REPORTS FROM THE 1999 AAN CONVENTION Memphis dispatches from MUGGER and Andrey Slivka
MEDIA ROUNDUP NYPress 6/2/99 AAN Botches It Again "You're the guy whowrote that fucking piece of shit about my boss, man," the bohemian's holleringat me from behind his shades, his eyebrows beetling above the dark glass. Hisgoatee's bobbing; his finger's working aggressively-jabbing toward my chestwith accusatory force. It's a gathering of "alternative" journalistshere tonight atop the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and there is, after all, noreason why we should all especially like each other. "That really fuckingsucked, man," he's growling. "That was a real piece of shit." Ever been to Memphis? Itwas the site of last week's annual convention of the Association of AlternativeNewsweeklies, and it's another town that northern aficionados of Southern gothicdecay like myself find fascinating: another rotting town under an oppressivehaze, lording it over a dramatic reach of Mississippi River-and with absolutelyno one in it on mornings when the city's conventioneers are sleeping offthe beer and the barbecue. Like Jackson, MS, Memphis was apparently H-bombedsome time around 1969. Stray dogs slouch around the trolley tracks; crazed hobosgiggle in the doorways of gloomy wig stores abandoned during the Nixon administration.The town just molders there all day, humid and straggly in the heavy air. Not that the AAN conventioneersshould have had that much time to wander around the city-at least if they wereas committed as they should have been to the interesting convention. There wasimportant business to take care of. Seminars with titles like "ClassifiedProduct Development & Marketing Workshop" and "Computer AssistedReporting." And, on Saturday afternoon, there was the convention's mostimportant and controversial proceeding: voting whether or not to throw the HartfordAdvocate out of the organization. As you know if you botherpaying attention to the alternative press, the Advocate chain of weeklypapers was sold this spring to the Times Mirror media conglomerate-which means,among other things, that the Hartford Advocate's now controlled by theTimes Mirror-owned Hartford Courant, its direct local competition. That'sinteresting, for the purposes of an AAN convention, at least. The HartfordAdvocate's new arrangement-it now obediently reports to the daily paperwith which it had always competed, and against which, presumably, it had defineditself-not only violates AAN bylaws, but also offends what is, or what at anyrate should be, the alternative press' sense of itself. What's the use of havingan Association of Alternative Newsweeklies if every conglomerate-owned Tom,Dick and Harry is allowed into the club? Not that the AAN finallyhad the guts to toss the Hartford Advocate out. After a bit of debate-duringwhich Advocate publisher Fran Zankowski begged the assembly not tothrow us out...please...please...I beg of you...in the name of God...please-thegathering decided to table the Advocate motion until next year's convention.Why not? Throwing people out of organizations is a drag. Besides, it was hotout. Who needed the aggravation? It's funny, though. Everyonce in a while this column criticizes the alternative press' mediocrity andinefficacy, and gets abused for it. Perhaps some boho will harangue us at arooftop party in Memphis; perhaps we'll receive insulting e-mails from functionariesat AAN's Washington, DC, offices. And yet, every once in a while, when the alternativemedia gets a chance to close ranks and show some guts-maybe do something likepurge their ranks of people who have no reason belonging-they botch it, justas they botched it on Saturday in Memphis. True, it's enjoyable whenthe more self-dramatizing members of the alternative press community, like theSan Francisco Bay Guardian's Bruce Brugmann (see "Media Roundup,"5/19), grow militant and sentimental at the idea of conglomeration in the alternativemedia. It's as if they believe that owners of alternative newspapers have everbeen other than entrepreneurs, and as if "mainstream" news organizationscould make most alternative newspapers more conventional and craven than theyalready are. But that's not the point here. The point, rather, is that if theAAN had enough guts-or even a capacity for self-preservation-they would haveproceeded according to principle and realized that allowing the HartfordAdvocate to remain for at least another year would represent another steptoward the dissolution of the organization's identity. Then they would haveasked Zankowski and his colleagues-no hard feelings here, just a capitulationto circumstance-to get the hell out of the room. And man, but if Zankowskididn't slather it on