In my early college years, Herb Chase, a man who was kind to me in many ways over the years, hired me to help layout ads for his paper, the Independent Journal, in Santa Monica. The paper was laid out on boards, photographed and reduced to 70% and sent to press. I liked the work, appreciated the money, and the hours worked perfectly for school: Tuesday nights from 4pm til about 3am.
The paper, mostly ads, had filler that was written by the various sales people. One of the columns was hacked weekly by a just-past-prime-time beauty named (I think) Rhonda LaRue, or something close to that. Rhonda wore leopard skin high heels, sported a low neckline, and could sell ice to Eskimos, but she could not put two words together. After the umpteenth time I edited her, I offered to write her column and she jumped at it, paying me $25 a shot. Now, the concept of this column was that it was written by Fifi (I swear) her poodle and it reported on the news around the Marina Del Rey, which was just getting rolling south of Venice. Thus, each week she would give me bullet points of what I was to mention and then I would don my Fifi voice and report on all of the sales and shops and wonders of Marina life. Fifi evidently got rave reviews, as Rhonda soon approached me to write, under a non de plume that I cannot recall, an “around town” column on Westside nightlife. Again, she would give me bullet points of which places to feature, the owners, the specials, and who was on piano and I would, never having set foot in the place, write a column. It went like this:
Hey, stopped into Charlie Brown’s last night to catch their new sirloin special. Billy was rocking the keyboard as he does each Friday and the place was popping……Looking for the best filet in town, I swung by the Bat Rack last night on Wilshire and 24th. The owner, Johnny, was in rare form, as was the filet mignon…..Wonder where it is happening almost any night of the week? Hit Chez Jay’s on Ocean Ave, where the beer flows freely, shoes (and sometimes pants) are optional, and Jay is always glad to see you.
It was a brilliant gig. (I did in fact go to Chez Jay’s on occasion and it was the first place I was ever served…at 16). I could get up on Sunday morning and write both columns in 30 minutes…$50 a week and my rent for my tiny beach apt was $65 a month. This worked. Evidently so did Chez Jays, as it is still there, though Jay passed a few years back.
One day Rhonda hands me a Polaroid camera and tells me that she wants action shots to go with the words, but the first place I wandered into just about tossed me out and the manager explained that all of their customers were not necessarily with their spouses. No Photos please. Fortunately I had my pal, Thom Nulty and his babe of the month with me, so I posed them at a table, scored a free round from the house, and shot a romantic picture of a couple on a romantic evening. This worked. So the ensuing weeks featured Thom with different women, wining it up at various lounges. Not once did Rhonda or anyone else say “Hey, that is the same guy”.
Eventually, Rhonda got wooed away from the paper and they hired someone who could actually write and I moved north for grad school. Thus ended my career in journalism….just when I was warming up.