The choices and circumstance that dictate our life’s course are often so subtle that, taken individually, they amount to nothing more than a cursory raise of the eyebrow. As you’ve probably noted from this series, much of what we do intertwines with much of what else we do – often without our control or even knowledge. It’s that what else that’s important, because it is often the side projects, the one-offs, the “why nots?”, the backroads, the adventures and extra hours spent here or there that alters the landscape in irreversible ways.
I’m going to tell you a few stories, now, because to tell only the most immediate would be to overlook the incredible amount of luck that even brought that most immediate story into the realm of possibility – and serendipity.
I was 18 years old and spending the summer in between freshman and sophomore year – when I was not loaded off Magic Hat #9 and/or escaping on fantastical flights of friendship and romance all over the I-95 corridor – cheerfully slaving away inside a public opinion polling monolith located in Utica, NY. One particular phone call yielded a surprising twist. The woman on the other end of the line – a housewife in Philadelphia – wanted to talk to me about a “business proposal” because I seemed like such a “charming, personable person.” It went on and on like this for a solid 10 minutes or so, because when you’re that age, you’re not particularly well-versed in the language of Ponzi, and my goodness do they sell what they sell so well and you end up purchasing a few bottles of an herbal energy supplement called “Alert.” I got it in the mail. It kept me awake.
Somehow, within a solid week or so, I got a phone call on my cell phone from a number which I did not recognize. She introduced herself as “Heather,” and as the daughter of the woman who spoke to me on the phone and pawned off her pills on me. Since I am young, foolish and thinking mostly with my little head, rather than hang up the phone on a questionable super-stalker, I began to talk to her and we spent hours on the phone chatting away about life and accents and cheesesteaks and such. We exchanged AIM names (Holla if you like my away message!) and continued a course of dialogue. A budding attraction(?) began to take shape.
I dated a girl on-and-off for some four years. It ended fairly uproariously, and I am ashamed to confess the cause-and-effect for it has already inflicted incalculable damage upon my psyche and probably irrevocably napalmed most of my potential as a human being. It’s taken years off my life and life off my years. This epic shakeup occurred in August of 2001, but by April of 2002, things were back on the up-and-up with her and for her birthday, I decided to take a trip down to Penn State to pay the lass a visit. Along the way, I would scope out a couple venues for my then-band’s Northeast Tour in State College and in Philadelphia. Within a whirlwind 72 hours, I’d drive through 8 area codes and pay visits to her, and to “Heather,” and my goodness, Mr. John, you are quite the charmer – and you need an oil change.
The State College trip was appropriately magical, we rekindled some of that old whatever-kids-at-that-age-have (an STD, more than likely), and then I needed to be on my way to Philadelphia, where I’d do a two things:
1. Meet with the Mother. Secure more “Alert,” so I could dispense during Finals Week as “Herbal Adderall” and also create something known to the folks who worked the French Road IHOP in Utica as “Super Coffee,” which was the powder from the pill mixed into an elixir with half hot chocolate, half coffee, and warm cream.
2. Meet with Heather. Take her out on a date or some facsimile thereof. This was Catfish before the age of Catfish, by the way. I am Long-Distance Relationship Royalty.
#1 happened mostly according to plan, as I was in and out with 960 pills within a matter of minutes. #2 happened not quite according to plan. She had invited two of her friends to accompany us to wherever it was we were going (and aside from WaWa, I can’t honestly tell you where we went). We drove in my beastly 1991 Pontiac Bonneville in and around the Greater Philadelphia Area and at various points during the trip, Heather and I found time to make out indiscriminately. I left town by 1am, and it made back to Utica just in time to start my 6am shift opening shift at IHOP, Super Coffee ready for takeoff.
INTERMISSION: I realize none of this makes sense.
Somehow, and I am not sure how, one of Heather’s friends – over the course of my scant six hours in the vicinity of the 215 – becomes infatuated with me. Her name is Megan. She latched on and began blowing up my phone with a tenacity that can only be described as “ruthlessly persistent.” Again, me not having yet turned 20, I was turned on by her fortuitous flirtatiousness.
The following weekend, I was alone at my home, hosting an epic rager to end all epic ragers. Some 50-60 people, from college, from high school, from IHOP, from elsewhere, all stopped in to the crib on Devereux Lane to say hello to the man who wasn’t just destroying his drum set on a stage near you, making Super Coffee and selling Northern Lights out of Altoid tins, but to the man who was dropping Adderall on a nightly basis, rolling through school with ease and turning the world into his own personal playground. Around midnight, I received a phone call:
“John!” It is Megan. “I’m here!”
Me, cocked, bewildered: “What do you mean you’re here?”
Megan: “I’m here! Well, I’m in Utica! I drove up! Can you come get me? I think I’m lost!”
Lost she was. Now … hold up.
Think with your mind, John. You’ve smoked a quarter-ounce of pot, crushed about 8 beers and dropped 40mg of Adderall. You’ve just received a phone call from a girl who says she drove up from Philadelphia to Utica to party with you, a girl who is best friends with a girl you were getting grimey with the week before. There are half-a-hundred people of varying ethnicities, moral flexibilities and degrees of friendship at your home and you may not fully trust all (or any) of them. And there’s a fire in the backyard currently. WHAT DO YOU DOOOOOOO?
If you’re John, you leave the house with one of your buddies and a blunt and say, “Be back in 30.” And you go find this girl WHO OH BY THE WAY COULDN’T HAVE BEEN LOST IN A SHITTIER PART OF TOWN, and have her follow you all the way back to your house.
