I was once in a diner with friends. We had caught a flick and wanted a slice of pie.
The setting, I admit, is deceiving. That is, this moment did not occur in 1950s Milwaukee. It was not followed by an hour of joyriding. It did not involve me wearing someone’s class ring or letterman’s jacket or getting asked to the hop.
Still, the experience is important and authentic for a few reasons.
The story goes something like this.
There is a man in the diner, in Washington, D.C., where we are. The man is drunk. The man comes over to our table, and he stays there for close to 40 minutes.
Over the course of these 40 minutes, he tries to do a few things. He tries to teach us about the reality of racism in America, to teach us about the value of surrounding ourselves with “real” people, to get us to front him money for his apparently burgeoning club-promoting business.
These things, and others, make us laugh. They make us think to ourselves – in that immediate moment – what a great story we can tell people once he leaves. They offer hilarity and nuance and make for great conversation, 40 minutes later.
But there exists another moment – in this span of 40 minutes – and this moment is the lede of the story. Forgive me, Hatchet, for burying it.
It goes something like this.
The man opens his mouth to speak, and his mouth forms these words.
“You always gotta rep yourself 100 percent,” he says.
This, the first part of his point, is clear enough. In order to be successful – as a person, start-up club promoter, or what have you – self-awareness is important.
But there’s more.
According to the man, there exists a second, equally important 100 percent – one that is mutually exclusive of the percent with which one is repping one’s own self.
This other 100 percent, he says, is divided and distributed to the things outside of us. In other words, everything outside of a person warrants some percentage that acts to represent the level of investment one has in something.
The man notices that we’re not buying this, so he summons an example. He points to a friend that is seated beside me.
“See, if you’re repping your one friend 90 percent, you only have 10 percent left for everyone else.”
A lot of things about his point seem grossly inaccurate, so when the man finally leaves our table, we laugh for a few reasons: for his bringing in two, seemingly disconnected 100 percents, his adamancy that commitment can be reduced to a numerical metaphor, his engaging in a one-sided conversation for 40 minutes. All of this was funny enough and led to a good deal of self-important musings between me and my friends about the man, his understanding of the world and why he chose us as worthy of hearing about the unique opportunity to lend him $30,000 to promote D.C. clubs (for the aforementioned burgeoning club-promoting business).
There is, unfortunately, a larger problem attached to this man’s ill-conceived metaphor, and it’s a problem of my own doing.
The problem is, I believe him.
The reality stands – sometimes crazy people say things that, when stripped of their hilarious context, make a good deal of sense. That is, even though it seems as if you’re fully committed to several people and things, there inevitably comes a moment when those things intersect, and you, consciously or not so, make a choice. And then you make another choice. And another. And those choices average themselves and make a point about what you’re doing, or more aptly, what you’re repping.
This year, I repped The Hatchet, and for the sake of full transparency, here is the 100 percent breakdown of my experience of this repping.
37 percent: Actually doing work
Good things happened. I interviewed Annie Leibovitz. Peter Max did a cover for our section, and though it looked like a low-budget rendering of a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, the opportunity was cool. I indulged in humor by soliciting playlists from Art Spiegelman, Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty and the D.C. Hooters girls. I kept some commitment to my voice in mini-reviews. These were good things, and I appreciate the opportunity.
45 percent: Fighting with The Media
There are certain things about The Hatchet that are funny. Overwrought headlines, 1994-esque use of font color, stories that fixate on seemingly arbitrary conflict: These are things that typically warrant my criticism. They are the things which, when I worked as a contributing arts editor, I referenced in conversations with friends to assert my overall frustration or confusion with the organization.
When I worked as a contributing editor, I was allowed to keep my distance. I assigned stories from my room and rarely made it into the office.
Then something happened.
I got a desk.
The desk compromised my distance.
My first moment in battle as an editor: In a car, traveling on a retreat to Ocean City, Md., with a staff of “The Hatchet Kids,” a catch-all term I invoke in an appeal to the self-serious connotation of a newspaper kid.
At the time, I knew none of these people.
We were driving from D.C. and listening to music, and one of The Hatchet Kids said something about Kings of Leon.
“I hate Kings of Leon.”
This is what I said, quite viciously, and worse, I think I meant to be friendly. Something like that.
The Hatchet Kids joked about this on the trip, and months passed, and “I hate _________” has come from my mouth more than a few times for more than a few reasons.
But like I said, I have a desk, which carries some consequence.
18 percent: Fighting in defense of The Media
This is the consequence, and the consequence is a point I have never publicly admitted to The Hatchet Kids: There are times when I defend their reporting, their work and the paper itself. A good deal of these times happened in private, which means that at some level, I actually meant what was said.
The consequence implicitly carries another point.
For whatever reason, I actually like some of these people. Not like these people as in think they’re cool or funny or have sweet parties; most of those things are untrue. It’s more: I value their opinions, seek them out and respect them. I respect them for committing some part of their 100 percent to something.
Good luck, The Hatchet Kids. I trust that you’ll do great things, and I look forward to witnessing your respective commitments to repping thyself.
Thanks for a lot of things. -30-