The longest year of my life suddenly seems to have happened awfully fast.
It was 10:15 a.m. PST Wednesday, March 11. 2009. I was sitting at my cubicle at The Fresno Bee, where I had been an assistant features editor for five years. I was joking with my cubicle neighbor, Tom, the entertainment editor. There was a nervous energy to the laughter, and while the lightness of tone wasn’t artificial, there was electricity to it. Everyone knew this day was coming — the day that the Bee would let go some of its staff, an unprecedented event in the newsroom — but y’know, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Or laid off.
Which is often the same thing.
Or maybe not.
Or maybe yes.
The features editor came over to us with a serious look on her face.
“Can I see you two for a minute?”
Hmmmm … this was interesting. Both of us? The four notes of the “Dragnet” theme hit me as we walked to her office. But I was confused. I figured one of us would be whacked, and that would be me.
I lost four of my writers to the first round of buyouts in September, and in November, my duties were split between features and sports. I became the night sports editor Mondays and Tuesday nights, remaining in features Wednesdays through Fridays. I still had the religion writer, our lifestyle columnist and our two dozen high school writers, as editor of their Sunday features page, BackTalk.
This worked out well. I knew the sports staff from playing poker and fantasy football with them — Kenny, the assistant sports editor for page design and one my poker pals, had actually soused me out about going over to sports — and in a way, it brought my career full circle. My two summers of internships at my hometown-of-sorts paper, the evil Waterbury (Ct.) Republican-American, were split between sports and features. I was hired full-time as a sportswriter and sports desk editor for six years; during that time, I started freelancing album reviews, then a weekly club column, and in 1990 shifted over to entertainment full time.
I really didn’t want to go back to sports after all this time, but I got on well with the staff, they respected me, and I got to prove my worth by showing my versatility. Plus, having worked under two very hands-on, controlling features editors all this time who really didn’t care for anyone else’s ideas — especially the first one; I never could figure out why she hired me — I actually had a lot of input in sports. I made the calls on headlines and judgment calls on late-breaking stories, and I consulted with the page designers to accommodate the late changes. And it all had to be done by 11 so I could get the first edition off the floor.
So I figured by showing what I could do — and the sports editor really did like my work — I’d be able to dodge this bullet.
Then again, I had a feeling I might not. The night before, I was coming back from my dinner break and got to the top of the stairs, headed into the newsroom, and the voice hit me. It was the same calm voice that hit me the night I had my epiphany about my gender transition 14 months before. It kinda sounds like HAL, the computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and as I reached the landing, HAL asked me, in his calm, measured tone: “Do you really want to be here for the aftermath?”
And I knew the answer. And I was all right with it. For someone who knew I might lose my job, I slept very soundly.
But there’s no time like the first time — and no preparation for what it actually feels like. Even if you kinda have the notion it’s coming.