Karoshi or, I'll Burn That Bridge When I Come to It
I’ve finally reached the point where I can say that I’ve been working for more than half my life. I certainly hope that when I am old and decrepit (assuming I’ll be so lucky) I will be able to honestly say that I played for more than half my life. Toward that end, I’ve nurtured my own fantasies of making it big through talent, perseverance and the sheer force of my massive will. I have not eliminated the idea of sucking up, paying my dues or even serving as an apprentice to a talent greater than my own. It’s just that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I suck up, it always ends the same. “Sorry, Jøsh, but we no longer have any need for you. You’re free to go.” They sometimes feign sadness or worse, actually express pity, but the truth is, it would be much easier if I just rolled up to work one morning to find the whole place burned to the ground. At least then I could say, “That’s why I can’t work here anymore! There’s no here left!” That would make it a lot easier. More often than not, when I’m fired, I have little else to do besides console myself with the hope that the next idiot they hire to replace me will do the job even worse than I did. Like a pathetic, dumped loser pining away for his ex, I always hope the new dude banging my ex has a little dick that rarely works and she’ll miss me so much that by the time I get home from the dumping there will be ten messages from her, begging me to come back. With work, once I’m gone, I hope that all the systems that seemed to hinge on my excellent performance will begin to curdle in my absence and people will say, "Who is the asshole that got rid of Jøsh? I want that person fired, NOW! And get Jøsh back!”
Instead I find that the world goes on without me.
No businesses have crumbled to the ground and no replacement has fucked things up so badly that my shortcomings now seem quaint by comparison. Once I’m gone, it all returns to normal, like it was before I got there. It’s just over, and like all failed relationships, once the dust settles, all that’s left is the hurt, the anguish, the lingering questions and of course, my seething, bottomless rage toward everyone and everything my ex-employer represents. I am not sure if it’s irony or merely a symptom of an even larger problem but I am writing this introduction at a job that I am sure that I won’t have in two weeks. This time it’s actually pretty clear why I’m out the door. My time here started almost a year ago. I got a call from the San Francisco Bay Guardian because they received my resume for a position in their production department. The woman on the phone gave me the whole song and dance about how great the Guardian was and what they needed me to do. I instantly knew that I could handle it because I live and breathe Quark. After half an hour on the phone jumping through hoops and expressing an interest in things that bore me to tears, we got to the heart of the matter—money. It had gone smoothly and because I was feeling so good about it, they offered me half what I was making at my last job—and the kicker was that it was a minimum of 45 hours a week. What I used to make in two and a half days I would have to earn by giving up freelancing, giving up working at my own computer and giving up all my freedom and flexibility. All for half what I used to make at my last job, DOING THE EXACT SAME WORK. Had I suddenly gone from the land of the rich to the Third World? No, of course not. I couldn’t do it. I could not accept the job. I actually laughed at the offer, thinking that maybe they thought I was just out of school. Then I thought, they’re not kidding. They really want me to take that much money to do that job for those hours. Do they think that I live with my parents or on a commune? Thanks, anyway, I said. If you ever pay anywhere in the neighborhood where I live, feel free to give me a call. Until then, take that job and shove it.
Despite the fact that I was slamming the door to that job permanently, I couldn’t help myself. It’s not even about dignity as it is about my being unwilling to compromise on the fundamentals. No one else will ever tell me what to do in this zine. No one in the world can tell me what to wear, how to do my hair or what to eat and, most importantly, no one can expect me to get up early and come to a job unless they are willing to pay my minimum. Instead of crossing that bridge when I came to it, I thought I was burning it, as I had so many times before. But for the first time in my life, playing hardball worked. Like everything else I’ve ever done, it wasn’t what you would call a smashing success, but it worked. And that’s enough for me, for now.
• • •
The introduction you just read was one of four attempts, each written at four different jobs. Whenever I started writing a new intro, it was like being the author of my own fate. As soon as I started drafting an e-mail to myself with “karoshi” as the subject, I knew the job was almost over. When I think about all of the jobs I’ve had and lost, this intro seemed to most accurately depict the fundamental flaw in my character that precludes me from landing and keeping a rewarding job. It’s my fault, like it always must be. I know that I am a good worker and that I give employers value for their money. The problem is that I have this evil fucking righteousness gene that won’t let me compromise on things that shouldn’t really mean that much. I don’t always think about the big picture and I always used to think that I only needed to do a job well to keep it. But I’ve learned from hard experience that it’s never just the job that you’re expected to do. You’re expected to be part of a team and have a positive and pleasant attitude. Most importantly, you’re supposed to bear in mind that working somewhere obligates you to speak highly of the company and to keep your complaints to yourself. They don’t pay you for your opinions, it’s your labor they’re after. I’m trying to be honest and sarcastic at the same time and failing miserably.
I like working. I need a place to go every day where I can contribute my talent and abilities to something greater than the sum of its parts. I like being busy. It’s important to have a sense of purpose because without it, you might end up smoking pot, watching porno movies and playing video games all day. I’m not saying that I’ve done that, at least not today. I mean not yet today.
For reasons I hope to discover by writing this, I am stumbling through life and work blindly, and while on the whole I’m against work, I like having things more than I hate work. And by “things” I mean copious amounts of marijuana and new PlayStation games on a regular basis. I feel like I’ve been at the bottom of the career ladder for longer than you’ve been getting laid, and we both want to say that’s a long time.
After completing this story I realized that it was way too comprehensive to be enjoyed casually by an indifferent reader. In the interests of maintaining focus I decided to post all of my early work experiences as a web-only introduction. That solved half the problem. I decided that the best way to tell you the story of Karoshi, or, my life at work, was to break it into two separate pieces and publish one in this issue and the conclusion in a future issue. There are many reasons for this, but the most notable one was space—I could literally write a few hundred pages of detailed hell about all the various ways I’ve suffered and occasionally prevailed. I also use this zine as a calling card and introduction and I thought talking shit about my current job would not only get me fired but thinking about it too hard might make me want to quit. Using the popular three strikes metaphor, I’d like to tell you how I lost three jobs in a row without even trying.
Strike One - Shut the Fuck Up and Stop Calling Here
During my first year of grad school in San Francisco, I saw an ad in the paper looking for answering-service operators who had some experience. Since I am anti-social by nature and my school schedule precluded me from taking a strict 9-to-5 gig, I thought returning to an answering service would be a smooth move. I had more than a year of relevant experience (see the web version of this story at www.negcap.com for more about that) and I was both competent and articulate, which made me overqualified by a wide margin. It was a twenty minute drive south of San Francisco to Proxy Message Center’s Brisbane office and since it was open 24/7, I thought I could set my own hours. When I went in to fill out an application, it was obvious that they were so desperate for employees that they hired anyone who wasn’t demonstrably insane, which included me. I dressed appropriately, was friendly and outgoing, and despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with their computerized message system, I assured them that I was rare breed of supernerd that could master any computer system within hours of exposure.
The guy that interviewed me was a total schbag named Adrian Borg. Since I met Adrian before Star Trek: The Next Generation started, I can only assume that the Borg race was based on him. Adrian was one of those annoying little peckerheads who was the living embodiment of the maxim that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He had recently been promoted to manage the entire operation and was clearly trying to assert his authority wherever he could. Since I wasn’t actually going to be working with him on a daily basis—answering phones is a solitary occupation—I figured it might be the last time I’d ever see him. He offered me a job and said that I could choose any shift that I wanted so I immediately said 3pm-11pm.
My shift supervisor, Mike, was a slightly pudgy guy in his mid-20s with bleached hair and too many earrings. He took a liking to me immediately and on my second day of work he came to my cube and asked if I wanted to take a break. We went to the back of the parking lot and sat together on the curb. He took out a joint and offered me the first hit. I don’t know if there’s a pot equivalent of gaydar, but if it’s possible to subconsciously determine whether a stranger likes pot, I must be sending off strong signals. It was really good pot and since I hadn’t smoked in a year, I was wicked high after just a few hits. The rest of the day breezed by and I was happy that there was at least one person at my job who liked me already.
A few weeks later, Mike and I were leaving at the same time and when I saw him waiting outside, I offered him a ride home. He seemed very happy and gladly accepted. When we got to his apartment he invited me up and since I figured more weed would be involved, I accepted his invitation. It was like we had negotiated a ride for weed deal without saying a word. When I got to his room and saw that all of his posters were of muscular men kissing each other I realized that it wasn’t my car or my company that Mike was after, it was my sweet, sweet ass. I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, but not having a girlfriend can’t make you gay, only having a gay teacher can. I am just fucking with you. Gay is no more a choice than my being a complete asshole is a choice. I was born this way and no amount of prayer or medication is going to change me—or make gay people straight. Anyone who says they used to be gay and are now happily married are lying to themselves, their partners and their fictional savior.
I smoked a bowl with Mike, casually mentioned my ex-girlfriend’s sexual habits and he got the message. We were still good friends and enjoyed each other’s company, but whenever one person in a relationship has unrequited lust, that energy needs to be transformed into a non-sexual affection or it will eventually undermine the relationship.
Despite my relentless hostility, years of answering service training have given me a very professional phone demeanor. I do this by pretending that I am acting like a good phone operator and I play the role to the hilt. I am courteous, kind, patient and very friendly on the phone, even when people are nasty and bitter with me. Whenever other operators had callers that were flipping out on them they would ask me to pretend to be the supervisor, because I know that the best way to defuse someone’s anger is to agree with them until they calm down.
I had been working at Proxy five days a week and every legal holiday for six months before I got a generous 50-cent an hour raise, which was above average for the company, but did not immediately lead to mansions, cars and bitches like the brochure said. It did, however, give me a modicum of seniority at a company where turnover approached fast-food levels.
I became very friendly with the people who worked similar hours and even befriended the graveyard shift, who came in at 9pm and took over for me when it was time to leave. The graveyard shift included Mitch, a guy in his 50s who acted like he knew everything. Everything except how to have a career in your 50s, I mean. We got along very well because we were both bitter and distrustful of management. We would goof on all the retarded memos that were dispatched from the Borg mothership, make fun of the supervisors and try our hardest to maintain our sanity.
There are many different services that Proxy offered: We took orders for rolling luggage and jewelry catalogs, accepted overflow donations to public TV, handled the phones for doctor’s offices after hours and mostly took stupid messages for offices who were too cheap to hire a receptionist. Some of our clients were great and some were complete assholes, but we treated them as well as our moods would let us.