thick. He quivered like jelly; he closed his eyes tightand respired in great, heaving, sighing gasps, like an Edwardian matron presentedwith some outrage-some stuffed pumpkin or something-at the dinner table. I halfexpected him to wave a hanky around his face and expire in a fluttery heap ofcrinolines, a Memphis debutante overcome by the nervous tremors. He spoke inthe modulated cadences that betrayed an effort at self-control. His was eitheran extraordinary exercise in self-abnegation or a master politician's approximationof it. "I don't have...a good...perspectiveon things," he breathed, his chest heaving. "It's...like being...inthe middle of a...typhoon..." Fetch the smelling salts-summonDr. Abernathy! "...And that...at anytime...I feel that my values...and beliefs...were going to be compromised...I'd...quit..." Better yet, Fran, you couldshow some responsibility right now, pull the Hartford Advocateout of AAN tomorrow and spare its members the vexsome chore of takinga principled stand. "None of us...had aclue...what was happening to us... This was...not...a happy day..." A snuffle; a sniff; an unctuouskid worming his way out of the principal's office. Thus, on a Saturday afternoonin Memphis, did whatever rationale exists for the alternative press' persistencewither away and yield to one more consistent with our Clintonian moment: AANexists so that people will be nice to Fran Zankowski. Not that there weren't attendeeswho took issue with letting the Advocate stay. Zankowski was challengedby one member who stood up in the back of the room and demanded to know whyZankowski hadn't brought along a Times Mirror representative, and whether hewas speaking for himself and the Advocate, or for Times Mirror. GabrielRoth, of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, made a good speech, pointingout that there had to be standards and limits, or there would begin a processof attrition that would render the idea of AAN useless. But not enough peoplewanted to do the difficult, principled work toward which Roth and a few otherswere gesturing. I don't want to be misunderstood.I don't give a hoot who owns the Advocate papers. As I've said before,most AAN papers do a good enough job being mediocre in the absence of chain/conglomerateownership. Still, if these people still claim to believe in something, let themprove it. No, it's not the fault of the Advocate's staff that its ownerssold them out to a conglomerate. But now AAN is supposed to destroy itself toaccommodate the feelings of Hartford Advocate staffers? If AAN was aguy at the beach, you could kick sand in his face, and he wouldn't even askyou to stop. Stuck inside a trunkwith the Memphis blues again. Welcome to Memphis, buddy. Michael Henningsen,an editor at Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi, was, as far as I know, the onlyAAN convention participant to fall victim to violent crime in Memphis, thatcharming approximation of Bridgeport, CT, on the Father of Rivers. Accordingto the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Henningsen was driving his rental carin the middle of the night away from a nightclub when two men "pistol whipped him on the parking lot, robbed him and stuffed him in the trunk of the car." The Commercial Appealcontinues: "About 1:30 a.m. two police officers were flagged down at Poplarand Union Extended by a witness who told them he saw two or three men forcinganother man into an ATM at the NationsBank on the corner. The witness told policethe man was bleeding from the head and was 'covered in blood.' Police said thewitness then told them he saw the men force their victim into a four-door whitecar eastbound on Poplar. "The victim later toldpolice his captors forced him to withdraw money from the ATM using his NationsBankcard. "[Later]...police sawthe car described by the carrier and began chasing it north on Holmes at WalnutGrove. The car ran a red light on Holmes and Summer and turned east onto Tutwiler,where it ran into a light pole. The suspects ran from the car and that's whenpolice opened the trunk." Next year's AAN conventionis in Gary, IN. Russ Smith MUGGER NYPress 6/2/99 Life in the Danny ThomasSuite Coping with the AlternativePress It was about 4 a.m. lastFriday when a pot of coffee and three liters of Evian arrived at my suitein Memphis' Peabody Hotel, and the room service fellow asked whereI was from. When I said New York City, he replied: "Ahh, you mustbe here for the convention." I nodded yes. "You with the VillageVoice?" I told him no, that paper was a scurrilous competitor and gavehim a copy of my weekly. "Well, truth be told, I always did like NYPressbetter than that damned Village Voice." We both chuckled, he disappearedlike a merry elf, I