I wrote a long story in NegCap #4 called “Dead to Me” wherein I explained how I take the expression almost literally. I had a list of people whose transgressions had caused their premature metaphorical deaths, as well as a few people that I have known who simply vanished, so they went missing and are presumed dead to me. Quite often when I am writing for the zine, I find myself working on something not because I want to see it published but because I want to see where it takes me mentally. This explains why I always go off on tangents and include as much detail as I can. This also explains why so many things that start out well never see the light of day—I decided to stop working on it because I didn’t like where the story was taking me.
The original intent of “Dead to Me” was as simple and straightforward as anything I had done: a desire to present my case for why some people that I know turned out to be huge assholes that I hate. Instead of wishing for them to die, I act like it’s already happened. On one level, it’s simple wish-fulfillment, and on another level, I finally feel like my side of the argument has now become part of the public record. As I was writing it, I was forced to sift through my feelings about all of these people and situations and I had to live through all the hurt and anguish all over again. Now that the story is finally done, it feels like it’s just that, a story. It’s absolutely true, but like all good stories, it shouldn’t end with a funeral because that’s a real downer.
I wrote this follow-up because I wanted to demonstrate my evolution as a person and also because I wanted to kick dirt on the graves of some of the dead. The title comes from my wife’s old boss, Chitra, who was born and raised in India. She really loved American culture but could never quite get the hang of some of our expressions. When discussing a financial matter that had been resolved, she would often say “We are beating the horse that has already died.” Even though what she says means the same thing, I think it’s much funnier her way.
Since that printing, Marc has admitted that he was the phony “Ben Joseph” who had sent me chapbooks in that name in trade for my zine. So, to give you an idea of what a fucking douchenozzle this guy is, he pretended to be a guy named Ben Joseph to trade with me and convince me that he was a real person, all so that he could get me to talk shit about people, which I am happy to do anyway. That motherfucker is still dead and will probably stay dead forever. Maybe if he sent me a sincere apology, explained how he was an immature little twat and that I deserved much better treatment from him, I might piss on him if he was on fire, but then again, I might not. He must have been flattered by my attention because he linked to my story about him from his web site, but I’ll just keep moving the page around so his link doesn’t work.
It is some comfort to know that Marc is a loser living in Portland, still doing shitty zines about his stupid life in a half-assed way. He publishes his home address online so if you are looking for a stranger to punch...
After Marc, I wrote about a girlfriend that I had in college who was a gorgeous bitch named Adrienne. She cheated on me with a retarded wigger and when I found out, she was dead to me. I rarely saw her after we broke up and that may be because I made it very clear in my circle of friends that she was dead to me and I have to assume that anyone who had been thinking about making a move on her gave up those plans. I would say that in a general sense, I was a much more overtly vicious person when I was in college. I can now relegate my viciousness to these pages and the occasional message board, which has made me much happier, and, consequently, with less of a pressing need to vent. I now find that I usually choose to avoid conflict when possible because other people always get hurt. People have always told me that I am good verbal fighter but that I don’t fight fair. The only people who fight fair are people who lose, and that’s not me. If you want to win fights, you have to use everything at your disposal. Damn, paragraph seven and I’m already off on a tangent.
A few months after our break-up, I moved to Manhattan, Adrienne transferred out to another college and that was the end of it. In 2006, I was reading an article about the movie V for Vendetta and there was a story about how the cinematographer had a fatal heart attack after the movie wrapped and I actually knew his name. He was the same guy who had done classics like Aliens, The Princess Bride, Willow and Thelma and Louise, and I was actually sad for a minute. Normally when showbiz types die, I don’t give a shit. Even those actors whose work I enjoy don’t move me in death, except Fred MacMurray, maybe. But when this guy died, I thought the world had lost someone who was a real talent. He also had the same name as my ex-girlfriend, which reminded me of her.
I found someone who sounded like her on MySpace but the picture was of a dog and her profile said she was bi. I sent her an e-mail and asked her if she had gone to my college when I was there. She wrote back a few minutes later saying that yes, she did go to my school back then and that she knew exactly who I was. From there, we started talking again. I told her that I had written unflattering things about her and if she wanted to respond to them, I would listen. She read what I wrote and had no comment about any of it. She admits that at the time she was using sex to get love but she had never been faithful to anyone. It made me realize that she wasn’t disrespecting me just to make me look like an asshole, she was just needy and fucked guys that she liked who paid attention to her. I was just one of many guys in that line but I had been at the head of the line for so long that I guess I hadn’t noticed the group of guys gathering behind me, waiting for their shot.
The best thing she told me was that when she had first arrived at my college she had evaluated all of the guys and decided that the two hottest guys on campus were me and this flaming douche named Christian Hand. I won’t even bother to disparage him further than that, but his name always made me think of a hired assassin for the Church.
She said that she only had sex with him once, it was one of the worst experiences of her life and, afterwards, she didn’t talk to him for years. The worst thing she said to me was the following stream of invective, and let me quote to get it just right: “Yeah, you were a prick back then. Arrogant, cold, cruel, elitist, obnoxious and at times, downright vicious. You elicited a gang mentality in those around you, and you and your crew would gang up to humiliate and torture those you deemed unworthy. Although I deserved your wrath, the ‘let’s rally behind Jøsh to hate Adrienne’ was a bit over the top and just another example of your disdain and cruelty to others. But I’m a pretty tough broad, so despite my astute observation, I hold no real judgment upon you. ;)”
You can’t argue with the truth, unless you’re a Republican. So why would I bother trying to find her, talk to her, maybe even do the unthinkable, bring her back to life? She put it best on one of the four comments on my defunct MySpace page: “If you and I are talking, albeit briefly and without any real depth, do I still qualify as being dead to you?” Zinged with my own zinger! I was instantly reminded of all the things I used to like about Adrienne and suddenly, she had returned to life. We talked casually about everything: work, relationships and what we had done with our lives. I had assumed that she dropped out because of the trauma of our break-up but it turns out that after our break-up she was kicked out of school for bad grades. I had nothing to do with it, but I can bask in the schadenfreude, can’t I?
