By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The music was too loud for anyone else to hear the stripper crying. She was weeping, begging the coked-up humor columnist for more money because her car was about to be repossessed. The columnist, high and drunk, felt sorry for her and ordered that a lap dance be given to his quiet, reserved managing editor. The rest of the editorial staff of The Met couldn't help but watch, because there was no one else in the cavernous strip club. It was opening night, September 30, 1995, at the world-famous Carl's Corner truck stop, about an hour south of Dallas and a thousand miles from nowhere. The scene was surreal: scores of angry strippers--who'd been promised big spenders aplenty--smoking and bitching with the dozen or so Met staffers who'd been invited. It was funny and pathetic and disturbing in the most surprising way. As such, it typified all things memorable about The Met.
The trip to Carl's Corner sounded like a good idea when it was proposed. Carl Cornelius himself had extended an invitation to the staff after the paper ran a cover story on him, penned by longtime Dallas writer Mike Shropshire. The entire edit staff--at The Met, a small-budget operation from its birth in 1994 until its death two weeks ago, every staff member was his or her own department head and star writer--made the trip, convinced that the onetime Willie Nelson haunt would be filled with Texas' elite party-heartiers. We were that stupid.
We took two cars. On the drive down, managing editor Joe Guinto gave the staff a stern warning: "Dammit, I'm serious: no drugs." He was, as always, worried about getting the paper out, and a bunch of editors rotting in a county jail somewhere would not help make deadline.
"No problem, dude," said arts editor Chris Shull, wearing his sunglasses at night because he'd broken his regular eyeglasses.
As soon as we arrived in the parking lot, the trunk of Car No. 2 opened, and half the staff disappeared behind its cover, snorting loudly. Bad sign.Once inside, we saw what a clusterfuck we'd been led to. There were about six other men and hundreds of empty seats in the place. We wandered about and drank, listening to the entertainers complain about how they'd been promised a packed house of rich, horny men. Our only amusement came from following Kyle Burnett, then art director and current New Times Inc. corporate honcho, as he surreptitiously took photos for the Met scrapbook. I drank to ease the boredom and pain of paying a cover charge to watch half-naked women weep.We left well after midnight. On the drive back, I had trouble staying awake. Even in my pre-passed-out state, though, I remember asking myself, How did I get here? I have a kid and a wife back home. How did the Fates conspire to put me in the back of this car with a bunch of talented, twentysomething journalists, each of whom could be making more money in higher-profile jobs? I thought about each of us at that club and remembered how and why we'd been drawn into the ridiculous, sophomoric, wonderful world of The Met. I thought about each employee's unique contribution to the paper, to readers, to our continuous parade of stupid fun. I thought about why this paper even existed--to do good work, to surprise people, to have fun. I thought about what people would say once it was gone--which, given our state and the speed at which we were approaching town, could be any minute. I thought about throwing up.
South of town, we slowed to a crawl. Drowsy, I looked outside the window. A man who had recently been killed in an auto accident was on the freeway. Well, his body was on the freeway, covered. His head was somewhere else. Again, bad sign. Better to sleep and remember than face the real world.
Randy Stagen was excited as he came through the offices of D Magazine. It was early 1993, and he had himself an idea--a good idea. He was going to start an alternative newsweekly, like the Dallas Observer, only, dude, not like the Observer. It wouldn't be about scandal and death. It would be fun. It would be positive, like a proton, not negative, like an electron.
He had asked to meet with D editors to get feedback about his idea. Most of them told him that he was silly and unlikely to succeed. Then he met me. I was meaner. At the time, I fancied myself an investigative reporter and feature writer. I'd written 8,000-word profiles and scandal stories. I'd secretly applied at my favorite publication, the very serious New Republic. I was 25, on the fast track, pompous. I listened to his idea about an arts and entertainment publication, rolled my eyes, then mocked him after he left.
A few months later, D Magazine closed. I called Stagen. "Uh, about that newsweekly you were putting together..."
Soon, we had a commitment. I would be editor. Stagen--who regularly roller-skated through East Dallas while listening to disco music; who had started a college paper as a way to get pictures of his SMU frat buddies in print; whose greatest accomplishment was being named Bone Master by said fraternity after he ate another young man's vomited goldfish--would be publisher and my new boss.