listened to Janet Reno (apparently not mummified,after all) on CNN and logged onto the Drudge Report. These Southerners are friendlyand eager to josh around, but man, they move at a lethargic pace. When I landedat the airport on Thursday morning, after an uneventful Northwest flight(what a relief, finally, not to fly Continental out of Newark), I waited on a taxi line for 45 minutes. And then I had to double up with a gooberwho had a closer destination: I never did like sharing cabs-a real downsidein DC when I worked there in the early 80s. But soon enough we got tothe Peabody, a classic, grand hotel. There's the feted "duck walk"twice a day, where locals and tourists flock into the lobby to watch ducks troopinto and out of the elevator and wobble on a red carpet laid out for them. According to the PeabodyMemphis Fact Book, this is how the tradition originated: "It all startedback in the 1930's when Frank Schutt, General Manager of the Peabody Memphis,and a good friend, Chip Barwick, Sr., both avid outdoorsmen, returned from aweekend hunting trip to Arkansas. It seems that they had nipped a bit of Tennesseesippin' whiskey, and thought, with schoolboy prankishness, that it would behumorous to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal for hunters touse live decoys) in the beautiful but barren Peabody fountain. Three small Englishcall ducks were selected as 'guinea pigs' and the reaction was nothing shortof enthusiastic. Thus began a Peabody tradition which was to become famous ininternational hoteldom for years to come." Cute, but hardly the changingof the guards. Fortunately, Andrey Slivkawas also here, as well as NYPress controller Paul Abrams, so Iwas free to skip all the seminars, explore the small city and eat barbecue.New Times' CEO Jim Larkin and I tried out the Interstate Bar-B-Q,about five miles outside town, and it was an inch less touristy than the jointsin the heart of Memphis. It was a fine lunch: chopped pork shoulder sandwiches,a slab of ribs and chicken wings with a bracing hot sauce did the two of usfine, as we gossiped and talked business. I'm not one for the midday meal asa rule, so I was bushed by the time we got back to the Peabody (the cabby waitedfor us; there are so few of them in town that you don't let one get away), pickedup a batch of the AAN papers, checked my e-mail, called the office andread for a while. It was curious to see thatCharleston, SC, now has a weekly called City Paper, withthe discarded logo of a similarly named paper in Philadelphia. The CharlestonCity Paper, which drew negative reviews from AAN's uptight admissionscommittee, has a cool column called "The Wandering Eye," whichis loaded down with pinko politics (this "hate crimes" controversy is just so bogus; a crime is a crime) but has an edge to the writing that isn'tseen often in AAN ad-sheets. But there's a story here:back in '81 or '82, the Philly City Paper started up, stealing the nameAl From Baltimore came up with in '77 when we huddled in his five-storywalk-up, trying to figure out a jazzier title than City Squeeze. Theywere within a geographical distance close enough to Baltimore that we could'vesued for copyright infringement; unfortunately, Al and I were neck-deep in IRSdebt and didn't have two nickels to rub together for meaningful litigation,so we let the egregious theft go. The other day, a friend of mine told me thatBruce Schimmel, former owner of Philly's City Paper, saidin fact it was MUGGER and AFB who lifted the name! That's bald-faced revisionism,and dishonesty that doesn't sit well with me, but there's nothing you can doexcept get pissed for about a minute, realize the guy's an asshole and, as PresidentC. would say, move on. I missed Mrs. M and thekids: Fortunately, I don't have to travel often without them. Whenever I do,however, the boys give me a talisman of theirs for good luck. This time, insteadof the plastic rat MUGGER III usually stows in my garment bag, I got a toy lobster;Junior let me have his vintage '65 Carl Yastrzemski baseball card. Andof course I kept pictures of the boys and their mother on my desk as I worked.Junior, I found out on the phone, was still on a pink cloud over his nabbinga foul ball at Yankee Stadium. I was on a dark cloud right then,as I watched CNN endlessly replay Roger Clemens mowing down the Bosoxon Thursday night, extending his winning streak to 19. That stat is a littlechintzy, I think, since it doesn't include no-decisions, and with the Rocketthere's a bunch of them, but I'll leave the world of sports minutiae to TheWall Street Journal's Allen Barra, who writes much betterfor that paper than back in his days at the Voice. No contest. In fact, I'll bet he's erased his tenure at the beatnik weekly