After I’d been there a while, the Borg hired a new guy named John Melaragni who was supposed to be some bigshot from MCI. John was cursed with being the kind of gay guy that no other gay guys find attractive: short, bald, chubby and he was employed by a crappy answering service. He was very nice to me and when he said his goal was to make the office more productive and efficient, I hoped he could pull it off. His first order of business was to begin a detailed analysis of our call logs to see where things could be improved.
He noted that there seemed to be the most missed calls from 8pm-1am and thought it would be good to do something about it. He took a meeting with me and the other people who worked those hours and we all told him the same thing: The problem was that we didn’t have enough operators at that time. After 8pm, most people left for the day, leaving just a few people on duty. After 11pm, there were only two people on the graveyard shift and if one of them had to pee, there was just one person responsible for literally thousands of lines. Instead of hiring more people, John just encouraged us all to try to get through each call faster.
A few weeks later, the complaints started coming in from our clients. There were dozens of times when I was taking a long, slow order for luggage and four other lines would light up at the same time. It was company policy not to put people on hold to answer the other calls, but it was also policy that we answer every call that came in. The two policies were not compatible and it became a serious problem. Proxy continued to bring in new clients while we were still giving bad service to our existing clients. We also weren’t doing the one thing I kept telling them to do—hire more bodies. We had all kinds of other problems happening concurrently. We would get new clients all the time, but they rarely provided any information about their products. When customers would call with really simple questions, we would have to tell them we didn’t know anything, which made us look retarded and pissed the customers off. I started complaining to John and the other supervisors that without enough information we could not do our jobs properly. No one cared and they always told us to do the best we could with what we had. I actually had to sign myself up for catalogs from our clients so I would know what the fuck I was talking about.
After a few months of things going from bad to worse, Mitch took me aside and told me what the graveyard people had been doing to cope with too many callers and too few operators. Instead of hanging up on them, he would select the ringing line on his computer and instead of answering, he would hit the cancel button on the keyboard. Instead of it registering in the system as a dropped call, it wouldn’t register at all, and it would look like all of the other calls had been answered quickly. When people got disconnected, they would either call back in a few minutes when it was quiet again or give up. After Mitch showed me the trick, I stopped complaining so much about the lack of proper staffing. I taught the trick to a few other people who also spread it around to the rest of the employees. It was the magic solution to having too few operators and too many clients and canceling a call wouldn’t technically violate either of my prime directives from the Borg. When I was working with three people and nine calls were ringing, we’d each cancel a few of them out, deal with the calls we could answer, and then deal with the rest when they called again.
This worked very effectively for a few weeks and at our next meeting with John and the Borg we were told that we were finally doing something right. It was a relief because having people put pressure on us to do something that was literally impossible was making it much more difficult than it should have been. The job wasn’t supposed to require a brain, which is why most operators were dropouts, retirees or overweight single moms.
The Borg seemed happy that we had resolved one of our client’s major issues with our service, but he was suspicious because the problem had gone away so quickly. A few weeks later John and the Borg made an announcement that they wanted to talk to everyone individually about our responsibilities to our clients. One by one they pulled people away from their desks and into a private meeting in John’s office. One by one operators emerged looking shellshocked. When it was my turn, I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen. I sat down in a chair that was facing a desk where John and the Borg were sitting with a massive computer printout.
The Borg was smiling, which was very unusual for him and it immediately put me on edge. He handed me the employee manual and asked me to open it to the marked page. He smirked, “Did you receive a copy of this manual when you were hired?” “Yes, but I didn’t read it,” I snapped back. Who the hell would read an employee manual that was more than 100 pages when all I was supposed to do was answer the phone and take orders? He directed my attention to one of the rules on the page where it said that we were never, under any circumstances, to hang up on a caller. If we had someone abusive we were supposed to transfer the caller to a supervisor. Even if the caller cursed at us or threatened us, we were supposed to be gracious and polite, and it was so deeply ingrained in my personality that I really was calm when people were yelling at me.
John looked really upset about the whole thing but he didn’t say anything. The Borg said, “When you were hired, you were told specifically that you were not to hang up on any callers, right?”
“I guess,” was all I could say. The Borg started leafing through the printout and said, “Do you know how many callers you personally have hung up in the last few weeks?” I knew it had to be thousands because there were many times when I simply couldn’t take it anymore but I was not allowed to leave my desk. “I would guess that it’s been a few,” I said.
The Borg wasn’t expecting me to admit anything but was delighted to correct me. “It was well over 700 in the last month.” That may sound like a lot, but when you realize that I was trained to take that many calls in a few hours, it was a very small percentage. Look at me, trying to justify doing the opposite of what I was paid to do. Jeez, I make myself sick sometimes. Adrian said, “You knew that it was against company policy to hang up on people yet you did it over 700 times, is that right?”
He was right. I knew it, I did it, so I just admitted it. And then tried hard to justify it. They weren’t interested in my explanation. Adrian told me that they were firing me for violating the rules, handed me a check for the hours I’d worked up to and including that day and told me to leave the premises. They fired more than fifteen people that day from every shift, including Mitch, who had been there for years. I am sure that it only made their problems worse and their rate of dropped calls even higher. Knowing the Borg the way I did, I am sure he felt it was worth it to see the look in everyone’s eyes as he caught them and fired them one by one. I know my reaction alone must have made his day because I thought I was bulletproof and I was genuinely shocked to see it end this way.
I went down to the unemployment office the next day and applied for benefits. I had never gotten them before and figured if welfare mothers and the insane could fill out paperwork for free money, I certainly could. The paperwork was a breeze but they said that my first week unemployed I would get no benefits at all. I would also have to prove that I was actively looking for a job and then I would start getting a couple hundred bucks a week. When two weeks passed without hearing from them, I called and got the runaround. After a few more days I went back to the office to see if I could get a person to tell me what was going on. Finally I got to meet with a bureaucrat who told me that Proxy was disputing my claim because they had fired me for violating company policy. As a result, I was ineligible for benefits. I could appeal my case before a judge if I wanted to but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to.
I thought about it for a few days and decided that everyone that got fired would try to get unemployment and that the company would decide that it wasn’t cost-effective to fight everyone. I filled out an appeal form explaining how there were too few people and too many calls and losing calls was a consequence of inadequate staffing and mismanagement. A few days letter I got a letter saying that I had been granted a hearing with a judge. I was nervous, but by that time I had somehow convinced myself that I was right to hang up on callers and I deserved unemployment. I looked at the hearing date as the only chance anyone would have to tell the employees’ side of the story. I was clearly deluded into thinking I was on the right side of a brave crusade instead of a slacker who got caught slacking. Just because I’m sometimes in denial doesn’t mean the truth won’t come out eventually. In case you were wondering, this zine is the closest I get to therapy, and when I write about stupid, painful shit like this, I literally wince while typing the words. Once it’s down, it’s a story I have to edit, but when it’s coming out of me like this, it really does hurt.
The day of my hearing I actually wore a tie for the first time since my grandfather’s funeral. Personally, I think ties are metaphorical leashes and they make the same statement of submissiveness that is made by women wearing dog collars and men with ball-gags in their mouths. I get through difficult situations like this by telling myself that I am an actor pretending to be someone else and I try to play it to the hilt. I brought a folder full of papers, some charts depicting call patterns versus staffing levels that I had made up and even some statements from fellow employees saying how fucked up it was to work there.
I had a hard time finding the room because I thought it was going to be an actual courtroom. Instead it was a small conference room with one long table in the middle of it. At one end of the table was the judge and sitting across the table, waiting for me, was the Borg and Proxy’s attorney. Jesus, I was so fucking freaked out. My heart stopped when I saw him. It was like being confronted by a nemesis in a comic book and I had little exclamation points shooting out of the top of my head. The whole legal procedure took about ten minutes. Adrian Borg, cocksucker of the universe, showed the log where my operator number (84) had hung up on people followed by a highlighted page of the employee manual. I never signed anything accepting the terms of the manual but the judge didn’t care. I submitted my evidence and he threw away my statements immediately. Then he dismissed my appeal and said that they were denying me unemployment insurance.
Mitch got a job at a different answering service a week after we got fired and had kept in touch with me during my fight for unemployment. The longer the fight lasted, the more money I thought I was playing for because if I won, I would get retroactive benefits to a week after my firing date, in a lump sum. Mitch always asked me to join him at a new place called Connections and after I lost my legal fight I finally went down there. I was hired on the spot for more money than I had been making at Proxy and was once again told I could pick any eight-hour stretch of time that would allow me to continue a life of staying up late and sleeping late. Mitch and I worked evenings with a Filipino drag queen named Leo and a few other people. It was a lot like Proxy in that it was fat single moms and old ladies in the morning while the freaks always came out at night. Connections was boring as hell and their computers were primitive, but I spent almost all my time reading or writing for school and since the operation was tiny, it was never that busy.
A few months into the job, I was about to graduate with a Master’s in Writing, so I decided that I should start working in my chosen field. The only hitch was that I totally suck at finding a job. All the men in my family have been dead for years, so nepotism has always been out of the question. There aren’t any jobs in the classified section looking for people that write smartass fiction, trust me, I’ve looked. I sent out hundreds of resumes but I scored a total of three interviews, all as an assistant editorial schbag at a publishing house. It’s entirely possible that my lack of enthusiasm was my undoing, but it’s more likely that I was unable to convince anyone that I was excited at the prospect of making $18,000 a year to work 40 hours a week, wear a tie and take regular meetings with people that were dumber than me. I couldn’t convince myself that I wanted the jobs either, but I did try my best when I was there.
During my job search, I met my wife on AOL in a Truth or Dare chat room (see “I Am a Gay Homosexual” in NegCap #2). We were just getting to know each other when I got so goddamn frustrated that I decided I had to move back to NYC. I gave my two weeks notice at Connections, packed up everything I owned into my car and hit the road back to NYC.
Strike One - Milton J. Prick, Will You Please Die Now?
Living with your mother is nothing to be proud of, it’s something to escape from, even if your mother is good to you and you enjoy her company. There is only one legitimate reason to live with your mother: as a temporary refuge until you can get your shit together. That’s the one place you’re always supposed to have in case of emergency, but it ought to be a legitimate emergency.When I moved back to New York in 1994 I planned to stay with my mother while looking for a job. As soon as I got a job I could afford a place of my own in Manhattan. Even with my shiny new diploma and piles of polished writing, finding a job in publishing was harder and more frustrating than I had anticipated.
