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Work

Loons like us

Cardboard desks, Eeyore tests and a woman armed with a fork

MT photo: Bruce Giffin
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Published 10/19/2005

In 25 years, we’ve seen a hell of a lot of ... eccentric characters pass through the doors at Metro Times. Some of them even work(ed) here. The newspaper biz is notorious for attracting strange characters, and our fair alt-weekly is no exception; it may even set the bar.

Before coming to MT, many staffers have had such varied experiences as slaughterhouse worker, beatnik poet, bedpan handler, songwriter for Alice Cooper, farmhand and dominatrix. But nothing quite prepares you for the day-to-day lunacies that take place in our slate-working and cornice-fabricating shop above a trendy bar.

As with any starting business, the early days were a struggle. Herb Boyd was an editor during the paper’s first five years, and recalls glorious days of cardboard desks. When MT had secured office space but no furniture, Boyd suggested using the temporary desks, made of cardboard, being discarded by the U.S. Census office where he’d been a supervisor.

“People would spill coffee on their desks, and they would sag down the middle,” Boyd says. “A couple of times and your desk was gone.” After real desks were acquired, the cardboard contraptions were bundled up, and a celebratory bonfire was briefly considered. In the end, they were recycled, keeping in tune with our damn bleeding-heart-liberal, tree-hugging views.

“A couple times I thought we were going to just pull the plug,” Boyd says, recalling the era of payless paydays and “just stumbling along. Fortunately, we’ve stumbled quite well through the past quarter of a century.”

In asking former and current staffers to reflect on what it’s like to work here, one common theme emerges: “How do you spell [insert dirty/obscure/offensive word here]?”

Former culture editor Alisa Gordaneer remembers “the time the proofreader shouted out, ‘Does cunnilingus have one N or two?’ Without missing a beat, someone shouted out, ‘Three!’” Other lively debates have included how to spell “beeyotch” or whether “butt fucking” is one word or two. Pressing questions like “Can elks swim?” and “What’s a choad?” are shouted from our individual offices, most of which are glorified cubicles without doors. Breast milk in the fridge, discussion of leather ass-less chaps, arguments over who would win in a fistfight, Charles Mingus or Miles Davis — it’s all part of a typical day here. Oh, and after we locked our bathroom doors to the public, someone peed in our elevator.

We’ve also developed a scientific process for determining whether readers will “get” a certain word or reference: the Eeyore test. Proofreader Dennis Shea (see page 25) didn’t know who Eeyore was, so the staff was polled about their knowledge of the droopy-eared, depressive donkey. Since then, every potentially obscure reference has been subjected to the Eeyore test. (Eeyore, by the way, passed the test; not every word does.)

Plenty of publications suffer high staff turnover, but Metro Times seems to have a strong return rate — there are people who just can’t not work here. Among those who tried to escape but were sucked back in: Anthony Morrow (account exec, Blowout producer, promotions director, and now marketing director), Rebecca Mazzei (account exec, listings editor, took off for Chicago and came back as our current arts editor); and Lisa Rudy, who went from account exec to classifieds director and returned as publisher.

We also have our share of old-schoolers; managing editor W. Kim Heron, eight years; news editor Curt Guyette, 10 years; classifieds director Jennifer Jeffery, 14 years; and Shea tops the list at 17 years.

Current editor and seasoned journo Ric Bohy’s seen it all, having spent three decades working in Detroit magazines and newspapers. Here’s his take on MT:

 

Those who were here when I first arrived are, among others:

•  An erudite jazz scholar with yardlong ash-gray dreads, an encyclopedic memory and a highly evolved sense of humor — the office sage.

•  A quietly flamboyant former Montana ranch wrangler who lives inside Detroit rock when not at work, or fly-fishing, or mining the intricacies of bum software, and cussing.

•  A former marathon cyclist and rock composer who greeted me by asking who I thought was the best band of all time, and sighed, “Thank God!” when I said the Beatles.

•  A one-time pool-hall manager and full-time literary scholar and autodidact who likes to snack on salt-dried minnows and other not-so-readily identifiable tidbits.

•  A neo-burlesque performer and collector of feather boas, pointy appurtenances and WWII-era pinup memorabilia who entered newspapering as a gossip columnist, and falls down a lot.

•  A onetime tramp laborer and Mexican circus roustabout who found his religion on the road, in the tradition of Tom Joad, Che and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

•  A legally blind proofreader and Cass Corridor philosopher who works most of every hour with headphones in place and his nose barely hovering above a printed page, and doesn’t miss much.

They all shout outrageous things to and at one another through the open doors of their offices. They work in near-darkness because, I fear, they’re night-feeders — or they may find our harsh fluorescent lighting a bit much after a night of real life. And when they gather around a long table, what nearly always follows is some of the most creative, free-exchange thinking and arguing I’ve ever been involved in. But there are days when most of us appear to believe that, sometimes, life is best viewed with a stare to the middle distance.

To sum it up, the surreal-o-meter is usually flashing bright red on any given day. Case in point — this matter-of-fact e-mail the publisher sent to the entire staff a few months ago.

 

Hello Everyone,

There has been a woman roaming around outside harassing people and trying to stab them with a fork.

A police squad car is on the way.

Lisa

 

The “fork you” jokes ran long and deep that day.

Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to sklein@metrotimes.com.

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