from his resume. The Boston Globe'sDan Shaughnessy, on May 28, had an astute insight about the Yanks-Bosoxrivalry. He was as dismayed as I was looking at Clemens in pinstripes, and eventhough the Sox are in first place at this writing, both Shaughnessy and I knowour team will be lucky to grab a wildcard slot come this October. He wrote:"The Yankee crowd was fairly tame about the whole matter. As always, mostof the emotion was being felt by folks back home in Boston. At times, the NewYork-Boston rivalry is a little like the Humphrey Bogart exchange in 'Casablanca.'Peter Lorre (representing Boston) says, 'You detest me, don't you, Rick?' andBogart (New York) responds, 'If I gave you any thought, I probably would.'" Since Katha Pollittresigned her editorship duties at The Nation in protest of the weekly'sinclusion of a Ron Unz article, she's had more time on her hands. Soshe turns to The New Republic to soil their already filthy (MartyPeretz's sponsorship of Al Gore being the primary sin) pages.In a book review of Monica Lewinsky's and George Stephanopoulos'recent accounts of their proximity to President Clinton, Pollitt (whom I'venever met, but I doubt there's a Miss America crown in her past)offers this slur on Kenneth Starr: "This explains why people's lookswere so important. Monica Lewinsky, and Bill Clinton, too, were constantly ridiculedas fat; Hillary Clinton took to working out constantly; Paula Jones had a nosejob and Linda Tripp a total makeover. One can only wonder what would have happenedhad Kenneth Starr looked more like George Clooney and less like the sort ofman who spends his lunch hour in an adult book store." Starr might not have washboardabs, but this adult book store crap, because he compiled a report on the President'sabhorrent behavior, is a poison dart that belongs strictly in MichaelMoore's oeuvre. How dare Pollitt take such a cheap shot. Only a deeplyunhappy and disturbed person could pen such an unsubstantiated opinion. There was a swell opening-nightconvention party on Mud Island at the River Terrace Yacht Clubon Thursday where I lingered for about two hours, stretching my tolerance forthese usually dull affairs. At one point, while I was talking to Randy Campbell,an owner of the Santa Barbara Independent (a weekly that Voiceowner Leonard Stern last year announced he'd purchased and then backedout of the deal; Campbell just frowned when I pressed for details) and a nicefellow, he made the outrageous statement that Santa Barbara beats anyItalian seaside town by a mile, food included! Talk about misguided boosterism. Slivka was gazing at theMississippi River and exercising his academic, Ukrainian mind. "Whata trip," he said. "Look at the view. This is the wellspring of Americanculture we're talking about." I chalked it up to his recent Southern sojournthat he wrote about so impressively in NYPress a few months back. I'veseen the Mississippi on many occasions, even took steamer rides in New Orleans;all literary notions aside, it's still a dirty mess. I was lost by his romanticism. I was in a chatty mood,and so while Andrey was collecting a surprising number of compliments on hisstory about San Francisco Bay Guardian blowhard Bruce Brugmann(who missed this convention: The first rumor was that he was in Europegetting his blood changed; but it turned out he was on a junket in China,working for what side I don't have a clue) and the generally piss-poor AAN newspapers,I tentatively made the rounds. I congratulated Nick Riggio on his newhigh-ranking position at New Times Inc.'s Cleveland Scene, escaping thestrange world of Anthony Clifton's Pennsylvania holdings,which include Philadelphia Weekly (in for a bumpy ride, I can guaranteeyou) and In Pittsburgh. It's always pleasant tosee Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman, co-owners of Portland'sWillamette Week, a fine paper, if a bit on the dry side (also true ofthe Northwest's Washington Monthly, though it's profitable). Tim Keck,the Seattle Stranger's publisher, was by their side, and thoughwe've heaped praise on his nutty paper for years (he competes with Stern'sSeattle Weekly), here's a little advice for the prankster Tim: Redesignthe paper, dude, it's getting a little like a junky Raygun (althoughnothing compared to the unreadable New City of Chicago) and don'tlet the left-wing editorial people you've hired get too cocky. Tim was one ofthe founders of The Onion, the satirical newspaper the mainstream mediahas finally discovered (and that does mean you, Rick Hertzberg), so hegets a pass from a lot of people for that credit alone. I've known the incomingpresident of AAN, Patty Calhoun, for 20 years now and she still cracksme up with her wry and cutting observations about