Friday, March 8, 2013

No. 454 – Heaven Knows

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: David Barratt, Phil Johnstone
Original Release: Now and Zen
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

The letter came out of nowhere. It was a plain envelope addressed to me care of the Daily Herald. The name at the top was Wilhelm and the return address was Flint, Mich. I scanned my back catalog of people from Michigan and came up empty. I didn’t know any Wilhelms, and I certainly didn’t know anyone from Flint.

I opened the envelope, and the letter was from Allan Wilhelm, who was managing editor of The Flint Journal. He had gotten my name from someone whose name I didn’t recognize and said he had a job opening for a copy editor at the paper. Would I be interested in applying?

I looked around to see whether anyone was reading over my shoulder. Getting a job solicitation at work is like getting a letter from another woman with the wife in the same room (I would imagine)—it doesn’t look good. But no one was paying me any attention.

Would I be interested in applying? Aside from the obvious flattery of the offer, it was a good question. A large part of me was interested.

As I recounted, when I got back from my Labor Day wedding trip to Colorado Springs, my transmission dropped dead. This would be my second transmission replacement in less than two years. Between that and another financial issue of dubious nature that I will document another time, I had been in the hole, slowly paying off my credit-card debt, the whole time I lived in Herald City. I had to skrimp at all times. I finally was about to climb out of the hole when the second transmission replacement—to the tune of $1,500—shoved me right back in.

If The Journal were going to pay me more than the $375 per week I was making, I might be interested, but otherwise I wasn’t. First, although I knew of Flint, I didn’t know much about the city other than Roger & Me, which came out earlier that summer, and the picture was bleak. Why would I want to move from a Chicago suburb to a city that’s crumbling? I wouldn’t.

But I also didn’t want to move due to my budding friendship with Sara, which seemed like it might develop into something beyond just a friendship.

How did this Allan Wilhelm find me anyway? It had to be through Northwestern. A few months before, the news editor of the Daily Herald left to take a job in Minneapolis. The assistant news editor, Elida, whom I loved, was passed over for the position. I was pretty ticked about that, and I voiced my anger unsolicited to the newspaper editor. It didn’t hurt my position at the paper—he respected me for sticking up for her—but they weren’t going to promote her either.

So, in a fit of pique, I called Northwestern’s career office and said I was looking to leave. It was Northwestern that had directed me to the Daily Herald job to get me out of Harbor County. Now I needed them to do it again. I simmered down and forgot about that, but, apparently, someone in Michigan got my name and passed it along to Wilhelm.

That part was easy to figure out, but what was the offer? Wilhelm wrote me unsolicited, so the least I could do was call him back—from home, away from prying eyes and ears.

I called the next day, and he told me a little about The Journal—that it was a late-morning paper—and a bit about the job duties. It was for a news copy editor, and I would have at least one weekend day off—Sunday—every week. He said if I were interested, the paper would set up an interview in Flint and pay to fly me there and back.

We didn’t talk money then, but I figured that if it was willing to fly me to Flint for an interview, the pay scale had to be higher than what it was at the Daily Herald. OK, I’m in. We picked a day off for me (I always worked weekends at the Daily Herald) the next week, and he said he’d be in touch with the flight details.

When we hung up the phone, I had no feelings positive or negative. It was an interesting development,, even if the timing no longer were ideal. What did I have to lose in going over and hearing them out? Nothing.

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