Thursday, January 08, 2009
Mad editor goes mad on Halloween
The second-last time I got fired by a magazine was by Starweek, a glossy TV and entertainment supplement in the Toronto Star.
Freelance writing is a madre-chingado way to make a living in the first place, but when you're driven half-mad by poverty...your kids are starving-- and finally something clicks-- then there is a rush that comes with unexpected and sudden success, and you seem to get even crazier as you know there will now be detailed, top-drawer work demanded from you and you can't afford the luxury of screwing up or the perceived slovenly condition of being mad. Professional writing too can get your ear cut off, either by you yourself or some jealous fellow-editor.
The jungle is no place for preppies, the mad or stupid.
I was asked to produce a story of the longest streetcar ride in Toronto, a whole fifteen miles along Queen Street and the people you met along the way-- made this story come out like a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in New York. Unbeievably cheap fare, a song, really. But this was not a ferry, though we have lots of those in Toronto. This was all on street rail, but a kind of omnibus all the same.
Story came out all right. Old streetcar driver who tried once to be Casey Jones with the CNR but blew it somehow, and was kind of demoted to his level of competence. Street car driver. "It' a living."
Fifteen miles in Toronto, going east and west along Queen. For only fifty cents at the time. And passing three ethnic neighbourhoods, including happy, singing Italians, Rastas and Bollywood dancers. Naturally, with that kind of story, you're bound to get local colour.
I made the front page of Starweek that day and was suddenly back from obscurity to even funnier things happening.
"The asshole got a job," my sister-in-law yelped.
Yep, back in the big leagues, but, as I say the jungle will not tolerate the mad or the stupid.
Seem with my midlife crisis, I was suddenly both Crazy and stupid..No time to think. You had to think on you feet. And edit your own copy, tight, so that the bigwigs at the Star proper could not get their red pencils into it.... had to produce, produce, produce. Crank it out. no time for you. And letter perfect.
Ah, fine getting to the top. ..But can you keep it up?
It was getting near Oct. 31. Witching time. And I was suddenly witched. "Go out an interview people about Halloween. What do they do? Where do they go? In a word, interview Halloween.
So I interiviewd some celebs, pasted something together and put it in.
My sudden promotion was entired unexpected. Jeez this had to be a set upl. I had only been with Starweek for a month..
"The entire staff of Starweek is taking a Holiday during Halloween. Going to New York, as a matter of fact. Heh. Your last story. We might even be taking the Staten Island Ferry. Good Job on your last piece.
" You will now be the boss., at least temporarily.
...Put the magazine out yourself for October."
What the hell. I had had some layour experience at Ryerson University-- but to edit copy, crop pictures and make up headlines?...And no one to turn to? Ivan Prokopchuk, Proprietor, at least temporarily, of Starweek, a slick division of the Toronto Star? What were they thinking? Did they now know that I was mad, and it was only my madness that had driven me here, the madness of poverty?
"They might be be setting you up," warned my friend.
"Nonsence, I had mumbled..
"I will soldier on."
Well. The Star is heavily edited, Ivan as magazine editor or not.
They did not like my sort-of "green eggs and ham" halloween story at Number One Front Street.
Seems I was not so hot as a layout editor eigther..
But I finished the job and put the magazine to bed.
Schizo or not, I am of two minds on what happened next.
I was let go either because I was not good enough.
Or too good.
Old editor came back and fired me.
What, no kiss, no foreplay?
"No foreplay. Yot an I are parting company."
Again and again, there is the newsman who will make you weep over his stories of beached pilot whaels and starving children, but will f*ck you right up if you appear to be a real challenge.
That, or I was just plain crazy and the editor spotted a weakness. Especially when I gave him three pages of copy stapled with a large safety pin.