Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - Part 3

[Part 3 of the script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

Hammond Palmer Publications' reception area, on the 39th floor of one of Century City's famous Twin Towers – most assuredly not the ones in New York al-Qaeda knocked down in 2001 -- was about as sexually charged as your Bank of America. Cuntry-with-no-o wasn't available for flipping through, but the New York Times was. There were no leering trailer trashettes waiting to expose their personal parts to the magazine's photographers, but only a young guy about my own age, in an Italian-looking suit, loafers with tassels, and dark pancake makeup presumably intended to conceal the havoc acne had wreaked on his cheeks. It wasn't working. He told me he was there to interview for the managing editorship of Bathroom Companion, apparently a new addition to the HPP lineup. His fingernails were absolute masterpieces.

When he got called in for his interview, the receptionist told me Bathroom Companion had been conceived as a receptacle for cartoons that were too racist, exposes that weren't quite well written enough, and photographs of models too conspicuously pockmarked for Cuntry. Having grown up sometimes so hungry as to try to eat the bark off trees, Hammond Palmer didn't believe in wasting anything.

In any event, Don Hogarth turned out to be around 48, with slate eyes so limpid that I was able to make them out even through the smoke of the Camel cigarettes he never stopped smoking. He'd apparently missed the week at editor school where they teach you to be a supercilious jerk, and gave the impression he was actually reading the writing samples I'd brought in. He seemed either to be impressed, or to have despaired of finding anybody better on short notice, and arranged for me to meet editor in chief Rupert Watson.

A secretary with dark circles under her eyes led me to Rupert's office. It was dismal. The curtains had been drawn and the overhead lights turned off. It smelled faintly of singed hair, and adrenaline. Instead of rising to greet me, Rupert, boyishly handsome, but with psychotic eyes, took a bite of his turkey sandwich and glowered at me as though at a certified letter from the IRS. Well, sit down. You want the job or not? How much did they tell you we pay? Well, I'll make it 40 if you can start this afternoon. Forty thousand 1980 dollars! I offered him my hand. He seemed to consider trying to bite off my thumb.

I got taken around. I'd pictured the typical HPP employee chewing perpetually on the soggy remains of cheap cigars, having damp underarms and murderous body odor and worse breath, not to have shaved in three days, forever exclaiming…Will you get a load of the gazongas on dis broad? How wrong I was. These were the same people you saw at your bank or, a few years later, at Whitney Houston concerts –- nice folks with clean fingernails and photos of beaming sweethearts or spouses in pink polo shirts displayed proudly on their tidy desks. The glaring exception being Harold Rosenberg, who wrote all of Cuntry's letters to the editor. He seemed a slightly older incarnation of the sort of boy with whom God loads the world's prisons and public high schools to keep their bullies and sadists content. With his very weak chin and long, pointed snout, he looked sort of like a hamster. His plaid hightop sneakers suggested that he'd not left the indiscretion of a single local dog unstepped in. His fingernails were gnawed to the quick, and beyond. He didn't speak so much as whine, and in doing so revealed bits of his breakfast in his orthodontic braces.

He'd been picking his nose when he came in, so I wasn't eager to shake his hand, but did so anyway, and found it exactly as limp and clammy as expected. When we left, the lady from Human Resources told me Harold had been with HPP longer than any other editor. Rupert himself was said to regard him as a genius, or at least idiot savant.
I also met the sole black person on the premises, Bathroom Companion executive editor Thomas Washington, who looked up from what he was doing only long enough to snort, "Well, it's certainly heartening to see more white people being offered opportunities here at HPP."

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - The End

[The conclusion of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

When word got around the next morning that Rupert had phoned in his resignation, people wept with joy and danced with one another. But not for long, because here came Astor, looking aghast. Get to work, all of you. We have magazines to publish.

"Yeah, right, Asswipe. Crack that whip."
[Astor:] "You're fired!"

"Oh, blow it out your ass, Astor," a guy from the art department suggested.
Since when do you have the authority to fire anybody?"

Astor looked as though he might burst into tears, but Lu-Ella's secretary came to his rescue. "Since about 20 minutes ago, when, by order of Mrs. Palmer, Mr. Prescott became editor in chief, Hammond Palmer Publications." Five minutes after it had begun, happiness's brief reign on the 39th floor was over.

Astor quickly flexed his new muscles, firing Consuelo M. Gonzalez, the maid from the Century Plaza Hotel Rupert had hired because she was a Latina and a woman. We just don't feel she was performing up to expectations. Her replacement was Marlene from the art department. That afternoon, anyone who happened to walk by his office could plainly see the two of them in conference, Marlene on her knees under his desk.

Enough really was enough. I handed in my own notice. And received an unexpected visit at the art hovel on Sunday night from a pair of big guys who could have been bouncers at a Beverly Hills discotheque; they had the chest hair and gold chains and minty breath and apparently not-fully-developed cerebrums for the job. I began telling them how there was nothing at all between me and Mrs. Recker.