We traded e-mails for a few weeks and then she asked me for my AIM name. The conversations online were more immediate, but more fleeting. She was just as funny and sharp as I remembered, and just as opinionated. The fact that she was in a relationship with another chick made me feel like it was totally harmless for both of us. We strongly disagree on so many things (she hates Macs and wanted to remake the classic film Near Dark, just as examples) that it’s wiser to stick to other topics, but I like her and think she is a good person. She is also no longer the raging slut that she was and I am no longer the leader of a pack of droogs hunting for a bit of the old psychological ultraviolence.
In June of 2006 my wife and I went to LA to see my sister’s new baby, attend my mom’s 60th birthday party, visit my in-laws and catch up with old friends. Before we left, I made plans to meet up with Adrienne as well as my first high school girlfriend.
A few weeks before the trip, Adrienne kindly offered me VIP tickets to Universal Studios, including special passes that let you cut the lines on the rides. She also said that her office was on the lot so we could get lunch together. To make a long, convoluted story short, we never got together. I was very disappointed, not only because I had made a huge effort to get together, but more because she hadn’t made a similar effort. At the time, she was going through a very rough period because she had a huge project that had been in the works for years, it was about to get the green light, and the week we rolled into town the whole thing turned to shit and will never get made now. To me, work is always secondary to my life—it’s just a means to an end, not an end undo itself. However, truly successful people sacrifice an awful lot to make it, and Adrienne is nothing if not successful.
After we came home, I told Adrienne that I was pissed at her for not making the same effort but since we’re both more mature now, we were able to work it out without anyone dying. I don’t want to give the impression that I am needy or insecure because I am not. I just don’t like when I make plans and people flake on me—I will never chase anyone to be my friend. As my favorite HBO hooker once shouted to a John as she dismissed his sexual advances, “Your dick ain’t special!”
I am sure that sooner or later I will see Adrienne again and we’ll talk about our lives like old friends, which, I guess, we are now. I like her, I wish her well, and talking to her has made me feel absolved of any hurt that I caused because I did apologize and I did mean it. She has also called herself the c-word on a few occasions and admits to cheating, but she was a kid, too, and everyone has their issues. In addition, I really was a mean, vicious person back then and there are a few other people who are probably entitled to an apology from me as well, but fuck them. If they find me, they can ask, but I am not going to look for them. I get enough agita day-to-day, bro.
I spent a few paragraphs talking about an ex-friend who I will just refer to as “A.” She wasn’t a bad person, in fact, she was a very caring person. Her problem was that she didn’t respect boundaries. She was very sexual and often tried to seduce me with almost no success. After I met my wife, A. tried to seduce us both, after previously complaining about how a mutual ex-friend had given her herpes. I had made a short film about this same herpes-laden mutual friend that mocked him. This guy also made me the star of his student film, which I spent weeks on, but to this day have never seen. Let’s call this guy Cocksucker McDouchebreath, or Cocky, as we called him. So Cocky gave A. herpes and also had a fling with Adrienne (wait, there’s still more) but he was polite enough to warn her about the herpes because he was madly in love with her. Cocky was one of those insanely arrogant film students that thought he was Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately for him, the reality was that he was QT when QT worked as a video store clerk. Unless Cocky gives me a DVD of my performance in his student film (a pre-cursor to The Truman Show where I slowly discover that my entire family life is a terrible sitcom that is going to be canceled) he is fucking dead to me, too.
There is still one more connection but I only heard about it very recently. Adrienne also told me she had a very odd, purely sexual relationship with a guy named Jeff. She said she would go to his room, put on a Cure CD, and fuck. I met Jeff when we filmed Cocky’s student film at Jeff’s house and it was this same Jeff who helped me shoot the cover for NegCap #2, but he is also dead to me because he stole the dolls I was using for the cover art and returned them five years later in very shitty condition. You might think that my school was small based on how incestuous these relationships seem, but there were thousands of people enrolled and I didn’t know more than half of them.
A. found me on MySpace a while back and sent me a friendly e-mail. I replied, but two months later, not a word back. During the period I was completing this issue, she found me on Facebook and we were briefly “friends” but then she disappeared again. One of the things that permanently soured the relationship with A. was that she gave me a wrapped gift to store. I put it in my closet and forgot about it. I found out later that it was not a gift, it was a gun that belonged to a mutual friend named Jason. I called him Jason but most people called him Dirt. I was willing to call him Dirt when buying E from him for a few months in the mid-90s. I heard from another guy from college named Eric who said that he was looking for A. and he also told me that Dirt had died of a heroin overdose shortly after I stopped talking to him. I presume he was already a junkie who was dealing to support his own habit, so no need to beat that horse that has already died.
For an update on the Junkie please read my story “Return of the Junkie” (e-mail me for a free PDF). I wrote it as part of this story but decided to axe it out of pity for the poor asshole. He really thinks that I wrote about him to make money off his name when one, this zine makes no money; two, no one would buy this zine just to read that story; three, his story appeared in my first issue so no one knew anything about him or his story at that point. Besides, he was featured in a documentary about addiction called Union Square where he actually shoots heroin. I can’t imagine that my words would do more damage to his reputation than his actions.
