Thursday, October 4, 2007

M&M, a previous incarnation

M&M these days is Michelle and me, and this blog. But for years first it was me and McDermott.

Today, while Michelle was finishing up with her Knight Center project, I had lunch with Terry McDermott, one of my best friends for 25 years and a colleague at three newspapers up and down the West Coast.

One of the things Terry and I have in common is a love of baseball. He had grown up a Yankees fan and is a little bit older than I am, so he took to calling us the M&M Boys, after the early-'60s Yankee sluggers of the same nickname, Mantle and Maris. I always thought it was a fun nickname; McDermott might actually think he's Mickey Mantle.

To this day, we often begin and sign e-mails to each other "m boy" or "other m boy."

Terry's a brilliant reporter, probably the best I've ever worked with, and the author of an excellent book on the 9/11 hijackers called "Perfect Soldiers." He's now working on a new book about a neuro-scientist and his research on memory, based on a series Terry just did for the LA Times. I felt bad that I hadn't read the series before our date today, especially since it interests me as a brain-damaged guy, and I've known for a while that it was in the can awaiting publication. He was nice when I apologized about it.

McDermott and I "met cute," as they say in Hollywood. I was a young city hall reporter at the Eugene Register-Guard, my first full-time reporting gig out of college, and Terry and his wife Millie Quan had for some reason I can't remember decided to leave The Oregonian and take jobs at the R-G instead.

On Terry's first day, as he was being introduced around the newsroom, a photographer and editor were frantically looking for help. Apparently some people didn't show up for a photo to go with a story about some scary new disease called AIDS, so now they needed two youngish men to pose as a couple for a picture. They asked if the new guy and I would be willing to help out on what they assured us would be a tasteful silhouette. Downstairs to the studio we trundled, and after introducing ourselves we spent the next 15 or 20 minutes holding hands while the camera clicked. I'm pretty sure our picture ran in the paper with the AIDS story, although I don't have it and I could be wrong.

Anyway, Terry and I became friends. He taught me a lot about reporting and writing, and how the most important thing in a story is to get it right. I've felt ever since that I have extremely high standards for newspaper work, and I credit Terry as much as anyone for setting them.

Between them, Terry and Millie had a huge hand in getting me jobs at both the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times, and I owe them both a lot.

Millie was my editor in Eugene, and she did her best to break me of some lazy reporting habits. One of the most successful and humiliating of her tactics was to post on the newsroom bulletin board the stories my little sister Michele was writing for the college newspaper. Mich was covering the same beat I was, Eugene City Hall, but while also a full-time student, and she was kicking my ass. Millie knew that would motivate me.

OK, fast-forward a few years. Terry and Millie moved to the Seattle Times, which at that time was recruiting a lot of young talent from the Guard. Later, in 1985, I moved to San Francisco and got a job as arts and entertainment editor at the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian. It was a fun but tough gig, with long hours and low pay. One day, out of the blue, Millie called from Seattle and said the paper was starting a new South King County bureau and she was going to be the editor. While there were details to work out, including a quick weekend trip to Seattle for an interview with her boss, Millie said she had six reporting jobs available and I could have one if I wanted it.

Well, I was thrilled, ready to go, and took the job almost sight unseen. Excited, I called Mich, who was out of school by then and working as a statehouse reporter at the Salem Statesman-Journal, and told her the news.

"Oh, you took that?" Mich said. "Millie called me two weeks ago and offered me the same job. I turned it down."

Yike! Second choice in my own family for a bureau job! It was the bulletin board all over again. Just thinking about it now, 20 years later, I feel a little sting, although the story has become funny to me over the years with retelling.

It was great to see M Boy today. He's as warm and funny and insightful and full of editor animus as ever. The editing on one story, he said, was "the worst I've seen since Council Bluffs." He told me a lot about his experience in the publishing world and helped me think through an idea I have for my own book. He even bought me lunch, at the little Korean barbecue place we used to walk to sometimes when I worked down here.

Good afternoon with a good friend.


Michelle said...

okay, i take it back. This War and Peace post was worth waiting for. Four Gliomas!

Rita said...

You took the words right out of my mouth, Michelle.

Great post!

Mich said...

I'm pretty sure that the original M&M -- even before you met Terry -- was me and Manuel. But that's OK. I'll forgive you since you pumped me up way beyond reality in this here post.

Mom brought me back to Earth this afternoon by sending me an e-mail that started, "Hi Michelle." I'm her own daughter and she can't spell my name right. As I told her, she's been spending too much time reading this damn blog!

Mark said...

Mich, that's a crackup. Maybe she found the other L in your baby book.

Mich said...

Ha! Good one.

Rita said...

When you kids are right, you're right. I not only can't spell names right, I ignore household duties, time schedules and regular routines, all because I'm so hooked on the wit, humor, heart and soul of this crazy blog.

About the only things I don't ignore are personal hygiene and happy hour.

What's a Baby Book?

Mark said...

As the funny half of the original M&M would say, it's 5 o'clock someplace.

In fact, as we speak Michelle and I are enjoying an EMMM in our room at the Commerce, carried up from the bar downstairs where we forked over a World Series of Poker entry to ensure we got the good stuff.

Mark said...

I also thought of Manuel earlier tonight at the poker table, when some guy kept singing.

I had to stop myself from saying Manuel's line:

"You should be on the radio ... so I could turn you off!"

mich said...

Let's start a whole blog of Manny-isms.

Mark said...

Good idea, Mich. And Mom's already put together the picture of him.

Rita said...

Great minds think alike.