Here at the Trib, a lot of our lives changed last Fourth of July.
As our country celebrated its Independence Day, my company mourned the death of the man who seemed to cherish most the necessity of an independent press. But my thoughts now have not changed from the ones that came to me when Richard Mellon Scaife died. And a year later, I can add only that I miss him less than my Tribune-Review colleagues who knew him much better, probably because I’ve always known Mr. Scaife more as a presence than a person – and his presence, I’m relieved to say, did not leave us when he passed.
I was high when the news about Mr. Scaife broke. A few days prior, I’d undergone surgery to repair a hernia. Maybe Oxycodone works differently on everyone. The drug didn’t take away my pain, but rather it left feeling me something akin to numb for a few hours. The drug didn’t put me to sleep, but rather it kept me awake in a state of foggy detachment. I could see and hear and smell and taste. I just couldn’t feel. It was like I was present and detached at the same time.
And it was all too familiar.
Present and detached is how I’ve spent the past couple of decades. It probably is no coincidence that those have been my years as a working journalist.
What worked as a journalist isn’t working for me anymore, and it probably is no coincidence I reached this conclusion about a year into my tenure as a columnist.
Funny how life works: You get the job you never wanted and it ends up being exactly what you needed. Turns out those most loathsome of words (“I” and “me”) are the ones pulling me closer when I’m present. My colleague, Jason Mackey, refers to this as me “being human,” but I don’t want to give him too much credit since he just produced a better first year covering the Penguins than I had way back when.
But he’s probably bang on.
So I’m working some things out, moving in closer if you will. Maybe you’ve noticed. Or maybe you don’t care. But our relationship has changed in the past year, that’s what I have noticed. Since switching from the Penguins beat to this columnist gig, things have turned personal between us. Feels that way, anyway. Feels like a lot of you are forming an opinion about me based on the opinions I write. And how could you not? That is my face above words that are mine. It’s not only a fair connection to draw. What I write is what I think, and what I think is who I am to many of you.
But, that’s not really true.
Take this column. I hated having to write every word. I knew what the fallout would be – for him and for me – while the paragraphs were being formed. But it was my call to write the words, and I said that to Jim Rutherford when we met for lunch a few weeks ago. And I never apologized for writing the column. I did apologize for never letting up, for only writing about his mistakes, and for not having this conversation earlier. He said some things I needed to hear, too.
I awoke Friday to a message on Facebook from a reader named Christopher Zivkovic, who offered some constructive criticism (take note, everybody), and ultimately urged me to become more of a “good guy” as a columnist.
Well, like I said to Rutherford, I don’t know what kind of guy I’m going to become as a columnist. The real-life guy who I am reached out to Rutherford, and I think that was a very big step for whatever guy I’ll become in this role.
It hadn’t occurred to me while we talked how similar the past year was for Rutherford and me. He no more expected to be running the Penguins than did I expect to be writing columns. Carolina was his home, and I was at home on the Penguins beat. A longtime friend burned both of us. We each watched somebody else do our old jobs. Our mistakes drew deserved criticism. Conducting business would have been easier had Evgeni Malkin called us back more frequently. (No, no, Rossi, what?)
So maybe you think columns like that one or this are my way of repairing a relationship with Rutherford, but they’re not. But you’d be right to think I’m looking at him – and everybody, everything – from a different view.
I think, maybe, Rutherford and I are two guys that had a hard year. And, hopefully, we’ve come out better for it. If not, maybe we’re each getting close.
That’s all I’m trying to do.
Be EXCELLENT to each other. (Been a while, huh?)