played the same characters, and my favorite was the Pandaren brewmaster, who had some funny lines in the game.

Casey’s music tastes trend to old-time rock—his first-grade teacher once asked Laura whether he had any older brothers due to his musical tastes—and he’d play a mix of classic rock on his iTunes when he had homework. Sometimes I’d play my music, and when this song would come on, he’d make fun of it because of Bruce’s overemoting female backup singer. (I guess it’s Patti, but I haven’t looked at his lineup from the time it was recorded.)

When Casey was done playing, and it was time to watch TV to wind down before bed before school the next day, he’d just shut everything off and announce, “I’m out,” to me but really to no one in particular.

Casey lives in Chicago now, and we don’t see each other as much as you might think. That’s OK, I suppose, but hanging out with him in the office definitely was an upside of moving back home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No. 561 – Release

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Dave Krusen, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Ten
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: Dissident Vol. 1, 1994

When I learned that Pearl Jam would play Chicago in May 2006, I had to go. I had seen them every chance I could except 2003, when I cut my expenses to the bone. But now was different; now I had a job again after three years of living off savings.

Well, that’s not entirely true, of course. I had the scoring gig and some freelance writing work during that time. The biggest job was the AM News, which is the weekly newspaper of the American Medical Association. A friend of Laurie’s hooked me up with a part-time job at the end of 2005. I went in very sporadically at the start of the year—my role was to cover for when someone from the three-member copy desk went on vacation.

However, in late February, when my savings was on the brink of extinction and I’d have to find a job flipping burgers somewhere, AM News called. The copy desk chief was adopting a child from abroad and would be gone for a few weeks, so my services were needed. That meant more or less full time work at $25 per hour for the next month. Talk about good timing.

What was better timing was just as that gig, which was extended a couple of weeks (bonus), came to an end, I got the job at my magazine. Amazing. Three years before, I jumped out of an airplane without a parachute just to see what happened, and I didn’t hit the ground.

I started April 16, two weeks into the publication cycle, and I didn’t have a learning curve; I had a learning cliff and one choice—sink or swim. I had four projects due in six weeks, and I needed to find authors for two of them. Gulp!

A three-hour meeting with the editor on my first day constituted my training. With a staff of five full-timers, I was on my own. Heck, I even had to teach myself how to work the computer.

The good news there was working at AM News gave me lots of experience with Word, track changes and even a Windows computer. Of course, being a Mac guy, I had enough knowledge to guess where things were and know that trial and error would serve me.

Those first six weeks were a blur. Maybe the fear of running out of money had shaped me up, but I think it was also a sense of obligation. I was happy to finally have a job again after searching since I had moved to Chicago six months earlier, and I was going to show the editor and publisher that hiring me was the right decision. So I busted my ass like I never had before. I’m pretty sure I worked 60 hours each week to get caught up, to get things done.

The Pearl Jam show was the last week in May—deadline week. I was in good enough shape that I could block out enough time that night to go, and I was excited for Laurie to see my favorite active band. (Before we began to date, she knew Pearl Jam only in passing.) Besides, this would be the first show we’d seen together after the somewhat dismal U2 concert the previous year.

My Morning Jacket was the warmup act, and I’ve already written about that. I almost never drink at concerts, because I don’t want to have to get up in the middle to go to the bathroom and miss something, but just before Pearl Jam took the stage, I had to go.

I was in the john when I heard the crowd roar as they cut the lights, and the angelic guitar that opens this dirgy tune started up just as I entered the arena. (It was at the United Center again.) I was in my seat by the time Eddie began his vocal drone … and that’s where I stayed the rest of the show.

It was crazy. I think I got up to applaud at the end, maybe one other time, I don’t know. It was then that all the hours and the pressure of my new job caught up with me. I was so drained from work, I couldn’t move. Can you believe that? Here I was seeing Pearl Jam for the first time in six years, and I couldn’t even rock out like I wanted to.

I got burned that night, but I otherwise survived my professional trial by fire, and my workload got a little bit lighter and my job a little bit easier with each subsequent issue. It had been sink or swim. I swam.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No. 562 – Misunderstanding

Performer: Genesis
Songwriter: Phil Collins
Original Release: Duke
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: the studio version

Unfortunately, not all stories have happy endings, of course. And in February 1987, I had a feeling that my story with Beth would be one of those.

