Today's arrival of Gustavo Arellano's ¡Ask a Mexican! column in the Sacramento News and Review was greeted by three stories in that upstate alt-weekly, including a dishy tell-some piece by Matt Coker, his former colleague at OC Weekly. Coker says he knew early on that Arellano would be more famous than the rest of the staff. But his growing profile as a pundit on everything Mexican-American and status as a six-figure author rankled enough in the Orange County newsroom to elicit tears. Excerpts:
I could tell something strange and wonderful was happening when I'd meet people at parties shortly after the column debuted and, once they discovered where I worked, they'd give me questions to pass on to the Mexican, some naively genuine, others unwittingly racist....
Not only is Arellano the most shameless of the shameless self promoters I have ever known in this business, he also is the most self-aware of his own shamelessness, which I find kind of cute.
Not everyone in the newsroom agreed. The OC Weekly offices are rather Spartan—it doesn't have a quiet room or one of those manufactured sets that allow reporters to openly participate in radio and TV interviews. So to be able to better hear the voices in his headset and not disturb his neighbors, Arellano would routinely crawl under his desk to conduct his confabs. But all that did was produce an amplified muffle. Combined with the multiple camera crews that would set up over his desk for English- and Spanish-language TV news reports, the commotion left many colleagues none too pleased....
I still remember the tears that streamed down OC Weekly's brilliant former political/nightlife /it's-all-about-me-me-me columnist Commie Girl's face when she found out about Arellano's two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. As the Girl herself, Rebecca Schoenkopf, will tell you, those were not tears of joy but jealousy. At least she expressed herself openly; other staffers routinely would complain to me privately about Gustavo this and Gustavo that, their language peppered with insinuations that our boy suffered from the ol' inflating-head syndrome. It didn't help staff morale when Mike Lacey, the top editor and co-owner of the New Times chain that inherited OC Weekly as part of its acquisition of Village Voice Media in 2005, dubbed Arellano his "franchise player" before other news staffers at a liquor-soaked meet and greet.
Funny, even newspaper barons can get burned. I just caught Arellano on the NBC Today show predicting the political demise of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amid his latest infidelities. Under his name, Today identified Lacey's franchise player as being from the "Los Angeles Times opinion section."
Coker takes pride in knowing that he sold Arellano his 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.
Photo: Robert Trachtenberg via Tu Ciudad