My best friend Peter was very close with Jay and they had also lost touch. While doing some random searching online, I asked Peter if there was anyone that he might want to find. We agreed that Jay would be a good candidate, assuming he was no longer living with his parents. I looked him up and Peter encouraged me to call. When I did, I spoke to a woman who said that not only wasn’t Jay there, she wouldn’t tell me where he was and hung up on me. I called her back and said I was a very old friend of his, I had found the number online, and if she could just pass on my name and number to Jay, he could call me and I would never bother her again. Three minutes later, Jay called me back.
Turns out his girlfriend has worse credit than Jay (this is astonishing to anyone who knows Jay) so she had him put his name down on her account with the phone company. She worked as a shot girl at the Hustler Club, a high-end strip club in Manhattan. He said that dancers were hot, but the shot girls were the cream of the crop because they didn’t have to get naked: Dudes would pay top dollar to drink body shots off them. I asked if they had any job openings for a dude like me but alas, they have a sexist “no balls allowed” policy about the shot girl position. Bastards.
I talked to him for half an hour before I passed the phone to Peter. Afterwards, we were both a little giddy. On the phone, Jay confessed that he never had as much fun as he had hanging out with us and it bummed me out. I mean, I lost a close friend to drugs and apathy, but I still wasn’t angry at all. I just wanted to stop wasting time and hang out with him again, just with slightly lowered expectations. He’s a fun guy to hang around with, but I wouldn’t ask him to babysit my kids or give me a ride to the airport.
Peter called me soon after and said that he had also been talking to Jay a lot and wanted to ask me for a favor. I would do anything for Peter. In the original story, I mentioned Jay’s full name and his predilection toward coke in the same sentence, which was one of very few hits his name would get when googled. Jay said that it made him look bad when he was trying to get ahead in life, so I removed it. I tend to abhor any form of censorship of my work to an almost ridiculous degree, but there’s a big difference between omitting unnecessary and hurtful words and not saying something you mean for fear of reprisal. Whenever I am writing something for the zine, I am absolutely fearless. This is not because I am some kind of hero, it’s because I tend to write by myself in front of the computer in a world of my own creation. I send it out into the world as unfiltered and unfettered as possible and if there’s collateral damage, tough titty.
A few weeks later, we had a poker game at my friend Chris’s apartment and it was like no time had passed. We were immediate friends again, making inside jokes, playing cards, and catching up. Jay still works in lighting, but now he also has a new band. I heard one of their songs and his singing is actually pretty good. The music didn’t really grab me, but it’s a genre that I don’t generally get into, so it’s good for what it is, just not for me.
Since then, we have played poker a few more times, I have spoken to Jay a few times, we exchange e-mails, and we are always trying to get more poker games going. He still hasn’t met my kids, but that probably means less to him than it does to me and I am sure on some level, kids freak him out. Of all the people in my circle of friends, I always seemed least likely to marry and have kids and now that we are all pushing forty, it still seems odd that I was the first one married with kids.
I cannot even imagine a scenario where I would speak to Bonaduce ever again. That guy is deader than the dinosaurs to me, but it’s funny how often I hear something about him and it’s always so awesomely sad. For anyone who didn’t read the original story (it’s free on negcap.com) Bonaduce hired me to be his right hand man, then later fired me from my job at the NYPress because I told a co-worker that he was immature, which then caused some kind of tumult in the office. In my last issue I said that I would never talk about him ever again unless he did something stupid, and sure enough, in his final issue of Crank, he took yet another undeserved smack at me, which was pretty fucking stupid. Now it’s time for some blowback, cocksucker. On the old alt.zines newsgroup (from here on out, I’ll call it the “NG”), someone asked Bonaduce if we were still friends and he blatantly lied: “Josh and I were friendly for a bit. [We were close friends from ’93 to ’98.] 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.” The critical fact that he failed to mention is, how, on a few different occasions, he got big freelance writing jobs and then subcontracted the heavy lifting to me.
First, he got a gig with Reactor Clothing and sent me the entire assignment, asking me which parts interested me. I took half of the job off his hands and spent a lot of time writing some really funny stuff. He paid me and used my words, though I am sure he took all the credit and paid me a fraction of what he was paid. Then he got another gig for Killer Loop glasses. I busted my ass to write funny stuff and after I submitted it to him, he lost the gig, so all that work was for nothing.
Later he got a good-paying gig to write a zine-like publication that mixed humor with drink recipes which was to be distributed in bars. He wanted me to work on it but when he told me the client was a cigarette company, I said that I was not a sellout. He replied that he had three stories in consideration at Details magazine and bragged that being a sellout paid very well, thank you very much. In fact, here’s a direct quote from his e-mail about it, while we were discussing the cigarette job: “On a related note, I’ve attached the Kamel Kocktail 1st draft. I’m curious as to your opinion of it—have I whored it out too much??” Yes, Bonaduce, you have whored yourself out too much. Odd that you would seek out the opinion of someone you say is not fit to shine your shoes, yet you have no problem turning in my work as your own or using me as a sounding board for new material. Did you normally do that with all of your “fans,” as you so derisively called me? I liked your zine when I thought it was true.
