“They have a saying in Latin America, “It’s better to die standing than to live crawling,”‘ said Sandra Aponte.

They have a saying here too. “Take the money and run.”

Or from the boss’s point of view–“Throw a few dollars at your problem, and it goes away.”

Hush money is by now a routine part of cleaning house. Summon the doomed minion, write a check, and announce it’s his if he signs a contract swearing he’ll never sue, never divulge trade secrets, and never say a word to a reporter against the horse’s ass who sent him packing.

Usually the figures on that check–along with the laughable cover story about “pursuing other options” and the shameless letter of recommendation–compel silence. But the figure offered to Sandra Aponte by WGBO, Channel 66, where she’d worked just a few months, was $2,134.80. Instead of signing the “separation and general release agreement” they gave her, she blew off the money.

Last week’s Hot Type told how Jacqueline Gallardo, news director of WGBO, abruptly disappeared from the station after airing a feed from Havana that her Cuban-born general manager deemed “unbalanced.” Aponte, Gallardo’s assignment editor and ally, was fired a few days later.

Aponte says that when she went in to settle up, business manager Fran Baker had three checks waiting for her. The first two, totaling about $1,000, were for back wages (Aponte thinks she had $1,500 coming, but she grudgingly took what they offered). The third check was hers if she signed the agreement.

“I’m sorry, but the way I see it this is blackmail,” Aponte says she told Baker. “You’re bribing me for my silence. You’re buying me out of my constitutional rights. They’re not for sale, and if they were they wouldn’t be for this amount.”

Aponte scratched out the $2,134.80 on the agreement, wrote in $30,000, and handed it back. She wanted to see how the station would react to that. “I don’t think so,” she says Baker told her.

If she had signed Aponte would have been agreeing never to sue Univision, the Spanish-language network that owns WGBO, for anything whatsoever, dating “from the beginning of the world to the date of this Agreement, including specifically by way of description but not by way of limitation, any and all claims” arising from her job or the loss of her job or “based on local, state or federal sex, race, color, national origin, marital status, religion, physical handicap, mental condition, or mental handicap discrimination laws.”

She would have been agreeing never to disclose to anyone “any written or oral information relating to the operations of Univision” that was not already generally known. And most significant, she would have been agreeing “never to disparage, slander, or otherwise defame Univision, or encourage others to do so.”

Think of that as the do-your-stewing-in-silence clause.

Aponte says she snatched the agreement out of Baker’s hand and ripped it up. “She said she understood my position and she was sorry. I said this was bullshit. I said I’ve seen people a heck of a lot higher than she was resigning their position when they see something that is unfair.”

But Baker wasn’t that sorry. “I had sympathy for her being terminated so soon,” she told me. “And that was about it.”

Baker also said that Univision uses the separation agreement routinely. Antonio Guernica, the general manager who’d fired Aponte and then told Baker what to offer her, had no comment.

“I felt poor,” says Aponte. “I felt desperate. I was walking away with a little over $1,000 and no employment possibilities for the near future. But at least my integrity, I believe, is intact. If I didn’t allow any kinds of bribes when I was hired as a journalist, why should I accept a bribe from my employer? I mean, I take what I do as more than a job–it’s a career. I don’t care who it comes from–a bribe is a bribe.”

Rosenbaum Gets Mellow

You’d probably buy Jonathan Rosenbaum’s new book, Placing Movies, for his film criticism, which has run since 1987 in the Reader. But you’d also get his life. Rosenbaum continues the process of self-revelation he began in 1980 with Moving Places, his memoir of growing up with celluloid. (His father managed his father’s string of movie theaters in Alabama.) Film criticism is a social act, Rosenbaum writes, and readers of his critical essays should understand their “sources, circumstances, and functions.” In short, how the weather was inside his head.

Recalling his regular work for Film Comment in the 70s, he writes that his “personal-confessional” mode of writing led to “a certain intolerance and belligerence that probably reached its shrillest level in my “London and New York Journal.”‘ He confesses that “the philistinism and xenophobia that seemed to me on the rise in New York film criticism often sent me into intemperate rages.”