"Mrs. Recker, Mrs. Shmecker. We wanted to chat about your alleged plans to leave Hammond Palmer Publications in the lurch as regards the October issue of Cuntry. That would be ill advised, Les. Unfortunate things happen to the kneecaps of key editors who leave HPP when they're ready, and not when HPP is ready."

For all the work I got done on Monday morning, my own cerebrum might as well have been only partially developed. Not that it was my fault that Monday morning was when somebody decided to take our two-woman talent department hostage and barricade himself with them in their little office. Eventually, the guy slid a note under the door. It identified him as David Sokoloff, MD, ear, nose, and throat specialist and father of 15-year-old Lisa Sokoloff, identified as Lusinda, with an s, in the Angel Dust Sex pictorial.

My baby's life is ruined, and now I'm going to ruin some of yours. Beginning at exactly 10 AM, I will kill one of my hostages every hour on the hour until my demands are met.

By my calculations, he was going to run out of hostages before lunch, but this was no time to be droll. His demands were four: He wanted the September issue of Cuntry-with-no-o recalled from the nation's newsstands. He wanted Hammond Palmer, because a monster like that didn't deserve to live. He wanted the remarkably proportioned young African American model with whom his daughter had been depicted cavorting, and he wanted a helicopter piloted by the father of teenage daughters to escape in.

Astor materialized. Gnawing one of his exquisite fingernails, he wondered aloud if the good doctor might settle for just the colored guy and helicopter. Then he took quick and decisive action. Apparently realizing this could get him on TV, he ordered secretaries to get on the phone to all the local channels.

A TV news team arrived, and then another, and the Los Angeles Police Department, led by a Lieutenant Perez. While Astor asked the news team's on-air reporter if she thought he needed more makeup, Lieutenant Perez demanded through the door to hear the hostages. All Dr. Sokoloff said was, "14 minutes, 30 seconds".

According to my wristwatch, our talent co-ordinators had only seven minutes left to live when Rupert suddenly materialized, having apparently unresigned. He was told what was going on.

[Rupert} "Not on the morning of the day we have to put the October issue to bed, he doesn't!" He marched to the door of the barricaded office and bellowed Listen, pally, you can kill everybody in Century friggin' City and you're still not getting Hammond or the model or the helicopter. Now get out of there now!"

Rupert was a hard person to say no to, and Dr. Sokoloff didn't. Once the good doctor's wrists were handcuffed behind his back, Astor was overcome by righteous indignation, and made a big show of needing to be restrained from punching him.

An hour later, I was back in Rupert's office, being screamed at again about the rewritten "Doomsday" piece. "Diarrhea? Rivers of bloody diarrhea? What exactly are you trying to do here? This is dog vomit! [Tears up piece.] Oh, wait a minute. I see what your game is. I see very clearly what your game is, you bastard!"

I'd put nearly everything I owned into storage after breaking up with my girlfriend some months before. All I had at the art hovel were my clothes and a cheap Korean electric guitar that wouldn't stay in tune. But I had a credit card in my wallet and a new Renault in the parking lot across Olympic Boulevard. So I didn't go back to my office this time. I went down 39 flights of stairs to the ground floor, sprinted across Olympic Boulevard to the parking lot. I jumped in my new Renault and drove to San Francisco with only one stop, in a little town called Next Services 35 Miles. My car was young and frisky, and so was I, and we made it in five and a half hours, I without dislocated kneecaps. By and by, I bought another guitar, also Korean. But it stayed in tune a lot more reliably than its predecessor.

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - Part 9

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

The next morning in the men's room, someone was weeping in one of the stalls, under whose door I recognized a pair of plaid hightop sneakers. Harold? Harold, is that you?
Do you know what that Astor Prescott said to me? He said my letters for October really sucked, and if I don't do a better job, he's going to fire me. Well, where would I go? What would I do? Cuntry-without-an-o has been my whole life!

He burst into tears. I couldn't just leave him. I put my arms around him. At first, it only made matters worse. He was clearly more at home with petty sadism than kindness. But then he suddenly threw his arms around my waist and sobbed so hard I thought we'd wind up in the next stall.

Naturally it was at exactly that moment that Rupert walked in, saw Harold sobbing in my arms, and stormed back out in embarrassment, only to storm back in again and demand to know what was going on. Harold told him what Astor had said about his letters to the editor. Nonsense. Your letters are fine. You're a genius. He looked outraged that his decree only made Harold sob harder. For one horrible moment, I was afraid Harold might throw his arms around Rupert.

Who had a new secretary, his fifth in the three weeks I'd been at HPP. Before her hiring, there'd been half as many dimples on the 39th floor. You could picture her in commercials for apple pie, or motherhood. And here she came taking up a collection for Rupert's forthcoming 41st birthday. I'd sooner have chipped in for a cake and card for Charles Manson. I told her I needed to go to the cash machine at lunch. "I just can't believe how few people here carry cash! Well, at least you can sign his card. Well, I'm glad I was here to see you. If I tried to read that, I'd never in a million years figure out what it says."