Every year, the Press did a list of the most loathsome New Yorkers, which has become a ritualistic attempt on the part of a marginal publication to get some wider media attention, like a baby who shits himself to get mommy to come take a look at the mess. To most people, negative attention is better than no attention. In 2005, Howard Stern placed at #7 on the list because his employer had paid Howard’s FCC fines. I’ve always said that I am huge fan of Howard Stern, so imagine my surprise when I was listening one day and suddenly heard Howard say that he had Jeff Koyen on the phone to talk about the list.
The clip is great because you can actually hear his Bonaduce-esque speech impediment and Jeff gets another richly deserved verbal beatdown. Howard complains that for years he’s been given many awards by the Press, including Best Radio Personality in New York, but there seems to be an about-face now with the paper lumping him in with total shitbags like Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley. Bonaduce said those previous awards were given by the readers, not the editors, which forces him to admit that the readers must have better taste than the editors do.
Howard then proceeds to tear Jeff limb from limb, verbally. Jeff’s position was that since Howard’s company paid the FCC fines, Howard has not done enough to advance the cause of free speech and is therefore a pussy. The thing that Jeff doesn’t seem to realize is that Howard didn’t pay, he didn’t want to pay, but radio is a business. The people that own the business that employs Howard were having their new station acquisitions held up, their licenses threatened and were basically being shaken down by the FCC for cash. Rather than leave their company’s growth in limbo indefinitely while fighting the case, they capitulated as part of the cost of doing business. It’s not much different when a mobster asks you for protection money from your business, but it’s never to protect you from others, it’s only to protect you from the mobster. So you can be all brave, noble and self-righteous, but it’s not going to mean much when your business has been burned to the ground, or when your kids are followed home from school or when you get a dead cat in a bag left on your doorstep.
Jeff also slams Howard for his support of Giuliani and Bloomberg. Howard replies that both mayors had a long history of supporting him, his show and his right to speak freely, but Jeff doesn’t seem to hear it, calling both men “monsters.” Howard correctly reminds Jeff that he is no position to be so high and mighty while a significant portion of his paper is financially supported by paid ads for straight, gay and transsexual prostitutes. Jeff sounds incredulous that anyone could fault him for what he calls “hooker ads,” but this is something that I talked about at length in the original “Karoshi” in NegCap #4. This spins the conversation out of control until Howard gets so sick of Jeff that he abruptly ends the conversation, tells Jeff to “drop dead,” and then calls him “a jerk.” I hope you can picture me on the subway with my iPod listening to Howard and laughing my fucking ass off the first time I heard it.
After the call, the entire crew cuts Jeff into little pieces and, I tell you, it’s a classic that I think everyone should hear a few times, so click on the link to play an MP3 of the call. Bonaduce_Beatdown
After the call Howard says that the real reason the Press wrote negative shit about him was because of his support of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, not because of the FCC. He also noted, as I have, that it was more about getting some attention and publicity for a paper that has been dying on the vine for years. Each issue had fewer and fewer ad pages, and the paper’s owner sold it in 2002. It only went downhill from there, averaging 100 pages under Bonaduce to 40 pages an issue in 2007. I remember doing the “Best of New York” issue in 1998, and it was almost 300 pages.
Not long after, Bonaduce got into another strange altercation with his new bosses. My source for this is Bonaduce himself and news reports filed at the time. The Press was planning a cover story called “52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” while Pope John Paul was hospitalized. It was written by Matt Taibbi, not Bonaduce, but Bonaduce was the editor-in-chief.
I am a devout atheist and regularly goof on religion and its adherents, and as long it’s funny, it’s cool with me to bash whomever you like. Here’s a sample of those 52 things, and honestly, these are the funny ones. Here's a link to the whole list, here are what I consider the "highlights."
“47. Upon death, Pope’s face frozen in sickening smile, eyes wide open, teeth exposed, like a baboon.
46. Beetles eating Pope’s dead brains.
45. Pope departs Earth at a time when Hitch is top-grossing movie in the world.
39. Can’t move. Can’t reach penis.
30. Michael Jackson too broke to buy Pope’s bones.
20. Hall and Oates mulling comeback. [Yay!]
17. In his last days, the Pope was in tremendous pain. [This one is funny, I’ll give them that.]
9. Bush on the tragic event: ‘Our thoughts and prayers go out to this great man and all of his many children.’
8. Bush continued: ‘He touched all of us in places no one else could reach.’
1. Throw a marble at the dead Pope’s head. Bonk!”
There was some significant fallout from the story. The Daily News reported it thusly: “Press publisher Chris Rohland sent Koyen packing, abruptly ending his two-year reign at the weekly handout. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called [the Pope story]’s sick attempt at humor, ‘The most disgusting thing I’ve seen in 30 years of public life.’ Polish-American Congressional official Frank Milewski called it ‘hate speech.’ Advertisers weren’t happy, either. The weekly received bad publicity from coast to coast. ‘You can assume it [Koyen’s suspension] had something to do with that,’ Rohland told the Daily News’ Paul Colford. ‘But it brought a lot of things to a head. I wanted to take the paper in a different direction, and Jeff hasn’t been buying into that.’ The 36-year-old Koyen told me that Rohland summoned him to a 10am meeting at the New York Press’ Seventh Ave. offices and promptly suspended him for two weeks without pay. ‘Instead, I quit,’ said Koyen, who blasted Rohland as ‘a spineless alt-weekly weenie’ on the Web site Gawker.com.” So fuckin’ badass, Jeff!
