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Sex in the Sub-City
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How I Got Screwed (and not the good kind)

Those of you who live in Williamsburg are probably familiar with a local magazine called 11211. Those of you who aren't, well, you aren't missing anything. In fact, you're quite lucky, as the periodical is consistently awful, usually ranging anywhere from poor to pathetic, from below-average to abominable. At first, I wondered if it was just me. Was I the only one who felt this way? Were my sensibilities so finely-tuned and sensitive that I was the sole person offended by this rag? But no, this was not the case. Upon investigation, I discovered that many, many people felt the same way. In fact, EVERY SINGLE PERSON I spoke to felt exactly the same. One friend, to empathize his disgust, literally wiped his ass with the magazine. A bold move to be sure, but utterly representative, me thinks, of the quality of the periodical.

But the main reason for everyone's severe dislike, if you haven't already guessed, is because of the mag's name. By calling itself 11211, by labeling its pages of stapled crap with our zipcode, it is representing us, the entire neighborhood, even if indirectly. And by all accounts it is a poor representation. And so, like in many instances previous, I did what any concerned citizen would do: I wrote a letter. This I addressed to the publisher of the offending publication, citing my reasons for my disfavor, some of which were:

-Poorly-written articles, with writing that barely tops a fifth-grade level.
-Stories themselves about generally uninteresting topics or events.
-A great deal too many advertorials, which make the magazine, as well as the featured businesses, appear cheap.
-Articles which blatantly praise already-established businesses (perhaps advertorials themselves). Wow, another write-up on Galapagos! How cutting-edge!
-Sloppy, unfocused design, including hard to read fonts, layering of text on one page and fields of white on others.
-An overall pretentious drive to be artistic, yet not achieving anything close.

The list goes on and on. My main complaint, however, was the name. Change the name, I wrote, and we won't have a problem. Otherwise, I added, I and many neighborhood folks would appreciate a better representation. I concluded by saying that there were no hard feelings, that I was glad Williamsburg had it own magazine, and hoped he'd take my comments to heart.

The publisher replied almost immediately, and instantly dismissed me, labeling me as some white, middle-class, newly-arrived hipster. He wrote that the only reason I didn't like his magazine was because it represented the entire spectrum of the neighborhood - Jews, Poles, Latinos, etc. - and that I was upset because my limited interests were not included. After I finished laughing, I wrote back that this was the biggest load of crap this side of his magazine. First of all, what did this have to do with my argument? The magazine is garbage - the writing sucks, the design sucks, the pictures suck - what does this have to do with whose interests are being represented? Writing editorials in different languages, as 11211 had done, does not make it a virtual umbrella for different cultures. And these cultures, one would think, would like to be represented by a quality work, which wasn't the case. His argument was also slight for another reason: 11211 totally caters to my demographic, or at least my proposed demographic, with the wannabe artsy fartsy design, and all the articles about trendy Bedford venues. Ninety-percent of the mag brown-noses local bars and restaurants; how is that being multi-cultural?

So I wrote all this back to him, and concluded by saying that I hoped he'd stop beating around the bush and actually try and put out a decent work. He replied with some more heated comments, and then so did I. This went on and on for a time, until one day I received an e-mail from him that almost made me piss my pants. The e-mail said something along the lines of:

"Well, if you're so in touch with the neighborhood, why don't you publish an issue of the magazine? I've given the same challenge to other detractors, and none of them have written back. Don't let me down this time. If you're upset, do something about it."

I was floored and moved. I had obviously misunderstood this guy, and wrote back immediately, accepting the challenge. I told him that I was thoroughly impressed with his decision, and would never have thought he was capable of making it. Furthermore, I wrote that I would love nothing more than to do an issue, that I couldn't believe the opportunity he was giving me, and he wouldn't be sorry. Later in the week we spoke on the phone about what I had to do - how much content was needed, deadlines, etc. - and agreed to meet in a few weeks to further discuss my vision.

Over the next few weeks, I worked like a madman. I immediately put together a team, including designers, photographers and writers. I called friends and friends of friends and friends of their friends, and posted to several e-mail lists about the windfall that had fallen my way, and all the help I'd need. I cast a wide net for local talent. Instantly I was bombarded with sample material. When I wasn't looking through people's work, I was brainstorming for story ideas, or going out on my own and interviewing, researching, photographing, etc. 11211 became my life.

