Eric Snider: The Trickster

I feel secure in saying that, during a 13-year career as a writer and editor for Creative Loafing/Weekly Planet, I produced some pretty good journalism: criticism, commentary, features, some news, quite a bit of silliness, lots of cover stories, and 101,000 blurbs on whatever needed blurbing about. A bit of the work was even important.

But I also played another unofficial, self-appointed role: that of Trickster. Having once done time in the more staid environs of daily newspapering, the mid-’90s Weekly Planet culture opened itself as a candy store of hi-jinx. I quickly felt free to spice things up, play the clown, bust balls (good-naturedly, although some staffers appreciated it more than others).

Soon enough, I felt duty bound.

This was not a risky business. My court-jestering actually came up in performance reviews — as a beneficial thing.

My partner in fun for many of those years was one Anthony Carbone, a sales rep and instant close pal. This was a man who once called me from an airport and announced:

“I’ve changed my name.”

“To what,” I queried, not the least taken aback.

“Ham Gravy.”

I rolled it around my noggin for a second. “I like it.”

“I was reading a magazine; it was the name of an obscure blues musician,” he explained. “I need your help making ‘Ham Gravy’ stick.”

“I’m in. Have a safe flight.”

Before undertaking the business of hectoring the staff to call Carbone by his new moniker, I had one condition: My friend had to put “Ham Gravy” on the voicemail of his business cell phone. He garbled the message, but I let him slide. The name didn’t stick with the staff, but to this day I still call him Ham Gravy — or the diminutive, Gravy. (A few years ago, his infant son Augie was Ham Baby.)

With our combined prowess in sublime idiocy, Ham Gravy and I approached the office as a stage. We prodded and provoked, engineered mock arguments and elaborate practical jokes, slagged the bloviators during staff meetings. We hung a nickname on just about everyone. My favorite: a short-tenured sales guy who was in his mid-20s but looked about 13 we dubbed Super Boy (his real name lost to history, to me at least).

Ham Gravy and I also took it upon ourselves to add an element of theater to WP events, with me as front man and him as producer. Sometimes it was simple. For the first “Urban Explorer” party, I was the mascot. Clad in a safari shirt and beige military hat plastered with iron-on Urban Explorer logos (the ever-fastidious Gravy did the ironing), I put on maître d’ airs.

Ideally, every career has a crowning moment. This was ours:

The 2004 Best of the Bay issue had an election theme. The accompanying party was held at our new office, a cavernous former fruit warehouse just off the Howard/Armenia exit. A couple of weeks before the big bash, Ham Gravy bounded through the front door and announced, loudly, to me and everyone within earshot, “I’ve got it. Eric Snider, for the Best of the Bay party you’ll play a sleazy, corrupt politician and you can do a bunch of obnoxious shit.”

It came to me immediately: “And his name is Blake Pearson.”

Gravy and several cohorts got to the business of staging. My partner’s early insistence that Blake Pearson be assassinated was overruled in favor of the lout being shot at and catching the bullet in his teeth.

The play grew to include an “accidental” audio recording of Blake Pearson snorting blow in the men’s room, photo ops with faux paparazzi, crowds of adoring extras, a big closing speech. On an outdoor stage, with a PA. They recruited a guy named Thomas who worked in a tattoo shop to play Pearson’s stalker. The production crew kept me updated. I think I scratched out some notes for a speech.

On the Big Night, I prepped in my usual fashion — with five or so cups of brew drawn from the keg. Getting into character was easy. Don a dark suit, white shirt and double Windsor, drink up, act smarmy. It didn’t take long for me to fully embrace the license I’d been given. I could get away with anything. Because the party unveiled our new office, its attendees included a fair lot of muckety-mucks — local politicians, business people and swells, WP board members and their wives. I mingled, glad-handed, bartered for votes. I collected campaign contributions — ones, fives, I think even a 10 — and am pretty sure I kept the money. I drank.

I approached two wives of board members. “I would like you to know that I am actively courting the female vote,” I murmured conspiratorially. “In this case, two at a time.”

They tittered.

As dusk approached, it was time for the final set piece. I strolled to the stage, surrounded by a throng, cameras shuttering, kissing swaddled baby dolls. I approached the podium bathed in applause, and delivered my speech — I don’t think it was all that slurred — set to the Clinton-esque theme of “I did not have sex with that woman.”

Thomas — feral, hooded — heckled me. I got rattled. He heckled some more, louder, more threatening, something about being my illegitimate son. The crowd hushed. Some were in on the joke, most weren’t. He brandished a starter pistol and fired, a loud crack cut through the air. There may have been a gasp as I crumpled to the stage, but there was no laughter.

After a slow three count spent prostrate behind the podium, I inserted a brass shell casing in my mouth, leapt to my feet and spit it into the crowd. Blake Pearson raised his fists triumphantly, waggled his fingers for more cheers, and exited the stage a dirtbag conqueror. I headed straight for the keg.

Sadly, Blake Pearson did not win reelection. A year later, political editor Wayne Garcia wrote of his fate: Pearson vanished during the ’04 campaign and lost to a mosquito control commissioner 82-18 percent. He had shaved his head and moved to Thailand to practice Zen at a small temple outside Bangkok.

His current whereabouts are unknown.

Eric’s many roles at the Planet/CL included music critic, music editor, features writer and senior editor. He is currently editor of a new Bay area lifestyle magazine called 1, which debuts in May.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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