Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Dreaded Subject Line

I got one of those emails the other day, the subject line of which provoked a sinking feeling the minute I read it. “Subject: E____.” I didn’t even have to open it to know that my old colleague E____ had died. It was from our former coworker J____ who is still with The Magazine after more than 30 years. E_____ had been there for 34 according to her obituary in the New York Times. I left after 10, making what is by today’s standards a long run at a job seem very short by comparison. The Magazine is that kind of company. Lots of lifers, often multi-generational.

E_____ was the West Coast sales rep. For most of her time with the company she was based at The Magazine’s headquarters in her hometown, New York, and would make several trips a year to see her clients at the movie studios and Japanese car companies in Los Angeles. She and her husband M__ moved to California after I did. When E_____ retired, they stayed. E_____ and I were in contact a bit when she first got here, then we sort of lost touch. I learned that M__ died a
number of years ago and I don’t remember whether I sent a note. If I didn’t I’m ashamed of myself. I’d like to think I did.

Last fall, through Linkedin, the only form of social/professional digital networking I partake in, E_____ sent me an invitation with a note that said “let’s be in touch.” I liked the choice of words, simple and assertive. That’s the kind of salesman she was. How could you say no to a gentle command like that? I didn’t. I thought we could meet for lunch, but she postponed the first date and when she rescheduled it was for breakfast at her apartment on Wilshire Boulevard in a building my bus takes me by every day.

E_____ greeted me at the door, looking as beautiful and put together as I remember her. Of course she looked older, but her smile beamed as brightly as ever and she had the same glint in her eye as the woman who showed me the ropes when I made my own failed attempt to sell ad space at The Magazine. We spent an hour catching up and reminiscing. It felt vaguely conspiratorial as we fell into a “New York is great. L.A. can’t hold a candle to it” patter. When it was time for me to go, I took her hand and told her if she needed anything she shouldn’t hesitate to call me. Even as the words left my mouth, I felt stupid. The time and distance between our visits, the nature of our relationship which reached back to the early ‘80s was ultimately quite superficial and made my gesture ring hollow. If she thought so too, she didn’t let on. She smiled and said we should get together again soon.

I caught a bad cold that day. I got distracted by personal and professional nonsense. In the weeks that followed I found myself thinking of E_____. I had a Post-it in my head that said, “Call E_____,” but I didn’t and then I received J___’s email and now I can’t.

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