Saturday, March 9, 2013

No. 453 – Superdeformed / No. 453a – If It’s In My Mind, It’s On My Face

Performer: Matthew Sweet
Songwriter: Matthew Sweet
Original Release: No Alternative
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

Performer: Seal
Songwriters: Seal, Eric Schermerhorn, Stuart Price
Original Release: System
Year: 2007
Definitive Version: None

Here’s another A/B pairing. I know I mentioned the Seal song before, but it deserves the full treatment—and should be this high up the list, maybe higher. This time, however, I’m going to write about the first song.

No Alternative was all over my CD player in spring 1994, when I called in a marker. As I mentioned, when I saw that a spot was open on The Dispatch news copy desk, I asked my grandfather to use his connections to get me in the front door.

He did, and in April 1994, I drove to Columbus hopeful that my escape from Flint finally was imminent. I mean, if you can’t get a job when you have a connection to the top, when can you? I had one problem: Between getting almost no sleep from working till 9 a.m. the day of the interview and then having to hustle out the door to make my interview at 3, I left without taking my dress shoes.

When I realized that I left them home, I was too far to turn around and go back, so I called Laura and asked for a huge favor: Could she go out and get me a pair of black dress shoes, size 10? I didn’t care what they looked like, and I’d pay her back whatever the price. She said she would. I was planning to change at Dad’s house anyway, so it wouldn’t add unduly to my commute.

When I got to his house, at about 2, I went to the guest room and found on the bed a new $100 pair of black shoes—9-1/2. Laura said she couldn’t find 10s and hoped these would work. Well, what choice did I have? They’d have to work.

The Dispatch had a much tougher security policy than The Journal. I had to wait in the lobby until someone came and got me, because you needed a card to operate the elevator. I can’t remember whether someone came or the security guard used his card, but soon I was on the fifth floor of The Dispatch building—one I’d never been in before—and in the newsroom.

After seeing the opulence of the lobby, the newsroom was very unimpressive. It seemed dark and cramped. It wasn’t smaller than that of The Journal, I think, but it seemed like it, which surprised me considering The Dispatch’s circulation was three times that of The Journal. In retrospect, I should have taken that as an omen.

I was ushered into the office of Bob Smith, the editor, whom my grandfather directed me to contact. We had a nice chat, and then I met Andy Murphy, the managing editor, and Dennis Mahoney, the night-time managing editor, who led the copy desk. I felt good about what I said—hopeful would be the right word—even though I was uncomfortable because of my tight shoes.

I had to work in Flint the next night, so after spending the night, I headed home to await my fate. Before I left, Dad said I should go to see my grandparents while I was in town. I said I would, but I planned to anyway, so I could thank my grandfather for helping me with The Dispatch.

When I went to their house, as usual, my grandmother—Meemaw—sat at the dining table in the kitchen eating area with the TV tuned to her soaps. She was in her house coat, as was normal, but nothing else was. Her hair wasn’t as kempt as usual. But more important were the additions—a hospital bed in the dining room, a pillbox that seemed to be brimming and an oxygen tank from which a mask was sought after almost every breath. She looked frail—something I’d never seen before.

I think I noted at one point about how Meemaw had been on family death watch for the past decade. That was because we had watched how the effects of smoking since she was a teen destroyed her lungs. It was apparent that the watch was about to come to an end. Although it was expected, it still was shocking to see. I had seen her less then two months before, at my grandfather’s 80th birthday party, and she seemed the same as always.

Meemaw made jokes about her pills and apologized about how bad she looked and how she needed to grab for her oxygen tank after every sentence. I could tell she was embarrassed: Meemaw was the family matriarch and she had her pride.

We still had a pleasant visit, and both she and my grandfather listened with great interest as I told all about my interview. They both said it would be great to have me back in town, and I agreed it would. Before long, it was time to leave.

I have plenty of regrets in my life—about how I thought of just the perfect thing to say or do … long after it would have been appropriate. I have no regrets about that day in Columbus. It was another one of those rare moments when I had the ability to recognize the perfect thing to do as it happened.

I knew—I mean I just KNEW—I never was going to see my grandmother again. I suppose it was obvious that she had declined so far so rapidly, but some might have not wanted to face the moment. I did, and I did something that I never had done since I was a little kid: I gave Meemaw a kiss and told her I loved her.

A few days later, I got the call from Columbus: The Dispatch wanted to “go in another direction,” so it was passing on hiring me. Maybe it was the shoes after all. Oh well.

It turns out I was right about one thing, though: Meemaw lived another few weeks, but I never saw her again. So, the last thing she ever heard me say was, “I love you.” I didn’t get the job, but I got something better—perfect closure.

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