Dec. 8, 2011
From: Jessica Coudare
To: Cory Frye
Subject: Possible story idea
Dear Cory J. Frye, Esq.
I understand you are inundated with silly requests for feature stories all the time. However, I would like to take this opportunity to add this one to your list. Marist High School and Oregon State University graduate Leah McMahon will be doing a book signing for her newly published book “At First Sip” on Friday, Dec. 30 at Coffee Culture Cafe beginning at 5 p.m.
“At First Sip” (as described by Ms. McMahon herself) is a coffee shop read, where short stories are told intimately; like sharing coffee with a dear friend. This book is about destiny.
In addition to being an author Ms. McMahon owns Silk Espresso and has two locations in Gresham.
Several years ago you did a story about a walk-on women’s basketball player at Oregon State University. It was a very nice piece. Ms. McMahon sounds very much like the young lady in that story.
Dec. 8, 2011
From: Cory Frye
To: Leah McMahon
Subject: “At First Sip”
My name is Cory Frye, and I’m a writer for the Corvallis Gazette-Times/Albany Democrat-Herald’s weekly Entertainer. Perhaps you’ll recall me from a million years ago — the 1990s! — when a young man bearing my name interviewed you for a Democrat-Herald sports feature. A decade’s since passed and I’ve been to Los Angeles and back again, but I believe that with the release of your new book, “At First Sip,” it’s high time for a sequel.
I understand you have a signing at the Coffee Culture Cafe on Dec. 30. Would you be receptive to another go-round with me by phone as preview for your event? Also, is it possible to get a copy of your book to read? I was hoping to schedule something by Friday, Dec. 16, to have something ready to run for the Dec. 23-30 or Dec. 30-Jan. 6 issue of our modest weekly.
Dec. 8, 2011
From: Leah McMahon
To: Cory Frye
Subject: RE: “At First Sip”
Of course I remember! Amazing to be reconnected with you. Yes to a sequel! I am mailing you a copy of the book immediately. I assume the work address will be alright to send it to. Let me know if otherwise.
Afternoons are best for me for a phone interview. Perhaps you could find one afternoon next week that works best for you?
Let me know when you’d like to speak.
My best to you,
Dec. 16, 2011
I think I’m gonna try and track down the story I wrote in ’95, get that online.
I’m pretty sure I have a hard copy of that, although that photo — oh, my gosh, I have the ’80s bangs so bad.
That’s a great photo of you, though. I remember you were perched under a tree with, I think, a coffee and your journal.
Yup. That’s the one. I think I have on one of those horrible denim vests. May those never come back in style. Oh, man. (laughs) That’s just terrible. …
I’m so thankful that it was you, and yet I’ve got to say I wasn’t surprised, because it’s been that sort of a ride ever since I committed verbally to doing this book. Things like what happened here have been happening. Things like, “Oh, of course it’s the same person who did the original story.” You’re along for the ride. (laughs)
Dec. 18, 2011
I’m standing at the Democrat-Herald microfilm reader, watching history zip past even faster than I’d lived it. November ’94 to May ’95: six whole months unraveling at a breathless blur. Rewind. Stop. Then forward again. Parcels of yesterdays, always moving.
I barrel through the rise of Newt Gingrich and a rejuvenated party of penny-ante hustlers and radicalized bros. Catch snatches of the O.J. Simpson trial as it builds toward becoming the summer’s most must-see salacious television event. Shudder at the pinnacle of talk-show pulp, when an on-air same-sex romantic confession results days later in fury-fueled off-camera bloodshed.
All of this is interesting, but I’m looking for a picture of a girl and a tree.
Datelines and bylines mesh into continuous streaks. Names remembered, names forgotten, but no sign of mine just yet.
As the final reel recedes, I wonder if I’m even in the right century. But, yup, there’s OSU’s Tanja Kostic, black-and-white and 22 years old forever, eyeing a basket through a network of limbs. Then Anjanette Dionne sprints into view and vanishes just as quickly. It’s the spring of 1995 and the women’s basketball season is drawing to a close, which means I’m either getting closer or still a year away. But I think I know I’m right, even as honors are announced and playoff talk begins.
Spring break comes and goes. I struggle to recall when, exactly, I conducted the Leah McMahon interview. Was it winter? Spring? If memory serves, the story was published on a sunny mid-valley afternoon. I think I even wore shorts to the office that day. At the very least, Leah was in shorts for the photo, and Aki Hill was still the head coach. It has to be here.
So where is it?
Wednesday, March 29, 1995.
A girl and a tree at last.
