Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tale of a Wasted Youth, Part One

News comes from afar (OK, I read it on my laptop) about the demise of the Boston Phoenix. The late great alt-weekly was not alt enough for the 2010s. Its wise-ass editorial attitude was no match for multitudes of snarkmeisters on the blogosphere. Its advertising dollars migrated to Craigslist and a whole roster of Boston area web sites.

As is the case with most alternative newspapers, the Phoenix rose out of the sixties counterculture in 1966. Its rock-and-roll soul made it a must-read for a 21-year-old college dropout like me who was trying my luck in the big city. On my way home from my night-shift hospital job, I would drop a quarter in some longhair's palm to claim my weekly copy. It was fat with articles and music listing and bar ads and personals.I would take it back to my shabby walk-up on the cheap side of Beacon Hill (there was such a thing in 1972) and devour it while sipping a pre-Starbucks coffee and scarfing down a few doughnuts. Articles covered local politics, the antiwar movement, music, drugs, food and a 1,001 other topics.

 I'd read a variety of alternative papers during my cross-country travels: Atlanta's Great Speckled Bird, the Village Voice, the Berkeley Barb, and others whose names I can't remember. They were a refreshing change to the stodgy daily papers with their reliance on the 5 Ws and deference to all sides of an issue. Phoenix writers took a stand on the left (or at least the iconclastic) side of most issues which was just fine with me. After a lifetime of Catholic school and two years of college ROTC, I was fairly new to the counterculture. I wanted to roll around in it. I was openly living in sin with a wild Protestant girl namd Sharon, growing my hair long, smoking pot whenever I felt like it and reading alternative weeklies from cover to cover. I was hauling around bedpans at night at a local hospital, but a guy had to make a living. As soon as Sharon and I saved up enough, we were hitting the road again. At least that was the plan.

I lived in Boston from August through March. I read every issue of the Phoenix and its cousin, the Real Paper. I briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a nurse. My boss thought I was pretty good at hauling bedpans and wondered if I'd like to pursue a higher calling of administering enemas and starting IVs. She said the hospital would pay for it.

Unfortunately, the Phoenix was ruining me. I'd always wanted to be a writer but didn't know how to start. First the nuns and then the U.S. Navy said I should major in something practical, something in the sciences. Medicine, for instance. Or marine biology. But after a steady diet of wise-assery courtesy of the Phoenix and then Rolling Stone, I started writing in a journal. I made pithy observations. I recorded snatches of conversation overhead in local bars. I began to chronicle the break-up of my relationship with a wild Protestant girl who wondered why I was spending so much time scribbling in journals. She finally packed up and went back to school at UConn, leaving no forwarding address. I packed up my journals and Phoenix copies and headed back to Florida. It took me awhile to actually publish something. I then started writing feature stories for the Independent Florida Alligator in Gainesville. I free-lanced for some regional and national mags. I graduated and went on to write sports for both Denver dailies and then manage a weekly alternative newspaper called Up the Creek that got its start as an advertising sheet from suburban softball leagues and saloon-sponsored wet T-shirt contests. I wrote a wise-ass column and features about street gangs and local politics and religious cults and sports. I had a small staff of good writers, although they didn't stay around long. It wasn't the Phoenix but, hey, you take what you can get.

I publish short stories and essays in literary magazines. I've written more than my share of press releases and business articles. I've been prog-blogging since 2005. I can't say I have hordes of devoted readers. But I write what I want. I believe it was A.J. Liebling who said this: "The free press belongs to those who own one."  I don't own Blogger but I do lay claim to my little part of the blogosphere. I provide an alternative voice within the Wyoverse. I could fold at any time. But it won't be due to stodginess or lack of advertising. One day, I may just decide to fold up my tent and go home.

Thanks for the memories, Boston Phoenix. I haven't read you regularly in 40 years. But just knowing that you no longer exist makes a hole in the creative universe.

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