#13 | July 31 - August 13, 1997  smlogo.gif


In This Issue
Feature Story


Who's there?

You've got to hand it to Jose "Vagon Vheels" Alinez. He's got to be the hardest-working mediocrity in show business, pumping out scads of articles every week for the Michael Bass vehicle, The Moscow Tribune. Most aspiring hacks view the Tribune as a kind of cruel judgement on their skills, and they do their best to use it as a launching pad for a spot at the Moscow Times. Like Vijay Maheshwari, for example. But not Vagon Vheels. The Mexican-American ace reporter has stuck with the Tribune through thick and thin, even after editor/owner Anthony Louis spiked his comics and, recently, nixed his column, the cutely-titled "Jumpin' Bean Blues." In his eponymous column from two weeks ago, Alinez lashed out at an unfair world in a bizarre display that can only be called desperate. He excoriated his rivals, abusively calling the Times "The Grimes," and referring to our own newspaper as "a soft, soft echo" of the Moscow Guardian, which Alinez praised for being "nifty."

Has work-or the lack thereof-got to Moscow's most underappreciated journalist? What self-respecting writer would stick for four years with a job that brought low pay, public humiliation, and disrespect from his peers in the journalism community?

We decided to get to the bottom of this whole sticking-with-the-Tribune mystery, as well as his recent mental short-circuiting. After all, Alinez stuck his neck out by belittling us, and as Leo says in Miller's Crossing, if we let him get away with it... well, we'll look weak, and other people will take a shot at us too. Better to nip this in the bud.

Posing as Alinez himself, we decided to call Moscow Times interim editor Geoff Winestock to see if we might be able to give Vagon Vheels a little push up that career ladder. After all, it's sort of painful seeing him return to an abusive relationship summer after summer.

Of course, we had a slight dilemma on how to represent our voice: either as a Vato home-boy/ Cheech Marin type, or, more in the Vagon Vheels vain, as a white-sounding Latino. We decided, after intense discussions, that the latter representation would be more appropriate, considering that Alinez treats his own ethnicity not with the desperate anger of gang-bangin' Cholo, but with the light, sweet, poking-fun-at-myself irony of a Jumpin' Bean-er.

Judging by our conversation with Winestock, Vagon Vheels may want to go out and get himself a zoot suit quick, or face literary extinction.

eXile: Hello Mr. Winestock, this is Jose Alinez. Perhaps you know me from my work at the, uh, rival publication.
Winestock: (contemptuous silence).
eXile: Anyway, I was wondering if I could meet with you sometime soon.
Winestock: (silence)
eXile: Uh, see, the thing is that I'm working on my dissertation on dialogics and Mikhail Bakhtin and Russian literature, and I come here to Russia every summer to write for the Tribune, but recently Anthony Louis, our editor, cut my column, Jumpin' Bean Blues-
Winestock: So you want a job?
eXile: Well, yeah, but that's sort of a secret. (laughs, then hears long, uncomfortable silence from Winestock) I was wondering if-
Winestock: You want to write for us?
eXile: Well, yeah, I was thinking of doing my Jumpin Bean Blues column.
Winestock: Well, the thing is we're not looking for any reporters right now.
eXile: Well, I was thinking more about doing my column. Since the Tribune won't run it.
Winestock: No, we're not looking for anyone.
eXile: But maybe-
Winestock: I'll tell you what. Put together a collection of your pieces and send them off to me. But I don't see any point in meeting.
eXile: Well, have you ever seen my columns or articles before?
Winestock: I'm not sure. Yeah, I guess I've seen your work, but you'll have to remind me.
eXile: How about film reviews? I'd be really interested in writing dialogical analyses on Hollywood films for you.
Winestock: (long pause) Just put a collection together and send it off to me, and then we'll talk about it. I repeat, I don't see any point in meeting.
eXile: Okay, thanks a lot.
Winestock: (hangs up without saying goodbye.)

Whew! Was that a 'dis job or what?! Oh well, even if Vagon Vheels couldn't get a job with the Times after four years on the local circuit, well, perhaps we could embarrass him by offering him a job with our newspaper. Or could we? Editor Matt Taibbi called Vagon Vheels at the Tribune office two nights ago to tell him that he'd had a falling out with co-editor Mark Ames and was looking for a replacement. We were hoping that Alinez would take the bait, but, to our chagrin, he actually came across as somewhat noble in his ethics, if not a little loose-lipped from Taibbi's flattery.

eXile: Yeah, I feel a little uncomfortable calling, since you ripped us last week, but...Mark and I had some philosophical differences, and so now he's leaving, and I'm interviewing replacements. I thought of you because you're a really good writer. I like what you do with that Jumping Bean thing.
Alinez: Oh, wow, really! Well, that's something. I'm really flattered. I'm always, like, surprised when people read my stuff. But you know, the thing is, I'm not here permanently...
eXile: Yeah, I heard that.
Alinez: I leave every fall-I'm a grad student at the University of California at Berkeley, the same place Mark went. But anyway, I wouldn't leave the Trib.
eXile: No?
Alinez: No, I mean, you can say what you like about Anthony, but one thing he really values is loyalty. And him putting up with my coming and going like this, well, I feel I owe him one. As long as there's Trib, I couldn't work for any other foreign newspaper in town.

[ed. Note: You're right, Jose. See Winestock's comments, above]
eXile: That's too bad. Would you think about writing for us, maybe doing a Jumping Bean sort of thing?
Alinez: Well, I'm really flattered, you know, but I just don't think I'd be the right guy for you. I mean, I really respect what you guys do, but I think, and don't take this the wrong way, that a lot of what you do is really below the belt. I mean, it's vicious.

[How did we go from being too "soft" to too "vicious"? It must be an LA thing. Anyway, Alinez went on to send us some good news:]
Alinez: And I couldn't do that vicious stuff. Don't get me wrong, I love your satire stuff. And we all certainly encourage you to keep going with the Michael Bass pieces. I mean, we all hate him just as much as you do.

[That was more like it! He went on with his strange fascination with the Moscow Guardian:]
Alinez: It's funny, I'd like to see a truly alternative voice, like the Guardian. I don't know if you remember it.
eXile: I do. I thought it sucked, actually.
Alinez: Oh, well, I thought it had some interesting stuff, they do a lot of the same things you do, only I guess without the vicious part and the satire part...So what's the deal with Mark leaving, is this a personal thing?
eXile: Nah. It's just-well, Mark's afraid of success, basically. It's no secret the paper's doing well now. And he thought it was just too mainstream. I guess he just wants to go back to being a starving writer. Oh, well. Fuck him!
Alinez: Uh-huh...

The conversation ended on friendly terms. You've got to hand it to Alinez; he may have no future anywhere else, but with his loyalty, there'll always be a place for him at the Trib.
That's unless Michael Bass takes over, of course. Alinez repeated twice over the course of the conversation, incidentally, that "everyone at the Trib" hates Bass "as much as you guys do." We hope this gives Bass food for thought next time he visits the Trib offices.

In any case, Happy 30th birthday, Jose. You may be exactly the loser you admitted to being in print, but you're all right in our book. Just make sure you get your modifiers right next time. That's gratuitous, vicious, mean-spirited, nasty, and carefully following your every move. Not soft. Get it right, okay?

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