You may have missed the real issue, which was even more convoluted. It wasn’t even the stupid Pope story that got him in the real shit with his bosses. Originally, the cover of the Press was supposed to be a mock New York Post cover proclaiming the (false at the time) death of the Pope. The idea is that people see that cover and hate the Post because of their insensitivity or their factual blunder. The paper’s lawyers said not to run it because Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Post, would sue the shit out of them. The owners spiked the mock cover and instead, they went with a picture of the Pope with the caption, “There’s Nothing Funny About This Man Dying. Or Is There?” In his editorial, Jeff wrote a trite account about taking ecstasy in a club in Brooklyn, right next to the spiked cover of the Post. Just a nice little “fuck you” to the boss, the lawyers and everyone else you work with, right, Bonaduce?
A congressman from Brooklyn was so outraged that he suggested that citizens take the free paper from the bins on the street and throw them in the garbage. Bonaduce thought he had a brave First Amendment fight to gear up for and hit the F-List talk show circuit (a few radio stations and Scarborough Country). I wish I could link to it on YouTube, but no one gives a shit about pissing on Bonaduce’s grave except me. The fight had nothing at all to do with free speech; it had to do with deliberately defying your employer’s explicit wishes, which had been clearly stated.
I found one story by Steve Malzberg about the events. He interviewed Jeff for his radio show and wrote a piece about it, basically called Jeff a douchenozzle, as many others have before. Here's a link to that story. My favorite part is that he keeps on misspelling Jeff's last name as "Koyan." The only way it would've been funnier would be if the guy had called him Bonaduce, like I do. I also found a whole series of comments about the list and Bonaduce's suspension and it seems that I am not alone in finding the piece incredibly unfunny, check it out here.
Rather than take the suspension, badass Bonaduce tells his boss to take that job and shove it, then whines to Gawker about how his ex-bosses are a bunch of “weenies,” which I guess is a tough name to call someone where he’s from.
Well, cocksucker, how does it feel to get shoved out the door over a pile of bullshit and lose what you had built up over a period of time? Was it very humbling for you when people stopped calling and no one offered you a golden gig somewhere else? Are you still bitter that Details has no interest in your freelance writing? GQ? Not even Paper? Shit! You were editor-in-chief of the second largest alt-weekly in NYC, although maybe Dan’s Papers and the free Big Apple paper are bigger than the Press now.
I didn’t hear anything about Bonaduce for a long time, but one day last year I was at the gym, reading the NY Post, and I ran across a piece about visiting graves in Prague. I didn’t get it at all; it was one of those stories where the author acts like he’s your best buddy who’s going to give you the insider’s view of culture in a foreign land. Instead, the author came across like a douche trying to sound like a hip local rather than the ugly American that he was. I thought it was pretty bad writing, but I have low expectations at the gym and have actually read an AARP newsletter once, so you understand I don’t expect the full literary experience whilst sweating all over myself. When I noticed that the article’s author was Bonaduce himself, I was so jealous of his immense talent and his accomplishments that I started to weep openly on the recumbent bike. I didn’t care who saw me, all I knew was that my hero, my bright star, my golden god, was shining down on me, all the way from a centuries-old boneyard in Prague.
I could see him in my mind’s eye, his gay calf tattoo of a Crank logo shining in the sun, his eyeless sockets facing down into hell, his battered and beaten body hanging out of a rotting oak coffin. Oh, it is fucking beautiful. Now stay dead, you goddamn stupid motherfucker. Unless you want me to start quoting all of your letters in my next issue. I still have every e-mail you sent me and I know that you don’t remember all the shit you said, but I can very easily refresh your alcohol-addled memory.
In an odd twist, after Bonaduce got the boot, he was replaced by an interim editor named Alexander Zaitchik. My own family had the surname Zaitchik until they came to the U.S. and it was Anglicized to Saitz.
A lot of people in zines knew Jeff, or at least were familiar with him and his work, but he did all of his zine writing under the stupidest, lamest penname I have ever heard, Ninjalicious. My many problems with him have nothing to do with his zine, Infiltration, because I was a fan of the zine, and of Jeff’s writing, and that has not changed. But the person, I can’t even say the “man” because he wasn’t much of a man, was about as two-faced and insincere as a person could possibly be.
I used to be an active member of the alt.zines newsgroup (NG), way before blogs, before the explosion of the web, back when people just wanted content to read and had ideas to share. It was a vicious, immature and insular community, with various anonymous people appointing themselves as authorities, gatekeepers and referees. On alt.zines, there were no factions at war, everyone was just tearing each other down. Being a person who never shies away from a verbal fight, I staked out my positions and joined right in. From time to time, someone would say something noble or righteous about how the group ought to be a place for newbies and old hands to share information and insight, post reviews, share techniques, and for everyone involved to help everyone else make better zines. Then that poster would be called a sellout asshole and the flame war would begin again.
As crazy as it sounds, I really do encourage people to do their own zines and I always have. It’s not just because they make my zine look better by comparison, it’s because I started my zine because no one would publish me and I found an audience in spite of that fact. For anyone out there who feels like their voice is being ignored, doing a zine can be very cathartic, even if it’s a bad zine. It’s not a good feeling to be coming up on thirty (or forty) knowing that you have very little to show for all of your years of experience except lines on your face and miles on your car. This issue will be the fifth bomb that I will drop on the world, with more to come, and it’s still just as gratifying now as it was then, though the payoff is much weaker and the market’s nearly gone.
