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So Long Norm and Joni

Columnist: Bill Meagher
January, 2018 Issue
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Bill Meagher
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It was 2000 and I ran across the news that someone had purchased what was then known as Sonoma magazine. Since all things printed had already been declared DOA, I sent along a note of congratulations on the deal and wished them well. 

The next thing I knew somebody named Norm Rosinski invited me to have some coffee. He explained that he and his lovely wife, Joni, and her brother, John Dennis, were now running the periodical. Norm was from Chicago, where they shoveled snow and when you fell down they picked you up by your wallet. 
He confessed he was having a hard time figuring out Marin. I told him not to feel bad—by then I had lived here a decade and there was still a great deal of mystery. Still, he had the bad taste to ask me to write for the magazine. Who would have thought he would call it quits before I did? 
You see, editors love me. I can tell a tale, get hard-to-find information, and don’t mind being called names. On the other hand, I make publishers nervous—and Norm was a publisher. The odds were that at some point he would decide I was more trouble than I was worth—and his calculus might be right.
But Norm was different. Controversy didn’t scare him. He said he wanted story ideas and meant it. And he had a sense of humor. He also hired good people and let them do their jobs.
A strange thing happened—we became friends. It turned out we were both baseball fans; he rooted for the White Sox and not the Cubs. We shared a distrust of government. And we both liked dark rum. Our wives bonded over the fact they both loved animals and married men who were unlikely to fully grow up.
One year as we were booting around stories for the December issue, I suggested a feature revolving around the idea that Santa and I would have lunch with the man in red and talk about the business of Christmas. It hooked in the holidays and gave me a chance to make a few jokes.
Folks liked the idea and I set about not writing the story and daring the deadline. Meanwhile, we needed art for the piece and somebody thought it was a good idea to have Norm and I sit down at Equus for  photos, with Norm dressed as Santa. 
I thought this was a grand idea. Norm was not quite as enthusiastic, as it was October and a little warm inside the Santa suit which was about 140 percent polyester. As I recall, we drank some red wine while Norm conjugated various swear words and Duncan Garrett snapped away, imploring Norm to smile.
Good times. 
Over the years, we fell into a habit of breaking bread together, while Norm broke my balls a little. Norm, Joni, my wife, Cindy, and I would drink some wine, enjoy some good food and catch up. Joni would talk of the grandkids and visits to Chicago, and at some point Norm would excuse himself for a smoke break, adjourning to the parking lot for a Winston.
For the most part, Norm and I made a point of not talking politics. He sees himself as a libertarian and I lean to the left which didn’t leave much room in the middle. In the fall of 2016, we were all in Marin for a bite when I asked Norm what he was going to do about Trump. He fixed me with a stare, took a deep breath and said he certainly couldn’t vote for Clinton, but he also couldn’t vote for Trump.
I agreed to get us more drinks.
With the magazine sold, Norm and Joni are headed back to the Midwest for more time with the grandkids, though they promise they will not be strangers to the Wine Country.
Part of being a grown-up is saying goodbye to folks you like and realizing though their absence hurts a little, that hurt is outweighed by the joy they will have in their next chapter.
The media business is a hard place these days. It’s all about pageviews, charges of fake news and being first with every little tidbit with too little regard for getting those tidbits right or putting those tidbits into something called context. It’s hard finding space where that noise and commotion isn’t drowning out those who are trying to do the job right. 
I’ll miss Norm’s common sense and Joni’s laugh and their teacup dog. I know a table where that trio will always be welcome.  
Bill is a contributing editor here and is an associate editor for the Wall Street based financial news outlets The Deal and The Street in San Francisco. He lives in San Rafael and wishes you the happiest of New Year’s.
 

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