Saturday, November 17, 2007

Killing Ghosts

When I sit on my couch, if I look to the right, there's a pile of magazines. The face of the late saxophonist Steve Lacy stares up at me, or somewhat past me, actually, wearing a melancholy expression. It's the last issue, October, 1996, of Metropolis, a magazine I briefly edited. I remember that issue well; Lacy set up an interview, and I went to his house, somewhere at the end of the Ku'damm, a bit tense at the prospect of talking to this august figure. When I got there, the door was wide open, and there was nobody in the apartment. I wasn't sure what to do, so I left, not bothering to close the door in case someone would be right back. As it turned out, all was well, after a fashion; Lacy's wife had stalked out after an argument and he'd rushed off -- to Paris -- to talk with her, in such a hurry he hadn't even bothered to close the door to the apartment. The housekeeper took care of that, eventually, and a few days later Lacy and I sat down and did a pretty nice interview. With the cover story done, we did the rest of the magazine and went to press.

Of course, it's the nature of monthly magazines that once one is done, it's time for the next one, and so I called an editorial meeting at the office for the usual time. Coming home from my radio show late one evening, for some reason I decided to check my e-mail, and there was one from one of the writers telling me that the meeting had been cancelled (hello? I thought I was the editor...) because the owners were folding the magazine.

I had only moved into this place a week previously and was happy because it was a block from the magazine, and a couple of blocks from where the radio station was rumored to be moving. Back then, the neighborhood was extremely exciting, filled with top-notch galleries, hidden spaces where illegal bars thrived, and surprises of all sorts. But...the magazine, dead? It had just started to make money! Surely Zitty, who owned it, wanted it kept alive to see if the trend continued.

But they didn't. I got the word out that we'd have a meeting anyway, and figure out what to do, and in short order, we had a plan. A magazine tied to a website tied to a media bureau, each module synergistically reinforcing the other. Now all we needed was a business plan and some money.

Thus began a three-year roller-coaster ride. I had my radio show three times a week, I had a regular freelance gig as the regional cultural reporter for the Wall Street Journal Europe, and I had this project for those few moments I had left. I made a bucket of new friends, had a couple of love affairs, wrote some nice stuff, saw a load of art and heard tons of music. I watched the neighborhood grow and prosper, had dinner with officials from the American Embassy, travelled to places I never thought I'd see (like Bulgaria), and realized I was very lucky to be in Berlin right then.

And then it ended. The signs were in the air: there were people in the company we'd started who had just shown up and taken over various functions without being asked. Since we didn't have any money, we couldn't fire them, and if they could get us money, I reasoned, let them do it. But I found out that all they were interested in was the internet end of the thing, even though they didn't know anything about it other than it was something that was making people in the States rich. I discovered that they weren't mentioning me or the magazine in any of their meetings for funding ("You're too old to be bankable," one of them told me), and that they were misrepresenting the thing in their presentations.

Came the new millennium, I walked away from it. I terminated my latest relationship, with a deeply depressed and neurotic woman, and announced that the company would have to get along without me. I also disincorporated it, since I had that power, and I didn't want my name on a company that was obviously headed off a cliff. (Its corpse can be viewed here). Things around the radio station, which had indeed moved into the neighborhood, were weird, with an inexperienced British guy having taken over, and in March, 2000, I came back from my regular trip to Texas to find out I'd been fired for not telling them I was going, although I had, in fact, told them. It was just a ruse to prevent having to tell me to my face. Cowards are like that.

The Wall Street Journal Europe lasted another couple of years, but the parent paper suffered greatly due to 9/11, which made a huge hunk of their downtown New York real-estate unavailable, and my editor was replaced with another, who decided to clear the decks.

So for the past five years, I've been inside these walls, looking at the ghosts of what happened here. The prospect of having to leave is unpleasant, the prospect of having to search for a new apartment is depressing, and the prospect of perhaps having to learn a whole new neighborhood -- not to mention having to load all the accumulated crap of a decade onto a truck and then unload it again -- is really unpleasant, especially when I'd much rather be moving to France, which I could do if I had a book deal in the works.

No, it's not going to be fun. But every time I sit on that spavined, stuffing-leaking couch and see Steve Lacy's face, I realize that I'll be much better off in a place where I can make some new ghosts.

6 comments:

Marie said...

I hear Montpellier is nice.

Ed Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Ward said...

Oh! I thought it was posting that comment, and I came over to say "Yeah, you would say that."

But it is. Wanna lend me a few thousand so I can move? It hardly makes sense just moving to move again. But then, you'd know something about that.

ian in hamburg said...

"You're too old to be bankable."
I realise it's a Treppenwitz by now, but the comeback to that is:
fine, but I've accumulated one hell of a lot more compound interest already than you.

I reached the point you're at in Vancouver a few years back. I hated to leave, but have few regrets now. It's possible at any age, and if you're looking for a cash injection, I suggest Asia. Despite what you've heard, your skills as an English-language journalist are always needed.

And final point: I know it's supposed to be pronounced Tsitty, but I can't look at that magazine's name without thinking it's a journal for sufferers of acne vulgaris.

Dr. Sardonic said...

Ian is right. Look, once the truck is packed, why not just drive to southern France? That's how I ended up in Chicago (from Boston), and it's the best thing I ever did. Moving yourself within a city is just burdensome. Driving down the highway (bzw. Autobahn, bzw. autoroute) with all your worldly possessions is singularly liberating. I was very surprised, and changed, by the experience.

Also, consider that your next move may be your last for quite a while. I've made many a move thinking they'd just be "temporary", and in hindsight, those have all been bad ideas.

Just my €0,02.

Ed Ward said...

Well, Sardo ol' bean, there's a little problem here, and it's money. I agree: since I have to leave anyway, why not just head down the road and set up where I want to be?

But the cost of moving across town or around the corner doesn't match the cost of driving (hey, remember how much gas costs here!) all those miles, finding somewhere to stay while I find somewhere to live, and then moving in, setting up gas, electricity, and telephone and buying a new couch (the old one isn't going with me wherever I go next).

The last time I priced this out, I came up with a figure of €5200, based on finding an apartment for about 800 a month. Currently, that's $7,622.16, and it may be just a bit on the short side.

Look, I'd love to figure out a way to start the new year in France, but unless I have a magnificent stroke of luck, I don't see how it can happen.

And Ian, I'm a bit confused. Asia? I'm certainly not going to move to Asia -- it was hard enough becoming this bad in German -- and one of the regular readers of this blog is an English-language journalist for a bunch of papers in Asia and he's not exactly getting rich.

Anybody want to organize a benefit concert? Because I'd much rather not be here. As I guess is obvious.