Monday, July 7, 2014

Speaking of the ill, and dead: Charles Everitt

I just heard that Charles Everitt, who had a long career as a motorcycle writer, finally died the other day. Facebook being what it is, and my pool of FB friends being skewed towards motorcycle journalists, I couldn't help but see dozens of comments to the effect of "Godspeed, Charles".

Everitt was already on the backside of his career by the time Mitch Boehm hired him to work at Motorcyclist, in about 2005.

Motorcyclist had a small staff; Tim Carrithers had been there the longest thanks to a truly weird and deeply dysfunctional codependent relationship with Boehm. The art director, Todd Westover, had hung in there a while but he was a little insulated by the nature of being an art director; he didn't really have a dog in the fight when, as a bunch of writers, we debated the content of the book. Aaron Frank was a good guy whose personality may have been preserved because he worked at a safe distance out in Wisconsin.

But other than those guys, it was a revolving door. I replaced a previous short-timer named Peter Stark (not the billionaire industrialist of 'Iron Man' fame; some other Peter Stark.) I remember going for lunch one day and listening to Boehm slander Stark relentlessly. On the way back, riding up the elevator, Boehm mused about all the ways he could fuck the guy's career up, including making up lies he could spread. I was, like, "Mitch, you're talking about doing things that could get both you and the magazine sued, you know that, right?"

Toxic, eh?

Meanwhile, I was—despite being the oldest guy on the masthead—the new guy in terms of being a magazine staffer, and I could not believe how those fuckers managed to find the drudgery in such a fun job.

I guess the magazine was still a little understaffed (by all accounts it was very profitable at that time, and they could've afforded a larger, Cycle World-style payroll, but why?) Anyway, Boehm needed one more guy who could produce readable copy. "Who the fuck is this guy?" I wondered when Everitt arrived. He'd been shacked up, up in Portland, eking out a living writing motorcycle books; I didn't recall his days at bike mags going back to Cycle but I think he was often a managing editor, which is not a position that has a high exposure to readers.

So when he arrived, he was the oldest guy; older than me by, like,  a year. But he looked about 78. He had some kind of health problem, and I think part of his motivation to move down to L.A. and get an actual job hinged on getting health insurance.

Compared to Everitt, Boehm and Carrithers were a pair of regular Pollyannas. If there'd been a dark cloud over editorial meetings before he showed up, they were positively moribund afterward. Nihilist though he was, he was canny too; he realized that compared to the other magazines being published on our floor; Sport Rider, Motorcycle Cruiser, and Dirt Rider, Motorcyclist was now about half-a-man overstaffed. If I could be split from the herd, there'd be more salary to go 'round. He knew he had to act fast, too, since it was becoming apparent to readers that I was the only entertaining writer on the masthead and before long there'd be an outcry at my disappearance.

Plus, he just hated the fact that I was openly gay. By which I mean I was always happy to come into work; I never concealed the fact that I loved doing my job. (What did you think I meant?)

But seriously, folks, those three loved to whinge about how hard done-by they were. I probably shouldn't have chided them for it but I did, and I reminded them that the people we actually worked for—the readers—all had real jobs which were far worse than ours. In fact, most of our readers would have happily used their vacation days, and paid to do our jobs for a couple of weeks every year, while calling it the best holiday ever.

So, with some help from Carrithers, Everitt set out to alienate/shun me. No matter what story I suggested, his knee jerk reaction was, "We did that at Cycle." As if, thirty years later, you couldn't revisit anything.

We all proofread each others' stuff. The protocol was, if you found a mistake, you highlighted it and sent it back to whoever'd written the piece, but Everitt would excoriate me in the proofs, and then send them directly to Boehm, to make sure Boehm saw and noted every mistake I ever made before I could correct it. I thought, at the time, he might even have been sneaking into my office to edit errors into my copy.

Everitt wanted me gone at any cost to the magazine. There was a 'garage' section at the back of the book, and he convinced Boehm to sequester me back there. That way, they could keep me out of the personality and riding stories that I excelled at, and ensure I was working in my weakest area.

It didn't matter that at the time, Carrithers had had some accident and didn't really want to ride at all, and Everitt could hardly climb onto a motorcycle, so by locking me in the garage (so to speak) they basically ensured that all their riding stories were shit. But it worked for Everitt, because I had lots of opportunities to fuck up on technical details.

Not that he limited his attacks on me to technical errors. Once, in some 'garage' context I wrote about sitting in your garage, with your bike up on a workbench, just sitting looking at it while drinking a beer. I.E., something we all do, all the time. I mean fuck, doesn't every real garage have a small fridge just for that reason?

Everitt scrawled a huge note on that copy, to the effect that WE COULD BE SUED for suggesting that readers drink beer, even in the privacy of their own garage, while their bike was in pieces. Boehm sided with that opinion, and Everitt copy-edited 'beer' into 'a frosty beverage'. Eye roll. I pulled my name off that story, rather than have anyone think I'd choose so dated a turn of phrase.

Boehm sided with Everitt from the start. (I had earlier made the mistake of disagreeing with Boehm, which turned him off me.) Still, he must've been a little conflicted because one afternoon he suggested, "Why don't you go out for dinner with Charles tonight and get to know him?"

That was unappealing, but I figgered I had to. Charles was staying in a hotel near the office, and I arranged to meet him at his room, around six. He suggested that we have a drink there, before going out to eat. He then poured two drinks; at least ten ounces of Wild Turkey, or some fucking bourbon or other in large tumblers. He handed one to me; it was probably more hard liquor than I'd consumed, in total, in my life to date. He drank his as if he was actually trying to quench a thirst.

