Lord knows, Helen Mirren would contract the vapors if she saw me naked in a tub these days. Twenty-six years ago, I wasn’t so repulsive. This newspaper did that to me—it made me grotesque, fat, droopy-eyed and suspicious. I’m different mentally, too. I used to laugh more and trust more. Laughter and trust both left the room around 1995. I used to want to make friends, but that became a zero-sum game—too many of them became too close to our stories.
The famous instances of those are criminal defense attorney and fellow former Bingham miner Ron Yengich (Chris Smart can give you the unvarnished truth about what happened to our most notable early columnist), and Rocky Anderson (who lent some seriously good and valuable efforts to this newspaper, but with whom I went sideways during his second term as Salt Lake City mayor). Rocky—it was personal. I was offended by certain of his actions but that should have been left outside the paper. Ron—whatever remains in his craw can be settled with a square-up rail-spiking contest, but do remember that I beat him the last time on the Kennecott dumps, back in 1973.
I’m pretty sure that when current City Weekly editor Jerre Wroble (who is the hardest-working editor ever at this newspaper) approached me about a column for this issue, she believed I would do a Jim Dandy-wrap of the many great things that have happened to me and this paper since back when Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term. Sorry, Jerre—ain’t gonna happen.
Name the anniversary-cliché top stories? I’ll think about that and add them online. Maybe. It was people who made City Weekly a success—and yes, success is the right word. There’s not room for everyone, so I’ll stick to the Midvale days and people like Happy Anderson, Lynn Hachmeister, Phyllis Schafer, Jan Dabling, J.R. Ruppel, Jan Snyder, Diane Olson Rutter, Sandra Sweetland, Michael Viergutz, J.P. Gabellini and Brett Elzey. Early contributors included Clyde Gonzales (a photographer who was just as likely to use an unloaded camera as not), Lance Gurwell, Steve Midgely (a photographer who took beautiful band photos), Mary Dickson, Evan Twede (now an author), Leslie Kellen, Carl Rubadue, Jack Daniels, Kelly Jacobs, Jay Byrd (whom I met years earlier in Chicago), Sam Kirk, Junior Greider, Dee Radams, Steve Lewis and Scott Lewis, John Harrington, Ron Yengich and Shia Kapos (currently a journalist in Chicago). Dan Pattison, Dave Blackwell and Michelle Wilberger have since died.
It always made me laugh when people criticized our writers—several, including me, used pen names. Critics hated me but loved Joe Cole—we were the same person. They hated certain writers in our paper, but when they wrote under their real names in other media, they got praised. It was an early lesson—many critics don’t know shit from Shinola, as evidenced by their yen to believe that shine actually stands for something.
I could also mention that three of the above individuals either loaned money to me or helped me secure loans. They weren’t alone. The paper began with $2,000 borrowed from my dad. Over the next 15 years or so, I’d borrowed and repaid a couple-hundred-thousand dollars on very, very short-term loans, paying it all back and burning no bridges. I once borrowed $20,000 from someone in a “cash-friendly” business and repaid him in two weeks. I proudly remember that day, because no sooner had I paid him back than I ran out of gas on the freeway. My wife saw my truck and even she didn’t stop.
The next day, I was borrowing again, but I could only cover payables and payroll was a crap shoot. I was soon staring at more than $300,000 in debt between the IRS and our printer, the only two entities that could put me out of business. You want to be afraid sometime? Try staring down (while sobbing inside) the equivalent of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano while growing a business with no money, when you don’t pay yourself, and your Greek and Bingham pride won’t let you quit. I would rather have died than quit.
Since I’m writing this, I must have lived.
Full circle found me in Chicago last week (witnessing the incredible Chicago Blackhawks celebration on Michigan Avenue), the city where this paper really began, when I picked up my first issue of the Chicago Reader in 1981. I wanted to start a paper like it in Salt Lake City. I brought an issue back home and copied every line, font and photo layout as best I could and called my newspaper The Private Eye.
My mom—who would do anything for her oldest son—was our delivery chief. She’d drive from here to East Jesus, smiling and making friends for the paper while dropping off new copies. No one can argue that my mom was our most valuable employee of all time. She quit only after a car hit her broadside, mid-route.
As I write this, she’s just getting out of recovery from knee-replacement surgery, so if I’ve been a bit dour today, that’s why. It really isn’t just because I saw Helen Mirrin naked today. It’s because there would be no City Weekly without mom. See you in a minute, Mom.