During my job search, family members attempted to show their support by clipping articles about people my age who were failing as miserably as I was. This did nothing to encourage me—in fact, it made me firmly believe that a job in publishing was something I could never find unless I was a blood relative of someone named Harper, Collins, Condé or Nast. After three solid months of abject failure, my girlfriend purchased an open-ended ticket and decided to come stay with me at my mom’s house. I told her that my mom had said that she could come and stay as long as she wanted, which wasn’t exactly true, but it was very close to a vague sentiment my mom once mentioned to me about my friends and her hospitality. At the time, my mom and stepfather lived in Mt. Vernon, NY, which is the birthplace of rapper Heavy D and onetime crack capital of North America.
Two days before my girlfriend was supposed to come, I had managed to get an interview for a market editor position at an actual publishing company in Manhattan. I decided that it would be wise to go to a temp agency on the same day so I wouldn’t waste the roundtrip train fare and my time in a suit to fuck up one interview when I could just as easily (and just as affordably) fuck up two.
I went to the temp agency first because I felt like it was less important and that the people interviewing me would be so jaded and bored that it would be a safe place for me to practice my interview skills. I plan on doing an entire story just about all the fucked up interviews I’ve had because it’s more fascinating than any fiction I could dream up. For the record, my interview skills consist of smiling vacantly until my mouth goes dry, agreeing with everything people say to me no matter how pedestrian or offensive and being overly willing to take on any task, no matter how banal, repetitive, dangerous or difficult. When it comes to trying to get a job, I often come across as a desperate woman whose eggs are drying out fast. Somebody—anybody—drop some fucking sperm here!
I wore one of my two neckties, an old Polo button-down shirt my brother loaned me, a pair of jeans that look like khakis from a distance and a pair of nice shoes I’d purchased solely for interviews that were corny, uncomfortable and so hopelessly devoid of style that they would convince any potential employer that I was reliable and dull.
While I waited in the reception area with the other desperate losers, I kept telling myself that all I had to do was get through these two interviews and I could enjoy some quality time with my girlfriend without worrying about money, my future, or getting a job. I have always felt that the best part about having a job (or a girlfriend) is that you don’t have to go through the fucking torture of trying to find a suitable job (or girlfriend). Once you get a job, you gain the confidence necessary to get the next one and the sad truth is that a wedding ring is more attractive to some single women than white teeth and nice shoes. No recruiter or headhunter is ever going to call an unemployed guy watching cartoons in his underwear to find him a job—but if you have a good job, you can reasonably expect a few phone calls from those same vipers who will convince you that now is the best time to trade up. The parallel with women works in this case as well—your friends will always try their hardest to get you laid as soon as you say you’re engaged. But if you’re single and desperate to find that special someone, you’ll get nothing but a sound mocking from your friends. Maybe I just need new friends.
When I finally got the nod to enter the back part of the office for my interview, my mouth was already dry, my palms were sweaty and I had to use all the will I could muster not to run like hell. The interviewer was a pleasant woman in her early 40s and I am such a fucking hateful cynic that I was thinking, “If you know so much about getting a good job, how come your job is so shitty?” It’s like the classic put-down of guidance counselors—physician, heal thyself, and guidance counselor, get a real fucking job where you don’t have to encourage dimwits to go to trade school and smartasses like me to go to art school. The first part of the interview was designed to fool me into thinking that they were going to match me up with a dream job. They asked me pointed and personal questions designed to gauge how well I would handle the soul-sucking world of temping. I must not have come across as a team player because I left the interview feeling like it was the last time I would ever see anyone there.
I decided to walk to the next interview because it was January in New York and I really enjoy winter weather. When I found the office building for my second interview, I was actually impressed. There was a nice doorman hanging out in the lobby who told me where to go and wished me luck on my interview. I went up to the offices of Mackay Publishing and was buzzed into the office by Rita, the receptionist/HNIC, if you will. She axed me what did I want wif Milton. I told her that I had an interview and she picked up the intercom and screamed, “MILLLL-TON! SOME GUY NAMED JOSH IS HERE TO SEE YOU!” and slammed the phone down. She told me to go see him in his office in the back.
The entire office looked like your creepy uncle’s attic: piles of paper everywhere, colonies of dustbunnies planning revolution, broken old furniture and the smell of rotting books. In the center of the disaster was an old man, buried in paper. He must have been eighty at the time—almost completely bald with bottle-bottom glasses and two ancient hearing aids. I sat in the chair next to his desk, handed him my resume and introduced myself. I told him that I had just gotten a Master’s in Writing and had been writing since I was a little kid. He asked me a few questions and then handed me a press release. He told me to take it into the next room and “boil it down.” I wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted me to do so I asked him to clarify. He told me to use the press release as my source and to write a story that gave the same information but in a more concise way. That’s the magic of trade publishing: taking a two-page press release and turning it into a 400-word piece of journalism.
I went to the next room and sat at an ancient electric typewriter with my press release. It was about a new line of greeting cards that were supposed to be funny. I turned eight paragraphs into three and returned to Milton. He read my piece and asked me when I could start. I told him that I had to get my girlfriend at the airport in two days but I could start the day after that. He said the job paid $25,000 a year—much more than any of the assistant schbag jobs I’d applied for in San Francisco—and he said I’d get two weeks paid vacation. To me it meant that for the first time ever, I would be paid for a holiday but not have to work it.
When my girlfriend came to stay with me, I told her that I had finally gotten a job and I had to start the next day. I really didn’t want to start working so soon, but I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to move out. I made up my mind that I would try it, take the money and start saving for a security deposit. My mom drove me to the train at some ungodly hour so I could stand in the cold and wait for a train to the city. It was on that first day, as the icy winds whipped through my cheap Gap coat, that I realized that work fucking sucks—and I hadn’t even started. The train was packed with other commuters who reeked of sour coffee and sour lives. Everyone looked just as miserable as I felt and I saw my future in all of their haggard, worn-out faces. I brought my backpack with a Walkman, a peanut butter sandwich and a magazine. I planned to take myself out to a nice lunch but brought the sandwich in case I got stuck doing something and got too hungry to wait.
Rita laughed at me when I came in wearing my other tie because she was the receptionist and was wearing torn jeans, angry braids and an ugly old sweater full of holes. I was about to run out of nice clothes to wear to work and would have to resort to my actual wardrobe sooner rather than later, but having her laugh at me made the tie burn even more.
I went back to Milton’s office and passed three empty desks on my way in. Milton looked disheveled in a wifebeater and short-sleeve dress shirt with ink stains across the pocket. He handed me two pieces of yellow paper and one tattered sheet of carbon paper and told me that everything I wrote had to be in duplicate: one copy for the files and one copy for repro. I didn’t know what repro was but I did know that no one writes a final draft the first time. He handed me a stack of mail and faxed press releases and told me to see if any of them were worth writing stories about. He took me to the desk outside his office and said the desk was now mine. I immediately wondered what happened to the guy that was there before me. I was clearly replacing someone, and as soon as Milton left, I rifled through the desk like a cheap detective in a cliché. Steve Schneider! I found one of his discarded business cards! I wondered if I would actually have a business card with my name and title on it. I couldn’t think of anyone I could give it to who wouldn’t goof on me but I hoped that I could get cards that said Josh Saitz, editor.
I heard two girls come into the office and decided the smartest thing to do was get to work, in case Milton came back. I started opening the mail and reading it. It was all letters from greeting card companies announcing new products with slides and photos. I turned their press releases into “stories” for Greetings Magazine, the most heinous piece-of-shit trade publication since Colostomy Magazine. I made up the name “Colostomy Magazine,” but I am sure that there is a trade magazine for people with colostomies and without even seeing it I can tell you that it is better than Greetings.
Katie (or Kellie Krunchbar, as I called her) and Felicia were both around my age. Katie was the editor of the other trade publication the company did called Intimate Fashion News (IFN). Felicia was the editorial assistant who was doing the shitty, bottom-of-the-ladder job I’d tried so hard to get before. I think she got the job through nepotism because her father worked in the building and that seems like too much of a coincidence to me, but I digress. After I’d been there for an hour a creepy little hunchbacked woman named Lillian came to my desk. She wanted to introduce herself and check to see if I was Jewish. She was almost as old as Milton but had a slightly tighter grip on reality. She asked me to fill out some tax forms but didn’t say anything when I asked about health insurance.
The year was 1995 and while some magazines were going to an all-digital workflow we had an IBM 386 that ran at a blistering 25Mhz. It had 2MB of RAM and a primitive word-processing program but Milton wanted me to type everything in duplicate and reuse the carbon paper until it literally fell apart. I wrote stories and would then submit them to Milton for his approval. For the first few months he nitpicked every goddamn thing I did until I thought I would have to strangle him. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to really try to write the pieces in an interesting way. Every time I used a 75¢ word, he would cross it out and write the nickel word. If I ever wrote “I” or “me” I was rebuked for injecting myself into the story. Now that I think about it, the first issue of my zine was written while I worked there, and I tried to write in as opposite a manner to my work writing as I could. For every fluff, piece-of-shit press release I regurgitated at work, I wished Christine Baranski and Anne Rice cancer for being such hollow cunts when I got home. I never wanted to write for money after I worked there because it always felt completely unnatural and wrong to use whatever talent I have in the service of garbage. I wish that other whores in marketing, advertising, public relations—and every dick at Disney—would realize that they are corrupting the world with their vileness and decide that voluntary suicide is their only viable solution. Or just stop wasting your brain contributing nothing but shit and for the love of Lurky, change jobs.
The really ironic thing about Milton’s consistent beating me down as a writer was that he sincerely believed he was upholding some kind of journalistic credo. There’s nothing even vaguely journalistic about what any of us did, and we were kidding ourselves like almost every professional writer must kid themselves. Unless you’re writing incisive essays for the New Yorker, investigative pieces that involve more than making phone calls from a desk, or this zine, you are not a writer. What you are rhymes with “hack.” I am not saying everyone at the New York Times sucks because I find the writing boring and devoid of personality—that’s like criticizing a Special Olympics gymnast for not staying on the balance beam.
