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Greetings From Los Angeles
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, June 16, 2000.
Three barely part-time jobs weren’t quite covering my food and rent addictions, so I interviewed for a copyeditor position at Los Angeles magazine. At the time, the publication was owned by ABC, but ABC was not yet owned by Disney. Or possibly the other way around. Los Angeles magazine had long plumbed such breathtaking depths of irrelevance to my life and to the lives of everyone I knew that I figured some copyediting was the least I could do to help.
A week after the interview, I was here at the Weekly, retouching some marijuana leaves in Photoshop for a cover story (one of my part-time jobs), when the phone rang. It was Los Angeles magazine’s managing editor, declaring an intent to hire me. She’d determined, she told me in so many words, that I and all of my ingredients were well-qualified for the work, except, conceivably, for my urine. Before she could hire me, she said, my urine would have to be isolated and analyzed for chemical sins against God and ABC and/or Disney.
“How do you feel about drug testing?” she asked.
“Ethically? Strongly against,” I replied, staring at the 786,432 marijuana-leaf pixels filling the monitor before me. “Especially for copyediting jobs. Plus, I smoked pot about a week ago. So . . . oh, well — guess I’m not really qualified.”
“Why don’t you come down and take the test anyway?” she said, unfazed. “The tests aren’t always accurate.”
No, they’re not. I passed. They hired me. And bad things began to happen. I taught one of the editors some word-processing shortcuts. When word got out, the magazine’s infosystems manager — Donna or Diane or Patty or Denise — complained that I’d been stepping on her turf. That was bad thing number one.
Bad thing number two: I wrote a large red note on a theater review: “We’re not actually going to publish this racist crap, are we?” (It was either that or write “FIRE ME” across my forehead with a Sharpie.)
Bad thing number three was that bad thing number one wouldn’t stop. Donna, Diane, Patty or Denise continued to interpret my every benign suggestion — telecommuting, teaching people software, that kind of thing — as a threat. Or was I just being paranoid? I had, after all, smoked marijuana within the last week (again).
I wasn’t imagining. At least not entirely. One day I turned a corner into a severe hallway and found myself unavoidably approaching Donna, Diane, Patty or Denise speaking with Joan McCraw, the magazine’s publisher, whose back-of-the-head was unmistakable. Spotting me, Donna (let’s just go with Donna) choked slightly on whatever she’d been saying and tried to come up with a gesture of the appropriate timbre and form to inform the publisher that I was approaching. Failed. The publisher said, “Well, then, I think that we should get rid of this ‘new guy,’ don’t you?” just as I passed with a pleasant “Good afternoon” and then listened to the ensuing silence for the remainder of the corridor.
“What are you doing?” It’s one of the greeters calling out from the greeting area. Later that afternoon. With a clear view of the editor’s office.
“I’m going into Lew’s office to download the cover image.”
“Who said you could do that?” It’s the other one. Doing the same thing. That’s her job.
“Lew,” I say. “Via Rodger via . . . Steve, I think.”
The greeters watch quietly as I settle in behind the big L-shaped desk, turn on the computer and sit in the immense executive chair, attentively watching the start-up sequence, bored to fucking hell.
So the first one calls out, “Well, you can’t be in there.”
I say something like “I can’t not be in here,” and “This is what the boss told me to do. ”
So the second one says, with feeling, “You can’t be in there alone.”
“Well, if you really think it’s necessary, you’re welcome to come in.”
The greeters call for backup.
I log on with the magic password, start the download and leave. Eight minutes later, the art department has its cover image, and all is well. A few days later, I’m fired.