I received the heartbreaking news today that Josh Putterman has passed away.
Unless you were a reader of The Review (the University of Delaware’s student newspaper) back in the late-1980s/early-1990s, or one who has a particular interest in New Jersey-based copy editors/page designers, it’s unlikely Josh’s name rings a bell.
In my life/career trajectory, however, he will always be the king of kings.
And a changer of fates.
A bit of self-indulgence, just for a second: Back in the fall of 1990, I arrived at UD as a cocky, arrogant fuck-stick of a non-man who believed he was destined to become the greatest writer to ever touch a pen. So I walked up to The Review offices, armed with clips from an internship at my local weekly, and insisted I should be allowed to contribute to the paper.
Now, at the time The Review enforced a strict no-freshmen rule—which meant (quite literally) even if you loved writing with all your guts, you couldn’t participate in the newspaper until sophomore year. So I begged. And begged. And begged. I showed my clips, promised I’d cover anything and everything, begged some more, pleaded, got down on my knees …
… and Josh Putterman, managing sports editor/chill dude, gave me a shot. He let me cover a little women’s soccer, a little men’s lacrosse. I wrote a feature on the football team’s two kickers. It was all so great, and I was greater. Already, at 18, the greatest writer to ever touch a pen. And I made sure e-v-e-r-y Review editor was aware of such. Whenever someone would dare change a word, I’d gripe. Whenever someone would dare move a comma or request an additional sentence, I’d snap back. Because I was amazing, and they sucked, and they sucked, and I was amazing.
Then, one day, Josh pulled me aside. Actually, asked to meet with me alone. We sat inside the Scrounge, the nearby dining hall, and he told me I was no longer permitted to enter the office. Editors hated me, staffers hated me. My attitude was awful. My writing was … meh. Literally, I was banned from the one place I aspired to be. “If I’m you,” he said—as gently as one can, “I think about how I’m coming across.”
That night, I sobbed and debated where I could transfer.
And that should have been that for my life at the University of Delaware.
Only, it wasn’t. Josh stayed in touch. Kept my hopes afloat. He encouraged me to apologize, so I wrote a letter to the entire staff, acknowledging I was an asshole and begging for a second chance. With nothing to gain, Josh spoke on my behalf; affirmed my contrition was genuine (it truly was).
By year’s end, I was once again writing for the paper. But not just writing. I was watching Josh Putterman. Learning from Josh Putterman. The way he carried himself. The way he treated people. The way people treated him. Josh was a fantastic scribe (far my superior) who never behaved as if such skill mattered. He was kind and decent and encouraging and downright lovable.
Had he not allowed me to try again … well, I dunno. I probably would have left. Found another place, another path, another life journey.
I think about that fairly regularly.
And now, with Josh’s passing, I regret not telling him more often.