The woman in the accompanying photograph is Catherine Mayhew. She’s the person I dedicated Football for a Buck to. Proudly.
Back in 1994, when I was coming out of the University of Delaware, Catherine hired me to be her food and fashion writer at The (Nashville) Tennessean. Was I qualified? Eh, no. Mature? Eh, no. Worthy? Eh, no. But Catherine was a bit frustrated by a somewhat stagnant and uninspired features section, so she brought me in for $26,000 and filled the one open spot in the section.
I was the worst. Not the worst that week or month or year. No, I was the worst newspaper writer in the country. I made 1,000 mistakes. Some small, some large. I misspelled names, I asked inappropriate questions, I turned away the assistance of peers. At one point Catherine asked two experienced writers to serve as mentors. I rejected both. Why? Because I had been editor of my student newspaper and I was big shit. A bunch of years ago Catherine recalled some of this in a blog post. It’s entirely accurate.
Had I been in Catherine’s shoes, I’d have likely fired a young me. I mean, the mistakes were terrible. But even worse was the unbearable cockiness. There’s no way I’d have endured the daily nonsense. No friggin’ way.
Yet Catherine—she endured. Not only that, she nurtured me, guided me, advised me. One day, under her watch, I committed the worst blunder in the history of blunders. One of my closer friends at the paper was Sheila Jones, the department receptionist whose desk was adjacent to mind. Sheila and I were an odd couple—she probably had 10-to-15 years from me; talked real slow; was a short African-American woman with a husband and three kids; born and raised in the south. Somehow, she took a liking to me. I genuinely loved her. A sweet woman.
Anyhow, Sheila and I used to talk mild shit. Nothing big, just slight trash talk about this and that. Well, one day I was the last one to leave the department late into the evening. And, before taking off, I sat at Sheila’s desk, pulled up her keyboard and typed in something like “I see you, bitch.” In the context of our relationship, it seemed fitting. I’m sorta scratching my head now, wondering how that’s possible. But at the time, well … uh … yeah.
Fast forward to the following morning. I’m in my apartment, and the phone rings. It’s Sheila. “Jeff, you didn’t type something about me being a bitch on my computer, did you?”
Uh … why?
“They’re having an investiagtion in the department. Catherine [the editor] wants everyone to come in.”
I arrive at the office. It turns out Sheila had someone who’s been sorta stalking her. I am mortified. Beyond mortified. I’m told what’s going on—they suspect this stalker guy sent Sheila a threatening message; they’re going to find a way to fire him; etc.
I pull Sheila aside. “Sheila, it was me,” I tell her.
“Sheila, I’m so sorry. I meant nothing, you know that.”
“Jeff, I’m just relieved. I’m not mad.”
“Sheila, please don’t tell anyone. Please.”
“Jeff, you have to tell Catherine.”
She’s right. I knock on her door. I close the door behind me. “Catherine,” I say, “I sent the message.”
“I sent it. I meant it as a joke … we’re friends and …”
Catherine tees off on me. Rightly. I’m crying. Mortified. She sees this. “Jeff, you can write. You’re talented. But you need to grow up.” I figure my career is over. Fuck, I know my career at the paper is over. Only, well, it’s not. Catherine knows what she’s dealing with—a young, stupid kid who can’t get out of his own way. So, instead of kicking me to the curb, she reassigns me (temporarily) to the cops desk. I’m told to focus on Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. No creativity. No nonsense. Just the facts.
This proves to turn my career around.
My life around.
The woman in the accompanying photograph is Catherine Mayhew. She’s the person I dedicated Football for a Buck to.
There is no one more deserving.