Babble Hushed

The ad in Babble read: “BE A MODEL don’t just look like one. Babble Mag needs modelers of all flavors n’ scents for upcoming shoots. Send non-returnable snaps.”

The snaps poured in, and Babble found itself with more pictures than it knew what to do with. But 14 months ago Chicago’s insouciant gay weekly came up with an idea. It produced a 12-page parody of a modeling agency’s “book.” It ran the pictures. It used real names. It cooked up profiles that made everybody sound ridiculous.

Donna Marie: “Hobbies: Decopage, crackle plaques & imported hand guns…. Nickname: Maria Luisa Francisca de Concepcion la Verga Muy Grande.”

Tom Loerch: “Hairs: Neatly trimmed/naired. Shoes: En pointe. Hobbies: Modelling and flogging.”

Curtis Blankenship: “Hobbies: Rogaine & hats…. Nickname: Biff the bouncing bottom.”

Another “model” was A.J. Bruno, seen posing with family, also seen posing alongside the Stars and Stripes in the uniform of a naval lieutenant commander.

“Height: don’t ask,” wrote Babble. “Weight: don’t tell…. Hobbies: masturbation & modelling.”

Bruno didn’t laugh. Alleging that he’d suffered “personal contempt, ridicule and humiliation” and been driven “to seek psychiatric counseling,” he went to court. This week Babble announced that Bruno’s suit had driven it out of business.

Bruno would not comment on what may be a hollow victory. Having lost the case by default for failing to respond to Bruno’s suit, Babble owes Bruno $100,000. But “Malone,” Babble’s publisher, told me he and his magazine have only $4,000 in now-frozen assets, though a collection agency is hunting for more. Malone insists he could have prevailed in court–Bruno sent him the pictures, after all–but was done in by lawyers. “See, I’ve gone through eight lawyers,” he explained. “See, I’m swimming in this legalese. I can’t get a lawyer who can work with me financially. So I’m dissolving it. They can take the money that’s frozen in the account. I just want to get rid of it.”

Some Babble readers tell a different story. They say Malone intends to reorganize and resume publishing almost immediately under a new name. Malone wouldn’t comment. He refused to look farther ahead than this Thursday, when he was expected in court with an inventory of Babble assets. “I’m going in without an attorney,” he told me. “The attorneys I talk to all say not to–they’re going to screw me. But fuck them. They wouldn’t work out any kind of an arrangement for payment. Obviously you have to be a rich man to help yourself in court.”

Patrick Reardon’s Clean Little Secret

September 12:

After a meeting in one city, I drive two hours to another for three more meetings.

That night, I laze in the hotel’s sauna. I luxuriate in the whirlpool. I take some desultory turns around the pool.

Loneliness isn’t so bad sometimes.

Books by reporters swiftly make the rounds of the newsroom. The authors preen, and colleagues profess their admiration and envy.

Urban-affairs writer Patrick Reardon has just published a new book, and he’s been uncommonly diffident about it at the Tribune. Do you suppose, I asked him, that too many people around the paper would be dismissive?

“Well, yeah,” Reardon said. “They wouldn’t be mean to me directly, but they wouldn’t understand where I was coming from. Religion is such an odd subject in newspapers. We never know how to handle it. The idea of faith is hard to understand among reporters. By nature reporters are skeptical, and skeptics by definition have a hard time with faith.”

Reardon speaks of religion, though Daily Meditations for Busy Dads, his paperback from ACTA (Assisting Christians to Act) Publications, is more spiritual than overtly religious. He’s written homilies for each day of the year–some of them celebratory, some bittersweet. There’s also the obligatory scripture on every page that draws obvious morals from Reardon’s ambiguities.

February 10:

I saw my father put on the uniform of a policeman for 33 years. When he’d come home, he’d wrap his gun and holster belt into a neat ball and store them in a locked drawer.

My son sees–what?

My briefcase? My story in the newspaper? Me on the telephone, talking to the office?

What will he recall of me when he looks back?

The question’s tinged with Christian existentialism. “I’m always examining my Christianity, my Catholicism, my faith,” Reardon told me. “It’s the whole thing of the examined life, of believing in the reality of my faith but always testing it, always trying to figure out the unfigurable.

