Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sorry I didn’t get the jokes

A lot of talented people passed through Wired heading in wildly different directions. Bill stayed put. I remember patting Bill on the shoulder once and nearly hurting my hand. The guy was rock solid, both physically, judging from his shoulder, and most certainly as a presence in the Wired office. He also had a bull-headed determination to get the job done -- right.

Every. Single. Time. The man exhausted us all. (Oh, those nights working till 3 a.m.)

And then ... that bewildering wit of his. I often had no idea what Bill was talking about, as his cultural references were frequently too obscure for my plodding brain to process in conversation mode (or in any mode). I didn’t mind, because I connected with him on the bull-headed-determination level. Bill sometimes scolded me, though, for not being opinionated enough. (Sorry Bill, I’m still not.) I wanted to scold Bill for not giving himself enough credit.

Bill spent a lot of time developing talent, getting people to work at a certain level. I told him once that he taught me much of value. He was down then for some reason -- said he might go spend a few years smashing rocks or something (might have been that “Japan Rocks!” headline) -- and he told me that I would have learned all that anyway. I don’t think so, Bill. There are some bits of wisdom that could have come only from you. What good fortune it was to know you.

Bill was a great editor, but he was a genius in headline writing. God that guy was good. I’ve never seen anything like it. At first I didn’t realize he was one of a kind. I thought all senior-level editors were like that (and that man, did I have a long way to go).

But here’s the thing about Bill’s headlines: they weren’t just clever, or witty. Like his editing, they were deeply sensitive to what the story was about. Bill was acutely aware of what the writer wanted to say -- more aware than the writer was sometimes -- and he was there to help.

Bill was there to help for a lot of us, and not just in work matters. Thanks, Bill, for being a friend and a mentor. Sorry I didn’t get the jokes.

Steve Mollman

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bill the Scribner

The first time I remember Bill as Bill (as opposed to simply having seen the cute guy with great posture around Wired) was at a seminar Louis had convened for Wired Ones to glean the wisdom of a futurist. The prognosticator spun out some long-boom fruitopian scenario, explaining how all the jobs we think of as boring or gross will disappear (robot maids!) and more and more people will be be happier and happier as way-new knowledge workers. As an editor at the perennially pessimistic Suck, I felt like the skunk at the extropian party until the cute guy with good posture leaned over and whispered: "Will there be a need for more futurists? Because that seems like a pretty good job to have."

Bill went on to become one of my favorite Suck writers, both because I loved what he had to say and because he said it so well that I barely needed to touch it. His graceful prose left us all that much more time for the many, many martinis we consumed between 1996-99 at various dive bars that were known mainly to Bill and a few rumpled gentlemen with nicotine-stained fingers and half-shaded eyes.

After I moved East, Bill remained reliable -- his banter sometimes required Bartlett's and his jokes could send you to Google, but his friendship was as uncomplicated as his wit was knotted. I saw him almost every time I came back to San Francisco in these past few years and though our email and phone communiques were sporadic, our conversation never stopped; in fact, it seemed to fall into same rhythm starting with the sentence after "hello."

As with most of us, I suspect my last few interactions with Bill will come to be the ones I run my fingers through the most, trying to pick out every sparkle of his gimlet eye. But the memory I'll hold most dear wasn't him being brilliant, it was him being kind, and how, on the last night of a long book tour, Bill was one of five sparsely distributed people in a very large room sitting down to listen to me.

I will always wish I got to hear more from him. -- Ana Marie Cox [anamariecox -at-]

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Running into Mailboxes

Those in New York City who adored Bill but like myself are unable to make it to Mill Valley for his memorial service Friday are welcome to join me in Central Park at 2 pm for a run of 2.2 or so miles — the distance Bill had left to complete the SF marathon Sunday.

The idea of honoring this way comes, I believe, from Rebecca Smith Hurd, a more recent colleague of his at Wired. I gather some of you will be running/walking the actual course he left unfinished when he collapsed in SF at 11 am Pacific — hence my plan to “join” you.

