Tag Archives: Newspapers

The Worst Thing Wives Do

crime scene


During our first year of marriage, my wife was so unhappy living in Florida that she wanted to move back to her parents’ house a thousand miles away and live with them instead of me, not knowing when or if I’d find a job back in our home state that would allow me to move there and be with her.

If anyone’s curious about when I started losing self-assuredness and questioning my self-worth, now you know.

Long before I was accidentally (but egregiously) a shitty husband, I was just a young guy trying to figure things out.

I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. The younger me spent a lot of time coasting through life, living for the next fun thing, and almost no time thinking about how my actions affected others, or what I could do to be a better person.

I was a young newspaper reporter, just a few years removed from college, living in a Florida beach town and writing business stories at a daily newspaper.

We got married when we were 25. In front of a few hundred people in a pretty Ohio church where people came from all over the country to support us. Family. High school friends. College friends.

It was a good day. A good day that represented everything we wanted our life to be after discovering that whatever good the sunny beach life brought us didn’t outweigh for us the negative consequences of missing the company, support and comfort of being around long-time friends and family.

As easy as it was for me to find a newspaper gig in the economically vibrant conditions Florida enjoyed in 2002, it was excruciatingly difficult to find newswriting jobs in the economically depressed conditions Ohio was experiencing a few years later.

Many people don’t understand the challenge, but I’ll explain it. Before financially viable online journalism existed, a newspaper reporter had the following choices: 1. Get a job with a city’s daily paper (of which there is usually just ONE). 2. Get a job with a business or alternative weekly newspaper. 3. Get a magazine job. 4. Abandon journalism.

I was just 25, and the macroeconomics of print journalism’s future hadn’t become obvious to me. I still believed I’d ultimately end up as a reporter for a large metro daily newspaper in one of the Ohio cities, or maybe even land an Ohio-based gig with The Wall Street Journal, the paper with which I was totally smitten.

But we have to walk before we can run, so while I had already begun forging relationships with editors at the big papers, it wasn’t realistic to think I could jump right from my first reporting job at a mid-sized daily to a major metro paper without a few years at another mid-sized paper first.

I stayed in touch with editors at all the viable papers, sending them front-page stories I was proud of, and keeping my name and resume in front of them.

Every so often, I’d be invited to fly up for a job interview.

That was exciting at first. My wife would light up with the possibilities. We’d tell our parents. We’d tell our friends back home. We’d poke around at real estate listings that were totally out of our price range and dream a little dream of a fairytale life where everything was perfect and beautiful.

Then, one by one, I’d fly back to Florida from each interview hopeful that this time it’s going to work!

I liked making her happy. I liked giving her things. I liked feeling as if she was proud of me.

But, of course, one by one, I’d get news that the newspaper was going to hire someone else. Someone who lives closer. Someone who better understands the banking industry. Someone with previous experience covering city hall. I either didn’t have enough experience, or I was going to be too expensive for the Ohio economy.

And one bit of bad news after another, she was crushed.

We were up here. High. Hopeful.

“Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with our company. We’re sorry, but at this time we’re moving forward with another candidate. You’re going to be an excellent reporter someday! Please stay in touch! We’ll be sure to keep your resume on file.”

Then we were down here. Low. Disappointed.

Close family members fighting scary health problems piled on the pressure. She felt helpless and far away.

Every failure to get a job offer represented me failing my new wife. I couldn’t give her the thing she wanted most: Home.

The High Crimes of Wives

I’ve written twice about what I’ve identified as the worst thing I’ve ever done to my wife. The second time, people got really upset with me about it.

It helped me (and hopefully all the male readers) understand just how big of an emotional trigger the subject of child birth and husband support actually is.

From the discussion came a question I’ve been kicking around since:

Taylor asked: “Question Matt: this abandoning wife in childbirth is evidently a very common husband sin of cosmic proportions; what is the wife equivalent? I’m guessing there is at least one really common wife sin of cataclysmic proportions that women just don’t get that is comparable to the shitty husband cop-out we’ve been discussing.”

I’m not comfortable speaking on behalf of men on this one. I’m not confident there is a critical mass of husbands who ever experience the unique circumstances which brought this on.

As always, I only know what happened to me.

Symbolically, What is Marriage?

Everyone has their own take.

Here’s what I thought it was: Two young people leaving the nests of life with their parents, and building a new nest with each other.

If you and your parents are the innermost ring in your life, when you marry, your spouse replaces them as the innermost ring. Then, your parents move out to the second ring in our little personal Who Do We Love Most? solar systems.