The company had one sales guy who was a creepy old alcoholic named Alan and a saleswoman named Barbara who had breath that had the fetid stench of stale coffee and mung. I’ll never forget that smell as long as I live. Alan was responsible for getting ads for IFN and Barbara was the rep for Greetings. I was what Milton called the “Market Editor” and I think in his mind there was a greeting card district somewhere out there in the City.
The reality of the greeting card industry is that Hallmark owns almost everything, is privately held and crushes the competition. American Greetings is a distant second and the remaining scraps are divided up among the fringes. If anyone ever advertised, I had to write about them, interview them about their line, talk up their products and basically act like every other whore in publishing. Barbara was once pitching a potential client and thought it would be a good idea for him to talk directly to me about what I could write about his line. She called me on the intercom, told me what she wanted me to do and I flatly refused. I didn’t even care if she told Milton. There is supposed to be a figurative wall between advertising and editorial but that bitch was trying to pull me over the wall, and it was never going to happen. She wisely never tried it again. I did write about all of our advertisers, but it was because they were one of the few people who would submit samples, press releases and photos to use, to fill the pages of Greetings.
Milton was nearly deaf, frequently smelly and came in every morning before 7am. He lived alone in a condo in Westchester and had a daughter who lived in the City. Before any of you were born, Milton and Ray McInerny founded Mackay (Mac for Mc and Kay for the first letter of Milton’s real last name—it’s not Prick, but it might as well be), purchased IFN and began publishing it. It had been around since the 1890’s and I think there’s something primal about the connection between Jews and textiles. It wasn’t until later that they expanded into another niche and began Greetings.
My girlfriend and I lived together at my mom’s for a few months and I saved up enough money for a security deposit. We looked in many neighborhoods but ended up finding a 350-square-foot studio literally two-and-a-half blocks from my office, in a no-fee building. We found a guy in the Voice who came over and built us a loft bed with a ladder, and then I spent an entire paycheck on a shitty, foam futon at Pier One to furnish the place. Those were the fuckin’ days.
Once we moved to the City, the job was much easier. I could literally roll out of bed at 8:40am, shower, eat and get to the office by 9. I could also go home for lunch and smoke a bowl and watch some porn. Nothing makes the rest of the work day go by faster, let me tell you. Milton yelled everything at me all the time because he was a prick and because he was deaf. Whenever I got fed up with his yelling and I had the balls to yell back at him, he would calm down and tell me to relax and lower my blood pressure.
As my writing clearly indicates, I am anti-social by nature and the worst part of the job for me was doing our monthly retailer profile. I would have to call around to greeting-card shops and ask if Greetings could do a profile. Most of the time they had never heard of Greetings and weren’t interested because they thought I was trying to sell them something. After a lot of rejection, I wrote a script for myself that I would read to each store owner with specific things to say so they would let me do a profile. If I was a small-business owner, I would jump at the chance to get any publicity for my store, but in this case, it was probably a waste of time because our subscribers were other card retailers and they were not potential customers.
I decided to look at our subscriber list to find some stores in the City that received our little trade publication. I found a few, looked up their phone numbers and called them. Since they had seen the magazine, they knew what a worthless piece of shit it was and blew me off when I called. When that failed, I decided to call card stores that I really liked and that I thought would make a good story. I would call, ask for the owner, read my little prepared script and then see what kind of reaction I got. If I got a good vibe, I would tell the owner how much I liked the store, the displays and the card selection and I always made some remark to indicate that I’d actually been in the place. That usually worked because people loved to talk about themselves. By the time they’d ask me where I was from, I would tell them I was a writer for the only trade publication for greeting-card retailers and if they would be interested in talking to me, I would love to do a puff piece on them, their store and their history, and I would take a lot of pictures. Milton gave me a shitty convenience-store 35mm camera to take pictures but I was embarrassed to have such a bad camera so I brought my own Canon 35mm. The whole process was painful—me asking stupid, pointless questions and writing down some shopkeeper’s small business story. The big fancy Hallmark stores would never talk to me and many hung up on me when I called. Sometimes they would refer me and my questions to their corporate PR flack. I know that many people think of Hallmark as being this friendly, homespun company that only has good intentions, but Hallmark is a huge, evil monopoly with cards in the same way that Disney is with bland, disposable children’s entertainment and Microsoft is with bloated and buggy operating systems.
After I had done a few profiles I decided to have fun with it, so I did a profile about this flamingly gay store on Christopher Street where the owner was a hilarious old leather guy and all the cards had naked dudes on them. My boss never even looked at it or read it because if he had, he wouldn’t have printed that story in color, which he did very rarely. Physically speaking, my design work at Greetings is the direct antecedent of this zine because I based my first issue on the last issue I’d done of Greetings: 48 pages, black and white interior, glossy 10pt. cardstock cover in full color. I was doing the Bizarro Greetings, rather than writing nice things about bland people I was writing mean things about hateful people.
At Greetings the actual production of the magazine was very old school. I would write copy on an electric typewriter and after it had gone through one round of revisions I would fax it to our typesetter in New Jersey. A few days later they would messenger over the first round of proofs, which were printed on white paper. I would then correct all the typos and fax it back so the typesetter could make corrections. Then they would send me what they call “repro” paper, which looks like glossy photo paper. When the repro came in, I picked a color for the month and then photocopied all of the repro onto the colored paper. Milton would take the stories and copies of the ads to make a dummy issue, which is essentially a map of where all the editorial and ads are going to go. I have never done a map for this zine, but we always did one for Greetings. If a story didn’t fit anywhere, it was put into a cardboard box top called “overmatter” and saved for a future issue. If we had a hole in the current issue, Milton would sift through the overmatter to find a piece that fit in the puzzle. I was always writing short, shitty blurbs about industry news, reviews of stationery-related events and bios about which jerkoff got promoted to senior vice president of ass-licking. The bigger the asshole that I wrote about was, the more pictures came with the bio. I cannot fathom why a loser card salesman would want to be written about in a trade publication that had a circulation of perhaps 10,000 but I guess everyone wants their fifteen minutes, even if they suck.
When it came time to actually put the magazine together, it was my job to use a hand-waxer and wax all the repro. We didn’t have a scanner, so in order get pictures in the magazine, Milton or I would paste the photo or card to the back of an old press release and send it to the engraver, as Milton called it. Milton used a plastic measuring wheel to scale the images to match the space in the map and then he would write the percentage that the engraver should shoot it. They would literally take black and white pictures of the stuff and send it back to me to cut into little pieces, which were then laid on the boards around the editorial. Very often Milton’s measurements would be wrong and we would end up having to make a photocopied enlargement of the picture and then use the dirty and grainy photocopy in the magazine. Jeez. It was so fucking welfare.
At press time every month, I would very carefully cut out all the copy and lay it in columns on these disgusting boards that were literally older than me. I would do the same thing for the black and white pictures our engraver had taken of the cards. Milton would then dig out the used boards from last month’s issue, tear off all of the articles, put the ads in a bin in case they were running the same ad again, and then re-use all the dirty, torn up and disheveled boards. The main problem with having Milton do the boards was that his vision was terrible, his office was a disaster area and he couldn’t put anything down straight. He was also painfully slow but I didn’t want to volunteer to do the boards for him because I know if you volunteer once it becomes your job forever. After the boards were all assembled, he would tape a used piece of parchment paper over the whole thing and hand it to me to proofread.
As anyone who works in publishing will tell you, it’s very hard to catch your own mistakes, which is precisely why we use spell-checkers and proofreaders. We had one regular columnist named Polly Guerin who would drop off an awful hand-written piece once a month that I had to type and edit. Milton wrote exactly one editorial piece for each issue which was a mish-mash of old Henny Youngman jokes lifted verbatim from his books, some comments about how things were better in olden times and some sexist remark that he was thinking but would attribute to some random stranger he overheard in Grand Central. He wrote like he thought he was a macher (Yiddish, noun; someone who is a power player) and was exhorting our readers to prepare early, listen to the buyers, treat the customer right and offer a good selection. Besides those two worthless pieces, I wrote, edited and proofread everything else for Greetings.
The first time I found a mistake on a final board Milton told me to leave it, but I couldn’t. When I wouldn’t sign the board indicating that it had been proofed and was acceptable, he yelled at me and said I was trying to run him out of business. I would tell him that I couldn’t sign off on something that had a mistake, so he told me that if I wanted to fix the problem I should go through the box of discarded repro from past issues and find the word spelled correctly. I then read through pages of old stories trying to find one word. Once I found it, I would have to wax the old one, cut out the word and then Milton would perform surgery on the board to replace the offending word with the correct one. After the first time, every subsequent time I brought him corrections he would argue with me that no one would notice, but it wasn’t about our readers, it was about me noticing it. Why was I bothering to proofread if he wasn’t going to fix the mistakes that I found? Eventually I started fixing the boards myself and I wouldn’t even bother to tell him. Sometimes when I’d point out a mistake, he would blame me—after all, I wrote every goddamn word of that magazine. No one is always perfect at proofreading, not even the New York Times. One big problem was that sometimes the people who set our type inserted their own mistakes that would get past me, or I would submit the correction and they would neglect to make it and I wouldn’t catch it until the last possible minute.
Nine months into the job I was able to convince Milton that I could save him some money if he would buy just one Mac. I could eliminate the cost of typesetting, do everything in-house and fix problems instantly. I found a used Performa, monitor and keyboard at a repair shop and I was ecstatic. It was slower than the computer I had at home, but it was much faster than the IBM piece of shit. I retired that dinosaur to Norma, the bookkeeper, who had no idea how to use it. Then old Lillian decided to retire and there was one less person on the payroll. A few months later, Milton let Felicia go and then I really was doing everything for Greetings all by myself.
I didn’t realize how bad off the company was financially until my paychecks started to bounce. When it happened three weeks in a row, I told Norma, the bookkeeper, that not only did I expect to be paid immediately but I expected the company to reimburse me for the bounced check fees. After a few more weeks, everyone’s checks were bouncing regularly. It got to the point where it was wasn’t funny at all, it was just depressing. I stopped depositing my paychecks and started going directly to the bank to cash them. Most of the time they would tell me that there wasn’t enough money in the account and I should come back later. Every payday became this sick inside joke where Norma would whisper to me that there was only enough money in the account for half of us to get paid. On the weeks she told me, I got paid, and when she was mad at me, I didn’t get paid at all.