It’s funny, the memories that surface at the sight of your own Old Words — not necessarily the circumstances of a story, but where and who you were in your own life at the time.
In the spring of ’95, I was miserable in the way most 22-year-old pseudo-writers are: dramatically and hopelessly in love, recklessly destitute to staggering proportions, railing against a jealous, unjust universe that didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t acknowledge my stupefying talent. In short, I was, to borrow a line from David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” “poor, unknown, and in a hurry.”
I had a studio apartment within a miserable stroll from the office, although I probably spent more time in the latter than the former. The newsroom had cable television and the snacks were a lot cheaper. Best of all it had computers, copiers and printers, and I could hunt-and-peck to my heart’s content on novels, stories and wandering late-night letters to a lovely little sigh in Texas.
Although I was a sportswriter then, I didn’t write much in the way of sports. A feature here and there — maybe a game story if the department was desperate. Mostly I occupied a chair and peeled prep blurbs from hurried notes.
Sometimes my compadre Mark Peterson would take pity and invite me out to a game, both for the company and, I suspect, to sucker me out of my grumbly funks. One night in late ’94/early ’95, I found myself courtside at Gill Coliseum, watching the girls go by as he busily scribbled into a notebook.
I’d never been that close to the action, and despite my indifference to basketball, I found the proximity thrilling, like occupying the exact spot where thunder begins its journey. Plus, it was cool to sit within shouting distance of Tanja Kostic. I seldom understood a word she said (she spoke, I think, four or five languages), but that didn’t matter: her teammates did, and they tended to win.
Specific recollections are hazy, but I distinctly remember that when No. 14 briefly left the bench to scuffle across wax and pine, Gill Coliseum lost its ever-loving mind. That reaction stayed with me as we drove back to Albany. I can still feel it now. What could have inspired such a response?
At the office I grabbed an OSU women’s basketball program and scanned the roster ’til I found her: Leah McMahon, a 1992 Marist High School graduate whose hobbies included art, writing poetry and playing piano. Here at last was a sports story tailor-made for a bench player like myself: a student-athlete with cultural pursuits. Aside from having a following, she just sounded, well, interesting.
So I pitched the story — the only sports feature I generated entirely on my own — to the section’s then-editor, Steve “Cheers” Lundeberg, who, to my surprise, agreed that it was a fine idea. As it turned out, she’d just won an athletic scholarship, so a profile would be somewhat timely. “Besides,” he said, “she’s a really nice person.”
Pitch approved, I called Leah McMahon. I remember few details of the interview itself, except that she was incredibly sweet and refreshingly genuine with the patience of a saint to contend with the clueless likes of me. We covered writing, I think, and basketball, of course. Did we talk about coffee? We must have, because her Photo Espresso gig comprises the first four paragraphs of the finished story.
Before we hung up, she asked if we needed a picture. “Sure,” I said, always considerate of our overworked staff. A couple nights later she stopped by the office with a shot of her at a piano. For whatever reason, though, we couldn’t use it. Proving once again his mettle as department head, Lundy arranged for photographer George Petroccione to meet the subject on campus. George returned with the image you see above: Leah McMahon writing in her journal, sitting against a tree, not another soul in sight. It was perfect.
“Gill favorite thankful for the noise” ran Wednesday, March 29, 1995. Leah bought multiple copies, or so I heard. Me, I celebrated as I always did: with a very large Coke. Pleasures were simpler then. But life went on and on.
It’s hard to read this story now. I cringe while transcribing it by hand, word for bloody word. Faithfully I retype it, wincing at the text, rigid and fixed against clean, white space. I regard it with a mixture of relief and melancholy that I’m not that writer anymore. You can see the twisted pipes and wires of Human Interest for Hopeless Beginners. Transitional sentences that broadside paragraphs. Repetition of thoughts already expressed. Yet I envy its economy and the satisfaction I felt with the finished piece. I didn’t obsess as much back then; for all my overall angst, I was ridiculously confident on the page. Of course it’s good — I wrote it, didn’t I? Nowadays, man, I’m never satisfied.
But, 90 drafts later, I’m satisfied with the sequel. It’s bigger, better, older, bolder. More “Before Sunset” than “The Karate Kid, Part III.” All thanks to Leah McMahon, who’s still genuine, still sweet and still a saint for trusting parts of her story to the likes of me. And who knows? Maybe in 16 years we’ll do it again. Everyone loves trilogies, right? Although I can give you the gist of that story right now: No matter where adventure’s taken her, she’ll be just as driven as ever. I would expect nothing less.