Articles

THE NEW YORK OBSERVER

Off the Record

The tent goes up. The cash comes in.

By GABRIEL SNYDER
July 2, 2001

Bob Guccione Jr. should have known something was amiss when he saw some strange guy assembling a tent in the hallway outside his Gear magazine offices. But Mr. Guccione simply gave the guy a strange look and walked past.

The strange guy was Brett Forrest, a freelance writer who believed that Gear owed him nearly $4,000, part for a story that had been killed around a year ago and part for a feature on the XFL that ran in the magazine’s February issue.

After repeated calls and no paycheck, Mr. Forrest arrived at Gear’s loft office in Chelsea on June 21 to ask nicely one more time. He said he walked into the finance department just after 11 a.m. “I said, ‘I’m here to pick up a check,’” Mr. Forrest said. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, yes, oh, um, yes, we’ll call you.’ The same shit I’ve heard from them from the beginning.”

After a heated exchange with Souzana Dandoura, head of human resources, Mr. Forrest walked out and promptly set his tent down in a spot outside Mr. Guccione’s office. The writer had made a T-shirt that read “PAY UP” and taped two signs on the side of his tent reading, “YOU OWE ME $3,865.”

That provoked some action. “Bob came running out and [Ms. Dandoura] came running over, and all these people ran over and they ripped the signs off and pushed the tent around,” Mr. Forrest said.

According to Mr. Forrest, Mr. Guccione said: “You can’t do this–get out of here. We’ll call the police and have you removed.”

Amid the commotion, Ms. Dandoura came back with his check–unsigned–in her hand, Mr. Forrest said. “Basically, they’ve just been sitting on it for all these months, refusing to sign it,” he continued. “And she holds it out to me and says, ‘Here it is, right here–you’re just making it harder on yourself.’”

Still not satisfied, Mr. Forrest unzipped the tent and went inside. He had a book to read–Chester Himes’ Yesterday Will Make You Cry–and some peanuts. Mr. Guccione went back into his office, and things returned to normal–or as normal as possible, considering that an angry freelancer was tenting in the hallway.

Then Tim Wood, the managing editor, knocked on the front of the tent. “He’s like, ‘Can I come in?’” Mr. Forrest said. He invited Mr. Wood in, whereupon the managing editor scrunched down with Mr. Forrest and said that the writer should have called him for help first–a suggestion that produced a guffaw from Mr. Forrest.

“He was cool about it,” Mr. Forrest said. “It’s like they sent him in to be the hostage negotiator. He’s sitting in there, he has a couple peanuts, we’re hanging out and I get him to take a picture of me.”

“I just wanted to get in there so he knew we were on it [the payment situation],” Mr. Wood told Off the Record, “like we weren’t going to wait him out like a squatter or something.”

Eventually Mr. Wood went back outside, and within 20 minutes he returned to tell Mr. Forrest that his check was ready. Mr. Forrest–by then a little bit paranoid–told Mr. Wood that he wasn’t getting out of the tent without his check. The editor obliged the writer and returned with a check for $3,654.

“I looked at it and I said, ‘Tim, this isn’t the full amount,’” Mr. Forrest reported. “He kind of got this sheepish look on his face, like Oh, fuck.” The writer mulled his situation over. “I just debated, do I hold out for more? I just said, ‘O.K., I’m out of here,’ and I packed up.”

Mr. Guccione later told Off the Record, “I actually had to have a bit of a grudging admiration for him. It was a slight admiration for the innovativeness of it.” In the next breath, he added firmly, “It was inappropriate, and obviously it’s not conducive to wanting to continue a relationship …. [It] upset some of the other staff here, who just thought it was inappropriate.”

Mr. Guccione acknowledged the delay in payment, but said: “It is unfortunately the way the business is if you’re a freelancer. It’s nothing I’m doing institutionally, and most of my writers have no complaint whatsoever. He fell through the cracks.”

Mr. Guccione also denied threatening to call the police. “We don’t threaten,” he said. “If we had wanted to call the cops, we would have called the cops.”

For his part, Mr. Forrest didn’t seem concerned about burning that particular bridge. “I’d like to work with some of the editors there if they go somewhere else, but you know, I’ll never write for anyone who doesn’t pay. I mean, I understand things fall through the cracks. I mean, that’s part of being a freelancer. One of the things they’re saying is, ‘We’re not singling you out.’ I know you’re not, but I don’t really care. I just want my money for work that I’ve done.”

The whole affair took 47 minutes. Said Mr. Wood: “I wish he’d handled it differently, but I understand why he did it–and damn if it didn’t work.”