Placing Movies supposes that Rosenbaum’s review of Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H–“Of course, one can understand Pauline Kael believing this to be a great work of art, just as one can understand many American intellectuals believing that Kael is a great aesthetician. Given the right sort of climate and training, anything’s possible, even the Nixon administration and snuff movies”–alienated both Truffaut and Kael. And the book notes that it was about this time that Andrew Sarris alluded in print to his “boringly relentless pugnacity.”

Rosenbaum writes that his 18 months at Soho News were “the period when my writing was most contentious as well as combative.” During this period Moving Places was published, “a formative experience that undoubtedly made me more assertive, especially once it became clear to me that the attention I had hoped the book would get was not forthcoming.”

Placing Movies remembers Wallace Shawn, a boarding-school classmate who’d asked to read Rosenbaum’s first novel. (None has yet been published.) “But when it came to getting his responses, I had to go around to his family apartment to see if he was there rather than phone him, because he refused to give me his phone number.” So it was that his unfavorable discussion in Soho News of Shawn’s My Dinner With Andre contained the razory “I’ve known Wally Shawn intermittently over a 22-year period, and he’s just about as nice as anyone can possibly be to someone he regards as a social inferior.”

Rosenbaum lays his dismissal from Soho News in large part to “the cumulative effects of my combativeness in print.”

The good news, he writes, is that his job at the Reader is not only the one he’s held longest but “the most satisfying.” He believes (correctly) that “my knowledge of film actually played some role in my being hired. Strange as it seems, this has rarely functioned as a criterion for the hiring of movie reviewers on American or British papers.” And after describing the “steady feedback” he receives here, he reports, “I feel like a respected member of a community–something I’ve experienced comparably in my career, and to a lesser degree, only when I was in London in the mid-1970s. It’s a very nice feeling.” Yesteryear’s furies have mellowed into a tolerable prickliness when he’s being copyedited.

“The idea,” Rosenbaum told me, “was to make it a textbook on film criticism for people getting into it and try to explain what some of the conditions of writing criticism are.

“I think the level of sophistication in New York criticism is much lower than you find in other major U.S. cities–though I get along very well in New York now that I’m not there. I’m thinking of places like New York magazine. The Village Voice is a very mixed bag–one can find very good and very bad things there. I think there’s a certain kind of xenophobia against foreign films you can find in David Denby–that kind of thing. It has to do with New York being an island, and if it hasn’t happened there it hasn’t happened. It’s a provincialism.”

He also believes there’s more of a community of critics in Chicago, where most of the writers who show up at screenings know each other, than in New York. He says New York once had a community, but then Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael “became stars. When critics become stars critical discourse becomes a nightclub act. Sarris and Kael became not individuals but positions. They became power bases. It was no longer about having critical positions but about scrambling for jobs.”

Yet now the stars are a couple of Chicago guys.

But this is different, says Rosenbaum. “Sarris and Kael represented intellectual positions in opposition to each other,” one the auteurist and the other the antiauteurist. “Roger and Gene don’t represent critical positions. When they disagree about things one doesn’t feel they’re coming from ideologically different positions.”

What do Ebert and Siskel represent? I asked.

“Consumer advice,” he said. “In the case of Sarris and Kael it was a particular time when film criticism was becoming a more important thing, when academic film studies was starting. Sarris was taken over by academic film studies. Kael was not taken over by academic film studies. But the only institution important with Siskel and Ebert is the institution of television. Or the institution of mass media.”

Damski’s Back

Jon-Henri Damski is back in print. Fired last month by Windy City Times, where his ten-year-old column was deemed archaic, Damski returned this week in Outlines’s gay-and-lesbian-pride issue. The same column also can be found in Outlines’s weekly entertainment guide, Nightlines, which in early July will begin carrying Damski every week.

Damski says publisher Tracy Baim was never a big fan of his column, but she’s picked him up because it’s good business. That’s fine with them both. “It doesn’t matter whether I am [a fan] or not,” Baim told me. “It matters that he has a community out there that reads him. He’s got a unique voice, that’s for sure. Among people I respect, when they say Jon-Henri was the only thing they ever read in Windy City, that means something to me. He probably had a wider female readership than most male columnists in town. He never took a sexist or male approach to his writing. He was very inclusive in that regard.”

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