There was one stretch where I didn’t get paid five weeks in a row. At that point I went to Milton and told him that unless he paid me, I was not coming to work anymore. He yelled at me and said that I was being disloyal and I told him that his empty promises were not going to pay my rent and that he had better sort out the company’s financial problems before it went completely sour.
The highlight of my career at Greetings was when I was invited and sent press passes to the Louie Awards, which are the greeting-card equivalent of the Oscars. It was hosted by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Everyone in the industry was there, seats were expensive and I was representing the industry’s only trade magazine. They wanted me to vote on the winners, like I was a member of the greeting card academy. I remember being excited to go because I thought I would meet all these people that I had written good things about and they would want to know me because I could give them press. I was starving when I got there and when I sat at my seat they brought me a slab of cold, rare steak and a few pieces of asparagus. I hadn’t had red meat in a few months but that night I was so hungry that I actually had two bites of it. It was disgusting and bloody and it was the last time I ever ate beef in my life. No one knew who I was or even cared; they were there hoping to win some stupid fucking award. An hour into it, I could tell that my girlfriend was miserable and just as hungry as I was, so we left and took a cab to Empire Wok, our favorite Chinese place.
Shortly after the awards, Alan got fired, though I never learned why. It might have been because Milton was always yelling at him to go out into the market to drum up business and instead Alan sat in a bar around the corner and got drunk by himself. Milton found a guy named Dean who was interested in buying IFN and he came on board to see if he could turn it around. Before he joined us he had worked for a few tabloids and made a ton of money putting together those little books you see in the supermarket checkout aisle about horoscopes, the Bible, talking to your pets or losing weight. He made money on every single one of those things and told me he never had to work again.
Barbara started complaining to Milton that she couldn’t sell any ads because everyone in the industry thought Greetings was a joke. A few weeks later, as I was working my ass off on our next issue, he told me that he was going to pull the plug on Greetings. He fired Barbara and then it was just me, Milton, Katie, Norma, Rita and Dean. Katie and I got along really well with Dean and for a while we thought he might actually start a new magazine, hire us and let Milton drown. Privately, Dean told me and Katie that he had discovered that the company owed more than three times what it was worth. Dean was really good at selling ads and for a while Katie and I did IFN together. We made the best of a bad situation, but as it got worse and worse and our paychecks continued to bounce, we both started to look elsewhere.
Katie had better luck than I did and left IFN for its main competitor, BFIA (Body Fashions Intimate Apparel). I kept in touch with her and always asked her to get me a job so I could escape, too, but it wasn’t happening. I was suddenly the editor, designer, proofreader, market guy and photographer for IFN. Instead of boiling down press releases about cards, I boiled down press releases about bras and underwear. I had to use words like “flirty” in a sentence on a regular basis. Milton hired a girl named Maria whose resume had spelling errors but she was below me on the getting-paid ladder. When her first check bounced, she came to me wondering what happened. I played dumb because I didn’t want her to leave, forcing me to do it by myself.
The company went into a slow downward spiral over the next few months. Dean couldn’t negotiate with Milton because Milton thought that IFN was worth something. Dean’s offers were more in line with what the paper was actually worth and since Milton was in his 80s, it would be in his best interests to take whatever sum he was offered and retire in peace. The stubborn old man wouldn’t budge an inch and after many very heated and loud arguments, mediation, negotiation and then more arguments, Dean left. I was starting to feel like I was on a sinking ship and everyone else was running for the lifeboats while I continued to play my fiddle.
Each issue had fewer and fewer ads, came out later and later, and we had to switch printers for each job because we couldn’t pay any of them. Every call that came in was a creditor looking for money. When we tried to get a new printer, they would ask us for credit references and we had none. We were burning every single bridge we had. I kept looking for a job but I had no luck whatsoever. It was really pathetic. I started calling Dean to see if he needed an assistant or if he needed help finding something else to buy but he had returned to his easy life in the suburbs. I was like the sad puppy in the pound that he couldn’t save and I know he felt for me but there was nothing anyone could do.
One sunny day I was sitting at the computer working on a layout for IFN when I heard some people at the front door. I kept on working because I didn’t know what else to do. When I looked up from my desk to see what was going on there was a black woman with a gun standing right next to me. She ordered me to step away from the computer and to keep my hands where she could see them. I immediately thought that it was a robbery, which made me laugh out loud. I was thinking, “Go ahead and clean us out. Here, take this broken down old hand-waxer and this piece-of-shit typewriter!” She didn’t think anything was funny and told me to stop laughing. She reached into her coat and showed me an IRS badge. She said that the IRS was seizing the company for not paying its payroll taxes. We might be able to dodge printers, vendors and customers, but you cannot screw the government or the mob because they have guns. I immediately told the woman that the computer didn’t belong to the company, it was my personal computer that I had loaned to the company because we couldn’t afford a computer. She said that was fine and I could come back and get it in a few days, but for now they were here to secure the premises and shut us down. I figured the last three paychecks I had been holding were going to bounce and the computer might be worth at least one worthless paycheck if I could sell it.
A few days later I got a call from Milton’s daughter, who told me that she knew that I had the company’s computer and Milton wanted it for himself so he could continue to make a living as a writer. In the entire time I worked there he never even learned how to turn the computer on, much less use it. He had used the same electric typewriter for sixty years but he hadn’t been clever enough to tell the IRS the typewriter was his. She said she was going to tell the IRS that I had stolen it and they would file criminal charges against me. I wiped out the entire computer and left it with only a crippled system folder and a text editor. All the software was stuff I had purchased for my own use and if they wanted everything to be on the up and up, I thought it was my responsibility to remove all unauthorized software. There was also no way in hell I was going to just give him my only severance. I dropped the computer off at her apartment and made her sign a statement saying that she and Milton knew that the computer belonged to the IRS and that they were taking the property to return to the IRS to be liquidated to pay our payroll taxes. I still have that note and I don’t know why I can’t throw it away. I was so pissed off at Milton for taking the only thing I had to show for all my work. I had taken so much abuse over the years and I had given so much to the company and all I was left with was a sour taste in my mouth and three bad checks. That cocksucker dragged us all down with him and I hated his fucking guts for doing it. He knew how bad it was, he knew the IRS was coming, he knew that the company was about to go under and he didn’t do anything about it. He could have just sold the thing to Dean for a few bucks but instead, all he had to show for his seventy-plus years at work was one crappy old Performa and whatever office supplies he had stolen.
After the IRS shut down my office, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life or my time. I had always enjoyed writing but I didn’t think there was any room for creative writing and making money at the same time. To put it another way, no one was going to pay me to be creative, they would only pay me to waste my writing talent on ridiculous nonsense. I sent out hundreds of resumes and made dozens of phone calls, all desperately trying to at least get my foot in the door. I really was a miserable failure at finding a job and keeping a job.
Instead of getting upset about it as I had before, I took advantage of the uncontested unemployment checks and my rage at the world and finished writing and designing the first issue of my zine. It was in the depths of that spell of unemployment, when I really felt, well, unemployable, that I vented my anger and overwhelming frustration by writing essays. It worked very well as a catharsis and I started to feel better about the job search. I was very excited about the zine but I couldn’t print it because being unemployed means you can’t spend $2,000 to print 1,000 copies of a stupid zine.
Everyone I spoke to about finding a job told me that my best chance for finding work was to network with people who worked where I wanted to work, but I had no connections anywhere. My friends all had jobs in other fields. My brother got me a few freelance design jobs, but not enough to sustain me. I complained to anyone who would listen that I couldn’t find a job but it didn’t matter. Every day I would wake up, work on a zine that I never thought I’d be able to print, and then send out resumes. When I was about a month away from finishing the zine, Bonaduce (sounds like Bonna-douche-y) called me. He had taken a job as the production manager for the New York Press, which is exactly like the Village Voice, only obnoxiously and reflexively conservative instead of liberal. Bonaduce said that he might be able to give me some freelance work if I thought I could handle the pressure of a big time production department. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to compliment me or insult me, but he was always deliberately hard to read. He said his employers wanted to pay someone $15 an hour, but he would tell them I deserved $18 an hour and try to get it for me. He also insinuated that if he could get me $18 that I ought to thank him by giving him a kickback in the form of free drinks whenever he wanted and I played along. I told him that it sounded fine and I would be interested in coming in to try to do the work, to see if I could “handle it.” [If you want to know who I am talking about, his real name and the back story about our friendship, please see “Who is Bonaduce?” which is coming soon to this site.
A few days later I went down to the Puck Building which, for those of you who don’t live in New York, is the exterior they use as Grace’s office on Will & Grace. I am sure some of you are either muttering “fag!” or “I was taking him seriously until he said he watched Will & Grace.” Well, just because I know the building doesn’t mean I watch the show, but I do, actually, watch the show, but not very often. My sister got me into it when we were visiting her in LA and she explained all the characters and was so into it that my wife and I humored her and watched it with her. My wife and I did enjoy it when we watched it later and even if you think it’s a bad sitcom, it’s better than a lot of other ones that are popular. I like it because it’s funny and because it makes gay guys seem much less threatening than scare mongers would have you believe they are. I also watch Queer as Folk, which is less funny and much filthier, but that is also one of those shows that’s so gay it’s over the top and I love the idea that people accidentally come across it and are profoundly offended by everything they see. It’s entertaining, stylish and does occasionally have a little lesbo action for the guys, so it’s not totally gay. My wife is also so fucking hot over Gale Harold, the straight star of the show (see picture at left), that just watching him fuck strange guys in Babylon gets her all worked up and I get the fringe benefits. Just like guys enjoy the lesbo porn, my wife digs the man on man action and anything that turns her on is to my benefit.
