A Decade and a Half

We were loved, and we were hated.

| February 27, 2004
How in the world has it been 15 years since the first issue of The Memphis Flyer? How has that much time gone by so quickly? And how does one sum up something like this? A decade and a half? It's hard to fathom.

Back in the old days, when I had to walk six miles to work in the snow and edit the Flyer by candlelight (actually, I think I was driving a 10-year-old Mazda with shag carpet and a horrible gas leak), I spent much of my time talking with people in the public about the paper. No, I wasn't calling around asking people their opinions or holding focus groups. As editor, I was fielding about 100 calls a day from every lunatic in the city who had two cents to throw in. This started two months before the first issue ever came out, with lots of people telling me what was wrong with the Flyer, even though it didn't exist yet. And once it did exist, the floodgates opened. We were too liberal. We were too conservative. We were too positive. We were too negative. We were original. We were copycats. We were loved. We were hated.

But much more time-consuming than handling the criticisms was the fact that when your name is on the masthead of a newspaper as its editor and you try to do some fairly outrageous things, people with dire psychological problems tend to think you think the same way they do, and they want to become your best friend. Like the S&M prostitute who began calling about, oh, nine times a day from prison to let me know she really related to me and to inform me that she was being held there illegally just because she cracked the sink in her cell with her cellmate's head. Nice, huh? She even sent me her prison ID card in the mail along with the name of someone in the police department to give it to so he could rescue her from this unwarranted peril. Once out of jail, she appeared at the Flyer offices with reams of documents so we could write and publish her life story -- along with some very, uh, interesting photographs that involved a lot of safety pins and leather. Not sure what ever happened to her, but hopefully she found happiness.

Then there was the elderly man who sent letter after letter, asking us to publish his story, "The Persecution of the Small Penis." It seems that he lived in his sister's closet and sold ironing-board covers for a living and really wanted to get into journalism -- or at least address that one point. Not sure what ever happened to him either, but hopefully he found a forum somewhere for his prose.

There were many calls from one man, who claimed that an anti-Semitic organized crime bunch kept chasing him into gay bars because he had figured out the ingredients in Coca-Cola, and they wanted to tap his brain. There was also the guy who came into the office and threatened to beat the crap out of me because of some comments I made about those duck bus things that drove around on the streets and also floated. He later apologized, and we got a good laugh out of it.

Those are just some of the Flyer fans from the old days who come to mind immediately. Well, nothing comes to my mind immediately anymore, but they are standouts.

Somehow, amid all that, we managed to get a paper out each week. And, looking back, I'm not really sure if I know what to say, other than we were very ambitious. In the first issue of the Flyer, we came out of the dugout to save the local environment, taking on the Velsicol chemical plant with our debut cover story, David Lyons' "Poison for Profit." Our first movie review found Cynthia Sutter taking a look at the same-sex union of two men in Torch Song Trilogy. Belinda Killough recommended listening to the music of Toots Hibbert, Rufus Thomas, and Etta James. Cory Dugan reviewed the paintings of Robert Fichter, saying that his works reminded him of a "black velvet painter on acid." In addition to his cover story, David Lyons also reported to us as the "Nighthawk," writing about a club on Beale Street that, at least one night of the week, forgot the blues and offered up Cabaret Voltaire and the Clitz. The first installament of News of the Weird in Memphis told us about the losers in a Miss Thailand beauty contest breaking into the winner's hotel room and stuffing her cape and scepter into the toilet. Our "Rumor Mill" had it that the driver of Dennis Quaid, while in town filming Great Balls of Fire, stole a stash of napkins, sacks, and straws from a local Dairy Queen and sold them on the black market as the star's "personal paper supplies." Tom Prestigiacomo's "Let Them Eat Cake" wished Happy Birthday that week to an array of characters from Sonny Bono and Sidney Poitier to Cybill Shepherd and Edna St. Vincent Millay. And in our "After Dark" dark listings, you could read what was going on at the likes of the Bombay Bicycle Club, the Antenna club, and the Vapors/Bad Bob's. Now how old do you feel?

One of my favorite things was the column "One Night Stands," in which we reviewed rental movies. I don't even know why we did this other than we liked to watch movies. In the beginning, most of these were penned by myself and by Ed Weathers, then manuscripts editor for the Flyer's sister publication Memphis magazine. Ed explored such artful and meaningful films as My Life As a Dog, The Tin Drum, and Never Cry Wolf. I, on the other hand, saw this as a blatant opportunity to write about every sick, bad, campy B-movie I could get my hands on, including such classics as Polyester, Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (what other movie starred Cher and Karen Black, who played a transsexual?), Sunset Boulevard, Mommie Dearest, and The Women.

Our Los Angeles correspondent, Bill Givens, took the world of cinema a step further with a cover story on the Oscars, which he attended and reported on during those first few weeks of publication. In "A Night at the Oscars," he told us about aging porn star Edie Williams, who strolled up the red carpet at the Academy Awards each year only to be turned away. And Edie wasn't getting any younger, Givens told us, writing, "Each year the square inch-age of fabric she wears is in inverse ratio to her advancing age. Edie's starting to sag a bit these days, sort of taking on the appearance of an Austrian drape. Not a pretty sight. More like ten pounds of hockey pucks in a five-pound bag." What were we thinking?

No one remembers exactly how this came about, but by the third issue of the Flyer, there was a weekly column by yours truly called We Recommend. This started out as a straightforward "best bets" kind of thing, listing various events of interest taking place around town each week. I honestly don't know how it morphed into the juvenile ranting it became and continues to be, but somehow it did and, boy, did it make some people mad. One caller said I should be put to death, others wrote hate mail, and some people actually liked it. You would think I would have just gone away by now, but hey, somebody has to pipe up every week and say that George W. Bush is the worst president in history. And to think I've actually had not one but two Bush presidents to deal with on that page.

One final thing. I also wrote a lot on that page about my cat, even using her photograph from time to time alongside mentions of cat shows in town. When we started the Flyer, she was 2 years old and I was 29. Today, I am 44 and she is 17, still alive and well and still sitting here beside me as I write, having clawed me awake to feed her at 4 a.m. and then curling up and looking like an angel once full of her breakfast of Fancy Feast and half-and-half. It's kind of comforting to know that in this crazy world, some things are meant to be and don't change. I just hope none of you laid money on the bet that we would still be around and making it without adult diapers. I know I wouldn't have.

I left as editor of the Flyer after four years to move across the newsroom as editor of Memphis magazine for the next five, and then to my current job at Carpenter/Sullivan Advertising. Ironically, my office is a block away from the Flyer's. But I still feel close to the paper more than just in physical distance. And to those of you who were there in the beginning, reading this paper and still picking it up now and then, all I can say is thanks for hanging in there. We may not have always hit the mark back in the beginning, but I can honestly say we tried. And all in all, it's been a pretty fun ride.

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