One of the friendliest and most outgoing people on the group was Jeff. (I hated calling him Ninj and, privately, I never buy into people’s fake names—it’s just fucking gay, sorry.) We traded zines and many e-mails and then became friends. He wanted to create a web site for the zine community which would serve as a repository for good essays, links to distros and the best discussion threads from the NG. He asked me if I would contribute to the site; in fact, he wanted me to be the co-founder, and I said I would be happy to help. I wrote a long essay about how and why I got involved in zining and then I solicited a few other people to write similar pieces.
Jeff launched the site (it’s still alive at http://members.tripod.com/altzines, but I haven’t touched it in years) with my blessing and then we talked about what we could do to steer the NG toward something useful. We thought it would be a good idea for us to suggest one zine to the entire group called the “Zine of the Fortnight” (ZotF), then have people get their own copy and then have the whole group really dissect it, figuring out what was good and bad and what could be learned from it. We asked for volunteers but no one wanted to have strangers tear their babies apart, so Jeff asked me if I would do it. I said that I would but I didn’t want to go first. Instead we chose Howard Miller’s Travelling Shoes. The experiment was a modest success in that most people talked concretely about a zine that was current and below most people’s radar.
When it came time to dissect my zine (NegCap #1), Jeff started by posting a long, positive review. I won’t quote it all because even I am sick of reading my good press. I’ll pick some choice nuggets.
“The premiere issue of Negative Capability is the only full-sized, glossy-colour-covered perzine I’ve encountered. Every feature in the 54-page zine is by and about publisher Josh Saitz. The back cover is a parody ad that I’d love to have in poster size; other than that, no ads in this first issue. I paid a whopping $3.95 Canadian and didn’t feel ripped off, so I guess you could say I got a lot out of it. In my humble opinion, Josh has an excellent sense of humor and a lot of interesting stories to tell. I will continue to feel this zine is worth $3.95, if Josh can attempt to share with the human race some of the empathy he seems to have reserved for animals, and manage to come across as being slightly less contemptuous of his readers.” [Contemptuous? ME?]
It only took a few replies before the thread devolved into a discussion of cruelty to animals and my startling lack of empathy for humans, but nothing meaningful came out of it. I was disappointed because I thought people would talk about the content of the zine in a critical way, not about me as a person, but really, my expectations are out of whack with reality.
The cover price was $3, but in Canada it was priced at $3.95, something Jeff mentioned in every single breath about my zine, although the pricing was not only out of my control, but also was still below my costs, something that he knew from our personal conversations. Each issue cost me about $1.80 to make and every copy sold would earn me $1.50, so you can do the math and figure out when I would break even. Later in the thread, someone was defending me by saying that as long as I was being funny, there was nothing to get upset about. Jeff responded, “When I’m offended by someone writing that they wish others would be raped and get AIDS, I don’t think it’s because I’m thinking about my weaknesses. I think it’s because I realize that to wish such fates on anyone is incredibly cruel.”
Now, let’s expose Jeff as a hypocrite. A few weeks after my ZotF discussion, the next zine up was Broken Pencil, a Canadian review zine. In Jeff’s estimation, there were “8 Awful Things About Broken Pencil” and #3 was about their thoughtless reviews, “This is probably my biggest problem with BP. The reviews all feel carelessly whipped off just in time to meet the deadline to me. Many reviews are dismissive, simply saying ‘I didn’t get this’ or ‘not my thing’, but without explaining why. And any reviewer who would conclude a zine review with the word ‘whatever’ should be shot.”
The cruelty that Jeff was talking about was in NegCap #1 in a piece called, “How to Cope with Assholes.” I wrote that I witnessed a man who intentionally drove his car over about a dozen pigeons, killing a few and mortally wounding many others. I suggested that he deserved to get AIDS and bleed into his kids’ cereal. That’s prison rules, but that’s really how I felt at the time. If you can be wantonly cruel to animals without remorse, the world doesn’t need you or your genes being perpetuated. I stand by that statement, but Jeff calls me “incredibly cruel.” Yet, just weeks later, he says that anyone who would dare conclude a zine review with the word “whatever” ought to be shot. Now I am not saying that killing innocent animals is nearly as bad as giving a zine a half-assed review because we all know reviewing zines is way more important, but what I am saying is, Jeff is a fucking hypocrite for calling me cruel for doing something that he himself has done, i.e. used a literary device that’s called hyperbole where you exaggerate something for effect.
I called him out on it privately and he said something like, “Mine was obviously a joke and you obviously mean it.” To me, a joke is something that’s, oh, what’s the word? Oh yeah, funny. Shooting someone with a gun for a half-assed zine review isn’t that funny, while having AIDS and bleeding into your kids’ cereal has a certain pathos and humor to it. Privately, Jeff also told me that my zine was one of his favorites (or “favourites,” as he said) and that he couldn’t wait to see my second issue. The whole thread is still out there if you’re interested.
My favorite review on the thread was from Kris Kane, who wrote, “I looked at the cover of Negative Capability #1 and thought, ‘Jeez, it’s another POPsmear,’ because the production values are zine-atypically high. Imagine my surprise when I started reading it and found out that Josh is so dedicated to doing his one-man rant / personal zine that he’s footing enormous printing bills because he wants to do a professional job. We piss and moan about the cost of doing 48-page digest-sized photocopied zines, and this guy is blasting out 54-page full-size glossies, paying out of his own pocket. No ads. Amazing.
“Reading this zine is like hanging out with your new friend Josh on a slow, rainy Saturday and listening to him just go off on everyone and everything he loves, hates, and isn’t sure about yet as he shows you around his apartment. The lack of a cohesive theme is really refreshing. It’s a lot like flipping through a few dozen judgmental, funny, brutally honest channels on cable and finding a bunch of shows you hope to catch again next time they’re on.