Jeez. My tangents are getting out of control. Puff puff pass. Thank you. The office was a disaster, there were no extra chairs and they gave me the second-shittiest computer I’d ever used, but it was a job. I needed the money, so I didn’t want to act like anything was a problem. The production staff included Giselle, early 20s, pierced lip, butch lesbian, Cuban, I think. I doubt she remembers my ethnic heritage either, so take your racism accusations and shove them up your WHITE ass. That’s right, white boy, I know you want to hide your racism and hypocrisy by trying to point at mine, but I’ve never discriminated against anyone based on their race, just based on their looks, religion or intelligence. Gabe was a recent college grad who was a hesher from Long Island, but on Long Island we call people like Gabe either a “burnout” or “metalhead.” He was also some kind of latino, but he didn’t care that much about it, meaning he didn’t always pronounce Spanish words with a Spanish accent, which is about the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard, and it happens all the time on TV. Should we all pronounce Alabama like they do in Alabama? Man, that’s retarded. Michael Gentile was the art director and one of the few original employees to come from Baltimore with Russ Smith, the paper’s owner, who wrote long, pointless, rambling editorials for the paper under the name “Mugger.” Karen Chu was quiet, smart and the only other production person. She was also the nicest person who worked there. After I’d been there for a while as a freelancer, Karen left the Press to work for 1-800-POSTCARDS, which was founded and owned by James Morel from the zine POPsmear. Bonaduce seemed really bitter when Karen left and told me horrible stories about James that I wasn’t sure if I should believe. I won’t even share them because they’re pretty slanderous and probably made up.
My job was to design new ads or modify existing ads for the paper. The local clubs faxed us a list of their bands and times and we’d update the ad for each week’s issue. Sometimes we’d be asked to design a new ad from scratch and that was about the extent of our creative input. It was easy because the work was regular and no one was going to die if we didn’t finish all the ads in the inbox before closing time. There was always tomorrow. After a few weeks, the whole office moved to Seventh Avenue, in the fur district, which is a much shittier neighborhood. The new office had no character at all; it was a big, bland office space with fluorescent lights and metal blinds. The upside was that it was walking distance from my apartment, so I not only got to avoid the train every day, but I also got to sleep in a little later, which is always something I’m after.
When I worked with Bonaduce, we often socialized in bars after work, but he was a much more serious consumer of alcohol than me. Like most people who drink regularly, he would never say he had a drinking problem—he would say that he’s just a “social drinker,” which is incredibly ironic considering how anti-social he actually is. At this point I might say, “Who am I to judge?” and then I reply, “You do a zine! That’s your non-paying job!” Lest anyone think I’m casting stones, I smoke a lot of pot, so feel free to use this against me when I run for president. Many nights after work, a group of us would go to a bar that was located around the corner from the office. The crowd was usually the advertising sales guys, a couple of the less pretentious writers and the production nerds like me. Oftentimes I felt like I was a cog in this disgusting, sleazy machine but I still went.
I wanted to be a social, outgoing guy, but I am no longer a good drinker. From fifteen to about twenty-five I was reasonably good with alcohol, usually vodka. After a while I started to experience a lot of uncomfortable side effects. Sometimes it would impair my breathing, it often made my nose congested and I always ended up feeling slightly nauseous or headachy. After many incidents where I was filled with regret after having even one drink, I told my wife that I am not allowed to drink anymore because it’s not good for me. Occasionally I will want to get some girlish drink when we’re at a shitty chain like Friday’s and very rarely I enjoy a fine imported beer like Grolsch, but it’s just not worth it for me. When I was out with Bonaduce, he had a certain unspoken etiquette about buying other people drinks that I never fully grasped. I just offered to pay every now and again, but there was some ratio of drinks he was supposed to buy, the boss was supposed to buy and the number the bartender was supposed to comp him or comp the room to encourage their patronage. It was all part of Bonaduce’s weird drinking ritual, but it was one of those things that I never cared about enough to understand.
I went out drinking with my co-workers for as long as I could but it got to be too much for me. Maybe you can make the sound of a whip in your own mind, but a lot of the times my girlfriend would want me to come home and hang out with her, rather than hang out in a bar until midnight during the week. That’s really what I wanted to do anyway, so I gradually began extricating myself from the bar scene that formed regularly after work. Bonaduce and his girlfriend socialized with us on other occasions. Mexican in their neighborhood, Chinese in Chelsea (though they both said the food was shitty, the restaurant also gave away shitty, but free, wine, which was always worth a trip to them). The problem was that we didn’t want to wash down greasy chicken knuckles and beaks with astringent. Call us crazy, but my beloved Empire Wok makes the best Chinese food in the world so there is no reason to ever go anywhere else if you’re in New York. I am dead serious. If you’re the best, you don’t have to worry about the competition. Bitch, do your song, keep telling yourself that you was a mom. Man, I fucking love Eminem.
My girlfriend and Bonaduce got along really well because they both have a kind of mercenary mindset. There was a lot of weird stuff that went on with Bonaduce and his drinking, like when we went out to a bar together one night after work and he told me that if I was ever asked, I was working late with him, not sitting in a bar at 6pm on a Tuesday. Or the fact that he often would get a six-pack for the office toward the end of the day and two other people would get one beer apiece out of the deal while he had the rest. It was nice to be friends with another couple who were our age and seemed committed to each other, but we definitely had different relationships. My wife has been the most important person in my life since I met her in 1994 and I would be lost, miserable and probably quite dangerous if she weren’t around to beat it down to clown town. Bonaduce liked the idea that he had taken his girlfriend’s virginity but joked at length that her pussy smelled bad, which made everyone uncomfortable. It wasn’t just once, either, it was something he seemed fond of saying because after the third time he told us, his girlfriend gave him a look like, “Not this again.” If it’s true, now’s not the time to bring it up, and if it’s not true, you really ought to be saying things to try to get yourself more pussy, not less. She would respond by saying that his semen tasted like hot sake, which I explained by saying that all of his fluids are probably pickled from his liquor consumption. After that I told my girlfriend that if anyone asked, she should say that my semen tasted like a kiss from a baby with a hint of cotton candy. She wouldn’t play along.
Bonaduce and I worked well together but he was always keen to subtly remind me that he was the production manager and I was just a production associate. He even told me that he was the alpha dog of this production pack and took that role seriously. He bragged about how he punked out his dog Buddy and that Buddy was actually grateful to know his place. I think sometimes Bonaduce confused Buddy the dog with his buddy Jøsh and as you might guess from the tone of this zine, I consider myself unpunkable, if that’s even a word. Lots of times at work, he would hand me a pile of shit to do that he was really supposed to do and then he would leave to go chat with other people. Nothing irritates me more than working hard while other people are goofing off. Don’t get me wrong, I love goofing off if that’s what we’re all into or the boss is gone. I also know that most of the time at work we’re all supposed to be working together toward a common goal, in this case, putting together a reactionary, right-wing newspaper that was full of uninformed opinions and ads for whores. Oh, and they always had an astrology column, though they may have been pretending they were running it for the sake of irony. I cannot fathom how it is that people take any newspaper seriously that has either whore ads or horoscopes. I don’t need the well-reasoned opinions and editorial insights of snake oil salesman and pimps.
I disagreed with the paper almost every time I read it and after a while I didn’t even bother to read it. Except for the brilliant Jonathan Ames and the letters pages, the paper is irrelevant. I actually wrote letters to the writers telling them how much they sucked, the Press gladly published them and other employees came to me and told me that they agreed with me. Once I was standing at the urinal a few days after a letter of mine had been published and Russ came up to the urinal next to mine. As I was peeing, I did exactly what you’re supposed to do at a urinal: I stared straight ahead, kept my mouth shut and I saw a man about a horse. Russ tapped me on the shoulder and told me that he loved my letter and I should keep up the good work. He kept talking to me as he peed and he put the pen he was carrying in his mouth. When he was done peeing, he took the pen out of his mouth and left the bathroom without washing his hands. I remember it so clearly because I was shocked.
Outside of work, Bonaduce and I talked about all kinds of stuff, from music to movies to zines. He introduced me to Seth Friedman of Factsheet 5 when Seth was in town and privately told me he thought Seth was a creep. It made me wonder what he said about me behind my back, but since he seemed to like me, and Seth did seem a little creepy, I didn’t dwell on it. Bonaduce was a big fan of science fiction and we saw Event Horizon together because our girlfriends would never see a movie like that. When he called me and invited me to see Kevin Costner’s new flick The Postman I told him that I had read it was one of the worst movies ever made. He didn’t care because as he put it, he would “see anything that was post-apocalyptic.” I don’t remember him writing any witty articles in his zine about that movie. He and I always planned to see a Rush tribute band called Power Windows but he never had enough follow through to commit to a date even though it was his idea. I am embarrassed to admit that I almost saw a Rush cover band [my wife is snickering in my head as I type this], but I do admit it, so feel free to goof on me. I know I would.
Bonaduce asked me and my girlfriend to join him and his girlfriend on a weekend trip to Atlantic City and we thought it would be fun because we didn’t know many other couples. We went and it was a little uncomfortable because it seemed like the only reason they went there was because if you sat at a machine, a whore would bring you free drinks. It was worth a bus trip for free booze to them, but not to us.
We both got engaged to our girlfriends around the same time and had our weddings planned about a month apart. He was such an insecure loser that he had to spend money he didn’t even have to impress people who didn’t care about him. He was planning his huge wedding himself [fag!] and when he told me it was going to cost more than fifty grand I thought he was the stupidest person ever. I had recently spent $2,000 to print my zine but after that, I had no money left over for anything else. I never spend money that I don’t have because I’m not a fucking retard. I remember him telling me that he didn’t make much more than that in a year and he was going to go into debt to pay for the wedding. My wife and I planned to go to Las Vegas with less than ten people and spend less than four grand on everything, including hotel, a post-ceremony dinner at a nice restaurant and airfare. I figured we’d make up half of it in gifts from our families and the rest we could float on a credit card for a few months. It was a little more than I had in cash, but not more than I could afford.
Bonaduce invited me to his bachelor party but told me not to mention it to our only straight, male co-worker, Gabe, because he wasn’t invited. I couldn’t figure out why Gabe wasn’t invited, but from the way Bonaduce told me I realized the topic was a little too hot to touch. The party started out at some creepy German beer-and-bratwurst place, which is exactly the opposite of my idea of a good time. Germans, liquor and meat make me feel very ill at ease in the same way that atheists, pot and pizza make me feel comfortable. The party was dull because it was all Bonaduce’s old drinking buddies, and drunk people are only funny to other drunk people. I tried to drink but it wasn’t working out, so when they started their pub crawl, I left. For some reason my wife gets turned on by beer on my breath—maybe because it happens so rarely and she associates me being drunk with the idea that I’ll come on to her.