I will be at the 6th Av /59th St entrance to the park at 2 pm on the nose and should be unmissable as Jake Ward has said he’ll join. Jake stands six-eight (black hair), and I can get there on tip toes (six-seven, red hair). Despite our collective inseams, you should have no problem keeping up. Or, I'll speak for myself and confess that the few times I ran with BIll he left me in the dust.

It has a been a difficult week trying to accept his loss. There are few people I can think of in my life who made me better, while asking so little in return.

Or made me laugh as hard (and at myself).

Or beat me to my own punchlines — and made them funnier.

Truly, the very first time I met Bill, just inside the door of the SFWeekly, I liked him. He rescued me from that moment when you're so nervous you wish you hadn't come.

Grieving with Jessie Scanlon Monday night, I realized he'd never failed me since.

Right off the top, one of my fondest memories of him is with you Evan, after Shoshana's Readymade loft party two or three years back. We have hit the streets looking for more food and trouble, and Bill is running full-tilt into postal boxes and stacks of cardboard bundled on Soho curbs, pratfalling, clowning a bit extra for Shana's benefit, no doubt. But really she's just the excuse we need to be moronic for an hour or two and forget it all for awhile. We hadn't seen each other in months to that point, but we were dancing, laughing, but also confiding the stuff you generally don't want to talk about within moments of being reacquianted.

That is why I wish I could have made it to Cali tomorrow: Since leaving Wired, I've grown accustomed to his physical absense and fear I'll miss him more later. It just isn't right that he's gone.

I will dig out some photos and billspeak for future posts.

- Brad Wieners

Running @ the mouth

Hello friends of Bill,

This site was originally the idea of Michael Grossman, a longtime friend and colleague of Bill’s, who suggested that Bill’s wide circle of friends might want a place to reflect on his life. Josh and I put it together, with the advice of Paul Donald and Jessie Scanlon, in the hopes of providing that. No one should feel obligated to write, of course; there is no agenda here besides celebrating Bill, and no real rules except those of general decency. Bill was a lover of spirited conversation and a master of wit, no doubt both will be found among his friends here.

It’s certainly impossible to capture the full measure of Bill’s qualities in a few lines. But hopefully what will emerge here in stories and recollections will reflect what I’ve seen around San Francisco this week: the indelible mark he left on just about anyone who entered his orbit.

I plan to write more later, but for now -- and apropos of nothing, as Bill would say...I must have exchanged hundreds, perhaps thousands, of text messages and emails with him over the years. Yet I have no doubt that if you showed me any one of them, without his name attached, I would know instantly that he was the author. Each communication from Bill was carefully crafted in his warm and inscrutable style, drenched in the obscure, the self-deprecating, the hilarious, and the absurd. He had those particular, almost anachronistic phrases -- “Yr pal, B," or “Thoughts, with or without musical accompaniment, welcome,” or “Coordinating details to follow from a secure voice connection” -- that marked the prose as his own.

The last text I got from him, on the Saturday night before the marathon, was no exception:

From: Goggins 9:38 pm 7/30/06

26 & change, brought to you by R. Chandler’s Sport Beans. “A

little trouble is my business.” Just me and my carbo loaded

feedbag. Come 5:35 a.m. I won’t just be running @ the mouth.



Just some little Billspeak tidbits that make me smile:

Rattle my cage = give me a call sometime

Wired = Chronicle of Futurephilia
Wired = Why-read magazine

dogger = ?
(he called me dogger a lot)

I loved the way he’d condense a 5 paragraph email to something like this:

At 3:21 PM 8/13/04, Joshua Davis wrote: celebrate good times

Four days before the race, he described his marathon training like this:
Been running a bunch in preparation for running a bunch with a
bunch of other runners.

And then he’d say that he looked forward to seeing me “soon or sooner.”