Friday, January 4, 2013

No. 517 – This Moment

Performer: Matthew Sweet
Songwriter: Victoria Williams
Original Release: Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

After Laurie and I saw Matthew Sweet at the Park West in September 2008, I was listening to him quite a bit—particularly this song, which he didn’t do that night. It became a somewhat prescient tune the next spring.

When Laurie and I met, one of the things that sparked a dialog betwixt us is we both were journalists by trade. I recently finished a 16-year career in the newspaper game, while Laurie was in mid-stride as associate editor at one of the American Hospital Association’s magazines.

That continued until one day in April 2009. We were in the bedroom, and I think I was preparing to do laundry or something, because I was scurrying about while Laurie was talking about a friend of hers who was having some relationship problems.

I was being properly sympathetic when Laurie finished and then said matter of factly, ‘Oh, and I got laid off today.’

Wait … what? I did a quintuple take. Talk about burying the lead! (She was a magazine writer, not a newspaper reporter.)

Yes, AHA decided that due to budgetary cutbacks, a dozen longtime employees were being shown the door. Laurie was one of the group, ending a 14-year run. Unlike the others in her group, Laurie was given a bonus to stay an additional three weeks and help AHA transition her magazine from a two-person staff to one that would be handled by one person.

Well, there was only one thing to do here. I went into the kitchen, grabbed an open bottle of champagne and poured us a toast.

It had been apparent for some time that Laurie needed a new professional challenge—even she knew it—but it was equally apparent that she wasn’t going to leave on her own. AHA thus provided the opportunity for her to try something new.

But now, Laurie’s first inclination was to panic over the coming loss of her regular paycheck. I didn’t necessarily disagree with her. It’s one thing to jump out of the airplane, like I did in 2003. It’s quite another to be pushed.

The good news was that in addition to the bonus, she was given a 14-week severance—something I didn’t get from The Dispatch—which cushioned the fall nicely. (Moral of the story: Don’t quit. Make them fire you, so they pay you to go away.)

Laurie’s second inclination then was to wonder whether she had blown it. At the start of 2009, the editor of Laurie’s magazine was more or less forced to retire due to the increasingly crippling effect of her MS. Laurie was asked whether she wanted to take over the big chair, but Laurie had no interest in being in charge of anything and declined. That, she concluded, sealed her fate at AHA.

Maybe, but it was just as well. If she hadn’t, Laurie now would have to do what her replacement was going to do—run the magazine solo. That definitely wasn’t something she wanted to do, so it was much better to take the severance and ride off into the sunset.

She agreed. It was unsettling, but it would be OK, because I’d be with her every step of the way. The first order of business was, as I recounted, to get her a computer, which she now would need for her home office.

Then, the second to last weekend, I went to her office as she went through her desk and helped her haul out files. It was bittersweet, as you might expect, even for me. I had met Laurie at her office after work dozens of times over the nearly four years since I moved to Chicago, and this would be the last time I’d be there. I had never known Laurie to work anywhere else. When we finished, we went to Italian Village to sit under faux stars in the middle of the faux town to cheer up.

When the last day came, we left town. Her final day, a Friday, happened to coincide with a long preplanned trip to Columbus to see a game at the Clippers’ new ballpark. The timing turned out to be perfect and provided a nice demarcation from the moments to come and those that never would come again.

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