the other conventioneers.Patty's the editor of Denver's Westword, the virtual queen ofthat flea-bitten city, and still holds a minor grudge against me for votingagainst her paper's AAN admission at the Boston convention in '79. Neverfails to bring it up. Anyway, she suggested a restaurant where they had "yummylamb cutlets," and when I joked that that was a kind of girly dish to orderin a ribs town, she just glared and I thought those cowboy boots of hers weregoing to meet one of my knees. John Mecklin, editor of S.F. Weekly,had a few rants about his competitor Brugmann to share and impressed Slivkawith his tough-guy advice for lousy writers. I saw Miami New Times'editor Jim Mullin for about a minute and then he vaporized; I'm surehe was still in some dive on Beale St. when I arose the next morning. After the party four ofus had dinner at The Rendezvous, in an alley by the Peabody, and thoughit's a tourist destination, sometimes that's not a reason for dismissal. Sure,there was the side store selling Rendezvous souvenirs, but the dry pork ribswere terrific, and the waiter, who has his shtick practiced to a perfect pitch,was right on the spot with the grub. The sausage and cheese appetizer was suspect,but we couldn't complain about the pulled pork, ribs and sides of slaw and beans.That was enough for me and so I retreated to my room, read The Weekly Standardand went to sleep, while the AAN conventioneers, some 600 of them, mobbed thelobby of the Peabody, getting increasingly touchy-feely as the hours wore on. The next morning, whileRobert Newman, a well-traveled and respected art director in Manhattan,apparently made complimentary remarks about NYPress' broadsheet designin a seminar, I was on the phone to New York and heard a terrific rumor a buddypicked up at a cigar shop on 6th Ave. Seems that Time Out New York iscontemplating a switch to biweekly publication, the first step toward theirdemise. Maybe it's too good to be true, ridding the newsstands of that fraudulentatrocity, but it certainly lifted my morning. (Going to the office last SundayI was greeted by another dunning notice from their sleazy billing department,once again for a subscription I never ordered.) I went for a walk aroundMemphis and inevitably wound up on Beale St., the equivalent of Bourbon St.in this third-tier version of New Orleans. All the shops have Elvis t-shirts,CDs, badges and cookbooks and posters of old blues concerts for sale, and theobligatory stop at Schwab's was worth 30 minutes or so. I picked up somepotions, bottles of hot sauce, tambourines for the kids, Moon Pies, jukeboxpiggy banks, rabbits' feet, Tabasco cheese-nips, an Elvis puzzle forJunior and a batch of keychains and magnets for MUGGER III's current collection.(Later in the day, Mrs. M e-mailed me, begging that I not bring home a lot ofjunk. I just wrote back, "Speak to the hand!" our code for "Ican't hear you!") I sat down in a park fora half-hour and listened to a makeshift blues band playing for tips; it waspretty cool, especially when a class of fourth-graders camped out listeningto the drummer sing and jive with the audience, most of whom, like me, had bagsthat revealed we were tourists. Well, that's what I was, but still, the factthat the park was on Rufus Thomas Blvd. gave me a feeling of some long-agoauthenticity. Later, I was speaking to an AAN know-it-all and he claimed thatif you traveled outside the immediate environs you could find the real bluesmen,dude, just like in 1955, where the old black guys sing about cornbread and howtheir mamas did 'em wrong. Right. This is a theme park waiting to happen: Already,in addition to all the homages to Elvis, there's a Hard Rock Cafe, anda AAA-baseball stadium is under construction right by the Peabody. Andrey and I had lunch atthe King's Palace Cafe and, like everywhere here, had our food in abouttwo minutes, all of it pretty damn good. Tasty and chunky gumbo with red beansand shrimp, more pulled pork sandwiches and some fried catfish. When the waitresssaid it was a "joy" to serve us I asked Andrey if she was being facetious;not that we were obnoxious or anything. He told me to lose the cynicism andget moving with the slow Southern culture. He was about to launch into a Faulknerrhapsody, betraying his Ivy League background, and I was just too stuffedfor that malarkey, so I paid the bill and we went back to the Peabody, missingthe afternoon duck walk. Andrey came back to my "DannyThomas" suite to e-mail his "Skillet" column to the office,an unsuccessful venture, and actually asked who the great comedian and Memphisnative was. I slapped my forehead and said, "Sometimes, I wish you were older than 27. Danny Thomas, dodo! The great Uncle Tonoose!What, were you born