Dilettante 12: Beach Blanket Babylon

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Spectacle. It can be a need. Sometimes, the cheesier the better. Just bring on the ridiculosity.

My editor John Paczkowski, a scarily intelligent weirdo whose everyday disguise was an intimidatingly large jock’s body, agreed. In the late ‘90s Paczkowski was to make the Bay Guardian a vanguard presence on the Internet, which so far, the rest of us figured, was only good for email and Craigslist and maybe Citysearch.

We yet had little concept of the idea of hanging out in a virtual space all day long, sitting on one’s behind and reading instead of going around doing stuff in real life (a space called “IRL” now). We had no idea what was coming, but my online editor knew. We didn’t question him and felt it unwise to disbelieve him.

Paczkowski was given a small budget for online columnists and that’s how I broke out of the reviews and listings world into the title of COLUMNIST. So what if it was only online. I was a *columnist*.

That hadn’t taken too long either. Maybe a year and a half. First as an unpaid intern waiting tables at night, then part-time, then a little bit of overachieving for a different editor et voila! I moved up the ladder while those before me got picked off for more lucrative jobs at listen.com and other ultimately doomed pioneering “content” websites.

The newspaper was the real job, even if one had to side-hustle for supplemental cash and watch colleagues get paid twice as much in the burgeoning internet world. We in the newsroom observed the dot-com defectors among us exit the Bay Guardian, become corporate slave labor, and then find themselves to be unemployed ex-writers soon enough.

Working at the country’s oldest family-owned paper made me feel proud by association. By osmosis, I thought myself a badass once-removed. Or, more like an impostor who had somehow snuck in to see the magical inside of a hallowed process that makes democracy democracy.

These badasses in the cubicles around me were fighting dirty politics and extraction-energy industry monopolies while I was going through demo tapes and sorting endless art press releases into baskets on shelves for our listings system.

Then here comes the new action figure of an online (?) editor, who often politely hid his confoundment that nobody realized how important “online” was about to be. We couldn’t all think about that, not in the affable-but-constant din of a weekly paper on deadline.

So in between picking listings to preview or review, I learned to finagle free tickets for myself and the eternal plus-one friend to shows which would otherwise bankrupt a part-time journalist on a meager salary …and make a column of it.

This meant my plus-ones and I could attend concerts, search for dopamine and adrenaline hits via spectacle, AND save money. Truly, a lifelong dream was realized. Free shows and drink tickets! To Beach Blanket Babylon, even.

And thus, a dilettante’s hobby was born: Living the high life on a low budget.

So sometimes, if Beach Blanket Babylon offers comps, and you were never going to go otherwise, you sort of have to go.


Click through to read “Slouching Towards Babylon,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on 06.12.1998.

This is the 12th entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

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