A few days later my girlfriend and I were shocked when Bonaduce, who is a self-described “Aryan poster boy,” had a full-on Jewish ceremony in the Puck Building, just a few floors down from the old Press offices. My wife and I are both Jews and we were married by a semi-coherent retired priest in the New York New York Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. Bonaduce’s actual wedding ceremony was unique in that it both sucked and blew at the same time, but luckily it didn’t last long enough for us to get too bored. When Gabe the hesher showed up in a suit and Giselle the diesel dyke wore a frilly dress I knew I had truly gone through the looking glass. Up was down, night was day and Bonaduce was a big, fat homo instead of a tough, streetwise hardass. He even took weekends off before his wedding so he could take private dance lessons with his fiancée, all so they could have a big gay dramatic first dance at the wedding. Hey Bonaduce, do you see the irony in you calling me a fag and the fact that you took dance lessons in your spare time? That act alone makes you the biggest pussywhipped fag ever, unless you really wanted to learn to dance, in which case I’d have to assume the divorce was your way of shaving off the “beard.”
About forty minutes into the reception, my girlfriend and I were getting nauseous from the drinks. The ones we got tasted like Stri-Dex mixed with Jonestown Kool-Aid. I had a few hits of ecstasy on me that I had brought in case of emergency, like a spy with a secret stash of cyanide pills. An hour into the reception, which looked more like dress-up day at work but was more boring, it turned into an emergency. Even after the E took effect I was still bored. my girlfriend and I talked to some of the salespeople from the Press and the other losers who were stuck at our table. We wanted to be social and interact with other people but it seemed like everyone else was having a contest to see who could get the most shit-faced the fastest. I could tell that my girlfriend really wanted to leave because she didn’t know anyone except Bonaduce and his wife, so a room full of drunk people was the last place she wanted to be. I found Bonaduce and gave him a very nice, heartfelt card and a check from me for $200, more than I had ever given anyone as a gift in my entire life. He was too busy (drunk?) to notice that we left early and we were just glad it was over.
A couple of weeks later, my friend Jay wanted to have a bachelor party for me because he was going to be missing my wedding (see “Dead to Me."). I wasn’t sure if I should invite Gabe or not because I knew I would be inviting Bonaduce and if Bonaduce wanted Gabe excluded from his party, maybe he would get pissed at me for including him at my party. I liked Gabe and figured it was my party and I could invite anyone. I invited both of them because then at least Bonaduce would know one other person besides me and have someone else to talk to.
We started my bachelor party at a bar called Idlewild, which looks like the interior of an airplane, including realistic airplane seats and tiny bathrooms. Everyone kept buying me drinks but I would just take a sip and then sneak off to dump it out. I had never had all my close friends in one place before, so I brought a camera. I tried to take a few pictures but every time the camera came out Bonaduce would cover his face or Gabe would give me the finger until I took the picture. I took the hint and gave up on pictures, but the pictures you’re seeing are the only ones I ever took of Gabe and Bonaduce. After a while mi amigo Peter decided it was time to go to a strip club and pay to see some new boobs. Bonaduce bailed so he could do some serious drinking and the rest of us headed to Times Square. As we walked, Gabe took me aside and thanked me for inviting him to my bachelor party. I said it was no big deal because we were friends and co-workers. He seemed like he was actually touched and I was surprised that he had any feelings at all. Gabe was obviously hurt that he had been invited to Bonaduce’s wedding but not his bachelor party when a guy like Gabe would rather do it the other way around. Wearing a suit and giving a gift isn’t his style while getting shit-faced and leering at strippers is what he was born to do. He said that it seemed like some people in the department didn’t like him and his instincts were right. On many occasions away from the office, Bonaduce would tell me that Gabe was an immature dick who needed to grow up already. Even though I agreed with him, I wouldn’t have put it that way because everyone is an immature dick when they first get out of college, including both me and Bonaduce.
Gabe started fishing for information from me, trying to figure out if anything bad had been said about him, but I didn’t want to upset him or ruin his evening. I told him that everyone liked him and thought he was good at his job but I told him that he was sometimes immature and it would be a smart move to grow up a little. I suggested that he should try not to announce all of his farts in the office. Instead of listening to me, he jumped up and smacked the side of an awning like a kid with ADD. I figured it was a lost cause and moved on. We went to some creepy strip club and after about an hour everyone could tell that I was ready to go. The party broke up after 2am and I went home.
Over the course of planning our wedding, my girlfriend talked to Bonaduce via e-mail regularly. She invited him to our Vegas wedding but he would never give her a straight answer. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was cheap, poor from overspending on his own wedding or because he didn’t like me, but it didn’t matter. As the date got closer he gave her some lame excuse about the paper not giving him enough time off and she let him off the hook. I thought at some point during my bachelor party he might have said something to me about not coming to my wedding, but every time I brought it up he would bristle like I was putting him on the spot so I gave up.
We got married on June 20, 1998 and the wedding was short and sweet. We spent four days in Vegas with our closest friends and it was a blast. When we got back on Sunday night, we were exhausted but happy. People wanted to get us gifts but we told everyone that came with us that their company was their gift and it was all that we wanted. I knew I would have to stop all non-essential spending for a few months so I could pay for my wedding and I was even thinking about working some extra overtime so I could pay off my credit card bill faster.
My normal work schedule included one weekend day to do a final push on the ads and a ridiculously long shift on Monday, which was press day. Depending on how organized Bonaduce was, we could be done by midnight or 5am. No one was supposed to leave until the last board was out the door. After the brutal Monday, everyone in production had Tuesday off. I had planned my wedding so I could miss at least one of the awful Mondays, which were draining me of my will to live.
The Monday after my wedding, I spent most of the day in bed with my new bride and it was the most peaceful and relaxing Monday I’d had in months. It was so wonderful to be away from work with my girlfriend and she was really happy, too. On Tuesday I got a call from Bonaduce saying that he needed me to come in. I thought maybe the office was going to surprise me and congratulate me on getting married. Then I thought maybe Bonaduce wanted to give me a wedding gift, especially since I’d been so generous with him a few weeks earlier. When I got to the office he was sitting at his desk, which was literally right before mine. I didn’t even go to my desk because as soon as he saw me, he stood up and told me to follow him.
As we walked through the sales department, he told me that Ron Mann, one of the ad sales guys that he hated, had been fired while I was away and he seemed almost giddy about it. He led me to Ron’s now-empty office and sat behind the desk. I sat in front of him and asked him what was up. He wasn’t smiling and said, “There’s been a problem. You said something to Gabe before you left that made him think that no one here likes him. I found out that he was looking for a job because of what you said and I can’t have this upsetting the production department. It’s a professional decision.” My mind was racing through the night of the bachelor party. Grow up? Was that what set Gabe off? I immediately apologized for any waves I had caused but I couldn’t think of anything that I had said that would make Gabe want to leave.
He said that his mind was made up and that he had no choice but to let me go. At that point, I was literally shocked. I said that I didn’t think this was something that had to cost me my job, especially since Gabe wasn’t actually leaving, he had just thought about it, like everyone else who has a annoying job does. He didn’t care. He wasn’t even slightly sympathetic, he was just icy. I started thinking about my girlfriend and what she would say if I told her that I got fired and wouldn’t have any money to pay for our wedding. Then I thought, “Why is he throwing away my friendship for Gabe?” It made absolutely no sense to me. I literally pleaded for my job but Bonaduce didn’t give a shit. He was just cold and hard and unfeeling. When I realized that there was no way I was going to get through to him, I couldn’t believe it. It was literally unbelievable to me. I knew I’d never be friends with him again. He chose to think the worst of me and punish me for something I didn’t do. I knew he was dead to me, but unlike most other people who are dead to me by my choice, he had done it all to himself. It was like he had invited me in to watch as he shot himself in the head.
As I stood up to leave he said that he had taken all of my stuff off the computer and put it on Zip disks. When I got to my desk there was a huge stack of about thirty Zips and I realized why he had stopped me from getting to my desk. I imagined him just a few days earlier, while I was getting married in Vegas, sitting at my desk, reading all of my personal stuff, knowing full well that as soon as I returned from my wedding, he was going to fire me. I thought about him telling everyone else in the department, but I couldn’t imagine what bullshit story he told them to make them see things his way. I really thought I was going to break at that moment. I had no idea what to say or do. I didn’t even get to say good-bye to anyone because everyone else in the department was off, which is exactly why he had me come in on Tuesday. Then when everyone came in the next day, I would just be gone, forgotten forever. I told Bonaduce that I would have to come back on Saturday to get my stuff, when the office was empty. I looked him in the eyes one last time before I left to see if there was a glimmer of humanity in him but there was nothing left for me, so I quietly walked out of the office by myself and walked home.
When I called my girlfriend from a pay phone outside she was shocked, too. Not once did she say, “What did you say to Gabe?” because she knows me better than that. I would never have said, “Gabe, I have to tell you that Bonaduce, our immediate supervisor, thinks you’re an immature asshole metalhead and he didn’t invite you to his bachelor party because he thought you’d ruin it.” I am only that honest and cruel in this zine, where I am free to say whatever I want. She felt terrible for me and suggested that I write Bonaduce a letter to explain things. I really didn’t want to—I remember the look on his face and I remember that he made it very clear that there was no way around it. He had nothing but hate for me and I had no idea why. She said I should do it anyway because she had always found him to be reasonable and then I could say that I had tried everything. She said that if I just explained my side in a clear and rational way, he would have to understand and give me my job back. So I sent him an e-mail and he wrote back a few hours later.
Date: Wed, 24 Jun 1998 12:56:40
From: Negative Capability
I would really appreciate it very much if you could listen to what I have to say because it’s very important. I value our friendship and my work very much and I think this whole thing is a terrible misunderstanding.
I would never say a bad thing about anyone in the department because I really do like hanging out and working with everyone. The one minor problem I did have (with the noise) I resolved by speaking honestly and making my feelings known and working with you to work it out.
I honestly do not know what Gabe was thinking or what he said, but I would like to tell you exactly what happened in an attempt to clear things up. At some point during the evening, we were walking around the streets and Gabe and I were alone behind the rest of the group. He thanked me for inviting him to the bachelor party because as he put it, “Sometimes it seems like people don’t like me.” The impression that I got was that he was referring to the fact that he wasn’t invited to your bachelor party, which is fine with me, I’m just telling you that it seemed to me that he was hurt by it. I told him that I thought he was a cool person and a good friend so of course he’d come to my bachelor party.
