The City Paper once wasn't afraid to smell bad

Forum Extra

February 02, 1994|By Granville Greene

AS a former City Paper writer, I read Mary Corey's Jan. 23 article about the paper's recent editorial turnover with great interest. I was born, raised and educated in Baltimore, and my first job out of college was as a staff writer at the City Paper in 1985. Russ Smith was editor then, and my first assignment was to ride an elephant in the Ringling Brothers Circus parade and cover it for Rump, the CP's obnoxious gossip column.

In contrast to the City Paper's present, more corporate incarnation, when I was there the writers sat at beat-up old desks in a sticky garret office in Charles Village. The air was usually filled with second-hand cigarette smoke, and the walls were covered with dusty, quirky memorabilia, charting events in the paper's rise from slim artsy tabloid to fat alternative weekly. The most distinctive treasures of all, however, were to be found on a windowsill caddy-corner to my desk, where the associate editor, Phyllis Orrick, used to keep a vile collection of moldy coffee cups known as "The Girls."

While I'd be banging out Mobtown Beats and Rumps on one of the paper's junky old Kay-Pros, Russ and Phyllis would gross me out with a running commentary on The Girls' fashion show -- what perfumes they were wearing today, what their new mold outfits were like, etc. Of course, the more I, or anyone else, would protest even having The Girls in the office (they really smelled awful), the more adamant the two editors would be. Eventually I got used to The Girls, and as I came to know them, I also came to love them.

See, The Girls came to symbolize for me what the editorial policy of the City Paper was -- gritty, streetwise and irreverent, unafraid to smell bad and wear ugly clothes. During the two years I worked there, I could count on one hand the number of times I saw people from the business side dare to come upstairs, and if they did show their faces, they were filled with a mixture of fear, bewilderment and utter disgust. At the City Paper you didn't mess with The Girls. It was considered wiser to leave them to their own devices. That's why it was a great paper.

Eventually the City Paper was sold, and Russ and Phyllis went to New York City to start the New York Press. Meanwhile, the new owners of the City Paper did a wonderful thing by deciding to continue to leave the editorial part of the paper alone, and thereby stick to the formula which had worked so well. Senior writer Michael Yockel became the editor, and until a few weeks ago he was expertly keeping the old City Paper spirit alive in its colorful tradition as a provocative alternative weekly.

Then he was fired. Disrespectfully, he was given less than a day's notice, and the business side of the paper promptly propped up a new, inexperienced and (one would thereby assume) more malleable editor in his place. The next issue, the City Paper came out a day late for the very first time. The inner-office coup represents the death of the City Paper as Baltimore has known it, another great local institution down the drain like the Charles Theater. It looks like The Girls finally got thrown out. May they rest in peace. I always thought they had some real style.

Granville Greene writes from Baltimore.

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