"Do you do drugs?"
Things had been going swimmingly up until this point. I had never been asked anything like this on a job interview before, and wasn't quite sure how to proceed.
Oh sure, I'd know exactly what to say were I interviewing at, say, Wells Fargo. But this was a start up webzine, and one of the guys conducting the interview, R.U. Sirius, had written extensively and approvingly about drugs. Hell, the guy co-wrote a book with Timothy Leary. For all I knew, excessive LSD use might be a job requirement. Then again, what if he'd cleaned up his act? I looked at the two longhairs sitting across from me, waiting for my answer. I got the distinct impression that R.U., who was busy doodling on a piece of paper, wasn't paying attention.
"Um, you know," I mumbled, "I smoke pot now and then. I used to do a lot of other stuff, but that was when I was younger."
"So," asked longhair number two, a guy I would later come to know as Jeff Diehl, "are you carrying?"
Before I could give another mumbling, evasive response, Jeff told me he was kidding, and thanked me for coming in. A week later, he was my boss. Together with about seven other people, we launched GettingIt.com.
GettingIt was founded and funded by Al Hadhazy, who owns Webpower. Webpower is one of the larger porn companies on the 'Net (IFriends.net, Intimate Friends Network, SafeSexPlus.com, etc.) I was told that before he went into the online porn business, Al worked for Mutual Funds magazine, or its parent company. So he had some publishing experience; I have no idea how much.
Al hired Jeff Diehl, who used to work for Webpower and before that also did time at Mutual Funds magazine, to act as project director. Jeff hired R.U. as GettingIt's Editor in Chief. That's where I came in.
I was wrapping up a fellowship at Mother Jones' MoJo Wire, and wondering where the hell I was going to work next. There were (and are) an insane amount of journalism jobs in San Francisco, but most of them involve writing product reviews and other dreck for various vapid.coms that I had no desire to be a part of. But one day, I saw an ad on Craig's List, a Bay area hipster job board, describing a section editor position at a start-up Web magazine. It called for a subversive type with investigative skills to edit a tabloid/humor section at a well-funded start-up. That looked right up my alley. I saw R.U.'s name on the ad, and wanted in.
R.U. started Mondo 2000, which, along with Might and The Nose, was one of several really cool magazines being published out of San Francisco in the early- to mid-Nineties. I read Mondo a good bit when I was in college, and read a lot of R.U.'s work for Wired in the following years. I was a fan.
Andy Baio, who would become the site's art director and one of my best friends, joined GettingIt for similar reasons.
"I was one of those goofballs who closely followed the whole cyber-culture scene of the early Nineties," says Baio. "I devoured every issue of Wired magazine, started reading Suck on day three, and I'd had the Mondo 2000 'User's Guide to the New Edge on my shelf since 1992.
"So when David Pescovitz, a contributing editor at Wired, came to speak at one of my journalism classes during my last semester at UC Berkeley, I was immediately enamored by his hipster aesthetic. We talked by e-mail, and he told me about a cool start-up helmed by his friend R.U. Sirius."
If R.U. had been given complete control of that helm, things might have worked out differently.
I was told that Al was funding the webzine, or "project" as it was often and troublingly referred to, but that R.U. and Jeff were going to have complete editorial control. I was also told that, although there would be an erotica section, none of that would appear on the front page. I had my reservations about working for Al in any capacity -- I didn't want to become known as a smut peddler -- but those assurances were enough for me. And besides, I reasoned, even Salon has an erotica section. Or at least it used to.
We set out to be the deranged voice on the edge of the Net. A daily Web magazine whose primary mission was to run content that was different, fun and thoughtful. Or at least different. I looked at GettingIt like Salon if you took away the "news" and got all the stories well acquainted with cheap tequila. Or as Andy phrased it one day when we were kicking around the idea of taglines, "GettingIt: Like cancer, only funnier." Weird, fun stuff to read, that's what I thought we were all about. The idea seemed like a good one, and thanks to Al's largesse, it was doable.
The hours were long and brutish at first. Much to my dismay, I discovered that starting a new magazine, even if it is only on the Web, is hard work. It stretched my patience to the limit. Furthermore, Al kept pushing our launch date back. (I should point out, I never actually met Al. He would merely send email missives around periodically while steadfastly refusing to come to San Francisco and meet the editors who were blowing all his money. I thought of Al as Charlie without the speakerphone, or Robin Masters minus the cool estate in Hawaii.) It slipped from May to June to July, and every time it moved I lost more faith in the project.
But the money made it better.
We had tons of dough, and with it we brought in a lot of good writers. No, we didn't get Tucker Carlson or Christopher Buckley. But screw those guys; we didn't want them. Instead we had some heavy hitters of the counterculture writing for us: Illuminati illuminator Robert Anton Wilson, the aforementioned David Pescovitz, Grrl goddess Lydia Lunch, John Marr of Murder Can Be Fun, Andrei Codrescu of NPR fame, conspiracy theorist Robert Sterling, and my personal favorite to read, Ken Layne, publisher of the late, great Tabloid.net.