yesterday?" Practically. A boomer friend of mine backin New York, apprised of this horrible gaffe, wrote back: "Jeez, Andrey'sRingo-ignorance was speculative. But Danny Thomas! Wouldn't that be theequivalent of us not knowing who Lou Costello was when we were kids?I'd dock his pay." Precisely. I combed through a bunchof the papers applying for membership and then read the AAN board's recommendationsand was just appalled. For example, in suggesting that the Buffalo Beatnot be allowed in the organization, admissions chair Clif Garboden wrote(in all seriousness, I presume): "This paper puzzled the committee. Specificcommittee-member reactions were divergent, ranging from praise for improvementfrom the last time it applied to some discouraging suggestions that it seemsto be losing touch with its community. Critiques of writing quality ranged from'sophomoric' to 'a rich reading experience.' Most of the pieces are there, butthey may not fit." I know how these committeeselections work: I've participated in the past. And the comment that BuffaloBeat "seems to be losing touch with the community" is just silly.How in the world would these editors have any idea about that? Do they livein Buffalo? No, they take six or so consecutive issues before the convention,flip through them and get back to their daily work. It's arbitrary and completelyunfocused. Likewise, the membership at large doesn't pay attention. Usually,at the convention's closing business meeting, they'll vote the way the committeesuggests, as they kibitz among themselves and drink Bloody Marys or beers. If,by chance, a paper is caught between rejection and acceptance, and a representativeis allowed to make a speech before the hungover conventioneers still in attendance,that paper will get in because no one wants to face the person later in thebar. It's all a scam. I'm not trying to be excessivelyornery here, but let's examine one paper that's a current member of AAN, ThePaper of Grand Rapids, MI. In its "mission statement,"the fine print reads: "We publish in-depth, well-crafted stories that explore the issues, events and personalities that make our community tick. Our storiesinform, entertain and-hopefully-provoke strong reaction. We will deliver thenews in a format that resembles a news magazine, but also acknowledge that readers have less time than ever to digest an increasingly large amount of informationdelivered from a wide variety of sources." Whoa. That last sentence soundslike The Paper is suggesting readers don't bother with their subpar tabloid.In addition, after this high-minded blurb about in-depth stories (which theyaren't) and well-crafted writing (which it isn't), look at the masthead andthe first names are those of the advertising directors, certainly an anomalyin most newspapers. What I especially found funny, really combing the agate,is that the Paper's copyright still reads 1998, and this is from theMay 13, '99, issue. My point isn't to singleout The Paper as being just as bad as the papers that were rejected lastSaturday at AAN's meeting, just that there're no real standards applied. Anypaper that runs Matt Groening's dated "Life in Hell"on page three along with that sanctimonious "mission statement" hasno business belonging to an organization that purportedly puts a premium on quality. But AAN doesn't. And it's not as if 80 percentof current AAN members could pass the admissions criteria: Last year, in DCI suggested that this year every single paper reapply for membership and thatway the group would be whittled down by two-thirds. My motion didn't make muchof an impression. NYPress would be tossed too, for crimes against Democrats,but that would be fine. I think the Ruxton Group, the national salesgroup owned by New Times, should secede from AAN anyway and have a productivetrade group, instead of the morons who make up this tribe. But as MaureenDowd, via Dick Morris, would say, that's just Saturday Night Russtalking, because a lot of these people, shitty papers notwithstanding, are verynice, in the parlance of the large California delegation, folks. But while I'm in this mood,I can't resist reprinting a letter to the editor from the Cleveland FreeTimes' May 5 issue that typifies how most of the AAN papers are lockstepliberal, yes, Massa Bonior, no-questions-asked tabloids. (That theTimes is a Stern publication is just a coincidence, I swear.) MichaelBikulic writes: "The Free Times is starting to become an extendedTom Tomorrow cartoon, 'This Modern World,' as it appears in your paper. Apparentlyany story, no matter how biased, one-sided or just plain wrong, is fit to beprinted in your paper as long as it agrees with your liberal social agenda.Based on the stories I read, the thinking