As I mentioned, the night I went with a friend to see Fion the Fair, I had a feeling that Beth had met someone else. That feeling didn’t come completely out of the blue.

I knew, because she had told me, that she was going to visit a friend of hers at Bowling Green—Beth attended Ohio State—and that her friend was holding a party on this particular night. Beth looked good; she would be prime party bait. It didn’t help that we had been going downhill—generally, not from anything in particular—for a while.

Well, Spring Break was coming up, and that would change that. The plan was I’d drive down to Columbus, we’d celebrate St. Patrick’s Day there and then Beth and I would come up to Chicago for the rest of the week. The ruse was, as it had been on a previous visit, that Beth would be rooming with a pair of female friends from Medill, so, of course, nothing untoward would go on, as far as the parents were concerned.

I was looking forward to showing Beth around to more things I had discovered about my new city in the interim from when she had visited in the fall. But maybe something else was going to happen.

Mom had given me her engagement ring, and I was starting to toy with the idea that this was the year I would finally pop the question to Beth. After all, we had been dating for more than four years. It probably wasn’t going to happen on this trip, I had more or less concluded, but I also didn’t rule it out in case the romance of a particular night on the town overwhelmed.

And it was with that thought in the back of my mind when everything changed. It was a Sunday, and I was heading home the next day when Beth called, undoubtedly to firm up plans for getting together the next night.

We talked for a while before Beth asked—almost out of the blue—whether I was planning to maybe give her a ring when I brought her up to Chicago. I played coy, saying, well, you never know …

Well … don’t. See … I’ve met someone else, and …

I felt all the air leave my lungs as though I had just been punched in the gut—and to a certain extent, I had. I was right. She HAD met someone else that night. I knew it! I felt it! And, yet, I couldn’t believe it. My mind reeled, and I thought I’d get sick.

I told Beth I had to get off the phone RIGHT NOW and hung up before collapsing in a heap on the floor of my bedroom, just trying to breathe.

I had to get the Hell out of there—just run away as fast as I could. I grabbed my coat and proceeded directly to Lake Michigan, which was my nighttime place for quiet contemplation among the rocks that lined the shore along Northwestern’s campus.

As I sat there and felt my world collapsing, I thought about my favorite band at the time—Genesis. I had discovered and fallen in love with Duke my senior year at Wabash. Back then, this song was part of the story, of course, but it was more famous as a poppy radio hit. Now, sitting by the lake, the lyrics came through in a way they never registered before and turned this song on its head. It was light and poppy … and absolutely miserable. He was just leaving, all right. Then I cried.

When I finally got everything out of my system—at no time did I ever seriously contemplate jumping into the icy early spring waters—I headed back to my room and a future that was far more uncertain than it had been an hour before.

My roommate said I had three phone calls—two from Beth and one from a friend in the dorm whom Beth called to see whether I was still alive. I crumpled up the paper and threw it away. Soon after that, the phone rang again. It was Beth. She was calling back to try and talk me off the ledge, even though it was her who had put me out there. As I recall, the phone call was something of a mixed bag, and I didn’t feel much better, even though she still wanted to see me on St. Patrick’s Day.

Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind during my six-hour drive home the next day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No. 563 – The Dream Is Always the Same

Performer: Tangerine Dream
Songwriters: Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, Johannes Schmoelling
Original Release: Risky Business
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: None

One could argue, I suppose, that this song shouldn’t be included on this list. The other day I heard Tangerine Dream (not this song) on the New Age channel on Sirius, and, well, remember my rule about the genre of a performer being the determining factor and not a particular song? It would seem that Tangerine Dream has been classified, at least by Sirius, as a new-age group, so I should no more include them than I would Loreena McKennitt.

Well, like Joel Goodson’s father said, my house, my rules. I’m including this song anyway.

Speaking of Joel Goodson, I had no interest in seeing Risky Business when it came out—none. All I knew about it was the trailer, and that was plenty. Maybe it’s on YouTube, but if you haven’t seen it or don’t remember it, it consisted solely of Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger and talking on the phone to his parents while some babe is draped all over him, lying to them about the huge party going on in the background.

Ah, so it’s a fun-filled teenage sex romp, just like the ones I never had when I was in high school and still wasn’t having (Beth and I had not done the deed yet) … not interested.

