Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Why I Never Worked at Hustler By B. Lynne Zika


Photo by Ben Dufeck

Why I Never Worked at Hustler

By B. Lynne Zika

How I came to interview with Hustler is a circuitous tale involving the requisite heartache of extramarital affairs, replacement lovers, overdue rent, a history with Playgirl, and a stint in public relations. The replacement lover (she replaced me) was an Art Dept. bigwig at the magazine and set up an interview for me. It was my consolation prize.

One Tuesday in March I drove myself to a glitzy office in Century City, California. Larry had been shot by then, and Althea was running the show. A twenty-something, good-looking fellow fetched me from the reception area and led me to the throne room. An areca palm waved from the eastern corner directly opposite the usual walnut credenza crowned with an amber liquid in cut crystal. Althea looked up from whatever papers she was absorbed in and indicated I should sit. That command was delivered with an imperious thrust of an almost-dimpled chin. The good-looking minion took his place behind her right shoulder. Rah.

My interview consisted of the usual questions and answers. Nothing remarkable. Except...

Althea used every opportunity to demean and castrate her assistant. Men in power have been diminishing women for centuries. Althea was turning the tide. Each time she grabbed the fellow’s figurative <ahem>, he tensed, then oh-so-slightly ducked his head. She commanded; he complied.

Althea asked me about my position at Playgirl. I had been Photo Editor. Yes, I had enjoyed it. Magazines, like newspapers, have a put-to-bed moment soon followed by an actual product, something you can pick up, read, keep in your professional hope chest (portfolio). They're tactilely gratifying.

The queen scanned, queried, whacked her assistant, queried more, and the interview was over. They'd be in touch. The minion, a kindly fellow when safely out of her range, escorted me out.

It can be a long fret between interview and result. Hustler was surprisingly gentle on me. The minion called me the next day.

Althea wanted to know if I would come on board as their Director of Public Relations. I'd been in PR before, but I knew the real reason she offered me the job.

During my interview, Art Dept. had brought in a layout for her approval. An enormously busted blonde stretched, squatted, hunched, pooched, and splayed. Althea looked it over, said, "No, we need more pink," glanced up at me to gauge my reaction, and handed the layout back.

I hadn't flinched. My mother's training in Act as if Everything Is Fine held me in good stead in the world of public anything. Althea liked my staunchness. Apparently she believed I could be unflappable for Hustler.

I remembered the matter-of-fact bludgeoning of her male assistant. I remembered something else. Althea sat at her executive desk in short sleeves. Midway between her wrist and inner elbow was a tidy, geometrically designed track mark. There was a center line with straight tree limbs branching off in regular formation. At the end of each branch was a dot, the pop mark. Althea was a junky, with enough money at her disposal to satisfy a long-term habit.

Did I want to work for a rich, castrating junky who ran a porno magazine? I turned down the offer.

At the other end of the phone the minion sputtered. "But she said you could name your salary." I thanked him, declined, and got off the phone.

The next day he called again. Althea wanted to make certain I understood that money was no object. A private office and executive privileges went without saying. I thanked him and declined again.

It was clear by his silence that I'd astonished him. He didn't know what to say. Maybe he was anticipating his exchange with Althea when he had to go back and tell her he'd been unsuccessful with me. He finally voiced a baffled "Okay" and said good-bye.

Another art director friend—Baily—told me when he heard the tale that I'd made a huge mistake. His counsel: "Never say no to opportunity."

Time weighed in on the issue. Baily didn't say no to drugs and alcohol and died. Althea had enough money to say yes to all the smack she wanted. She died.

Forty-plus years later I can look back on it. Some opportunities are opportunities for disaster. I don't regret that I never worked at Hustler magazine.

1 comment:

  1. very enjoyable read. certainly not boring. moves quickly and succinctly. I'd like to read more of Lynn's work.