You know, I’ve never baked a cake. I spent 19 years in New York without an oven. Now I’m back in Peoria and I have one. An oven, that is. I’ve decided to bake a cake tonight and be a little reflective and think about life and the cards that it deals you as the years fastly float on by
I’ve been living back here in Peoria for over six months now. It’s strange, a lot of days it feels like I never left.
When I moved from Peoria to New York on July 7th of 1993, I was so burned out from doing POP magazine for three nerve-wracking years, I couldn’t wait to get to New York and start a new chapter of my life where nobody knew who I was. I swore I would never publish another magazine in my life or do anything like that again. All I wanted to pursue was freelance writing. Write the copy, turn it in and then let some other ratfucker sweat out the publishing and printing details. I just wanted to be an anonymous writer. Most of you longtime readers know about POP magazine, but here’s a quick recap of how that whole journey into self-publishing a magazine went down.
From 1990 to 1993, I was the editor, photographer and one of the chief writers of POP magazine. I was constantly writing stories, thinking of story ideas, working on page layouts, taking photos, thinking of cover ideas, meeting with writers and photographers and getting their stories and photos, talking with people at Multi-Ad, where it was printed, having meetings with people at Illinois News Service who did the distribution and it just went on and on and on. Every day I would have lists of things to get done and people to call and meet and every day about half of it went undone, because I’d have to go into my third shift film stripping job at Fleming Potter, which paid my rent and bills. POP magazine certainly never did that, it bled money faster than a hemophiliac juggling razor blades.
Every day I was like an amphetamine-fueled hamster on a wheel running at a fast and furious pace and seemingly getting nowhere. For every thing that got done, two things didn’t. Every night a three to four month deadline got closer in the rear view mirror and I would be certain there was no way everything would get done in time. Towards the end of every deadline cycle, my nervous system would feel shredded and weird little nervous tics like my eyes involuntarily twitching would begin to happen. I was always tired, but it was hard to sleep knowing that so much work had to be done.
And then, the deadline morning would arrive, usually after a couple of nights that involved very little sleep and people coming and going in my apartment doing page layout and copy editing while I slept a couple hours before work. About five people had keys to my apartment and towards the deadline time, there was a lot of traffic moving in and out of my place, with me not knowing or caring who was coming in or out. People got used to seeing me in my underwear. All I wanted was finished pages and somehow they all got done. That was fucking nuts and a really weird way to live.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way
On the deadline morning, I’d take my hard drive over to Multi-Ad and I’d reluctantly surrender it to their production department, like a father giving his newborn infant to the Manson Family for safe-keeping. About a week later I’d get a blue-line proof of the issue and try to find all the typos and give them new pages. Then I’d wait another week and the magazine would be printed.
I would get the phone call and then I’d floor it over to Multi-Ad driving at a speed that would make a seasoned traffic cop blush like a 13-year-old girl playing her first round of spin the bottle. I’d plow through the double doors where people would be smoking cigarettes outside and ignore them saying hello to me. Once inside, I’d hightail it to the production department, grab a box of freshly printed magazines and sprint back to my car in the parking lot. Then I’d throw the box on the hood of the car, rip the top off and nirvana would be uncovered in front of my ever-widening eyeballs. I’d stare at the cover of POP in all of it’s CMYK glossy glory and then slowly and with great anticipation, I’d peel an issue off the top of the pile and start turning pages. I can’t explain to you the high that I got as I turned each page, but the addiction got worse with every issue. It always felt like I was looking at something that was delivered by Martians, because I couldn’t remember doing half of it.
The one thing I always thought was: “It’ll never get any better than this.”
But for three years it did.
And then all of a sudden it didn’t.
Late in the summer of 1992 I ran out of money. I had made a nice pile of dough from a game I’ve written about here, and I was making good money at Fleming Potter, but after three years of throwing piles of dough at a magazine that sold well, but was almost produced to insure no ad sales, I was broke. In more ways than one.
Then I found out I could cash in my union pension fund at Fleming Potter and get over twenty grand. That’s twenty fucking thousand dollars, folks! I’d been thinking I wanted to move to New York City and that money would stake me. I decided to cash in my pension fund and then sell everything I owned and move to New York. It was a really scary thing to do, but one lesson I’ve learned in life is that it’s more fun to walk straight into fear rather than to run from it. It's a better high. Trust me.