That’s what I was taught. That’s what I believed. And that’s how I felt inside.

One day, she looked me in the eye and said she wanted to move a thousand miles away to go live with her parents in Ohio and leave me alone in our Florida apartment.

I died a little inside.

In our first year of marriage, and at a time when we didn’t have the financial resources to buy airline tickets.

I didn’t have the gut-level emotional reaction I had during our separation and torturous march toward divorce, but—for me—that was very bad.

Very bad.

So bad, that—not unlike how I imagine my wife might have reacted had a crystal ball owner told her she was marrying a guy who would leave the hospital the night of her only child’s birth—if someone had told me the person I wanted to marry would choose her parents over me within the first year of marriage, I would not have married her.

Maybe we can chalk it up to young people not knowing how to express themselves honestly or ask the right questions.

So, what does that mean? What do you call that?

I’m not sure.

The person I had mentally, emotionally and spiritually replaced my parents with, didn’t do the same for me.

It made me feel as if geography and her parents were more important to her than her marriage. It made me feel something less than loved. It made me feel as if she didn’t trust that I could ever be enough for her.

Maybe those things are true. Maybe they’re not. I know better than to presume I know what other people are thinking.

I didn’t think I was committing a major crime when I left the hospital that night. I didn’t know that would be such a defining moment in our marriage. No matter what you think, I didn’t know.

I’m quite certain my perfectly decent and well-intentioned wife didn’t think she was causing significant emotional harm by wanting to be with her family, which because of health issues, was for more than just selfish reasons. I don’t think she knew that would impact me as it did.

We were just kids. Kids dreaming our dreams.

So, what’s the crime? Making him feel as if he’s not enough, and intentionally or otherwise, rubbing his nose in it.

She couldn’t trust me to be enough. And in the end, I suppose I proved her right.

And now we dream new dreams.


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I Don’t Smoke Cigars

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

It’s the little moments that change your life forever.

The whispers.

The That almost happened! moments.

The close calls.

This was my big chance.

In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”

That means something different to everyone.

But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.

Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.

When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.

I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.

But still. I was there.

And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.

Falling Into Things

Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.

I never knew.

Still don’t.

I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.

But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.

And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.

Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.

They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.

And it was that easy. Getting my work published.

I was smitten.

Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.

I was going to be a newspaperman.

Ink in my blood.

And it all happened by accident.

The Motor City

I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.

Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.

The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.

That’s where he explained to me why I was there.

“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.

What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.

And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.

Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.

If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.

The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.

An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.

Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.

A Close Call

In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).

And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.

Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.

And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.

But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.

Exploring the things in this life that really matter.

I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.

I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.

Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.

Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.

I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.

Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.

But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

What next week, next month, next year will bring.

But I know that I’m here.

That you’re here.

And that we can be whatever we want to be.

We only need to be brave enough to choose it.

Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.

And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.

The storybook journalism career?

Close, but no cigar.

And that’s okay.

Because I don’t smoke cigars.

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How to Be the Worst Paperboy

Like this. Only in color. And with a stolen scooter. And macking on the neighborhood chicks.

Like this. Only in color. And with a stolen scooter. And macking on the neighborhood chicks.

I grew up poor.

In a Catholic school with uniforms and predominantly wealthy classmates.

We weren’t, like, destitute. The lights and hot water always worked, and there was always food in the refrigerator, so I don’t want to insult people who truly know poverty.

But, relative to my life experience and most of the people I know, I was poor.

Free lunches at school. Low-income neighborhood. That sort of thing.

We all wore Navy-blue pants. Every day. Had to.

The only way we could express ourselves was to wear cool sneakers, though I used to call them tennis shoes despite never playing tennis once in my entire life.

I grew up in an awesome era of sneaker design. Air Jordans were the Holy Grail.

I never had any.

Best. Shoe. Ever.

Best. Shoe. Ever.

But there were shoes worn by other great athletes, too. Bo Jackson. David Robinson. Dominique Wilkins. Ken Griffey, Jr. Charles Barkley.

These shoes ranged from $75-$130 in late 1980s’, early 1990s’ dollars.

My parents couldn’t afford them.

“Mom, I at least need Nike Air or Reebok Pumps. I can’t go to school in crappy Jordache and L.A. Gear. Honestly. I’ll get made fun of.”

“You’ll wear Jordache, and you’ll like it! No one can tell the difference anyway!” she said.

But everyone could tell the difference. We were sneaker experts at that age.

Eventually, the money situation loosened up and I got to wear relatively cool shoes.

But between my Poor and Just Kind-of Poor stages, I had a paper route to help supplement my vanity.