“Part of the strength I have as a reporter is a faith in people that balances my skepticism. But it does make for a difficult time to balance those two poles in my personality.”

Many of Reardon’s meditations are written in the first person. Occasionally he disguises himself in the third person, but more often his third-person observations draw on other men he knows. Men from the city room? I asked. “Obviously, some of it,” he said. “But I have a big life outside the city room.”

Not every reporter does, I said.

“Well, I know. I think I focus on that–people focused on work and not having time for their families.”

October 22:

He has been overlooked. Again.

The bosses fawn over the hot prospect. They’re over-awed by the pompous veteran. They’re blinded by their own ideas.

He is ready to chuck it all–if he could live without the salary…and the benefits…and the joy he gets deep inside when he does his work well.

“It’s easier to send someone off to anywhere if they don’t have to check with their wives or have to worry about child care,” Reardon told me. “It so happens I’ve been able to make a good career here…” But he might have soared higher.

“There are going to be opportunities missed. Other people are jumping in and taking them, and they’re being viewed as successful, they’re being viewed as winners. And you’re being viewed as the guy who went home to his kids. There’s a kind of envy. But a lot of the time movers and shakers who don’t have that to come home to are looking at you with envy as well.

“If it wasn’t for the family I would be working 15-hour days and probably have moved up in the organization, but I would have burned out and be babbling in some nursing home somewhere. News is fun and news is interesting and news is important. But if that’s all you do all the time there’s a big emptiness there.”

September 8:

The best thing a father can do for his children is to love his wife.

The Prosecution Never Rests

If good has come of the O.J. Simpson trial–and a Pulitzer awaits the first journalist to find any–perhaps it’s hidden in the statement of ethics offered by Marcia Clark.

The popular view once had it that the great thing about being a prosecutor was the free hand you got to rain contempt on the defendant. While every other officer of the court kept up the pretense of innocence, you thundered with wrath on loan from God. Torquemada and Saint-Just were among your colorful predecessors. When the good book cautioned, “Vengeance is mine…saith the Lord,” you reflected, yes, but the Lord can’t do it alone.

But in her closing argument Clark said differently. “I know what the ethical obligations are of a prosecutor,” she told the jury. “I took a cut in pay to join this office because I believe in this job. I believe in doing it fairly and doing it right, and I like the luxury on any case of going to the judge and saying, ‘Guess what, your honor, dismiss it, it’s not here.’

“Ladies and gentlemen, I can come to you and I can say, ‘Don’t convict. It’s not here.’ I have that right. I have that luxury. This job gives me that luxury. It doesn’t give me a lot of money but it gives me that luxury. I can get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and say I tell you the truth. I will never ask for a conviction unless I should, unless the law says I must, unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on credible evidence.”

This may not have been a lie on the order of Mark Fuhrman insisting he was not a bigot, or LA cops insisting they swarmed warrantless over Simpson’s property the night of the murders in order to protect him. But it was poppycock.

“Are you nuts?” any juror still listening must have thought. “You expect us to believe that after nine months of this goddamn trial you could possibly look us in the eye, and say, ‘Guess what! Don’t convict him after all. It’s not here.’ And that since you aren’t saying that, he must be guilty! You betcha–and crows fly backward!”

The impressive thing about prosecutors has always been their solipsism. If they’re not prosecuting suspects because the suspects are guilty, then the suspects are guilty because they’re prosecuting them. When DNA tests cleared Gary Dotson (after his supposed rape victim cleared him) Jim Thompson said he still believed Dotson did it. When an appellate court threw out the conviction of David Dowaliby, State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley said, “I don’t think murderers should be out on the streets of Cook County” and tried to keep him in prison anyway. No matter how many times the conviction of Rolando Cruz is overturned, Du Page County prosecutors keep cranking it up and trying him again. The faith of prosecutors in human guilt is wondrous to behold.

I’d always supposed it was up to judges and juries to save inquisitors from the darker devils of their own natures. Until Clark spoke it had never occurred to me that the chance to admit a mistake might be the fun part of the job. The big perk. But however unbelievable Clark’s sentiments, they sound very much like a credo. Her profession is now on record insisting that it willingly, happily changes its heart when the evidence isn’t there. An ounce more commitment to this public pledge, and a dubious acquittal will have achieved more than dismally poetic justice.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.