Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Onion, a Cow and The Stranger

by Drew Martin

Every now and then, I reach into a small sidewalk news stand and take a free copy of The Onion. It's a guilty pleasure and quite a detour for me but sometimes I also need a good laugh.

The reprinted article I saw yesterday did it for me:

Breakup Hints Misinterpreted As Marriage-Proposal Hints

KNOXVILLE, TN—Amanda Gentry, 25, has misinterpreted longtime boyfriend Wilson Crandall's recent break-up hints—including erratic behavior and strange, cryptic remarks about their future—as marriage-proposal hints.

"I can tell Wilson is getting ready to pop the question," Gentry said. "The last few weeks, he's been acting so weird. He keeps saying he needs to 'take stock of his life' and 'face some important decisions he's been putting off.' I hear wedding bells!"

The article continues this cruel but witty humor about miscommunication between the young couple.

I have always felt connected to The Onion even though there is no creative relationship between us. In the early 1990's, the original staff of The Onion sold the paper in Madison, Wisconsin, picked up and traveled around Brazil in hammock tents and then resettled in Seattle, Washington and started The Stranger, Seattle's answer to New York's Village Voice. That is the story I recall The Stranger's editor Tim Keck, once telling me.

When I was at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I drew editorial illustrations and cartoons for our college paper, The Daily Nexus. The most popular was Bovina, a story about a vegan activist cow. Someone at the nascent The Stranger got wind of it so Keck reached out to me and asked me if they could run it.

They were just starting up (as I recall they were only at eight pages an issue then) so I offered it to them gratis, to help out. At that time I was in my early twenties, living in the mountains of Santa Barbara and working on an organic farm down near the ocean a few days a week. I slept in a trailer and had made a special fold-down desk over my bed, which allowed me to sit up drawing until my last moment of consciousness and then fall back onto my foamy mattress, which rocked with the trailer in the mountain breezes. I was a self-proclaimed cartooning monk, living a simple life outside and an imaginative adventure in my mind.

I had been saving up money to go to India but this plan was jettisoned for a quick departure to Europe when a good friend called and asked me to join her in Germany. I bought a one way ticket and told Keck I was not going to continue with Bovina. He insisted they repay me in some way and suggested an exchange of The Stranger staff hospitality. So, with his advice, I took the Green Tortoise up to Seattle, where he and a few other staff members met me at the bus station.

I spent a week in Seattle with various staff, including Keck, and crashed wherever I ended up in the evening. At some houses there were nice, communal dinners. I even fondly recall someone playing guitar for me as I soaked in a bathtub full of water, the ultimate treat for a Californian at the time during a five-year drought, when flushing a toilet was taken seriously.

At the end of my stay, Keck drove me back to the bus station. On the way there, it was announced over the car radio that Freddie Mercury had just died. It was November 24, 1991. I took the Green Tortoise down to San Francisco, spent an evening at a friend's place and then flew to Frankfurt the next morning.