Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth

We hereby cast our eye back on SPY, “The New York Monthly” – that exemplar of “irony,” memorably belligerent, bilious adjective chains, and thrillingly recherché typography, from which our entire writing style (and ironic, memorable, belligerent, bilious, and recherché personality) derived.

Where possible, we do actually attempt to stick to a precise ten-year retrospective, but we reserve the right to mix and match.


‘Spy’ June 1990 cover

June 1990

Now with ILLUSTRATIONS thanks to Michael Russell

It seems Spy never actually published a July issue (any July issue), preferring to take the summer off. So we’re doubling up on Junes.

Letters. We get lots and lots of, etc.

Actually, this one’s found in “From the Spy Mailroom,” and refers to some kind of fashion supplement in a previous issue as yet unreviewed in these virtual pages.

Sadly, [Gena Feist of New Paltz, New York] has written yet again, this time to complain about – that’s right – the fashion supplement. She is apparently one of those very realistic readers who like their satirical monthlies volunteer-staffed, income-resistant and expense-free. Her unstated offer – or are we reading too much into your letter, Gena? – is that she is willing to underwrite Spy.

Considering how Spy fared after it nearly went mams-up on two subsequent occasions, perhaps Spy was prescient to dismiss “underwriting” as a survival stratagem. Or, seen another way, the magazine presaged getting “underwritten” by venture capitalists, which didn’t work all that well for the dot-coms, either. But that would be revisionist.

This is to inform you that the Committee to Continue Crossword Purity (CCCP) is contemplating legal action against both Spy magazine and its lackey Roy Blount Jr. for negligent publication of an asymmetrical crossword puzzle in March. Frankly, a man whose name is an anagram for runty lobo should be more careful not to offend people with a facility for rearranging letters to reveal inner truth.

Soga Losat
Boston, Massachusetts

I was quite disappointed in the March crossword. The puzzle was not rotationally symmetric, contrary to the universally-accepted rules set down by the Amateur Crossword Puzzle League of America in 1924. Every other crossword puzzle in a respectable publication since the puzzle was invented has followed this simple and æsthetically pleasing symmetry rule. All Blount had to do was black out square 22, or make the answer to 8 Down, horde, one character longer. One painfully easy way to do this would have been to change it to hordes.

Why was Blount being so lazy? A man whose name is an anagram for runty lobo should be more careful not to offend people with a facility for rearranging letters to reveal inner truth.

Gary Sabot
Boston, Massachusetts

Did anyone else write in about the March puzzle? I got a headache just looking at it. When I tried to answer the first few clues, all that came to mind was how – well, unbalanced everything seemed.

I showed the puzzle to my neighbour, who’s quite good at crosswords. In fact, he sits on the board of a big crossword-puzzle committee, or something like that. He became furious, turning beet-red and yelling something about “where is the rotational summitry!” I was sorry I’d brought the whole thing up. A man whose name is an anagram for runty lobo should be more careful not to offend people with a facility for rearranging letters to reveal inner truth.

Brian Silverman
Boston, Massachusetts

Roy Blount replies: “[...] Soga Losat is, of course, Taso Lagos backward, and if anyone by that name exists, there may be an attempt here to set him up as a scapegoat. But what are the underlying issues? Asymmetry is as American as William Carlos Williams, rock & roll, the Mississippi, JuJuBes or, unfortunately, Nixon. Whereas symmetry is British: pip pip, Ford Madox Ford, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, arf ’n’ arf.

Unless I miss my guess, these are some of the same people who duped T.S. Eliot into leaving St. Louis, abandoning bold new verse forms and writing Cats.

Now, this Taso Lagos business. He was a real person who wrote notoriously lengthy, obsessif missives to Spy. The impression I got was of a tight-muscled, intelligent, ironic dude in a black T-shirt who knew exactly what he was doing. “From the Spy Mailroom” indulged itself in considerable gamesmanship and rib-elbowing with Taso Lagos, spurred in large part by his name.

Could this be the same Greek-born Ph.D. who ran for the directorship of a health-food coöperative? And what would happen if Taso Lagos directed a film about Jesus’ return to earth as a porn star? It is rather hard to tell; Taso Lagos’ alleged Web site just barely avoids 404ing.

Our lesson? Spend those morsels of fame wisely. The half-life of celebrity is a bitch.

“Yoko Ono, Phone Home”

Or phone the cemetery, preferably. Do I ever hate Yoko Ono. Anyway, the subtitle here is “Fun with Former Phone Numbers of the Rich and Famous.”

Suppose you recently saw Mystery Train and were confused by the film’s thick philosophical content. No problem. Call the director, Jim Jarmusch, and discuss it with him; he’s in the Manhattan phone book....