I had some really great times in my 19 years in New York City. I did something I swore I’d never do and that was start up a magazine again. The magazine was called fishwrap and it massacred and made fun of the mainstream media. It became a cult hit and it got nationwide distribution through a company in San Francisco called Big Top Publishing. It was sold nationwide and had an impressive 50% sell-through rate at newsstands and book stores. But once again, advertising was hard to come by.
Fishwrap got some decent publicity and positive write-ups in the New York Daily News, the NY Post, Men’s Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Sassy magazine and elsewhere. It had a seven year run and then I folded that in 2001. I was tired and September 11th took some wind out of my sails and I needed some time to cool out a little bit. Like POP, it was a lot of work, a ton of fun, but I never made money publishing it. In fact I lost about a thousand dollars every time I put an issue out.
After fishwrap folded, I wrote a couple of books that I’m proud of, but I couldn’t get publicity for them and they didn’t sell too well. The first was an adventure of traveling around New York and going to bars called "99 Beers Off The Wall." The second was a collection of true short stories entitled, “The Boy Who Would Be A Firetruck.” My friend, Joe Freedman, from LEAF pdx, designed both books and published “99 Beers Off The Wall,” and I thank him for his friendship and encouragement on both projects.
Next I tried my hand at blogging. I had one failed blog called The Marty Wombacher Show. It just didn’t work, I looked at what I had done wrong and then I followed that up with A Guy Walks In To 365 Bars. That one took off. The New York Daily News wrote a feature story about it, then the U.P.I. wire service picked it up and the story ran all over the world. Craziness followed. I was interviewed for the Australian version of the Today Show, tons of radio shows interviewed me and I was written up on hundreds of blogs. I started getting thousands of hits from all over the world every day. That blog ended after 365 nights at Mike’s Tavern in West Peoria. I was tired out of my mind and took a couple months off.
I did two more blogs after that, Marty After Dark and Tripping With Marty. I held on to the audience I had built with 365 bars and was grateful for that. Bogging became a passion and I found I really liked it and I covered and saw a lot of New York while blogging.
It’s funny, I never really felt like a real New Yorker. For 18 years almost every day I would think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m living here in New York City. This is the greatest city in the world.”
And then all of a sudden it wasn’t.
2012 wasn’t a good year for me. You have good years and you have bad years. 2012 was a bad year.
The pre-press place I had worked nights at for years in New York moved to Carlstadt, New Jersey (also known as, “the armpit of the world”) and I didn’t go. I didn’t want to battle a long commute and I was getting sick of working in the pre-press world, where I had toiled since 1980. Technology is killing that field of work and I wanted to find a different job that technology wouldn’t touch. I found out that there aren’t any of those kind of jobs left in New York City.
So after ten months of applying and looking for work that wasn’t there in New York, I moved back to Peoria.
I was scared because I knew that once I left my rent-controlled apartment in New York, there was probably no going back there, except to visit. But I felt like it was time for a change in my life, so I took a deep breath, held my nose and dove off the high dive back in to Peoria.
Within a week of moving back, I got an apartment, a drivers license, a car and most importantly, a job! I felt like I had won the lottery. I never blog about where I work, but I’m happy with the job and I’ve been working there almost six months now. It’s a great, local, family-owned company and I feel extremely lucky to have gotten this opportunity.
And then I started this blog on December 10th of last year and I’m happy and humbled by the audience its attracted. It’s been a ton of work, but two more tons of fun! I’ve met new friends and reconnected with old ones while doing this daily blog. Every day I have a new deadline and it feels just like it did when I was working on POP magazine way back in the early ‘90’s. I’m running in eleven different directions every day and there’s never enough time to get everything done. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s really strange, it feels like I never left. I’ve really been happy since I moved back here.
I don’t know, life is weird, you just never know what twists and turns are in store for you. I’m riding a good wave now, so I’m just trying to lean back and enjoy it in between my daily deadlines and my night job. I’m having more fun doing this blog than any of the others and I truly appreciate all of you wonderful and loyal people who follow it and read it on a daily basis. Along with the contributing writers and photographers here (thanks a bunch to you guys for your weekend work, I’m always blown away by what you do!) I’ll continue to try and put out a good show for all of you to enjoy here every day.
I woke up today and I’m 55-years-old. Like I said, life is pretty fucking weird!
Thanks again for reading. See you all tomorrow.