At our afternoon editorial conference, there was no sign of Astor in his traditional seat just to the right of Rupert's. When he did come in, Rupert didn't stare daggers at his throat. He stared hacksaws. But he stared nothing less than chainsaws when Lu-Ella staggered in arm in arm with a skeletal pink-haired punk in a shredded T-shirt and a leer of the most remarkable cretinousness. "Everybody, say howdy to Trevor Vermin of Crotchrot. They're really fantastic, and you should check 'em out this weekend at the Loose Stool. In fact, if you don't, you're fired. So what are we going to blab about today?"

Our new editorial direction? Making the magazines more exciting and emotional?
"Boring. We're out of here."

As Lu-Ella and her dreamboat staggered back whence they'd come, Astor hurried to open the door, and then left with them. The veins in Rupert's neck looked as though they might explode.

"If you think this is going to make me cry, you're dead wrong. It's not going to make Rupert cry. No bloody way." At which moment, his dimply new secretary came in carrying a candle-bedecked cake, singing, "Happy Birthday. Happy birthday, dear Rupert…Well, come on, everybody. Join in!" All she got was a couple of nervous coughs. "Rupert, this is from all your friends here at Hammond Palmer." We'd have been wrong to think that Astor's little display was going to make Rupert cry, but the cake did. A couple of tears. So what could he possibly do but swat it off the table like a furious grizzly and storm out?

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - Part 8

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

He wasted no time summoning me and poor Don Hogarth to his office, outside of which he kept us waiting 25 minutes. "Mrs. Palmer believes, and I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly, that our magazines need to be livelier, harder-hitting, more emotional, more exciting. This Doomsday thing of yours doesn't excite me at all. Liven it up!"

To get to the Chinese restaurant where Sylvie wanted me to take her for lunch, we and I had to walk through the plaza between the Twin Towers – that is, past countless dozens of HPP employees. Please, God, I thought, don't let her put her hand on my arm. No such luck. I heard somebody snicker.

The food wasn't good, but better than the conversation. All Sylvie wanted to talk about was the dream she'd had with me and Rob Lowe and a hose that squirted K-Y jelly instead of water. When I finally got back to my office at nearly two, poor Don Hogarth paid me a little visit to ask if I knew that Sylvie's husband was Bill Recker, Hammond Palmer's chief bodyguard, widely thought to have been involved in the disappearance six months before of a mailroom worker to whom Sylvie had taken a fancy. My intestines hurt.

To keep my mind off Bill Recker, I got to work on the Doomsday piece. I'd asked the research department for the most stomach-turningly graphic material they could find on the horrors of starvation. Fry or freeze, I thought, the greenhouse effect would almost surely cause global starvation. The researchers outdid themselves, providing reams of material that listed diarrhea and loss of bladder control as symptoms of severe malnutrition. Swept away in a river of diarrhea! I pictured a subhead screaming. Lively enough for you, Astor? I went to work with a vengeance, and spent the most enjoyable afternoon of my entire time at HPP.

But then, minutes before quitting time, Astor's secretary dashed in with a memo. Hammond Palmer himself had decided to have dinner with us key editors. I ran next door to ask Don Hogarth if my not having a necktie was going to be a problem. It was Don's guess that, for all Hammond was likely to notice, I might as well wear a garter belt, stockings, and snowshoes.

The great man didn't actually materialize until nearly seven, when Bill Recker and three big lieutenant thugs burst into our office as though into the cockpit of a hijacked jetliner, followed by the frantic Astor and a nurse pushing the wheelchair in which rode the self-appointed antichrist of American publishing himself. He was nearly as pink as the labia in his magazines. It wasn't a healthy pink, but the flushed one of a pallid person running a fever. He had four or five chins and tiny colorless eyes that didn't focus on anything. His fingers, which no fewer than half a dozen rings called home, were as big around as a newborn infant's wrists.

The entourage came to a halt. Astor blurted, "Everybody's just thrilled to see you! You couldn't believe the excitement level around here this afternoon!" Hammond tried to say something. [Unintelligible] A stream of drool escaped one corner of his mouth. His nurse dabbed it away. Astor howled as though shocked by electricity. "I said I'd do that!" Hammond tried again to speak. This time his nurse translated. "Crack the whip."

I'd hoped we'd at least get a lavish catered dinner out of the deal. Once in the conference room, though, we key editors discovered that our choice was between Hammond's own favorite meal -- do-nuts dipped in bowls of maple syrup --on the one hand and going hungry on the other. Only Astor chose the doughnuts.

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - Part 7

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

What the immediate future held in store for me was yet another editorial conference. Everybody was crazed with fast-approaching deadlines for the October issue, but we were going to have another editorial conference. Elvin from Missouri had a theory. "Back in Savannah, ol' Ham himself used to threaten his dancers with a bullwhip to get them to strut their stuff more lasciviously. Ol' Darth Vader feels compelled to humiliate people even more than usual when Lu-Ella's around to show that he's crackin' the old whip himself. Back in She'd do her own whip-crackin', but that would mean having to stay conscious."