“Josh is a dichotomy, but the balance is believable and candid. To paraphrase Whitman in his defense (which would probably make Josh want to stab me in the throat), if he contradicts himself, fine, then he contradicts himself. His id is large. He comes right out and says a lot of things most people would have qualms about admitting they even think. A lot of it is hyperbole, a lot of it is over the top, and that’s why it’s funny. I wrote him shortly after reading it, saying, ‘If you weren’t so funny, I’d be afraid of you,’ and that’s about right. Thank god for humor.
“I can sort of see Ninj’s points about it being so hate-fueled, but it doesn’t bother me because I’m a pretty cranky s.o.b. myself a lot of the time and I think a lot of it is just Josh venting. I’m also reassured by the fact that Josh isn’t hiding behind a persona—that’s him, saying he thinks the retarded are a waste of space—and even though I think his honest response to that criticism would be, ‘Hey, it’s just a joke,’ it might just be a cathartic ‘look at the fucked up stuff I’ve been thinking’ thing, too. Josh is brave to throw his unedited self out there like that, for sure.”
If I keep publishing my positive reviews I am going to end up like Jeff Somers from the Inner Swine, pantsless and drunk somewhere, ranting about how “the man” keeps fucking me over. Just mentioning the Inner Swine means that Jeff will now have to reprint this entire section of the zine, along with ordering information, according to First Law of Jeffness.
My wife and I love Toronto and try to spend a week there each winter. When I finished my second issue, I planned a trip to Toronto. I asked Ninj, who lived in a suburb just outside the city, if he had any places of interest that my wife and I should check out. He sent me a long list of buildings that were worth “infiltrating,” which was his fancy word for trespassing, but that wasn’t really what I wanted. He asked me where we were staying and when I told him, he asked if I wanted to meet him. In my experience, meeting other zine publishers and fans is always a mixed bag. I know a few people that I consider close friends who I know only because they somehow discovered my zine, or I discovered theirs. But the largest group of people are those who insist on meeting me in person only to scare me into not meeting another zine person for months. Once I invited a fan over to smoke weed and talk about zines and that guy scared my wife so much that she locked herself in the bathroom. But Jeff seemed like such a nice guy, such a Canadian, that I couldn’t turn him down.
We met at a bookstore on Queen Street in Toronto and I gave him copies of my new issue and he in turn gave me a huge pile of his back issues. We hung out and talked for a few hours and whenever I left to get a drink, or pee, he would open my zine and skim through it like a kid opening a Christmas present. Whenever I would return to the table, he would tell me that some aspect of it was bigger, better or brighter, compared to my first issue. Granted, he could be the kind of guy who says nice things but doesn’t mean them. Or he could be a guy who means what he says to your face but if you ever asked him in front of your peers, he would just deny, deny, deny.
There is no doubt in my mind that not only did he think #2 was much better than #1 but that he thought my progress as a writer and designer were impressive. He even said that because #2 was so good, I would not keep on zining for much longer. I would get a whole bunch of ads from record companies and become the next above-ground magazine, like Film Threat or Bitch. I assured him that as long as I was planning to run nude photos of random famous people and to wish cancer on strangers, there was absolutely no way I would get advertising or get too big to be a zine.
On the NG, when NegCap #2 came out, it provoked a fierce debate. Some praised me, some heaped even more scorn on me, but that’s what happens and I took it like a man. What was really bothering me was that many of the NG stalwarts, who had already received advance copies of #2 and privately told me that they loved it, were all suddenly silent. Finally, in response to a positive review, I wrote, “The only thing pissing me off today is the fact that a few people on the newsgroup have gotten free ones and have said privately that they think it is a great leap forward in design and writing, but now they’re all silent. Please, Ninj, stop pelting little kids with rocks and tell the folks what you think. And while I’ve got Ninj’s attention, I have a nice idea. Since Ninj was kind enough to nominate me for the Zine of the Fortnight experiment, I would like to resurrect it and for the first round nominate Infiltration #11 as the next Zine of the Fortnight. Everyone interested in a fun and lively debate can send $2 to Infiltration.”
As a bit of background, in previous posts I was lambasting a punk fucktard named Dan Halligan because he called me a liar, all because I paraphrased his negative review instead of quoting it. I have to give Dan leeway because he’s really not that bright, but in this case, he was just talking out of his ass. I challenged him to produce a single lie from any of my zines or my posts and he could not. I am as honest as a person can be in this zine and I can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune just like the next guy, but I am not a liar. So when I very sincerely asked Ninj to say something, anything, about my zine, I thought he would jump in to defend me, instead, he said, “First of all, LIAR, I don’t think Negative Capability #2 is a great leap forward in design and writing. I found the design to be stronger in a few areas (cover, most titles) and weaker in a few others (TofC, the background image in Manifesto). I preferred the articles in the sophomore issue, but I think this was mainly because they had more interesting subjects, not necessarily because the writing has leapt anywhere.” [Just for the record, in public I would call him Ninj because he thought the authorities would use his trespasses against him. As far as I know, cops don’t read zines.]
