THE GUTTENBERG BIBLE.
(Note to reader: Do not worry. You have not missed the previous parts or episodes. The Service Industry will eventually entwine a number of somewhat related storylines, including those under the heading of The Chronicle of Man: The Magazine for Men and also those relating to The History of Her: The Magazine for Her. Overall, The Service Industry will unfold in a fun sort of way, akin to certain science fiction trilogies — that is, its episodes, due to an unfortunate but unavoidable lack of planning on the part of the makers of McSweeney’s, will be wildly out of order. But, like those science fiction trilogies, each episode will make sense no matter the chronology, and you will enjoy each portion immensely — though in this case without all that “Force-be-with-you” transcendental mumbo-jumbo. Because, you see, in the The Service Industry, there is no Force and there is no God. There is, however, a good deal of fumbling in the dark.)
Here we go.
James is wearing the outfit again. Black suit, no tie, baby blue button-down shirt with open collar over visible white T-shirt. It is about four months since the fashion cognoscenti have declared this look — particularly if worn, as James is doing, with the baby-blue button-down — haute passé, but James is sticking to it nonetheless. He has been sticking to it so tenaciously that he has for the past three months been wearing this outfit, with the black suit, the blue shirt, white T-shirt, not just once in a while, or even twice a week, but every single day. For a while it confused the other employees of Man: the Magazine for Men, because as cosmopolitan as they were, working in Manhattan and taking cabs to and fro, they had never before known a grown man to wear precisely the same outfit, each and every day, week in and week out. Then again, at Man: The Magazine for Men, they were committed to breaking new ground.
James, like a good deal of the current employees of Man: The Magazine for Men, had until six months ago worked across town at the magazine’s larger, more successful, archrival, Men: The Magazine for Man. Back then James had been an assistant editor, but when he jumped ship with a handful of other Men staffers, he was rewarded with a new title at Man — “Big Man” — created just for him. With the new title came a new aura of comfort, self-possession and purpose. Once balding, he had recently shaved his head. Always on the thin side, he had gained almost fifteen prosperous pounds. Usually a decent dresser, he had now stepped beyond the everyday almost-chic New York publishing-wear, and into this new, uncharted territory, a strange and mysterious land where one wears the same outfit each and every day. Yes, there was some initial snickering — “Is this some Guinness Book stunt? — but soon enough everyone had accepted it, assuming that James must be onto something. James was, after all, the man who more or less oversaw all of the magazine’s fashion articles, photo spreads and incisive lists of fashion do’s and fashion don’ts, so, after all, wouldn’t he know? And besides, the baby-blue shirt perfectly matched James’s eyes, and that was kind of nice.
James takes his seat on the corner of the room’s black leather couch as the rest of the staff files into the editor’s office. They are here for an “idea meeting.” Because John Thomas, the editor of Man: The Magazine for Men, feels it necessary to keep in touch with his staff, to pick their brains and keep the magazine humming with inspiration, he makes a point to hold one of these meetings at least once every three or four months. Sitting behind a simple glass desk, today John Thomas wants to talk about a few things.
“All right, today I want to talk about a few things. First, I want to do an issue about kids. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think the issue should be called ‘The Kids Issue.’ So I want everyone to think about what we think about kids, what we want to know about kids, what kids look like, what clothes they wear, if we like kids, if we care about them, all that. We’ll have some essays about kids, take pictures of some famous kids, the whole thing. Lots of big pictures. If we can, I’m thinking the Culkins for the cover — get em all together, Kieran, Kylie, Bilbo, Frodo, MacCauly and his wife, the little ones — all of em. It’d be huge.”
The assembled make notes on their Man: The Magazine for Men notebooks. Kids — like? dislike? — big photos — Culkins — huge.
“But first, we need to talk about the November cover.”
Tim, the features editor, lifts his head.
“Who’s going to be on that again?”
John continues: “So we need an idea. We have to come up with a concept for him.”
The room is silent.
“C’mon. Everyone was supposed to bring me ideas about this. Stephen sent me a few — thanks, Stephen. But we need more. What should we do with Steve Guttenberg? How should we shoot him? What should we write about him?”
Silence. Brows furrow. Erasers are put to lips. People are thinking hard.
“We have to figure out what we want to know about him. What do we want to know about Steve Guttenberg?”
Silence. Silence like the Vatican, 1941.
Bill, an associate editor, raises his pencil. John nods to him.
“Why was it, again, that we were putting Steve Guttenberg on the cover?”
John makes a disappointed face, then nods to Tony. Tony is in charge of “booking” the celebrities who are featured inside and on the covers of Man: The Magazine for Men.
“He’s got a new movie,” he says. “He wrote it, directed it, stars in it. I saw it at Sundance. Very edgy, good buzz. It’s like ‘Buffalo 66,’ but edgier. He’s going to be huge — sort of a cross between Donny Most and Harmony Korine.”
Satisfied, Bill makes a few notes on his pad.
Tony is part of the magazine’s inner circle, charged as he is with perhaps the magazine’s most important task: the booking of the cover models. It is Tony’s job to pore over the schedules of the year’s upcoming movie releases — graciously provided by the studios — and then dissect them, analyze them, scrutinize them, and then gamble on which movies, and which stars from those movies, will hit big. Once he finds an appropriate combination of hot movie and hot star, he starts down the long road of trying to get them to allow their face to occupy cover of Man. It is a grueling process, a process demanding prescience, patience, haggling, begging and bartering. To get Guttenberg, for instance, they had to profile Rick Schroeder, another client of the publicist. But you had to do what you had to do.