Yet again Astor had managed to seat himself just to the right of the head of the table, where he and Sylvie were chatting like best girlfriends in high school the first day after Christmas vacation. To watch Astor, you'd have imagined that Sylvie was Oscar Wilde reincarnate, or at least Dorothy Parker. He giggled delightedly at every third syllable out of her mouth.

Rupert came in fuming, as usual, and turned his back on us, staring out at the smog while everybody listened to their own heartbeat. But when her prim British secretary led the woozy Lu-Ella in, Rupert was transformed. He was the lioness and poor Harold Rosenberg, the little hamster who wrote Cuntry's letters to the editors, his prey. Every time it appeared that poor Harold might finally whimper a syllable in his own defense, Rupert took another bite out of his trachea. A dark spot appeared between the trembling Harold's legs. As he ran sobbing from the room, Rupert reminded us of HPP's drug policy. Rupert, who never stopped sniffling, reminded us that HPP would tolerate the use of no drugs whatsoever by any employee at any time.

Another precinct was heard from. "I can't imagine how anyone thinks they can do their job right if they're high on drugs. That really outrages me." Astor looked around, incredulous that he'd been allowed to go on so long. "I can't imagine how anyone thinks they can do their job right if they're high on drugs. That really outrages me."

"Astor, shut up!"

Well, you're absolutely right, Rupert. Maybe I should allow one of the people who does this sort of thing to speak, and we could get some sort of understanding of…"

As Rupert informed Astor at the top of his lungs that he was in no position to allow or disallow anything, he seemed to breathe flames, and you half expected the bronzer to start running in rivulets down Astor's cheeks. But then the only person on the 39th floor who could have spoken at that moment without fear of being ripped limb from limb did speak.

"I don't know, Rupie. I think he makes some compelling points."

You could have heard a pin drop on a pile of feathers with your fingers jammed in your ears.

I reported to Elvin from Missouri's apartment at 8:40 on Monday morning, just as I did every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He had a sticker for the big car park across Olympic Boulevard, so riding in with him saved me money. I'd endure five minutes in his nightmarish living room while he tried unsuccessfully to brush the kink out of his hair and to find his glasses, with their inch-thick lenses, which he couldn't because he didn't have them, and then ride into Century City with him in the embarrassing Chevrolet coupe on which his father-in-law had given him a good price. This morning, though, there was a note taped to his window.

Enough's enough. Me and Sharon have moved back to Missouri. I'd have given notice, but editors who try to resign before Rupert can fire 'em tend to get their kneecaps dislocated, so I just went.

Having stopped at Elvin's, I arrived at work six minutes late. Astor was waiting for me. You know, we do start here at nine sharp, at least those of us who don't get in at 7:30. I suggested he go run back and forth across the Santa Monica Freeway at rush hour. But then I got to my office and read a memo from Lu-Ella. She'd named Astor Cuntry's editorial director, whatever that was. He was now more powerful than anyone except Rupert and Lu-Ella herself.

Wm. Floggin Buckley - Part 6

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

In the men's room the next morning, I noticed that someone had scrawled Josef Stalin is alive and the editor in chief at HPP on the inside of the middle stall's door. At a few minutes before 11:00, Rupert called all the senior editors together again. "At yesterday's meeting, I told you we needed a black, Hispanic, or woman editor. While the rest of you went home and played bloody ping-pong, or whatever it is you do with your spare time, Ascot Preston or whatever he's called walked over to the Century Plaza Hotel, and there found Consuelo M. Gonzalez cleaning. Though he speaks no Spanish, he was able to communicate our need to her, and at 9:05 this morning, I hired her.

"I'd be very interested to know what's so bleedin' funny. I didn't say we needed Wm Floggin’ Buckley, did I? What I said was that HPP needed a black, Hispanic, or woman editor, full stop. It's a pretty pathetic when somebody who's been with HPP three days like Ascot Preston knows better than the rest of you that when I ask for something, I don't want it when you're finished with your game of bloody ping-pong, but right bloody now!"

We finally got to critique one another's magazines. Well, actually Rupert critiqued the magazines, savagely vilifying prose and photos he, as editor in chief, must have approved personally. The very grave-expressioned Astor played the congregation of a Southern Baptist church, regularly mumbling his wholehearted assent. "Right on, Rupert. Tell it like it is."

When the conference was finished, I discovered that the huge Los Angeles Lakers pennant and four framed psychedelic dance posters I'd brought in to make my office feel a little less oppressively institutional had all been removed from the wall and stacked on my desk beneath a note comprising only one word. Inappropriate. They'd been replaced by photographs of young women with very pink labia.

Then, at 5:30, four big scowling bruisers with HPP blazers and Secret Service frowns prevented anyone's boarding the elevators to go home. The one with the most menacing scowl introduced himself. "Folks, I'm Bill Recker, Vice President, Security Operations, Hammond Palmer Publication, Inc. It seems that some unauthorized editorializing has been done on the inside door of the middle stall in the gentlemen's restroom, with one of these so-called Sharpie marking pens. I would like to advise all employees that we will confiscate all such Sharpies from your desks this evening. Should analysis show any of them to be that with which the offending commentary was scrawled, its owner will receive appropriate sanctions. As you were."