Beth wanted to see it, however, so, not wanting to incur her wrath, I took her to see the movie. I can’t remember at which theater it was playing, but I think it was at Loews Arlington, which was the closest theater to where each of us lived.

Of course, the movie starts with this song and the character Tom Cruise played—Joel Goodson—recounting this elaborate dream he has about going over to a neighbor’s house to sex up a babe in the shower. Cue eye roll by me in the audience.

But then, of course, it changes. He can’t find the said babe and ends up in school at the end of the SAT he was supposed to take, and he realizes he’s ruined his chances of getting into college. Cue eye widen by me in the audience.

Over the next two hours, I sat in stunned silence as I realized that Risky Business was not the movie I was expecting at all. I mean, of course, it had the scenes that were in the trailer, including the big party at the end, but to say Risky Business is a teenage sex comedy would be like saying Bull Durham is a baseball movie: It is, but you’re missing the point.

Years later, I stumbled upon the review of Risky Business by Roger Ebert, who said that it was a movie that not only drew comparisons with The Graduate but also earned them. Wow. The Graduate was the standard-bearer as far as male coming-of-age movies went, so that was some high praise, indeed.

I thanked Beth profusely afterward for forcing me to go to see Risky Business against my will. It became one of my all-time favorite movies, and a big part of that was the music, particularly the eerie synth tunes by Tangerine Dream. I wanted to get the soundtrack, but, like high-school girls proved elusive to Joel Goodson (a theme to which I DEFINITELY could relate), so did the Risky Business soundtrack evade me in a puff of shower steam.

One time, Beth and I went to a nearby record shop, Record & Tape Outlet, looking to order the album, only to be told by the store clerk that no such thing existed. Well, I knew a soundtrack album existed, because I had seen it in some store at a time before I wanted to buy it.

Beth wasn’t there at the time, but she knew I believed I saw it, and that was good enough for her. So she took the clerk to task. “My boyfriend has seen it, so don’t you tell ME that it doesn’t exist …” That was pretty awesome.

Anyway, what I later found out was that the soundtrack album was an import, not officially released for some reason in the United States—at least for a while. That’s why it was so elusive. I finally found a tape of it in a store in Indiana, I think, and thus able to prove beyond any doubt that a Risky Business soundtrack did in fact exist.

I’m a sucker for a happy ending; aren’t you?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

No. 564 – The Main Title

Performer: Robbie Robertson
Songwriter: Robbie Robertson
Original Release: The Color of Money
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: None

OK, today’s post is neither long nor too heavy, I promise.

The first time I saw The Color of Money, I was McKayla Maroney—not impressed. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe more pool trickery, maybe a happier ending. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to absorb what Scorsese was trying to tell me, I don’t know.

Whatever, after Debbie and I broke up, The Color of Money was on HBO, and I wanted to see it again, because I had forgotten so much about it in the 16 years hence. This time, it hit me like a sledgehammer break, and it became regular—almost essential—late-night viewing in 2001-2002.

I did a lot of late-night TV viewing in those days. It fit my post-breakup depression. Besides, I knew I couldn’t listen to music in my room, because my next-door neighbor would hear it and come over in his bathrobe and bang on my door—or just call the cops, like he threatened. I had to confine my music listening to the day unless I wanted to wear headphones.

So my routine became coming home from work and putting on The Color of Money or Fight Club, or both, and having a glass of wine or two, or a whole bottle, and sit in my otherwise stark apartment feeling sorry for myself.

Actually, the living room was about the only room, aside from my bedroom, I guess, where I got it together enough to put up decorations or even arrange the furniture so you’d want to spend any time there.

I had a four-room apartment with a basement, and the only rooms I ever spent any time in aside from the kitchen were my bedroom and the living room. I had boxes piled in and around my unused dining table and chairs for months before I at least decided to make that room at least presentable.

And I never did reopen my baseball room. The whole point of getting a two-bedroom apartment when I moved out was so I could rebuild to some degree what I had at the house, but in the nearly two years I lived in my Clintonville apartment, the second bedroom was nothing more than storage for dozens of boxes of pennants, books, posters, baseballs and caps all waiting for a day when they’d again see the light of it.

To a certain extent, during this time, I was, too.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

No. 565 – Schism

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones
Original Release: Lateralus
Year: 2001
Definitive Version: None

Remember that note about length yesterday? Well, today you’ve been doubly forewarned.

