Our pranks and drug taking, however, tended to put management on the defensive, and for good reason. Because when you drink and smoke and inhale drugs, you may think you’re working hard — and we were convinced we were being martyred for the almighty dollar — but in fact you may be hardly working. And this was one of the paradoxes that made our situation increasingly untenable.
Here we were, critics of capitalism and Reaganism and junk bonds and the trickle-down theory and the hegemony of corporate culture, yet we were making money precisely because these things were working. On the one hand, we criticized the hierarchical structure of the patriarchy and of corporate culture, which bestowed authority on people who may not have had any moral authority or any experience of what it meant to be black and poor or otherwise "different" from the white men in power. On the other, there was a clear hierarchy of power — with white men at the top — operating at the Weekly.
It’s true that our little world was ruled by a benevolent dictator who was a visionary and was willing to experiment with some rather unorthodox power-sharing arrangements. And in the end Jay Levin did, when the paper was sold to its current owner, put in place a profit-sharing plan that distributed a substantial portion of what would have been his profits to all his employees. But that was much later. In the meantime, the natives were getting restless on the L.A. Weeklyplantation.
So we moved to a slightly more upscale address, in Silver Lake, and our old office became an S&M parlor, an irony not lost on a staff that was feeling increasingly underpaid and exploited. We wanted benefits. Health insurance. Overtime. A catered lunch and dinner when on deadline. We had become fat and successful because of our bravado, because we mythologized our local heroes and our local bands and ourselves (we were in all the bands that we wrote about) and our good advertisers on Melrose. And we reveled in our celebrity. Yes, we were in the money because we wrote advertorial that read like editorial, because of the go-go ’80s, because of Ronald Reagan. So we wanted to share the wealth. Or to kill the rich. We weren’t sure which would be more satisfying.
The partying took on a fevered pitch in our new location. Of course we weren’t really fat — strictly speaking — because of all that speed we were consuming. And because of the heroin chaser that was required to take the edge off. Until the edge became so uncomfortable that some of us began chasing the heroin with heroin. We bought it. We sold it. We had to have it to work. Because we had to have money to buy drugs. So we could work. So we could buy drugs. The life of a drug addict is a reassuringly simple and predictable one.
And the show went on with a cast that was continually changing. There were palace coups, and staff members were exiled, or executed, or shipped off to join the Sandinistas. There were former punk-legends-turned-freelance-writers living under the table in the conference room. Callers to the paper were put on hold and would be subjected to L.A.’s earliest, angriest, now-defunct rap-music radio station. On staff were various local celebrities and performance artists and leather boys and bull dykes and transvestites and at least one dominatrix. There were weird pets, and sex on the patio and in the broom closet. There were rock stars in limousines cruising the side streets looking for drug deals.
Then, slowly but surely, the fun began to seep out of it. You can guess the next chapter, in which the characters find themselves in drug rehab and 12-step programs — or HIV-positive, or dead, or somewhere on the street never to be heard from again. And you know the plotline of subsequent chapters, in which the characters find themselves in mainstream jobs with upscale salaries, or with a script in development, and having babies and dealing with the problems of finding quality child care and whether to circumcise and inoculate. The urge for revolution was very gradually replaced by a sense of responsibility for the next generation.
Prosperity is good as far as it goes. And the wealth did trickle down — just as Ronald Reagan said it would — at least as far as the lowliest staffer, though not so far as the people who were compelled to take part in the L.A. riots, or who work in the garment industry, or who have to leave their spouses and children in Mexico in order to even have a chance of making a living in this country.
And that’s the end of the first volume of this L.A. story. The Weekly has become an institution, and a respectable one, with all the baggage that comes with that label. And someday, somewhere, somebody else will ignite another fire. Maybe it will be at La Opinión, or L.A. Weekly, or Las Semanas. The rest will be history.
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