Looking back, I don't know how I could have, given the stress and insanity levels at HPP, but I went out and bought myself a car, a Coca-Cola red Renault. I do know that I hoped my first passenger might be Marlene, the new paste-up artist. If she and Bo Derek had entered a party from opposite ends of the room, no one would have noticed poor Bo. She was that gorgeous, Marlene. And guess whose office she came to hang out in her first morning at work. She didn't miss the great enthusiasm with which I didn't miss her miles and miles of shapely tanned leg.

"Do you like this skirt? I just got it this weekend. I was worried it might be a little too short, but hey, there's no way to know without trying, is there?"

Bad timing. Here came the one person I least wanted to see, Sylvie. Marlene beat a hasty retreat.

"She's very pretty, Marlene. A little cheap-looking, maybe, but I know a lot of men like that sort of thing."

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Wm Floggin Buckley - Part 5

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

The following Monday morning, poor Don Hogarth was the color of the cigarettes he was smoking at an even more frantic rate than usual, even though it was well known that Rupert had a dental appointment that would keep him out of the office most of the morning. It turned out Lu-Ella had unexpectedly come in. According to Elvin from Missouri, "It ain't Lu-Ella herself Don's so a-scared of, but the thought of how her presence is likely to affect ol' Darth Vader.

"You know, right after he was hired, she had a fierce ol' crush on Rupert, but he didn't know she was alive, and she swore to make him regret it the rest of his life. Did you know that her and Hammond got hitched when she was 14? They met right after he opened his first Cuntry Club in Savannah. At the time, she was supporting herself and her two rug rats giving blowjobs at a truck stop. After the hand grenade attack, ol' Ham got himself addicted to painkillers that he shared with her, and she got hooked too. Every few months, she rouses herself long enough to come in and make Rupert miserable."

Rupert summoned me for a conference about "Doomsday". He'd decided the earth wasn't going to broil as a result of the greenhouse effect, but freeze. He apparently still had some nitrous oxide in him or something, though, and was actually reasonably cordial, at least until his secretary came in and said Lu-Ella wanted to!

Her office, situated in the north-western corner of the triangular building, commanded a 240-degree view that might have been spectacular anywhere other than Los Angeles, where all anybody can see 360 days of the year is air pollution. She'd apparently hired Elvis's decorator. There were absolute truckloads of a poor person's idea of a rich person's tchotchkes, Louis XIV furniture, fuchsia velvet wallpaper, and a gigantic oil portrait of herself, in which she looked almost exactly like Raquel Welch, circa 1971, except more beautiful, and with a widow's peak. But the tiny, pallid creature who sat alternately pecking at a salad and flicking ashes from one cigarette into it while another smoldered in the ashtray on her lap looked as much like Raquel Welch as Elvin from Missouri did.

She was alarmingly pale. Her bright red mouth was about the size of a penny. Her tiny ferret eyes didn't twinkle. The largest thing about her seemed to be her pores. She wore enough ruffles and lace to stock many a smaller department store. Scarlett O'Hara Meets the Bodysnatchers.

"My big sister Sylvie tells me you're cute. Is that true? So tell me about your plans for the magazine. And be a big ol' teddy bear and make an appointment for me to get a manicure..."

End of conference, as Mrs. Palmer pitched face forward into her ashes-covered salad.

Sylvie was waiting for me excitedly in my office. "Didn't I tell you that if you treat Sylvie good, good things would start happening for you around here? But you know what? You haven't treated Sylvie so good yet. So me and you are having lunch together tomorrow so we can talk about what the future might hold in store for the two of us."

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Wm. Floggin Buckley - Part 4

[Part 4 of the script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

I was installed in an oppressively beige office with what the lady from Human Resources assured me was a commanding view when it was nice. It wasn't nice. All you could see was phlegm-colored haze. Don Hogarth came in with a pile of manuscripts. I was to have two nonfiction and one fiction picked out to submit to Rupert by end-of-day.

I'd just begun reading when a woman with very long dark hair, a widow's peak, huge hips, and lipstick on her teeth came in and closed the door behind her."So how have you been enjoying your first day here at HPP? Oh, there is a lot of nice people here, isn't there? But not enough cute men, if you want my opinion.

"You know what I heard? I heard that you're wearing just the tightest little old pair of trousers today. Would you stand up so I can see? No, I ain't kidding. You know who I am? Lu-Ella's big sister Sylvie is all. 'Who's Lu-Ella?' Lu-Ella Palmer, as in Mrs. Hammond Palmer. Your boss. OK, go ahead and do your old reading, but just remember, if there's anything at all Sylvie can do to make you more comfortable, all you have to do is ask."

Rupert wasn't pleased with my selection of non-fiction. I'd left out a dreadfully written thing about the greenhouse effect called "Doomsday". I warily explained that I'd found it less interesting than my own choices, and poorly written to boot. "You don't think it's interesting that the planet's going to be incinerated by 1988? Well, I happen to think it's bloody fascinating. And if it's well written, well, it's your bloody job to do something about it, innit?"