I’m not good at dealing with death or tragedy. When I hear that something bad has happened, and someone says, almost reflexively, “our thoughts and prayers go out to …,” it makes my molars rattle. To me, nothing sounds more canned and fake, and the last thing you want to hear when you’re in the tragedy and death vortex is fake sentiment … maybe. What do I know? Like I said, I’m not good at dealing with death or tragedy.

A lot of that has to do with working in the newspaper business for so long. You literally read about senseless death and tragedy every day, and you become immune to it. Black humor is another symptom. It’s not as though you don’t feel empathy for the people involved, it’s just that as long as you aren’t directly involved, you don’t feel anything. People die all the time; life goes on. The only way you’re affected is when the circumstances are so bizarre or spectacular.

Which brings me to 9/11. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)

Yeah, I know. I should save this for the appropriate day, but I’m not a big fan of commemorating death in a choreographed fashion on a particular day. Don’t get me wrong: I pay my respects to those who have gone before me as much as anyone; I just prefer to do it in private when the mood strikes.

Besides, this is the song that makes me think of that day. (My European readers, if any exist, are saying, what’s the big deal about November 9th anyway? A shout out to Eddie Izzard, there.) So now is the time to recount my 9/11 experience, which is neither dramatic nor all that compelling. It is what it is.

Anyway, as I think I mentioned, I flew back from my first Las Vegas jaunt the night of Sept. 10, 2001. Vegas was a blast, and I felt alive for the first time since my breakup with Debbie. Part of that was because I was running on pure adrenaline after staying up every night till 4 in the morning—7 a.m. Eastern time.

Given that and given that I didn’t have to be into work on Sept. 11 until 3, I decided I was going to sleep as long as I wanted—noon was the goal.

The phone downstairs rang at about, 9, I guess. I could hear the answering machine just well enough from my bedroom to tell whether it was a male or female calling but little else. I think I recognized Mom’s voice, and I immediately rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. What’s she doing calling me this early? She should know better. I’ll call her back later.

A short while later, the phone rang again. I didn’t hear who it was this time, but I got up and went to the bathroom … and back to bed. It was light out, and I was trying to get back to sleep, and the phone rang again. It was about 10 now.

Really? The one day I want to sleep in, really sleep in, and every solicitor in the world is calling me trying to sell me something or donate to their obviously worthy cause? I flopped around in bed for a while, but it was no use, and when my phone rang again, I got up quite irritated and went downstairs to see what the fuss was all about.

Six messages were on my answering machine, which was rare. (I already had cleared the messages from vacation. There might have been two.) In the 11 years that I had an answering machine to that point, if I had three at any one time, that was a lot.

I hit play, and the first one was Mom. “Are you watching TV? A plane flew into the World Trade Center. Talk to you later.” Huh. Well, Mom watched TV; that’s all she did, and sometimes she liked to talk about the big tragedy of the day. OK. Thanks for filling me in on the breaking news. Next message. It was Dad. “Are you watching this? Unbelievable.” Yeah, I heard already.

Third message. It was Mom again. “Will, did you get back from Las Vegas? Are you OK? A second plane has flown into the World Trade Center, and …”

Wait … WHAT?

I paused the answering machine and immediately grabbed the clicker. I’ll never forget it, as I’m sure no one else will when they first encountered the images from that day. The first thing I saw was the World Trade Center with smoke billowing out of one building and the other one … was … gone.

Oh. My. God. It’s GONE.

I sank down on the sofa and watched, as many did that day, in stunned silence for about an hour before I did anything else. Then I called Mom and Dad and assured them I was back in town.

I went back to the messages. One was from Laura and then the next two were from my fellow Business copy editors letting me know that everyone was going into work early that day; I didn’t need to—I was the third wheel that day—just come in ready to hit the ground running. Yeah, I guess so.

Watching the tragedy unfold—it turned out, I missed most of the drama except for the collapse of the second building—I was convinced that I was witnessing the beginning of World War III. It wasn’t, of course, but there was no doubt something major was happening, and I reached out to the only person I could think of at the time—Debbie.

She came over at lunch, and we watched TV together for a while before I had to start getting ready for work. It felt surreal to have her there, but what the heck were we watching on TV? Like the man says, the pieces fit.

