Thursday, August 31, 2006

An Ideal Reader

Reading about Bill in these homages, I only wish I'd known him better. To me he was always a guy I hoped to run into more often, but our circles just didn't cross often enough. Reading these tributes, it's really wonderful to know that the guy I knew glancingly was the same guy everyone else knew so well. Thank you to everyone who's written so beautifully about him, and to your tributes I'll add this anecdote, the result of which a few people might recall. It might explain how Bill ended up in full-page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle, c. 1994.

I started working at the SF Weekly back in 1992, and Bill quickly became my hero. He was the chief copy editor -- I think that was his title -- but in any case his job was to watch over and polish every word that went into the paper. Meeting him was a shock.

Maybe I grew up around a lot of slow-talking Midwesterners, but Bill was the sharpest, fastest-talking, most eloquent person I think I'd ever known. Everything that came out of his mouth was a bon mot. In fact, I don't think I'd heard a bon mot until I met Bill. I had frequently read about people uttering devastating bon mots, but I did not personally hear the uttering of a genuine bon mot -- astute and erudite and all that -- until I met Bill Goggins, whose brain produced them with stunning regularity.

I only worked at the Weekly for a short while, but he and I kept in touch as much as one could in that era, before email was email as we currently know it. A year or so later, I was working as a freelance designer, doing in-paper promotional ads for the San Francisco Chronicle. The campaign we were doing at the time was predicated on the idea that when you opened up the paper, you learned a lot more than you expected to. (The campaign might have even been called, egad, "I didn't know that!") So we thought of what an ideal Chronicle reader might look like -- a downtown reader in his late20s/early 30s who seemed professional and curious and very intelligent.

I called Bill, and asked him if he'd be the model. I think the conversation went like this:

Bill: You want me to what?

Me: You're going to be in this ad campaign, where we show ideal readers enjoying and learning from the paper.

Bill: Really? That's insane.

Me: Do will you do it? We'll pay you $200.

Bill: Sounds good. Can I do it on my lunch hour?

Me: Done.

He laughed and agreed, and we did the photo shoot outside of the Weekly's then-location on Brannan Street. He wore a white button-down shirt and khakis and stood on the sidewalk, reading the paper, looking intellectually enervated -- not very difficult for Bill. The ad was in the Chronicle, a full page, about a week later, and ran periodically for months after that. I don't even know if we realized, then, how strange it was that the copy chief for the SF Weekly was essentially selling the SF Chronicle, but San Francisco's always been an all-boats-rise-together sort of town, so no one said a word about it.

Over the years I've run into Bill here and there. He'd be at this or that random party, or he'd be walking through Chinatown at midnight, on the way home from work. He came by 826 Valencia for events -- his sister Aimee is a volunteer -- and he was always the same Bill: generous and easy to laugh, exceptionally witty and warm. He was a good man, and I wish I'd seen him more and known him better.

My profound condolences to all those who knew and loved him.

Dave Eggers

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