On our way back to our corner of the floor, I asked Don Hogarth if Rupert were always so acerbic. He didn't know what I meant. You know. Mean. Mocking. Sarcastic. "To be honest, I can't remember a more pleasant meeting with Rupert. I think he likes you."

Elvin McIlhenny from Missouri was waiting for me in my office when I came back from lunch on Monday, hoping to gossip. It turned out Thomas Washington, HPP's sole black employee, had resigned. "I guess he couldn't face another week of ol' Darth Vader Watson calling him Uncle Tom. Or maybe it was that he ain't seen his secretary since they hired that Astor Prescott. Lord knows what Bathroom Companion needed with another editor. The only thing lower than its budget is its circulation – unless you count its quality."

Don Hogarth warned me at that at the end of that afternoon's editorial conference there would be a critiquing session, during which the magazines' key editors were supposed to comment on each other's work. Once upon a time, they really had offered one another constructive criticism. But then everyone had realized that Rupert always found quite enough to tear everyone limb from limb over without prompting. Unless I wanted to be gigantically unpopular, I would say complimentary things, or keep my mouth shut. It was also Don's view that I should bring a yellow legal pad so I could write down everything Rupert said — and have an excuse for not making eye contact with him.

Astor, who was said to have spent all morning in the conference room to ensure himself the chair just to the right of Rupert's, did better than that. He'd set up a microcassette recorder with not one, but two microphones: stereo! His secretary distributed a memo. "As you've probably heard by now, I have been named executive editor of Bathroom Companion. It is both a thrill and an inspiration to work for a company that recognizes and rewards merit with such speed, alacrity, and swiftness. I shall try and endeavor in every way and manner to demonstrate myself worthy and deserving of the trust senior management has placed in me. I believe that I can make BC the fourth biggest selling men's magazine in America, after Playboy, Penthouse, and our own Cuntry, but not without your help, assistance, and aid."

I looked through the new edition of Cuntry three times trying to find something to praise. If it came to it, I decided, I'd have to praise the vividness of the color in the "Angel Dust Sex" photo spread.

Rupert finally came in 18 minutes late, read Astor's memo in two milliseconds, crumpled it into a ball, and growled, "Don't bother me with bollocks." Astor made a big show of writing this down on his notepad.

"As you've probably heard, Thomas Washington is no longer a member of the HPP 'family'." One thing you need to succeed round here is a sense of humor. Uncle Tom didn't have one. Sod him. But his departure leaves us without an editor of color. Recruit a black, Hispanic, or woman to replace him and you'll be doing yourself loads of good round here."

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Wm Floggin' Buckley - Part 2

[The script of the one-man show about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin.]

It had once been one of the most elegant and gracious houses in all Los Angeles. But by the late 70s, its owners, who had gambling problems, had begun renting out rooms to students from local art colleges. The next thing they knew, the place was full of former members of Blondie and the Loud family, subjects of a celebrated public television documentary a couple of years before.

The plumbing was a disaster. If the apprentice electrician heroin addict who lived in the south-western upstairs bedroom showered too long – and he'd been known actually to nod off in the shower -- the penniless underground cartoonist, Matt Groening, who lived downstairs would be soaked. Local gangs had spray-painted their names all over the sides of the place.

I shared one of the upstairs bathrooms with Grant Loud. He wasn't loud, but deafening. He threw a Christmas party at which he handed out photocopied lyric sheets so that everyone could sing along to The Little Drummer Boy. Pa rum pum pum pum. Whether anyone actually sang was a matter of conjecture. Grant had turned the actual record up loud enough to be heard not only on the eastern edge of Koreatown, but the western edge of Seoul.

After the police arrived, I realized Elvin McIlhenny was there. When I was the rock critic America most loved to loathe, Elvin had written me fan letters from the Missouri outback. Even though the only thing uglier than his typing was his handwriting, they'd amused me, and we'd remained in touch even after my descent into obscurity. Our relationship foundered only when he moved to LA himself, invited me to lunch, and repeated none of the stupid puns he'd been packing into his letters the past six years fewer than 900 times.

I knew that Hammond Palmer, for whom he was now working as an editor, had opened the original Cuntry-with-no-o chain of topless/bottomless bars in Savannah, Georgia, in 1978. Then, having surmised that both Playboy and Penthouse were too highbrow for the sort of good old boy who was his typical patron, he'd started a magazine of his own – Cuntry, without an o. Forget Playboy's and Penthouse's genteel tits 'n' ass. Hammond had filled his magazine with luridly retouched close-ups of women's labia, racist cartoons, and rabid denunciations of just about everyone in American public life, had it printed on really expensive glossy paper, and earned a quick fortune, whereupon he took to making a spectacle of himself on the national evening news three or four times a month, here appearing at his own obscenity trials in a fig leaf, there publicly urinating on the limousines of prominent political candidates. Finally, for his big piece de resistance, he'd got himself paralyzed in both legs and one arm when a Christian fundamentalist zealot tossed a hand grenade into his own limo.

