Monday, August 21, 2006

“When I grow up, I want to be Bill”

I never had the pleasure of spending time alone with Bill – outside of work, of course, when I’d stand at his elbow, nervously watching him comb over a piece of copy I’d been reworking all day. If he found a snag, however small, I knew I could be there for hours into the evening and possibly have to face the wrath of fractious commissioning editor who would not want to change another syllable. If he signed off and gave me his signature grin (the one that seemed to say “Good work, scout!”), I’d feel palpable relief and have a little bask, because I knew however much of a perfectionist I was, as we all had to be on the Wired copy desk, Bill’s perfectionism was steely, rigorous, and consuming. Everybody there worked hard, but he worked harder, setting standards everyone around him strove towards – however frustrating and occasionally inscrutable his vision could be in the moment.

I worked at Wired on and off from 1995 to 2003. As the years passed, the vegetarian, colorful 20-something office gradually gave way to corporate, Niman Ranch brisket-eating 30- and 40-something hues, with endless staff changes. Throughout this, Bill never budged. Even in the beginning he had an authoritative and brisk, no-nonsense way about him that intimidated me slightly, but which I also admired and took comfort in. Because, well, Wired wasn’t always the warmest place to work. Many seemed too absorbed in their jobs to have time to get to know each other, and as a freelancer I often felt on the edge of things. But Bill was a constant genuine and respectful presence. His wit, dry enough to desiccate an ocean, provided comic relief that cut nicely through the ego-heavy atmosphere, forcing me to look up and laugh from behind my dictionary. By the time I left for good to move overseas, Bill was the last of the crew I’d originally started with, and the one I most regretted not getting to know better. The closest I ever got to confessing my long-held affection for him was telling our coworkers that when I grew up, I wanted to be Bill. I hope that got back to him.

Karen Eng
Cambridge, England

Bill and the boys at Alternative Press Expo 2002.

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