This week I will be off traveling around wearing one of my other hats, South American wine importer. I will travel to Memphis, Nashville, and other grand ole cities with Javier Paredes from the best boutique winery in Chile, Torreon de Paredes--which I hope will soon be properly appreciated in Alabama. And I will envy you stay-athome responsible people while I am off drinking Carménère.
So it is a good time to recall the first time I was pressed into service from another career to take over the paper in my spare time!
Though the circumstances the first time were a lot more dire, they are instructive because of the surprisingly large number of parallels.
Before there even was a paper named Birmingham Weekly my brother Bobby had a paper called Fun N Stuff. It was the precursor of the plethora of alternative papers that exists in Birmingham today. And in fact my brother Bobby helped start his first competition when a friend of his asked for help starting an unrelated business and picked Bobby’s brain and went through his records, and then started a paper in direct competition with Bobby, and Bobby helped put it in business in his goodhearted way. It is funny how funny your friends can be. The country girl didn’t invent it, though a master of insincerity and duplicity.
But that was but a trifle. Here is the worst of it. Bobby went to the beach one weekend and was pulled out in a riptide. And I would gladly suffer a couple of additional betrayals by super scalawags who listen to the worst country and western to have that one back.
So the next Monday morning I am down at the Fun n Stuff office in Pepper Place sorting through my brother’s affairs. And one of the workers for the paper comes dragging in with a hangdog air. Of course everyone was in shock and despair at Bobby’s sudden passing, but according to her it was even worse. Our advertisers told her a competing paper was coming to them and telling them they needed to switch their ad placements because Bobby was dead and his paper was going out of business. And we hadn’t even had Bobby’s funeral.
And wouldn’t you know, the way those things go, just to add insult to injury, the only person I confided my feelings about that to used it against me. I refer you to the photo illustrating Mark Gigniallat’s article last week in our Inspire section: the church marquee that reads “Some people you just can’t trust.” And the preacher left off the lol.
So suffice it to say, with my own motivations, I spent the next two years of my spare time--left over from working as an attorney at Maynard Cooper and Special Assistant to the President of the American Bar Association and liaison to the Barreau de Paris--down there at Pepper Place till four o’clock in the morning running the paper for my brother’s estate.
And you will be shocked to learn that not everyone appreciated it.
I can tell you my ex-wife loved it! And she is one of the very Brooke Hill Girl prizewinners lauded in this week’s Yore + Lore, and her dad was president of UAB, so she should know. And even though that one didn’t turn out so well, it is true what Carolyn Satterfield says that Brooke Hill turned out some women who have made quite a mark on Birmingham-even if Birmingham didn’t always like it, as I point out in my supplement to Ms. Satterfield’s paens of praise.
But my landlady at Pepper Place was Brooke Hill alumna Cathy Crenshaw, and she was great as long as the rent got paid (lol). And I am still pretty much held to that standard by everyone concerned: Why didn’t you do that yesterday? Can’t you manage your time? Don’t you think you should attend a seminar? and Can’t you spend a few extra dollars?
So back to the paper, I thought at least the staff would welcome my good deeds and martyr-like, commendable intentions that let them keep getting their paychecks. Well, I had one staff member lead an office coup to convince all the others I had insidious and selfish motives for moonlighting every night with no pay. One staffer who I later learned was in line to be made editor-in-chief under Bobby’s regime cussed me out with a snarl on his face--the likes of which I never saw again till the country girl woke me up and shined a lamp in my face-for my unspecified nefarious schemes (which to this day remain a mystery) before leaving to go write for a rival paper, where he still works today. The plotters even convinced a free lance writer from Alabama living in New York to criticize me roundly in public pages, and he too defected to another paper, but I still love his loyalty to the Crimson Tide.
Well, so you can’t always expect a big thank you from people you knock yourself out to help. So what? I’ve seen other people knock themselves out a lot harder, like Pardis Stitt, and I wouldn’t mind someone knocking herself out to help me succeed like that.
I did have one loyal supporter in the editor of the paper, but she soon left to go work at the monthly magazine. She said she thought that was the safest thing for her to do. Apparently I am abysmally unsuccessful at getting people to risk their necks for me. I know the country girl was scared to death of rocking with the ship, but it never capsized. Yet!
So, though I thought I was doing a good deed saving everyone’s jobs, I ended up having to build the paper back from scratch myself. And believe it or not everything worked out well before I passed it off two years later and wished it bon voyage. Not even the country girl could scheme to pull the rug out from under it, though I know it is mean of me and I really shouldn’t deny her fondest desire, and I am sure I will give in eventually if she will be just a little bit nicer to me.
And here I am back at the paper today, so in a future installment I can entertain you with the tales of taking over the paper for the second time, and some of it will sound eerily familiar. I know. I know. It must be me.