Elvin asked if I'd be interested in writing something for the sex toys section, which he edited. I'd come to afford bus fare by this time only by redeeming empty aluminum soft drink cans, and said sure. Two days later, he sent me some recent issues. They were even worse than expected, devoted mostly to photographs of female trailer trash, naked except for stiletto heels and the odd boa, exposing their most personal parts and leering at the camera as though to say, "Come on, big boy, bludgeon me into submission with your huge manly thing." The good news was that not all the cartoons were racist or homophobic. Some were just gruesome.

In the letters section, the magazine's readers, all of whom seemed to have the identical prose style, either bragged about their sexual exploits or confessed to the most preposterous imaginable fetishes, both in goose bump-inducing detail. I decided I'd better stick with my soft drink cans.

But then Cuntry's managing editor, Don Hogarth, who sounded like a nice guy, phoned out of the blue to say he had a staff position opening up and that HPP would send one of its limousines if I'd come talk to him about filling it. Just out of curiosity, I asked how much the job paid. 35 thousand 1980 dollars.

How soon can the limousine get here?

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Wm. Floggin' Buckley - Part 1

[The script of the one-man show, which I have performed in San Francisco, London, and Madison, Wisconsin, about my brief, very unpleasant tenure at Larry Flynt Publications.]

Do I work well with others? You bet I do! My favorite thing is to be part of a team working toward a common goal. Well, no. To be honest, that's actually my second favorite thing, the first being multitasking. I adore multitasking! And to prioritize! I mean, cooking, bicycling, listening to music, and downloading images of cruel-looking Nordic beauties in latex from the Internet are all fun, but give me a pile of priorities and a bunch of teammates to prioritize them with and I am in Heaven.

Where do I see myself in five years? Gosh, what a thought-provoking question! Well, I like to imagine that I'll have made a sufficient contribution to be promoted to a position in which I can utilize – not just use: utilize – my Full Skill Set for the company's betterment.

They always ask you those questions, the women in the blouses with the big bows and the coffee mugs that say World's Greatest Mom. And as they jot down your answers, they don't simply dot their i's, but draw little circles above them. Sometimes, if you don't say anything noteworthy for awhile, they start going through and making all the little circles into happy faces. And such persons determine the destinies of real working Americans. Really, what do they imagine you're going to say about being a team player? You keep everybody the hell away from me, lady, or I can't guarantee there won't be bloodshed.

And of course you can't let on that you think anyone who uses words like prioritize ought to be flogged with the tassels of her own loafers, or that where you really see yourself in five years is either very far away from anywhere with a human resources department, or down in the parking structure with the engine running and the windows rolled up and a hose from the exhaust into the interior.

They always do ask those questions, though, and seem to want so fervently to believe the transparent lies you make up in response. In so doing, they invariably fail to appreciate your real accomplishments, which in my case include three months as a senior editor at Hammond Palmer Publications. They either pretend not to see that line on my CV, or smooth their skirts and clear their throats and say…"I'll bet that was…interesting." What they ought to be doing is marveling at my fortitude, reveling in my proven grit. "You worked at Hammond Palmer Publications in the mid-80s…and lived?"

Right out of the University of California, where I'd spent four years avoiding going to Viet Nam instead and learning to march around bellowing, "On strike! Shut it down!" behind a mob of long-haired young fascists who disdained middle-aged fascists with short hair, I was the music critic America most loved to loathe. I made so much money writing cruelly snide things about Led Zeppelin and other of your favorites that I drove a Porsche and got my hair not just cut, but styled.

But then I got it into my head that the karmic tables had turned since my mostly miserable childhood, and that I could be anything I wanted. I decided, of course, to become a rock star in my own right…and by the summer of 1985 had lost everything except my unflagging sense of entitlement and my sexual charisma, which, combined with 35 cents, got me rides on slow, crowded Rapid Transit District offering transit that was anything but rapid, and on which psychotic-looking teenagers of and not of color played the world's most annoying music at a volume that made the windows rattle. Fistfights invariably broke out within three blocks of my every boarding.

Consumed by self-loathing, I left my girlfriend of four years and moved into an art hovel on the western edge of LA's Koreatown.

[Continues tomorrow! Don't miss a single installment!]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Vatican Vault

Reading the accusations swirling around the Pope, I’m reminded yet again of the wisdom of the old saying Timing is everything. Had the present controversy raged in the spring of 1985, when I opened the first papal supplies store in northern California's Sonoma County, I can’t imagine that it would have been the success it has been.

The hardest part in the beginning was choosing a name. My first wife insisted that we’d be bankrupt in six months if we went with anything other than The Pallium Place. I, though, asserted that not even most devout Catholics would know pallium as the name of the circular two-inch-wide band, with pendants hanging from both the front and back, that His Holiness wears around his neck, breast and shoulders. One of my investors really liked Things of the Fisherman, a pun on The Ring of the Fisherman, which His Holiness wears to pay homage to Saint Peter, who was of course fisherman by trade. My great fear was that we’d attract the whole reels-'n'-rods crowd. Another investor thought we should stick with something tasteful and descriptive like Sonoma County Papal Supplies, but in my mind that lacked catchiness and aplomb. I decided to go with The Vatican Vault.