The Paper Route

I don’t even remember how it began. But begin, it did.

One day, the papers started showing up on my front porch. Huge piles of free weekly newspapers strapped together, with a ton of little plastic bags.

One night per week, I would have to cut the straps off these huge newspaper piles, roll up several dozen, and individually stuff them into the plastic bags.

I got pretty good at it. If they were the right size—not too thin, and not too thick—I could do it rather quickly.

Roll, stuff. Roll, stuff. Roll, stuff. Over and over and over again.

I would then stuff those individually wrapped newspapers into brown grocery bags.

If the papers had a thick insert—like you see in the Sunday paper—this process was BRUTAL. Took forever, didn’t fit in the bags, and was extraordinarily heavy on my young shoulders while carrying them on my route.

I had three streets to cover.

I became a crack shot tossing newspapers. If I wanted to hit the welcome mat, I could do it.

If I wanted it on their steps, I could do it.

If I wanted it in their bushes, I could do it.

I don’t think anyone read this paper. It was little. It was free. And people didn’t care. In fact, people would yell at me sometimes for putting an unwanted newspaper on their porch. They didn’t care that I was a little kid.

I guess I was spamming before spamming was cool.

I wish I could remember what I thought about walking up and down those streets week after week. Just 11 or 12 years old. Delivering unwanted newspapers to the same people I bilked for extra baseball card money running my school candy-sales scam.

A miscreant.

Testing my moral limits. Pushing my moral boundaries.

Walking up and down those streets grew tiring. So, I started to find shortcuts. And take them.

I’d deliver to every door. Some houses had more than one door on their porch, but weren’t necessarily a duplex. Some houses had visible side doors. If I saw a door, I’d throw a paper in front of it. I was in a hurry. I had little-kid shit to do.

I’d steal scooters. I only did this once. And yes, I feel bad about it. I took some kid’s scooter. It was just laying out in the grass. I grabbed it, went super-fast through my paper route, and left it in someone else’s yard at the end. Like a car-theft joyride.

I’d stop and flirt with cute girls I knew from school or from the public school. One of them was really cute and I kind of had a crush on her. She was a year or so younger than me. I’d just stand on her porch and talk to her for 15-20 minutes sometimes. She transferred to our school when I was in junior high, and when I was in 8th grade she wrote me a poem telling me how much she liked me. That took guts. And instead of being flattered and respecting her privacy, I showed a bunch of my friends to look cool and acted like I didn’t like her.

“You’re walking on air. I’m walking on steam. Together, we’d make a great team.” That was one of the lines in her poem we used to snicker about every time we’d see her in the halls. Dick move.

I’d pit stop at my stepdad’s brother’s place which was on my route and play Nintendo for an hour with my cousins. I was older than them, so I was always showing off my video-game chops. How to beat Super Mario Bros. with one guy. The best weapons to use to quickly beat Mega Man 2. Where the secret caves and staircases were hiding in The Legend of Zelda. To make up the time I was spending playing video games, I had to do something about all those pesky newspapers that weren’t delivering themselves.

I started throwing them away. A few in a trash can here. A few in a trash can there. Until I started just dumping the entire load into local businesses’ dumpsters behind their buildings. Then, I’d go hang out with friends, or I’d go flirt with girls, or I’d go play video games with my cousins to hide the truth from my parents.

I grew up in a small town. Just over 20,000 people. So, I should have thought through the possibility of one of my parents driving by my paper route once in a while.

One day, not 10 minutes after leaving the house with a couple hundred newspapers, my stepdad drove by me walking down the sidewalk—with no papers in my paper bag.

Oh. Shit.

He was pissed.

Made me crawl into the dumpster and fish out all the papers and then go deliver them.

I probably got my ass beat a little when we got home. And I probably deserved it.

My parents couldn’t believe it.

“But they’re free!!!” I protested. “No one reads them anyway!!!”

And that’s when my stepdad explained to me the concept of the newspaper advertising and how all of those companies had paid money to the newspaper to have readers see the ads—the driving force behind that news getting written and the employment of a group of people with families. A business model that was ironically responsible for every paycheck I received between 1998 and 2009 during my newspaper reporting career.

I had to write a mea culpa letter to the newspaper.

They graciously let me keep my paper route, accepting my apology and my promise to do better.

And I did.

I probably still flirted with the girls.

I probably still delivered papers to every possible door.

I probably still pit stopped for a quick video game session every now and then.

But that was the last time I ever stole anything.

My career as a thief, short-lived.

And thank God for that.

I wasn’t very good at it anyway.

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