appears to be: Chief Wahoo-bad; guns-bad;police arresting minority criminals-bad; gays-good; Republicans-bad, etc., etc.The only reason I look at the Free Times is mainly for Roldo [an entertaining political columnist who predates the Stern takeover], who is the only real journalistleft in Cleveland. Too bad he can't do an expose of the Free Times asto who and what drives their liberal agenda." On Friday night there wasanother jovial bash atop the Peabody, with a gorgeous sunset and a clear viewof one of the city's few tall buildings ("skyscraper" isn't operablehere), the Memphis Business Journal. (It was sponsored by MicroVoice,an audiotext vendor, and if they were trying to cadge more customers, the cashbar wasn't a smart idea.) I finally caught up with Jim Mullin, and reminiscedabout conventions from 20 years ago, as well as the croquet tournaments Al FromBaltimore and I hosted at Phyllis Orrick's Ruxton manse. Thosewere parties: One time, Phoenix New Times Inc.'s co-owner Mike Lacey emerged from the Belvedere Hotel with a bottle of red wine at 9 in themorning and asked for someone, anyone, to sample the vintage. He was conkedout next to a tree by noon, when the real drinking began. The same year, itwas 103 degrees, and the Chicago Reader's Tom Yoder gave up onthe croquet and slept in an air-conditioned car while his partner Bob Roth kept gabbing about how much he loved softshell crab sandwiches on white breadwith mayo. Mullin's a sharp guy andhas the brains to include Mike Wartella's "Nuts" inhis huge Miami newspaper, and is beyond all the dated cartoonists whowere trying to sell their syndicated strips at the trade show inside. It's alwaysa pleasure to speak with David Carr, Washington City Paper'seditor, even though he never says anything on the record for my column-and hehad juicy stuff this time around-and I met his senior editor Michael Schaffer,who just gushed over an article Slivka wrote two years ago, saying it was clippedon his bulletin board. Great. It'll be hard to fit Andrey's swollen head nexttime he visits me in the Danny Thomas suite. Which reminds me once again: Howcould any sentient human never have heard of Make Room for Daddy?Next thing I know, Andrey will draw a blank on Hazel or Mr. Ed. One thing that I found interestingin Memphis, coming from New York, is the tolerance shown to smokers. The filthyhabit is allowed in restaurants, and if you ask if there's a smoking table,the friendly waiter or waitress will give you a look like you're from anotherplanet. And people puff like crazy here; it might as well be Cairo. Nodoubt a Bay Guardian writer would attribute that to the poor, undereducatedSouthern culture, but that's hogwash. One of my friends told me he hadn't hadthe nerve to light up in his Peabody room because of the "No smoking"plaque on the door. I told him that was bullshit; they're used to scofflawslike us. In fact, the next day, after the maid was finished cleaning my room,she left outside the door an ashtray with a pack of Peabody matches. It surewas better than using the soap dish. Saturday was pretty mucha bore at the convention; I spoke briefly with Richard Karpel, AAN'sexecutive director (who was a real weasel for not posting Slivka's Brugmannstory on the AAN website; he's clearly under the thumb of Mr. China andthe Voice's David Schneiderman), and he told me about the horrendousmugging of a Weekly Alibi staffer two nights before (see Andrey's "MediaRoundup"). I went for a last-minute shopping spree at one of the Peabody'shalf-dozen gift shops, ignoring Mrs. M's order, and bought her a bbq pig t-shirt,plus duck chocolates, silver-plate piggy banks, a Memphis bbq coffee cup, stuffedducks, duck lollipops and more keychains. Just before noon, Paul Abramsand I cabbed to the airport, expecting a quick breeze-through to our Northwestconnection. Not so. You'd expect Memphis' airport (with FedEx in a separateterminal) to be a rinky-dink building not unlike a Caribbean island's.Instead, it was mobbed, with people lined up at McDonald's and Starbuckskiosks, and the frantic personnel just trying to keep up with wheelchair requestsand transfer information. I searched in vain for Saturday'sNew York Times, and was lured into an Elvis shop to buy t-shirts forthe boys, and then when we arrived in Newark it was as calm as couldbe. I had an amazingly quick limo ride home, was greeted by a sign on the doorthat said, "Welcome Home, Daddy, We Missed You!" and snuggled withmy wife and boys, glad to be back in an environment that doesn't condone organicallypure sandals, crummy comic strips and frightened gasps when you mention the name of the United States' next president, George W. Bush.
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