When I met with the publisher, I brought along my staff, including an Art Director, Content Manager and Managing Editor. We talked for a while about our ideas, about what we'd already done and the plans we had for producing more. The publisher, meanwhile, felt he had to justify his magazine to us and the neighborhood as a whole. He wanted to make it absolutely certain that what he was putting out, even if it wasn't greatly liked, was important. Surprisingly, he came across in his arguments as articulate and passionate, and even impressive, if not a little misguided. And so, we didn't challenge him on anything he said. To be honest, I was so glad that he was letting me do an issue that I didn't want to stir up any more controversy. So I simply agreed with everything he said, provided he'd let us publish the mag the way we wanted.

But this never happened. We were, in fact, viciously fucked-over, and more than once. The first time came right after the meeting, when the publisher informed us that the New York Times was planning to do a story on him and 11211, a story that was going to focus on his peculiar style for editing the mag. The style was this: there was no style. He allowed stories to run as they were, without any editing whatsoever, in some attempt to preserve the purity of the writer and the writing. I found this to be utterly pointless - as did the rest of the neighborhood - but it was his thing, and like I said I didn't want to make waves, so I didn't criticize him on this. The problem was that the NY Times article was focusing on this particular style, which wasn't the way I was going to publish the magazine, and so he wanted to put out the next issue himself.

As a consolation, I got to publish the following issue, which was fine, except that it wasn't coming out for another few months. Out of respect for him, my staff and I reluctantly agreed to this. And so, all of our work, our preparation, our momentum, was put on hold, was temporarily ceased, and we went back to our normal lives. However, we didn't stop work entirely. Over the next month, we continued to gather material and to polish what we already had. We were convinced that now, more than ever, we had what would be an incredible issue of the magazine.

Several weeks later, after the new issue of 11211 came out - the issue that was supposed to be mine, and was, of course, more of their same befuddled crap - I contacted the publisher by phone. Strangely, he acted as if he didn't know who I was. Only after repeatedly telling him my name, and that, in case he'd forgotten, I was to publish the next issue of his magazine, did he suddenly recall my person. Then, even more disturbingly, he told me that whatever content I'd produced I should send his way, as he and his staff would have to approve all of it for publication. I told him that this wasn't our initial agreement, that I was to publish the issue by myself, without his help. I added that by wanting to review and edit our content, wasn't he going against his own editorial philosophy? Wasn't he in danger of coming across as a hypocrite? And why the sudden change? Had he forgotten our agreement?

But my protests fell on deaf ears. He was adamant that if I still wanted to be a part of 11211, everything would have to go through him. He was even offended that I questioned his memory, and acted as if no such agreement had ever taken place. In a subsequent e-mail, he wrote that "he didn't owe me anything," and that he had no problems "reneging on the whole thing." He added that there were investors who all of a sudden were interested in his mag, all of whom didn't appreciate the idea of an outside person doing an issue. This was the New York Times all over again.

Then, and most confusing, he mentioned that some of his staff was familiar with my work - meaning this column - and that this was the kind of content they were most opposed to printing. I found this rather odd; what were they in favor of publishing then? Shit? Bile? Puke? How dare HE, publisher of drivel, insult MY work! And I can say with perfect honesty that even those columns that were written quickly or while I was drunk or hung-over or stoned are better than anything he's ever put out; that any paragraph, nay, any sentence, even on its own could surpass every single issue of his magazine combined! The nerve! He was not only taking back his promise and going against his own word; he was not only putting months of my work, my time and money in the crapper; he was insulting me on top of it.

I wanted to kick his ass. I wanted to show up at his door and pound the annoying fuck into oblivion. I wanted to go to all of his advertisers and purported investors and explain what a putrid sack of shit they were dealing with. I wanted REVENGE. However, after I calmed down, I realized I only had two real choices: turn over the content I'd produced, and hope that he'd publish some of it; or do nothing of the sort, tell the guy he was a cocksucker and to fuck off. I, of course, with the help of my staff, did the latter.

And the content, I'm happy to say, has been preserved and perfected, and will be appearing shortly in the form of a new magazine hitting the streets in November. The best revenge, we decided, was to simply put out the work on our own. And the magazine, I'm pleased to tell you, is magnificent. It's going to knock 11211 on its ass. That, coupled with the recent discovery of how it's run and by whom, and I think its days are numbered. Funny how things turn out. So thanks a lot asshole. You made my year.

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{Disclaimer from the Editor:
Opinions addressed in Free Williamsburg are not necessarily our own, godammit! }

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[email protected] | November 2001 | Issue 20
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