The weekend of our grand opening we had a little combo performing the biggest hits of Madonna (a Catholic school product) in the parking lot, around the periphery of which we’d set up branded portable confession booths. There were free Know Your Saints coloring books for the kiddies, and for the grownups communion wafers and sacramental wine, which we served in souvenir cups bearing the store’s name, address, and telephone number on one "side", and the coat of arms of the Holy See and Vatican City 180 degrees around. Some of the faculty of Our Lady of Eternal Torment did face-painting. In those days, there wasn’t really such a thing as an email address, except maybe for the very earliest early adaptors, most of whom were of course atheists.

Our first big break was getting a terrific deal on a lot of yarmulkes ordered by a Jewish synagogue down in Marin County that had gone morally bankrupt before they could take delivery on the little skullcaps. We were able to sell them — because no one can really tell the difference — as zucchettos (pileoluses in Latin), as worn by Roman Catholic clerics.

Our clientele came mainly from one of two groups. On the one hand, there were casual or even lapsed Catholics seeking papal kitsch to display ironically in their homes. We sold them T-shirts, key chains, and refrigerator magnets. But it was the great popularity among the other half of our clientele — delusional schizophrenics who believed they in fact were His Holiness — of high-markup items that put me behind the wheel of my first Mercedes-Benz. I'm speaking, of course, of the sedia gestatoria — the richly-adorned, silk-covered portable throne on which the Pope is carried on the shoulders of a dozen red-uniformed footmen (palafrenieri) — and of the papal pastoral staff, which depicts a modern rendition of the crucified Christ, his arms fixed to a crossbar curved in the manner of an Eastern crozier.

In 1986, the year after we opened, Run-DMC put hip hop on the cultural map, and we sold to rappers a lot of red cappello romanos, hats with wide, circular brims and rounded rims of the sort favored by Catholic clergy. One of our competitors — it didn’t take long for at least half a dozen rival papal supply shops to spring up in the face of our great success — put himself out of business ordering a few dozen black cappellos lacking the gold cords of His Holiness’s. D’oh! Hey, you’re not going to get ahead in the papal supplies game being inattentive, pal.

At Whom We Were Angry

I didn’t realize what a loser I’d been in junior high school until I reached high school. All the cool guys to whose entourages I’d periodically been able to attach myself in ninth grade were associating strictly with upperclassmen now, and my choices at lunchtime were solitude or the company of the sort of person I’d regarded as unworthy of me mere months before. But I was, as always, the star of my English class. What a very small consolation.

After a single semester, the house my parents had managed to buy in an upscale tract on a mesa high above Pacific Coast Highway was finally ready for occupancy, and I transferred to Santa Monica High School, the corridor of whose History building, the main building on campus, reeked of acne medication or something. As I'd entered the Administration building earlier that first morning to get my class schedule, somebody had let out a loud, derisive snicker of the sort later favored by the bullies on The Simpsons. I was sure it was at me. I ate my lunch alone every day in the Greek Theatre, and was terribly lonely. I barely spoke to anyone the whole semester.

I went to summer school to try to undo the shame of the C I’d received in Geometry, which was Greek to me. One of the best moments of my life in a classroom was on the day of the final exam. The main proof we had to do baffled me, and baffled me, and baffled me…and then virtually whispered, “This is how you do me.” God, what a feeling of satisfaction. I got an A.

I had a memorable moment in my other class, Public Speaking. As an exercise one day, we had to imagine ourselves addressing someone at whom we were angry. I started off all right, but then realized I was screaming. My classmates were open-mouthed in amazement, our teacher aghast; I carried so much repressed rage around inside. A more responsible teacher would have called my parents and urged them to find me a psychiatrist. I spent the balance of the summer lying on the beach getting very, very tan, and feeling very, very lonely.

As a junior, I finally made a friend, even though he had bizarre musical taste, of a comparably alienated, shy, cynical boy from Minnesota I'd had to wrestle in PE. He was crazy about this young folksinger called Bob Dylan, whose singing I could bear for about two bars. We called each other Chief because the pimp Maurice so addressed the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, a book no Samohi student was officially allowed to read, and which we took as our Bible. We thought up cruel pranks that we wound up not perpetrating, and impeached the sexuality of male classmates who crossed their legs when seated.

I had an out-of-body experience in my chemistry class one day. Mr. Frank Jerome, the hippest guy in the Santa Monica Unified School District, made a succession of different compounds with Styrofoam globes representing various elements, with stick conectors, and challenged us to name them. Over and over, a little voice rang out from the back of the classroom, correctly identifying everything he concocted. That voice was my own. I studied Spanish in a building that had been constructed at the dawn of the century, and smelled worse than the corridor of the History building.

My handsome, talented young uncle Marty, of whom I was fond, killed himself that year, but I was too much a badass to cry for him. It was far more apparent to me than it should have been for one of 16 why a person would find life unendurable.