Manhattan’s White Pages list many sort-of-famous people, among them demi-cult figures Sukhreet Gabel, Quentin Crisp, and Phoebe Légère. But really famous people are tougher to reach, as they generally get new, unlisted nuymbers as soon as they hit it big.

It will be pointed out that I took Quentin Crisp to lunch circa 1994. I did indeed do the usual and simply look him up and invite him out. “Let me get the holy book,” he droned, scrounging within his filthy room for a datebook. We met, with a certain noticeable social discomfort, amidst deepening snowfall in an East Village Greek diner (Taso Lagos, come on down!) where even the salads contain meat. Wiping away the occasional spittle and food residue, Mr. Crisp confirmed that it was not altogether difficult to portray Queen Elizabeth in Orlando; he simply did as “Miss Potter” directed, whether that might involve manhandling his crinoline into a rowboat or simply holding regally forth while wearing rings the size of a quail egg.

Mr. Crisp also confirmed that he received no royalties from Mr. Sumner. This remains a burning injustice I intend to take up with him.

You may be wondering why an entire article was not generated based on my luncheonette with Mr. Crisp. I have no explanation save for my own capacity never to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Sally forth? Aye.

Employee of Horticultural Creations Inc.: 925-5812

– In 1986 your number belonged to an actor named Willem Dafoe, who’s –

– I know who he is.

– Are you a fan of Willem Dafoe’s?

– I think he’s a quality actor.

– Is there anything you’d like to say to him?

– No, I have nothing to say to him.

Text equivalents

The Spy List this month diverges from its pattern of an inscrutable listing of names. We’re into self-dissimilarity for 2002.

The Spy List

  • ...which might be called, in old-fashioned terms, unnatural.
  • ...told his wife he was travelling to Dallas on campaign business; instead...
  • ...mob-connected...
  • ...Tim McCarver, like the other members... learned to hold his liquor by guzzling water until he...
  • ...some colleagues seem convinced that while [she] is the more overtly appalling of the two, [he] is the more evil.

“See you Monday night at Morton’s”

There was, of course, the requisite bachelor party for young [Marvin] Davis, thrown by Arnold Schwarzenegger and producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver on the set of one of Silver’s movies. And this being Hollywood, not one but a dozen women were ushered in for the evening’s entertainment. And this being the age of supercareful sex, the women were there to service not the revelers but one another, in all manner of configurations and couplings. While the women entertained, all the guests just watched Chauncey Gardiner–style. [...]

The wedding itself – held at Marvin’s Beverly Hills home – was a black-tie affair attended by everyone in Hollywood.... Sean Connery showed up, but in a sport jacket and tie. During the ceremony two Davis factotums shimmered over to where he was seated and whispered something in his ear. Once the nuptials ended, Connery slipped out, rematerializing ten minutes later at the reception in a tuxedo that fit him perfectly. It is believed that the Davises – for whom no detail is insignificant – must have had standing at the ready a tailor and a wide selection of tuxedos, in the event that a guest might show up in improper attire.

Deep inside media criticism

‘Inside the Illustration’ Spy, it must be conceded, did not always epitomize the Golden Age of “incisive” media commentary. (The term is widely used these days. It means “cutting,” but is deployed in context to mean “insightful,” which it does not.) Vince Passaro’s “Inside Everything: The Modern Mania for Knowing More Than You Need to Know about the Way Everything in the World Works” was a complete wank of restated obvious facts about every permutation of Behind the Scenes™ media coverage of itself. We know already – and we already knew back in 1990.

The accompanying photo illustration by Geoff Spear, however, achieves mahurinist levels of interest. I suppose that’s something.

But: Chronicle of iMac foretold?

Watches come without faces so we can see the gears whiling away the hours, although this teaches you nothing about watches or time. The circuit-board innards of telephones, television sets and calculators have never been less mechanical – and thus more pointless to look at – but there they are, transparent Lucite-encased gadgets and appliances, proliferating.

Summer doldrums, as they say?

And that is it. I just cannot muster significant interest in Spy’s articles on the true predictive power of movie and theatre critics (“Roger Ebert is not 20 times as important as Pauline Kael, even though he has more than 20 million viewers and readers vs. Kael’s 600,000 or so readers”), or the fascinating exposé of the rise to fame of Giancarlo Parretti (who?), which not even the included comix illustrations can jazz up.

End-of-book columns are a complete bore; where is the tasting of dog food? Spy itself yearns for resolution of that question: “Food writers, as a rule, aren’t good writers; it’s a pity [French-cuisine cookbook author] Seymour Britchky or Calvin Trillin – or, of course, Spy’s Ann Hodgman – can’t be sent to cover the openings of every menu.”

The last three issues of GQ and Esquire I read were better than this ish of Spy. And with all that time to heal wounds, it doesn’t hurt me a bit to say so.

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → May 1989

Updated: 2002.07.05


See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director