Before going out to eat, he opened a small suitcase of the type a starlet might use to carry a ridiculous quantity of makeup. The case was completely, completely full of prescription drugs. I'm talking like, a quantity of drugs you'd have if you were getting 'scrips from eight doctors at the same time. It was Johnny-Depp-as-Hunter-S-Thompson; he opened a few pill bottles and dumped several pills from each into the palm of his hand. Forget counting them—he was just kinda' eyeballing the size and color of the pile to regulate his dosage. He washed 'em down with my drink, rather than have it go to waste. He must've been at least 50% liver by weight.

It went downhill from there, although the next day at work, I ran into friend—who shall remain anonymous—who worked for one of the other magazines on our floor.

"As I was driving into work this morning," she told me. "I noticed this scruffy guy, shuffling along; he hacked and spat onto the sidewalk, and I was just thinking, 'What a horrible old man' as I passed him and realized it was Charles!"

By the time I realized how committed Everitt was to getting rid of me, it was too late. In hindsight, I should have taken him aside right at the beginning, kneed him in the balls as hard as I could or sucker-punched him in the solar plexus, and told him, "If you ever cross me, I'll kill you." But realistically, he was such a decrepit specimen that such a tactic might've left me facing a murder rap.

Within a month or two of Everitt's arrival, Boehm called me into his office. There was some HR bitch from our corporate overlords waiting in there, to fire my ass. It was a real, "big corporate" firing. She told me, "If you sign this form right now agreeing that you won't sue us, you'll get some nominal severance payment, but if you don't sign it, you'll just get paid to end of this pay period."

After I said, "No thanks" to signing away my right to sue, I learned that in the state of California, it's nearly impossible to sue for wrongful termination. Luckily, since I was a Canadian and they'd made all kinds of promises to employ me during the visa application process, I was able to sue for wrongful hiring. They settled out of court for a few grand, which was a moral victory and (I hope) made Boehm's life at least a little miserable, while he explained that to his bosses.

Looking back on it, as unpleasant a cast of characters as Boehm, Everitt, and Carrithers were, I loved my Motorcyclist gig. Walking down into the garage under the Death Star building on Wilshire, and picking a set of keys off the rack; choosing any one of a dozen cool new bikes to ride... that had somehow gotten old for those bitter bastards, but I reveled in it. I'm still bummed when I look back on the sorry end of my brief career as an actual magazine staffer.

It was a funny thing, about life after Motorcyclist. When I worked there, the only magazine Boehm openly plundered for ideas was the UK magazine Bike. We literally handed the latest issue around the table at editorial meetings. Yet a few days before he fired me, I'd made some suggestion for a story that was 'Bike-ish'. Boehm angrily said, "If you like those British magazines so much, why don't you go work for them?" And indeed, after he fired me, I made a living writing features for Bike, and ended up getting a regular gig as a columnist in Classic Bike.

I guess at this point, what you want to read is how, in hindsight, I've come to realize that poor Charles was a sick old man, who desperately needed a salary and health insurance; that he must've been in pain and was obviously multiply addicted. And how a few years later the magazine business went in a death spiral anyway, so my 'career' as a full time motorcycle journalist was bound to end even without Charles' help.

You want to read that in the fullness of time I've come to realize that everything worked out OK, and that I've buried the hatchet.

Fuck that.

I don't know if Everitt was always an asshole, but I know he was always an asshole to me. I should be careful saying, I hope he rots in hell, because if there is a hell there's a good chance that I'm in for a mighty uncomfortable afterlife, too, for reasons that have nothing to do with my time at Motorcyclist.

Besides, if there's a hell, Everitt's already sucking up to Satan and will ensure that I get a terrible assignment down there!

So I'll just leave it at Godspeed, Charles.


9 comments:

  1. Interesting take on a heartfelt good bye. It is nice to see someone saying what they really feel about people. On a side note I don't think I will ask you for a reference in getting a freelance job. Seems although I enjoy your writing maybe some bridges are not just burned but blown to smithereens.

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  2. There was no bridge to burn or blow up.

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  3. Interesting. I recall reading CE's musings as I have devoured every non-cruiser US bike rag since the 80s. Just read Dean Adams obit, he swears he's the cat's meow. But I have heard stories about Adams as well, so it figures.

    Full disclosure, I own Riding Man, book and DVD, so I'm obviously a man of good taste and high moral standards. Also recall OP's writings for RRX

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    1. I'm fairly certain that if you ask Dean Adams, he'll tell you that I'm an asshole. Though in my limited defense, I'm also fairly certain that I've never met Dean Adams.

      BTW FWIW, after publishing this story, I got a long email from a very experienced motorcycle journalist (who must remain anonymous) who wrote to tell me, basically, "Good on you for telling it like it was; those guys *were* douchebags."

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    2. Mark, it's too bad your experience with Motorcyclist wasn't now. Ari Henning and Zack Courts are among the nicest, most talented, fun people I know. And Aaron Frank survived the negativity. I know Kevin Hipp less well, but he seems like a real good guy, too. The magazine has turned around.

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    3. I've met Ari, and I thought he was a good addition. They say a fish rots from the head; maybe the problems I experienced during my short time at Motorcyclist all started at the top.

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  4. whoa, are we allowed to write stuff like that out loud. Great piece. Cruel but great...

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    1. Thanks man. I guess you know what it was like. So I'll take "cruel but great" as an informed compliment.

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    2. Charles, bless his heart may he rest in peace, was yet another Paul Dean acolyte, hired on at Cycle Guide and steeped in the tradition that correct punctuation is the most important thing. He wasn't that crusty when we worked together during Cycle's death throes in the early '90s, but he wasn't always a ray of sunshine either, like I was. Hah! Anyway, I had to agree with the guy who broke the news of his demise to me: He's probably way happier now. Godspeed, Tuna.

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