Since we were opening up a little, he said that he thought I was a cool person and I told him that during that week I was asked to stay home, I felt like he was the only person who was always cool to me (something I said to you at the time). [After a few Mondays in a row sitting at my desk working while Bonaduce flirted with a lesbian and a fat moron named Queen Itchie yelled at the top of her lungs, I complained to Bonaduce, who was supposed to be managing the production. He told me to stay home for a week, like I was the one with the problem.] I also said, in a friendly way, that it would probably help if he grew up a little. I said that sometimes he is a little immature with the burping and farting and also because during the bachelor party he kept jumping up to touch signs and singing some death metal songs to my friends. It wasn’t that I was saying anyone in the department or at the party didn’t like him, it was a general suggestion that he should just calm down a little and watch what he does. I meant it from the heart because I really like Gabe and I sincerely think that he could benefit from a little maturing. If he took this to mean people at work don’t like him, I really am so sorry. I really don’t even see how he could make that leap because I was saying it from me and no one else, as a friend. I would certainly hope that if my behavior was bad that someone who was my friend would take me aside, in a friendly way, and gently let me know that I was behaving badly. I got the impression that he took what I was saying to heart because he stopped singing and seemed to calm down. At the end of the night we were all having a great time—so good that he decided to hang out with my friend Jay until 8am drinking. He didn’t seem upset or disturbed, it seemed like he took it like I meant it—a friend helping a friend. While I was saying it to him, he was agreeing with me that he was immature sometimes. He even called me last Tuesday before I left to make plans to hang out with me and never said anything about our conversation again.
As you know, Gabe has a lot of respect for you, and some respect for me, and if I have done anything to change that, I’m really sorry. I swear that I never meant to hurt anyone or change anything, I was just talking man-to-man with a friend of mine at my bachelor party. It was just casual conversation.
I really don’t want to badger you or harass you, I just don’t want this misunderstanding to cost me my life. I have always been a very loyal person, a hard worker and a good friend and it is very difficult for me to find work. I really love working at the Press and I have learned so much so far. I have enormous respect for you, the department and the paper and I’m sorry if it seems otherwise. I’m sorry if I have caused you or the department any undue suffering, I didn’t mean to. I really would like to work with you to resolve this because I think just firing me won’t change anything and will just make things worse for everyone because I’m sure Gabe wasn’t hoping to get me fired. And I know that I wasn’t trying to cause trouble or create tension in the department by talking to Gabe. I know I don’t always do the smartest thing, but in this case I really didn’t mean to involve anyone else, I was just trying to help Gabe feel better and be a better person and that’s all.
Thanks for reading this.
Date: Wed, 24 Jun 1998 14:41:47
I won’t discuss the Gabe matter any further. I’m sorry if that sounds impersonal and cold, but it’s a professional decision. As I said earlier today, I am restructuring the department, and there’s little I can do to change the way things have developed. To bring our friendship into this matter is both unfair and inappropriate. I particularly resent your inclusion of the phrase “I just don’t want this misunderstanding to cost me my life.”
If you need a reference, please feel free to use my name.
At no point during our conversation did he say anything about “restructuring the department,” but that’s a good story to tell everyone else. Things hadn’t “developed” in the weekend I got married to the point where I was no longer needed, especially because in the last few months I was there I had moved from doing ads to designing editorial pages and entering editorial changes—something no one else was doing. People in the world of zines knew we were friends and would often put our zines in the same category. One retard actually reviewed both of our zines together on one page, calling me Bonaduce’s “mentee,” which is absolute nonsense. Even though Bonaduce gave me permission to use his name, I never thought I would have to. I thought he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. After he fired me, when people talked to him about me, he told two different lies. The first was that we stopped being friends because, and I quote, “Josh and I were friendly for a bit. Then, apparently, the first issue of his zine came out and I was so jealous of his brilliance that I could no longer be his friend. But, I guess that’s what happens when you make the mistake of befriending your fans: They get hurt when you fail to recognize the genius they so desperately believe they possess.” My zine is better than his because it’s the truth, not some Walter Mitty-ish fantasy, like his zine is. He took me out for drinks when Crank #6 came out and has since publicly admitted that it wasn’t his finest work. When I told him I was working on a zine of my own, he was so into the idea that he designed an icon that I used throughout my first issue. I even returned the favor of buying drinks and handing out free copies when NegCap #1 came out and after he had had a chance to read it he said it was “brilliant” and said, “Mazel Tov,” which is something that even my Jewish friends don’t say. We were much more than friendly and he knows that my zine had absolutely nothing to do with my work at the Press. I even named his always-promised Columbo-themed zine, “One-Eyed Jacks.” You’ll always owe me for that, Bonaduce.
On the alt.zines newsgroup a thread developed about how enthusiastic Bonaduce was to sell out to the purveyors of liquor and cigarettes and he took the opportunity to lie about me a second time and give me another smack across the face in a totally unrelated post by saying, “Furthermore, when Crank #7 is ready to be sent I will be offering free copies (via alt.zines) to whoever the fuck wants one, since I’m not making any money on this fucking thing anyway. And that even goes for you, Ninjalicious, despite the fact that you think I’m an asshole (which you believe only because of an association with a certain zine editor who broke down in tears in front of his coworkers when I fired him for incompetence).” Let’s look at the facts: I was fired on a Tuesday, when the production department is off, after the long press day on Monday, and Bonaduce knows it—he’s just full of shit about any co-workers seeing me.
I openly admit that I got upset when I saw all the Zip disks on my desk, but when your close friend fires you for no good reason, how are you supposed to react? Was I supposed to thank him? One of my closest friends had actually fired me and cut me out of his life forever in one fell swoop, in a ridiculous fit of arrogance. Bonaduce is right that I was friends with Ninjalicious for a while, but it’s much more likely that Ninj hates Bonaduce because of his boorish behavior on the newsgroup and an interview Ninj’s friend Jim Munroe had done with Bonaduce. I wish I could say that I made Ninj think Bonaduce was an asshole, but Ninj and I will agree that I am not that influential. I had absolutely nothing to do with this conversation on the newsgroup but Bonaduce actually has the nerve to blatantly lie and say 1) that I cried in front of my co-workers when I never saw anyone but him that day and 2) that he fired me for incompetence. I can’t imagine a single person who has seen my zine or read my writing who would think that I was so “incompetent” that I couldn’t type in the names of the bands playing at CBGB’s for their weekly ad. I’ve been working in QuarkXPress since 1989 and no one that I have ever worked for has ever had the retarded audacity to lie and say that I’m incompetent, but if you wanted me to beat your fucking ass into the ground for lying about me like an insecure little bitch, here you go, asshole.
Listen, Bonaduce, I know you’re going to see this and I know you’ve read all my zines. I warned you in the editorial in NegCap #2 to keep your stupid fucking mouth shut and let it all heal but you had to stay in your phony persona and be a fucking asshole. You had to lie to strangers who don’t even like you and brag that you made me cry. You had to gloat over my misfortune when I was a good friend and good co-worker. You had to start some shit with me when you know in your heart of hearts that you were just wrong—you were hideous and hateful to me, and you were worse to your wife, and neither one of us deserved it. You had to take pride in the fact that you fired your friend when he came back from his wedding, which is not something you should be proud of. Well, fuck you, you stupid, selfish, arrogant, ignorant, divorced cocksucker. Fuck your attitude, fuck your claims of loyalty, sincerity and honesty when we all know it’s a load of crap, and fuck you for being such a hateful piece of shit. Your litany of lies ends here. I never thought I’d have to do this to you because I thought you were smarter than that, but I was very wrong about you.
You’re a poisonous viper and you can only bite me once. You deserve every misery you get. If you are still dumb enough to think about giving me some editorial payback and make up some phony justification for behaving like a piece of shit, just remember that I know (and remember) a lot more about you than you do about me. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I know about you, your zine, your lies and your life and if you ever utter my name or mention me again, expect every inside piece of dirt I have on you to be immediately sent to every single person dumb enough to think you’re their friend. You know I will do it, too, because I’m incredibly vindictive and I have been so thoroughly wronged by you. I know every dirty secret you told me about Russ from the Press and every shitty thing you ever said about everyone we worked with. Remember when you called your boss’s wife a “trophy” and his kids “spoiled brats”? How about the time you made jokes to the whole department about our mutual friend Michael Gentile when he got drunk, fell down some stairs and ended up in the hospital? Let’s not forget that I taped your entire five-days-in-a-row losing run on Idiot Savants where you looked like a total idiot, not a savant. I’m ready to convert it to DVD, and blanks are so cheap that it wouldn’t cost me much to expose you as the stupid douchebag you are. I’d love to give away copies so the world can see what an alcohol-addled, Bonaduce-sounding retard you are in real life. Man, that felt good.
I knew that there was no way that the Press would try to fight my unemployment claim because then they would have to give a justifiable reason for my termination. Maybe Bonaduce thought he was being nice to me by not fighting me on the unemployment, but if he had truly wanted to be nice to me he could have said, “I don’t know what you said to Gabe at your bachelor party, but don’t ever do that again,” and sent me back to my desk. I don’t know what bullshit story Bonaduce told Russ when he wanted to fire me, but it doesn’t matter. They can all think whatever they want about me because I literally don’t give a shit. I collected my unemployment, started work on my second issue and started sending out resumes again. my girlfriend wasn’t mad at me but she was very sad about the way it ended because it didn’t have to go that way. Her theory is that Bonaduce was really insecure and the more responsibilities I was being given at work, the more he resented hiring me. I was the only person there who had a diverse enough skillset to replace him, even though I would never have taken his job out of loyalty to him. Even though he offered, I never used his name as a reference because his name is worthless. This is the last time I’ll ever use his name for anything unless he does something really stupid.
I remember we went out for drinks after he had taken the job as production manager and he told me that he was promised that if he could save the paper a certain amount of money over the course of a year, Russ would give him a salary that completely blew me away. I wasn’t sure if I should believe him because he’s a liar, but his goal was to impress me and I was impressed. Five years later I am working as the IT Manager for a small company, making way more than his dream salary and I only have to work forty hours a week. No more working weekends, no more stupid, pointless meetings, no more office politics. I am treated with respect, I do a great job and everyone I work with is glad to have me around. They say that living well is the best revenge, but in this case, giving that stupid cocksucker a long overdue beatdown is a lot more gratifying than living well, but I’ll take both, if you don’t mind. Of course, by the time this goes to press I’ll probably be fired and unemployed again—it’s inevitable, I swear—but at least then I’ll get to talk shit about my current job in a future issue.