A call I won't return

Here's an odd message on my voice mail from J Peter Zane, who identifies himself as a reporter for the New York Times. Says he's doing an article on zines, he's read a copy of Pathetic Life and thinks it's "brilliant," wants me so send him more issues, and then he'd like to interview me. "Here's my number at the Times, please give me a call…"

A little publicity would be nice, sure. If I had a few hundred more subscribers, I could retire from handing out flyers. It's never smart to start by kissing my ass, though — if this zine is "brilliant," I'm Thomas Pynchon, and I'm not Thomas Pynchon.

And he wants me to mail him more zines? What, am I the zine fairy? They're three bucks a copy. I've sent a few freebies to prisoners who asked nicely, but Mr Zane isn't behind bars. 

And he wants me to call him, long distance, but he doesn't say, "Call me collect?" 

And then there's my complaints about journalism in general. Sorry, I assume they're trying to do good work, but reporters get things wrong. I've been reading the daily papers since I was a kid, and whenever a particular article concerns anything I know about first-hand, it always includes an error or two. Always.

When the former principal at my grade school died, the newspaper said he'd been the principal at a different school, across town. Wrong. When they did a human-interest blurb about my mother's big family reunion, they said it took place at Linden Park, but there is no Linden Park; it was at Lincoln Park. When the various layoffs at Macy's made the news (which was rarely), the body count was always less than the actual body count (and of course, only management sources were quoted, never ever a worker). Absolutely always and without exception, there's at least one misstatement of fact in every news item where I've known the facts.

Extrapolate that over the vast majority of news coverage where I don't know squat about the facts, and at the very least, everything in the newspaper should be read with a skeptical eye.

If I called Mr Zane on my nickel, sent him a stack of back issues, and answered his every question, he'd probably still spell my name wrong, misinterpret my psychosis, and forget to mention the zine's address, so nobody could even send for a copy. 

Is the New York Times better than that? Everyone says it's the best paper in America, but I subscribe to a zine, Lies of Our Times, that does nothing but list what the New York Times gets wrong, and it's a lot.

None of that is why I won't return J Peter Zane's call, though.

There's a zine called Notes From the Dump, written by the brilliant Terry Ward. In that zine, Terry mentioned — months ago — that he got a call from the New York Times, asking similar questions.

Terry called back, did the interview, answered a dozen questions, wrote about it in his zine, and months later no article has appeared. It doesn't take four damned months to write an article about zines.

J Peter Zane, I smell a fart in the room, and I haven't cut one myself.

♦ ♦ ♦

Toward the back of the shop, there's what we call the Risqué Room. A sign over the door says, "No kiddies allowed." Inside the room is a small assortment of recycled porn and antique sexual devices.

Today Stevi asked me to apply a coat of Scotch Gold protective varnish to several exquisitely carved wooden dildos. As I greased up each of them, wiping it gently, slowly until it glistened, I thought, Yes indeedy, here's something I know how to do. I've had years of training toward this day.

♦ ♦ ♦

When Stevi sent me out to the sidewalk, I wore the green blouse and skirt again, and she let me add a blonde wig to enhance my feminine mystique. Seeing myself in the mirror, I said out loud, "I'm kind of a dumpy-looking woman."

"So was I," Stevi said and laughed. "So was I," and I'm not even sure what that means.

I suppose a bearded fat man in a skirt and wig wouldn't be wanted in front of most boutiques and antique shops in most cities. San Francisco isn't most cities, and Unusualia isn't most shops.

From Pathetic Life #11
Thursday, April 27, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2022: Curiosity got the better of me as I was retyping this, so I Googled around and found Mr Zane's article about zines in the online archives of the Times

I ranted here about journalism in general and predicted that he'd misspell my name, so decorum demands I confess that he spelled my name correctly... but I misspelled his name in my zine. It's J Peder Zane, not J Peter Zane.

Pathetic Life regrets the error.


  1. Jesus, reading stuff normies write about zines is fucking painful.

    1. For what it was, written by one of 'them', the article wasn't awful — but why no addresses? No addresses! What the hell is wrong with J Peder Zane, to include no addresses, when pre-web a mailing address was the only way to snag a zine?

      I may have changed my mind and spoken to the reporter — I'm wondering, but I don't remember. If I did, it's something I'd mention in the zine, so I'll reveal the answer to myself when I get to that page — but if I did, I told him what I always told everyone who ever asked about zines: You have to include an address.

      What a putz.


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