I covered my workday that day already. When I got home, well after midnight, I turned the TV back on. To a certain extent, it was tragedy porn. Everything that was known at the time had been reported about 10,000 times already, but I couldn’t stop watching. Watching more, trying to know more, was the only way I could try to make sense of it all. Shut off the heart; turn on the brain. To do otherwise would be to curl up in a ball on the sofa.

I called Scott and we talked and talked as the talking heads repeated what the same unconfirmed reports and asked the same unanswerable questions for the 20,000th time that day. I was watching CNN, of course, and they kept showing the video of the second plane hitting the tower, over and over and over, and Scott and I began to analyze it like we were studying game film. “OK, now see how the plane tilted at the last second. That caused major devastation there …”

Like I said, I’m not very good at dealing with tragedy.

So we’re talking, and CNN is running business news from Europe, because, well, they had to try and move on from the same depressing footage, and I noticed something familiar about one of the broadcasters—a blond Brit who had a real cockney accent. Scott and I, as fans of David Letterman, always look for people who bear only a passing resemblance to a celebrity, and then say something like, over my left shoulder, Paul Newman.

So, when the Brit came on the screen again, I said in mid-sentence, “by the way, Roger Daltrey giving the business news.” Scott paused, clicked over to CNN and announced happily, “It IS Daltrey!” (It wasn’t really, of course, but Scott definitely saw what I saw.) At that instant, I thought maybe the world wasn’t about to come to and end after all. Maybe it would be OK. Humor saves the day.

It wasn’t OK, of course, not for a while anyway. Eventually, most everyone came out of their shell. One of the first things that happened in Columbus after 9/11 was a concert by Tool.

I desperately wanted to see Tool live after playing Lateralus nonstop all summer and hectored Doug to hook me up with tickets. He never got around to it, and after 9/11, it became an afterthought. Tool played 9/14, and it was one of the first cultural events that I remember going on anywhere.

They did this song, and Maynard introduced it with a speech about learning to communicate with others, even those with whom you don’t agree—the theme of the song, of course—and apparently it didn’t go over well. No one wanted to hear about peace, love and understanding; they just wanted to bomb the crap out of someone, somewhere, didn’t matter who.

It’s too bad more people didn’t heed Maynard’s warning that night. When you think about it, one could argue, plausibly, that everything wrong that’s happened to this country in the past 11 years happened as a result of 9/11. As a nation. we’ve never gotten over it and have become only more fearful, more distrustful, more pessimistic, more indignant, more vengeful.

Just look at the recent presidential election; need I say more? We’ve created a schism among ourselves, and only time will tell whether the ultimate tragedy of 9/11 was that the changes we’ve undergone are permanent and that we lost in one cataclysmic day a war we didn’t even know we were fighting.

So … who’s up for some Chutes and Ladders now?

Friday, November 16, 2012

No. 566 – Man in the Box

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriters: Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Facelift
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

Got a long one today. You’ve been forewarned.

As anyone who has worked anywhere long enough knows, a workplace can be a volatile thing, and that’s certainly true at a newspaper. I wouldn’t say “particularly,” because I don’t know the pressures that go on at, say, a machine shop, but the newspaper biz is a fast-paced, high-pressure world, and when the tension is high—as is typical—things can snap in an instant.

That happened one night in the Business department at The Dispatch sometime in 1995, if I remember correctly. (I honestly don’t remember the when; I definitely remember the what.)

Hildegard kept things on edge. As I’ve intimated, she had a, shall we say, prickly personality and made no attempt to smooth any rough corners if things didn’t go her way. The problem was she was married to someone in upper management of the newspaper, so no one was willing to stand up to her nonsense, until one Thursday night …

Thursday night was the only night where all three of the full-time copyeditors and Hildegard worked. Business had three desks, one for each full-timer, and four ATEX terminals. Hildegard usually worked at the extra one in the back, but we were starting to transition to Macs, and the fourth terminal was gone. So she worked in the library next door, which got her out of the room—not a bad thing.

On deadline, things need to be moved along quickly, so chores got passed off to the first person available. Hildegard wasn’t around, and she came to believe that she was being left out intentionally, which, of course, wasn’t the case. On the aforementioned Thursday night, when Paul asked me to read the Wheels proofs—usually Hildegard’s responsibility—before I did the BT layout, she decided she needed to say something about it.