We also had people like Hank Hyena. Hank was insanely funny and would do -- and write about -- anything you asked. Literally, anything. The man drank his own urine for us one time. I thought he deserved a medal. Eric Umansky sent us a spectacular tale of his escape from East Timor as that country descended into chaos following the elections. Our editor David Cassel wrote what remains the definitive HamsterDance story. Another GI regular, Blag Dahlia, wrote fake celebrity diaries for us under a variety of pseudonyms. One of those fake diary entries later turned up on The New York Post's Page Six. Needless to say, we were thrilled.
But Al, our Charlie from Lake Worth, Florida, was keeping us in the dark. He prohibited all of us from talking to the media -- even our friends -- about GettingIt. Furthermore, he eschewed any and all promotion of the site. No advertising, no cross-promotion, no partnerships, nothing. He wanted us to grow by word of mouth. He did link to us from his porn sites, and it wasn't long before the Web logs found us and began linking to us. And on the strength of those links and our repeat traffic, we grew to have a little over 2 million page views per month. Or at least that's what we were told; PCData Online, a net traffic measuring service, reports that our best month, December 1999, got 786,000 page views, more than twice our next highest month. But whatever the number, this was proof that we were onto something.
Al (who you will recall was to have no editorial input) kept pressuring us to run more sex content. One email read something to the effect of "I want more sports and sex, politics and sex, music and sex, movies and sex SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX." Since we already had one section devoted entirely to erotica, I thought this was a ridiculous demand. But the guy's a pornographer, right? I should have suspected. Not long after that, there were penises popping up on the front page, and I was starting to want out. The thing was, you could never tell exactly what he wanted because he was alternately inattentive and detail-oriented. All I knew was that we were blowing a small fortune, and you can't do that forever.
On the other hand, I was getting to write about essentially whatever the hell I wanted to. Masturbating clowns, polygamist preachers, GodLovesFags.com, wrestling boot camp. I was interviewing and meeting all of these heroes of my youth like R. Crumb, Mike Watt and George Clinton. I was working with writers I read and liked. Plus, I was hooking all of my friends up with well-paying writing gigs -- we started at $.50 a word, which was pretty good for a webzine. But that was just our base rate; some of our writers were getting a lot more. We smoked dope and drank after work together. We heard rumors that Salon was nervously passing our daily story list around their editorial meetings. This was encouraging to me.
Moreover, it was a flat-out fun place to work. I'd roll in around 10 a.m. and sit down for our daily story ideas meeting with a cup of coffee. The meetings could be frustrating exercises in chaos, but also for that reason were incredibly entertaining. We had WWF finger puppets with which we'd thumb wrestle when someone began to drone on for too long. Or sometimes we would just throw stuff at each other like a bunch of monkeys (monkeys and midgets being the unofficial GettingIt mascots). It was like playschool, plus porno mags, music zines, and free electronics that came in the mail every day.
But Al continued to handcuff us. He seemed to be trying to keep us from boosting our traffic. More alarming was that we had no revenue coming in whatsoever, as he wouldn't let us put any advertising on the site. Everyone there was getting increasingly freaked out about our lack of publicity, how much we were spending, the whole scene. Finally I just had enough.
In late October of last year, I told Jeff and R.U. that I couldn't edit the "Whoa!" section anymore (and don't ask how we came up with the section names -- Whoa!, Crave, Dirt and Scope -- I think they're just as stupid as you do). I told them I was ready to leave. I was sick of working for Al, and constantly fearing that he could cut us off at any time. They (well... Jeff mostly) talked me into staying.
"I've known Al for a long time, and I have a lot of faith in him," Jeff told me. I didn't know Al, but I knew Jeff and trusted him. I knew he was sincere. They asked me to work part-time, three days a week editing the politics and sports stories. Most of the humor would fall in my lap as well. I accepted.
After about a month in that role, Al pulled the plug on the site. I think we all saw it coming to some extent. Maybe not right then, but we knew.
As one of the other senior editors, Paul McEnery said: "There weren't any guidelines from the publisher as to how to proceed. On the one hand, freedom. On the other hand, no goals, no targets, no budget to fulfill, no circulation to achieve. This was a whopping great sign that all was not well, nor would ever be well."
The Bitter End
This is how it happened. We all showed up for our Monday 10 a.m. meeting, and Jeff told us we were out of work. He had just found out himself, and looked haggard. Al's thoughtful explanation for all this apparently was, "my bad."
He did offer us a month's pay, and continued employment with Webpower, if we wanted to stay on and work in the porn industry. I did not. There was no way I was going to work directly for a porn company (a fine line, I know).
Nor was I going to mess with finding someone else to pick it up.
Today, Jeff actually owns the title and all of the content. But unless they can find someone to fund it again, they're dead in the water. There have been talks with RSub and some others about funding the thing, but I have not been involved.
So I have no idea where GettingIt will go, nowhere probably. It's a shame, because we were practically running a welfare program for San Francisco freelancers. Everyone in town was living off of the GI teat. The SF Weekly even ran a brief obit for us, pointing out that freelancers all over town were wondering where their next check was coming from.
I'm still looking for another edit job. A flirtation with yet another start-up after GettingIt folded convinced me that I need a job with a little more stability. I'm getting married in the fall, and I can't be continually wondering if I'll have a paycheck next week. But I'm equally convinced that GettingIt will remain the most interesting and fun place that I will ever work. And for that, I'm forever grateful to Al, Jeff, and R.U.
Note: This story originally appeared in the late great Green Magazine, and is reprinted without permission.