And then you get it on in your bed while the party continues to get cray-cray in the next room.
Sometimes, Megan and I would talk. Often times, it was about her abusive boyfriend (who was not me, I should conveniently point out). We continued our on-again/off-again chats for a solid five years.
In August of 2007, while drunk and mourning the loss of my most recent ex-girlfriend as a recluse in the dark, I read this: It changed in my life. I became head-over-heels in love with Will Leitch-era Deadspin. His writing style was so personal. So snarky. So wholesome. So unassuming. So eloquent.
And then I got real bold for about a minute and thought:
“Hey, I could do this!” So I started a little blog. Here it is: [ASIDE: Oh, hey! What’s that? We tried a 25-in-25 thing five years ago? How’d that turn out?]
And, hey, who WOULDN’T draw great pleasure from reading me concoct artful fits of prose such as:
“The blog is called the Muted Echo because that is the sound the past makes. All of your memories become quieter as they bounce off the walls of your skull as you get older. This is a chance to keep that memory alive. I’m not here to talk about the past… I am just here to preserve it. So that when I am old and lonely and eating Tostitos out of the bag and watching TV in a filth-infested catacomb of a tentament house, I will be able to look back on this and remember that I was somebody, too.”
Thankfully, Megan – YES THAT MEGAN SEE HOW I MADE THE CONNECTION THERE – loved how I wrote. For she forwarded me a link to a Craigslist post, to which I responded. The full text of my cover letter, sent November 16, 2007, now available for public viewing for the very first time (and this will help fill in the remaining gaps of the story for you, I am sure – as well as prove that I am reeeeeeeeeeeally gifted at stretching the truth beyond all measure of truthfulness).
Subject: Re: Aspiring Sportswriters Wanted (Craigslist)
Dear [NAMES REDACTED],
The blood-sucking journalistic types ruined my sportswriting dream. I was at Syracuse University, the incubator for all great sportswriters/sportscasters. The year was 2000. I had set myself up with the Daily Orange, as well as the Campus News crew. Among the latest and greatest flavors of National Prominence with whom I worked included [NAMED REDACTED] (of the Washington Post), and [NAME REDACTED] (of the 9ine on Yahoo.) These folks were incredibly gifted at what they do. There is no disputing that.
However, self-important blowhards born with silver spoons for appendages treated me with all the respect of a Redskin fan in Philadelphia. “You don’t belong here.” I lost my positions, my confidence, my faith in the journalistic profession. I left school and got a psychology degree. Glamorous, I know.
Flash forward some 7 years, and the landscape of sportswriting and journalism as experienced a paradigm shift. The internet has aided the way we view news and opinion by providing it to us a la carte. What we want to read, we’ll read. At some point this summer, I rediscovered my love for sports and the reporting thereof. I came back to sportswriting on my own terms, and freely expressing my unique insight and exercising my admittedly bizzare sense of humor.
I started a blog that has received rave reviews (link at the bottom of the page), and have had some of my most illustrious musings referenced within the Buffalo News and Deadspin.com. This has only continued to fuel my desire to bring flavor, eccentricity, and bombastic eloquence to the sportswriting landscape.
I can think of no greater opportunity and honor, than to become a part of your rapidly expanding team, and to report on the positive aspects of sports and how it relates to our American fabric as a whole. I hope I am considered for the local Buffalo market, or for wherever you see fit. Below I have attached a link to my blog. Included is my almost-daily sampler platter of sports anecdotes. I hope you find it all entertaining and educational, and I thank you for reading this elongated and overly detailed account of my sportswriting adventures.
John F. Gorman
And that did it. That got me the gig. That’s how I started writing.
I started a weekly column the following week loosely based on what you see here.
I interviewed Carrie Milbank and on a whim sent it to Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, which in late 2008 was pretty much the gold standard for getting hooked up with six-figure pageviews. The column did a lap around the Internet and was generally praised for being the rare sports blog informational interview with an attractive woman that didn’t resort to drooling and fawning and sounding like Hannibal after some fava beans and a nice chianti.
I was promoted to Managing Editor at the site at which I wrote (which, of course, is down). I broke news of cheerleaders trapped in an elevator.
And then I started a second site with one of the partners from the first site. And then:
I covered NCAA basketball games and correctly predicted the score of Super Bowl XLII. And, oh, I even told you really, really neat shit about Marquette’s dazzling basketball threads.
And then I stopped. And then it all (mostly) disappeared. Depending on your viewpoint, you could reasonably conclude that I threw it all away.
Except now I get paid to write – and it has nothing to do with sports at all. And we’ll talk about that later.
For now, I’d like to sign off and say a big thank you to you, miss Heather’s Mom. For without you trying to swindle me into some vitamins while I was trying to ask you if you approved of George W. Bush’s handling of his first year in office back some 12 years ago, none of this would have been possible.
Unless you believe in destiny and that this path was pre-ordained for me, and that rather than lucking into my current gig WHERE I GET PAID A HANDSOME SUM TO WRITE THINGS LIKE ALL DAY through a series of superfluous events and some ballsy, questionably-articulate sentence-stacking …. I actually COULD HAVE BEEN PAID A HANDSOMER SUM TO WRITE THINGS LIKE ALL DAY and actually more closely align my writing with my passion, in which case …
I would never want to tell you that plodding, miserable, engine choke of a story. Except I will … in “Aspiring Sportswriters Wanted, pt. 2.”