The Alibi almost fired me before they even offered me a job.
I was a few years out of college, putting my fine arts degree to good use by answering phones for a baby-clothes manufacturer in Rio Rancho, and submitting unsolicited essays and short stories to various publications on the side. An internship at the Alibi opened up; I applied and got the gig.
"This is it! I've hit the big time!" I shouted to my pet cactus.
I promptly quit my job hawking onesies (which I never could differentiate from creepers, anyway) and under the tutelage of Devin O’Leary began compiling movie showtimes once a week, in exchange for magical dollar bills that could be spent only at Fred's Bread and Bagel.
About two weeks into the internship, Devin cornered me and held up an issue of an Alibi competitor that had just launched. It contained a movie review that I had written for the competitor before securing my Alibi internship. (The movie was Independence Day. Will Smith is in it. You should totally check it out.)
"Are you also working for these guys?" Devin asked.
"No. I just sent a review and they published it," I said meekly.
Devin chewed on this for a few seconds.
"OK," he said. "That's cool. It's just that we've had problems with spies in the past. They intern here and learn all they can before launching their own thing."
Spies! There were spies at the Alibi!
Crisis averted, I interned for a few months before the Alibi offered me a job compiling calendars and writing about food. The job paid in actual dollars, although I could still use them at Fred’s if I wanted to.
My writing was all style over substance (e.g., see above), but I learned a lot from my brilliant colleagues and gradually improved. I even wrote a couple of features—my crowning achievement being "Seven Nights of Sleaze," in which I stayed at some of Albuquerque's sleaziest motels for seven consecutive nights. Being a completely half-assed journalist, though, I never got around to interviewing the proprietors or residents of these motels; I just wrote about how gross the rooms were and how many roaches and crack pipes I found, and how many times the cops showed up. Real mature, hard-hitting stuff.
Another feature I wrote was about a single, unemployed mother of two young children — a so-called “welfare mom” — who had very intelligent, articulate opinions about how the government should treat people like her. The draft I submitted contained lots of subjective statements like "She was strong, she was a fighter," which News Editor Dennis Domrzalski demolished. He basically rewrote the entire thing. I was hurt at the time but later realized how much his edits improved and lent credibility to the piece. Dennis nagged me to ask the mom why she had a second child when she knew she could not afford to raise it. I was too timid to ask the question. I still don’t think I could, although it would have been the journalist-y thing to do.
After leaving the Alibi, I moved to Brooklyn and got a job proofreading for another alternative weekly, New York Press. The Press published some of my writing, but in New York City I wilted in the glow of the surrounding talent: “real” big-city writers who had, like, book deals and stuff. I moved to Texas and quit writing professionally. Today I look back on my stint at the Alibi as some of the best years of my life—and I'm glad Devin didn't fire me.
Side note: The Alibi’s old headquarters in Nob Hill, especially upstairs where the editorial team worked, felt like an off-campus squat. We smoked cigarettes and drank green-chile-infused beer, and the bathroom door either didn’t shut all the way or it locked you in, depending on its mood. One time I dropped a pencil and had to crawl under my desk to retrieve it. Written on the underside of the desk were the words “Angie Drobnic slept here.” It was that kind of place.
Noah Masterson lives in Austin, TX with his wife and two children. He does web stuff for Dell, Inc. and occasionally blogs at noahmasterson.com.