I thought that Jeff was actually a friend. I am getting assaulted from all sides on the NG and I ask him to say publicly what he’s said privately but, instead of doing that, he calls me a liar (the one thing that was making me berzerker insane) and then says the exact opposite of what he had said to me in person. I responded as you might expect, but I was actually kind of soft on Jeff, I think. I said, “And after everything I’ve posted on the subject of being called a liar, I think it’s really fucked up that you’re calling me a liar,”
Jeff responded, privately, “I was just joking about the ‘liar’ thing, Josh. Putting the word in all caps was as close as I could come to indicating that I was just making a silly reference to the other thread, because I really hate smileys. As far as I know, you’ve never lied about anything. Jeff (aka Ninj).” Whenever he wrote to me, he signed off as Jeff, because when I had asked him why he used that pseudonym, he admitted that it was lame, but said that it had been given to him early in his life and it just kind of stuck, like dogshit on my shoe, which brings us back to Jeff. It was a relief that he retracted calling me a liar, but I have never in my life heard of CAPS being used to indicate sarcasm—otherwise half this zine would be me screaming at you in all caps.
I wrote to Jeff privately and said that I thought it was actually even more fucked up that after he called me a liar, he directly contradicted himself vis à vis his comments about my zine. I didn’t have to call him a liar, but I did call him two-faced. I always thought that he really did like me but didn’t want the other kids to think that he did, so in public he had to keep taking shots at me as if to say that he wasn’t on my payroll. I told him that when we met in that bookstore that he had specifically said that the design was a great leap forward (I thought it was an unusual compliment, so I remembered it) but then on the NG he said that the zine hadn’t leapt anywhere. He said that he didn’t remember meeting me but that it was possible he had said that on first glance. Didn’t remember meeting me? He gave me his home phone number and address, told me that he lived with his family (maybe because he was ill, I don’t know, he never said) and lots of other personal things. Here’s a guy who used a bad penname in all of his dealings yet he gives his home address to me, a guy who does a mean and “hate-fuelled zine.” It is such bullshit.
I am sure that some long-time readers are seeing through everything I am saying and coming to a different conclusion. “Perhaps everyone was just saying nice things to you privately because they were afraid of your wrath,” you think. Maybe Ninj hated my zine but didn’t want to piss me off by saying it to me personally. That’s not a good theory and here’s why: If someone was afraid of pissing me off in a private e-mail, why would they then piss me off in a public place, and therefore have to face my public retribution?
The reason we became friends in the first place was because he liked my zine and I liked his. I told people publicly that I liked his zine and he told people that I was mean-spirited and cruel. Then he privately asked me and Kris Kane to help him make an alt.zines web site.
Most NGs have a FAQ that gives a history of the group, explains the terminology and acronyms, and gives newbies a place to start so they don’t post something that’s been asked and answered a hundred times. During the long revision process, each of us took a turn making changes, additions and corrections. The only thing that I had an issue with was the FAQ’s blatant endorsement of software piracy. I am not on my high horse judging others because they can’t afford software, but I think it’s stupid and very immature to encourage people to steal in an official document.
When I graduated from college a long time ago, my family and friends gave me about $2,000 in cash, which was astonishing. All I could afford was a Mac Classic with a 9-inch monochrome screen, 4MB of RAM and an 80MB hard drive. With the money I had left over, I bought a copy of QuarkXPress 3.1 for $500. It was incredibly painful for me to do and there were lots of other things I could have spent the money on, but I wanted to look professional and I wanted to own the software that I had spent years learning. I asked Jeff repeatedly to take out the line “the best software being whichever one you can steal” and he said that he would.
When the FAQ was posted to alt.zines, this is exactly what it said, and I quote, “QuarkXPress costs about $600 (US)—or less, with competitive upgrades—and is the layout program of choice for high-end publishers, printers and service bureaus. XPress is probably the program to get, as long as you don’t have to pay for it. In my opinion, whichever program you can get for free is probably the one to get, however Josh Saitz advises that ‘stealing is wrong.’”
Everyone knows stealing is wrong and they do it anyway. My point was, and still is, that telling people to steal in a public document that represents you to the world is a bad idea because it makes zine publishers seem like thieves. If people want to pirate software, I can’t stop them, but I also don’t want my name on a document that says you should get the best program, the one that every single professional uses, as long as you don’t have to pay for it. If you can’t afford it, maybe you should use something else. In every draft of the FAQ, it was written exactly as I quoted and his concession on the topic was the bogus addendum with my name at the end, which is even more insulting. I have no real problem disobeying laws if they are wrong, but I do have a problem with people who create content saying that it’s okay to rip off other people who create content, simple as that.
We never had a falling out and I never bothered to say all of this stuff to him when he was alive because it wasn’t worth the effort. His zine made trespassing into a kind of calling, so the fact that he encouraged software piracy was at least ideologically consistent. He had his own agenda, roped me into it for a short time, and then we parted ways. It was one of the main reasons I completely gave up on the NG and its members. The people whose zines I liked had long ago given up the fight, morphed into some half-assed web site or just disappeared entirely, never to be heard from again. Not me. Not yet.
Jeff’s dead now. Does that change anything that he did? Does that undo the damage done? Does that make me a bad person for saying this stuff? I don’t give a shit. I was talking about this very subject with another zine publisher right after Jeff died and I told him then what I am telling you now. At the time, my friend said that it would be really brave to respond to his obituary posting on the NG with a scathing indictment, but he also said that it would be wrong to incite people when they were emotionally vulnerable. He was right, so I kept all my comments to myself and let everyone talk about how sweet, charming and talented Jeff was. Unfortunately, death does not wash away all the sin. Nothing does. Jeff can never make it right, he can never admit how he really felt and he can never take back all the shit he said about me that pissed me off. No one can unpop that balloon. The only thing that can make this injustice right in my mind would be for me to dig him up like the dead horse he is and beat him down again, which I have done. Consider us even, Ninj. See you in hell.