Two days ago I sat at this computer and began to work on a beautifully worded goodbye column to a longtime friend.
Halfway through, I realized the prose was getting in the way of the message. I was writing for myself, not getting to the point.
Yesterday I tried again. The effort was, once more, poor. Too many adjectives. Too polished. And it wasn’t direct enough.
Another false start came this morning. The words — something I’m supposed to have in embarrassing volume — were absent.
Then, dancing on the edge of deadline (like my friend did so many times himself), my mind filled with that very first encounter I had with Jeff Aberbach …
(Aberbach, who for 20 years was a reporter and editor for The Enterprise, died last week. He was only 60.
(Jeff left The Enterprise in 1999, but continued in print media, most recently serving as lead publications editor at CalRecycle in the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.)
But back to that initial meeting with Jeffrey …
Almost 40 years ago. I was the city editor of the now-defunct Oxnard Press-Courier. Aberbach was 20 minutes into his inaugural shift as a general-assignment reporter at a daily newspaper when I gave him his first story.
“Jeff, there’s a family that converted a DC3 fuselage into a motor home. They’re parked at Ormond Beach. Apparently the rig is a riot to look at. Grab a photographer and do a feature,” I told him.
First day. First assignment. Start with something simple, I figured.
Without missing a beat, Aberbach sat back in his chair, put his hands on his knees and matter-of-factly said:
“I don’t do features.”
“First day, Jeff,” is all I replied.
I gave him the address and some direction in what to ask, then assigned a photographer to drive him (don’t get me started about Jeff’s driving “prowess”).
Ninety minutes later, Aberbach returned.
As his typewriter keys began to clatter, Aberbach broke out in a sweat. Page after page of false starts were ripped from their moorings.
With other things to do, I turned my attention elsewhere.
Eventually, the only people remaining in the newsroom were Jeff and me.
“I’m done,” Jeff said, just a couple ticks short of 9 p.m.
Hmmmm. Six hours on a 400-worder.
“OK. Let me see it.”
Two sharpened pencils at my side, I began marking it up. Halfway through, I quit.
“You’re right, Jeff. You don’t do features.”
We had a terrific photo of the converted DC3 the next day.
But Jeff, it turns out, did everything else. He went on to be one of the best no-nonsense reporters with whom I have ever worked (when I was hired as editor of this fine daily in 1979, Aberbach was the first new reporter I brought in).
But most importantly, he was one of the best friends I ever had.
Jeff loved the Dodgers, enjoyed an occasional poker game (and little-known fact in these parts, he was an accomplished third baseman). He doted on his nieces and nephew. Holidays together with Jeff and his mom Anita were special treats for the Gallaudets.
He held my son just hours after he was born. He got along with everyone. He was hilarious, a Hall of Fame punster. Someone on whom you could always count. He never stopped giving to The Enterprise, and to the many staffers over the years who have memory banks full of Jeffisms. It seems like Jeff never lost touch with anybody.
Sixty is too young to die. Why most things happen, I don’t know. What I do understand is they happen for a reason; reasons that we’ll someday find out.
Until then, at whatever heavenly newspaper Jeff is editing, I hope he’ll see it in his heart to find a spot for me.
I’d love to work with him again — and I do do features.
While I Have You Here: We’ve been swapping Jeff stories for several days and the condolences continue to pour in.
Those of you in the region who knew and loved Jeff — and my colleagues here at The Enterprise — wouldn’t it be fun to share your memories with everyone? Go to the online version of this column at www.davisenterprise.com/sports/dont-know-what-to-say-other-than-goodbye-jeff. Use the comment section to tell Jeff goodbye.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.