She complained that we were ignoring her—Paul in particular because he was in charge—and obviously didn’t value her contributions. “You know,” she huffed. “This always happens when it’s the three of you guys together.” (All three full-timers were male.)

As I recounted the next day to one of the reporters who had gotten wind of what happened the previous night, “Two of the copyeditors were smart and said nothing. However, I …” I didn’t have to say anything more.

Yeah, I said something. I saw where this was going, and I wasn’t going to let her get away with it. I had to say something … because I already had been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

At the Harbor Country News, late in my tenure in 1988, I made a joke that went horribly awry. One of the ad reps was moving to a new job—traffic, which is the person who lays out the ad pages of the newspaper each day among other smaller duties. The ad rep—let’s call her Darlene—was undergoing training, and I teased her about whether she could handle the job. The reality is a 12-year-old with any brains at all could do the job, which is why this position no longer exists at any newspaper. Darlene was a sharp cookie. OF COURSE, she could handle the job.

Well, she took it literally, and the traffic person—let’s call her Kayden—who was training her reamed me out but good in my office the next day, saying I had belittled Darlene. Shocked, I apologized and insisted I was only kidding, but Kayden wasn’t wrong to call me out. I meant no harm but I did harm.

I apologized profusely to Darlene about my ill attempt at humor and said I had no doubt whatsoever she could do the job and that I was looking forward to working with her, which was true. A bit begrudgingly, perhaps, she said she accepted my apology. And that was that … or so I thought.

About a week later, the editor called me into his office and told me that Darlene complained to him about the “harassment.” This was after I had apologized to her and had said nothing more to her in the interim. I told the editor my side of the story and apologized again for my behavior. Fortunately, I wasn’t fired, and it went no further than that, but I did never speak to Darlene again. Can’t be too careful, you know.

Now here’s the rest of the story: There was a bit of history between me and Darlene. In February, she had asked me out to a Notre Dame basketball game. This was a welcome development. Unfortunately, the date didn’t go so well. We parted at the end of the evening with nary a kiss nor any hint of further dates.

Later, I found out from Jim that word was going around the office about how I was a cheapskate and was withdrawn most of the night. All true. I was a cheapskate at the dinner we went to after the game, because the service was abysmal, and I tipped accordingly. (I wasn’t making enough to be generous with my money—particularly when it wasn’t warranted.)

But I never explained being withdrawn to him or anyone … until now.

See, I was hot for Darlene, but as God as my witness, my feelings became an Antarctic blizzard when I discovered that she had breath that could choke Michael Phelps at 50 paces. We’re talking smoker’s halitosis, you know? Whenever she spoke, it was all I could do to keep from passing out. I didn’t feel I knew her well enough to confide the nature of my problem, so, of course, I withdrew. Maybe the friction of that bad evening led to things being said / taken more harshly than they should have—even subconsciously.

Whatever, that was the backdrop when Hildegard launched her attack, and I immediately put into words her insinuation. “Yeah, the three of us here are sexually harassing you.”

She sharped her glare. “That’s EXACTLY what I’m saying.”

I matched her dagger for dagger and jumped up out of my seat. “Well, then you better be prepared to take this to ER (employee relations) right now, because this accusation is nonsense.” I said this a bit more colorfully than I just wrote it.

If looks could kill, I’d be a skeleton, but Hildegard said nothing and stormed out of the room, packed up her stuff in the library and left the building. She didn’t work the rest of the weekend, which was no loss professionally or, certainly, from a morale standpoint.

She also didn’t go to ER or anyone else that I’m aware of. I never heard anything from anyone—even my boss. Hildegard returned to work the next week but never again worked in the same room with the rest of the copy desk and might have said no more than five words than was absolutely necessary to anyone. I think she might have been in shock that someone actually stood up to her.

A month or so later, Hildegard quit The Dispatch for a while before coming back as a reporter. She worked during the day on the fifth floor, and our paths never crossed.

The upshot of all this? A couple of years ago, I got an LinkedIn invite … from Hildegard. I’m certain it was a blast invite sent to everyone she knew or had known at The Dispatch, but still, this was a surprising turn of events. I let the invite sit in my email for a couple of days, because I didn’t feel as though I could recommend her if push ever came to shove.

Finally I decided, what the hell. Obviously, the incident wasn’t that big of a deal in the long run, and if she were willing to let bygones be bygones, who was I to say no? I clicked accept.