It was an important job, and sometimes its rich rewards made up for its long, hard trials. Lately, Man: The Magazine for Men was on a roll. There was the Steve Guttenberg cover — which they were sure would be huge. Before that there was of course the Tina Yothers cover, which garnered Man not one, or two, but three mentions on Page Six. Before Yothers, there was a string of smaller successes: In September, against a stark white background, Man featured the busty model Laetitia Casta, over which ran the now-famous coverline: “Hey, Are Those Tits Talking to Us?” In October, there was the Not-Hot, But-Very-Warm Black Actor Chris “Not Chris Rock” Tucker (who they shot playing basketball and for whom they were lucky to find a Black Writer to do the profile), and in November there was Bob Newhart, a personal favorite of the editor’s, who, after John’s prodding and much to John’s delight, penned a piece of short fiction called “Look, They’re Letting Me, Bob Newhart, Write Something in the Magazine that Used to Publish Hemingway and Mailer!” The only possibly off-note was the August issue, the Tony Randall cover, which featured the perhaps too cloying coverline “Just What Is Tony Randall Hiding? Is He Hiding Something? We Think He Might Be Hiding Something.” Sure, it garnered a slew of mentions in all the most important columns — Page Six, Rush and Malloy, Cindy Adams — but the fallout within Hollywood, which does not like the outing of its celebrities, was rough. That’s how they had lost the Gil Gerard cover.
But buzz or no, on the newsstand, Man was still fighting an uphill battle. Each month, about 600,000 copies of Man: The Magazine for Men were earmarked for distribution in bookstores and newsstands, but the sales, though improving, were still disappointing. Of the 600,000 copies that made their way into Border’s, Walgreen’s, Barnes and Nobles and WalMarts nationwide, they were lucky to sell over 1,500. The Randall cover, as hot as he was at the time, and as fascinating as a 5,000 word story about the sexual orientation of an actor obviously is, had sold a rather disappointing 58 copies. Something had to be done.
Guttenberg, they were hoping, might provide some newsstand heat. Booking him was a coup, of course, though after the initial euphoria, there was always the familiar problem: Now that we have him, just what are we going to do with him? How to photograph him? What to write about him? Should we play it straight? (Or might he, too, be gay?)
Because Man’s readers were (one assumed) literate, successful, professional, college-educated men in their mid-thirties, it went without saying that they wanted to know as much as possible about the inner lives of actors like Tina Yothers and Steve Guttenberg. Still, it was imperative to find ways to really get to know them. To take these actors and actresses and get beyond their screen personas. One two-pronged question, above all others, hovered over each prospective profile: a) In person, is this actor or actress like the characters they have played on television or film? Or b) Is this actor or actress different from the characters they have played on television or film? Daunting, sure, but a writer had a responsibility to find out.
“What should we do with Guttenberg? Should we take him somewhere? What?” As mild-mannered as he is, John is becoming impatient.
His impatience is understandable, given that in order to really get to know an actor or actress, it was necessary to plan something interesting. For Yothers, the writer had come up with something pretty ingenius — he took her to a restaurant, where they both had dinner and talked. For Randall, the writer had upped the ante — he had gone with Randall to his New York apartment and, later that same night, to a concert. The acme, of course, was Walter Faust’s piece about Anthony Edwards. In the interest of really getting to know Edwards, to find out just what it was that made Anthony Edwards, costar of a television show about doctors and of course the unforgettable supporting actor from “Revenge of the Nerds,” tick, he and Edwards had gone to the grocery store where Edwards had worked for three weeks as a teenager. They had spent fully 45 minutes there. They had even talked to the store manager. The idea was John’s, and the result was brilliant. Unforgettable. After it, no television watcher would ever see Edwards in quite the same way. When he read the piece, John had wept.
With the bar thus raised, and the stakes so obviously high, this Guttenberg cover had to be good. Man needed something extraordinary. John is trying to get everyone excited, but it’s not clicking.
“C’mon, what should we say about Steve Guttenberg?”
“C’mon, it’s Steve Guttenberg here!”
Silence like Dresden, 1945.
“What do people want to know about Steve Guttenberg?”
Silence like on a Jupiter moon.
Bill opens a window. Outside, the city hums, heaves. The heat of New York in July saturates the city’s colors, heightens its smells, colors, noises, oppressions. Horns, screeches of tires, angry people yelling, happy people yelling, the music of boom boxes, the din of boom boxes, the clicking of thousands of feet on pavement, the movement of a million lives.
“Close that window,” says James with an exasperated wave of his hand. “The air conditioning’s on.” He rolls his eyes, which match his shirt.
Inside, the staff of Man: The Magazine for Men look at their blank notebooks and doodle idly. They stare at the walls, thinking. These were important things to think about, so they are thinking hard. Their thinking caps are most definitely on. They look at the walls, but the walls are white, blank.
“We need some ideas,” says John.
Silence. Silence like the beginning of time.
C R E D I T S
James’s wardrobe: Suit: Georgio Armani ($3300), available at Armani, New York, Beverly Hills, Bal Harbour, FL. Baby-blue shirt: Donna Karan ($180), available at Saks Fifth Avenue nationwide. White T-shirt: Polo/Ralph Lauren ($76), New York, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.