Marley and Me

My wife and I watched Marley and Me tonight. Good movie. Not as good as the book, of course. But I think they did a good job of adapting it to the screen.

I guess the book and movie hit me on three levels, rather than just two. I’m a parent, I have a Labrador Retriever, and I went to school to try to be John Grogan. That last part didn’t quite work out, but that world just doesn’t seem to exist anymore, not with a major newspaper closing its doors pretty much every week now.I’ll get the first question out of the way. Yes, the movie gives a pretty accurate picture of what life is like with a Lab. Some chew more than others. Ours has demolished a curtain, a window shade, and scarred a couple of doors, but not much else. Marley has her beat. I’ll spare you the stories about the fascination with toilets and dirty diapers. The book talks about that more than the movie, and it’s true.

And underneath the mischief is a heart of gold. You see that in the movie in spades, and it’s all true. I think pretty much any dog is capable of that kind of love, and capable of sensing when we really need them the most, but Labs are especially good at it. They may not know everything that’s going on, but they’re perfectly willing to just sit there with you and get through it, and they’ll never, ever hold anything you say against them.

The attachment between dog and child is every bit as strong as in that movie. When we first brought our son home, he was a bit suspicious of that big furry thing, and probably a bit scared of her. I remember him looking at her with those big, wide, not-so-trusting eyes. They weren’t the same big wide eyes he looked at Dad with. It took a little while for the two of them to adjust to one another, but they did. He’s 13 months old now, and he’ll climb on her or pull on her ears, laughing like it’s great fun, and she just sits there, tail thumping the floor in approval, trying to lick him. When he cries, if she’s not sure we hear it, she’ll start whimpering and jumping up on things until she has our attention.

It’s very easy to see the two of them growing up together just like the dog and kids in the movie.

I know from my own experience that his life as a journalist is glamorized. I lived that portrayal at the beginning. While all the other reporters have great stories to chase, his assignment is two paragraphs about a fire at the city dump for the police blotter. Sometimes that turns into a great story. One Saturday I was listening on the police scanner and learned about some guy burning leaves in a BBQ grill in his front yard. Then a gust of wind came, and the next thing we knew, his neighbor’s house was on fire, along with the same neighbor’s barn and field. I rushed out there and found a disaster. I have no idea what it was, but the neighbor really opened up to me, and it turned into a great story. The editors thought so too, and what normally would have been a couple of paragraphs in the blotter ended up taking up most of the page.

I chased a lot of stories of people burning leaves in BBQ grills–you wouldn’t believe how often that happens in central Missour-ah, with an "uh"–but it rarely even merited more than a line in the blotter.

I loved every minute of it. I hated every minute of it. It’s called paying your dues, because nobody wants to do write about misdemeanors and city council meetings for more than a few months. You hate writing meaningless copy, but the worst writing job is still better than doing anything else. Right? Um….

The gruff, bald, humorless, emotionless editor? True. Definitely a stereotype, but this particular stereotype has a lot of truth.

I think that’s what really hit me the hardest. Fifteen years ago I wanted to be a journalist. I changed directions because a computer professional can work pretty much anywhere. I didn’t want to be stuck writing obituaries and police blotters for a small-town newspaper 45 minutes outside of Toledo making $18,000 a year. I wanted to be able to afford a house and a car and a dog. The price I paid for a job that pays a living wage is boring and mundane work (although important). But I can’t write about it because I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. I’m not even supposed to talk all that much about it, which is a shame because I have some great stories, like the one where a guy who makes three times my salary called me up, complaining that the network was broken because a service running on his computer couldn’t contact (Translation: his computer couldn’t figure out how to talk to itself, so obviously it’s a network problem.)

Not being able to talk about it is the ultimate price. John Gorgan’s stories are funnier than mine, because everyone can relate to kids and dogs. People eat those stories up. I can tell you the story about trying to log into a domain controller and getting an error message that the computer can’t contact the domain controller. I yelled, "Look in the mirror!" The third time it happened, I probably inserted another word before "mirror." A small number of you reading are laughing and trying to diagnose the problem. The rest of you are wondering what on earth mirrors have to do with computers and why would anyone think that’s funny?

So I’m insanely jealous of John Grogan, but increasingly his life is something that no longer exists. Newspapers are closing their doors left and right. There aren’t enough jobs out there for the best of the best. And the only people this seems to bother are other journalists. I blame Fox News and talk radio, neither of which would exist without credible news sources to seed them, but that will become obvious soon enough.

So I’ll settle for having a son and a dog, and being able to afford to live in a safe neighborhood. And maybe when I’m 40 and too old to be in IT, I can finally tell those other stories.

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One thought on “Marley and Me

  • April 2, 2009 at 6:20 am

    I wanted to be that guy too, and I was too young
    and too impatient to follow through with it. I "paid
    my dues" (barely) for several months as a reporter
    while I was working on my journalism degree, but
    was eventually lured away to the IT world. At the
    time it seemed like a good idea and I have to say I
    pull down a salary that I can’t imagine any
    newspaper reporter has ever seen, but looking back
    over the past fifteen years sometimes I wonder if
    the other road wouldn’t have been a bit more fun.
    Sometimes I feel like I traded my soul for a

    As for not talking about work … you’re a smart man.
    I know of at three people <i>personally</i> who
    have been <b>fired</b> over things they have
    written online. I am talking about people being fired
    over things they said about their jobs on their
    personal blogs. I made a pact with myself to never
    talk about work on my personal blog, or any other
    blog that could be traced directly back to me.
    (Nobody ever said a completely anonymous and
    untraceable blog for blowing off steam was off limits,

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