Tonight is the launch of a new journalistic endeavor here in Chicago, and it is the best approach I’ve seen. Do we need another lit journal full of soggy fiction and hyperinflated poems? Do we need another political rag for PC intellectuals? A new hub for citizen journalists’ petty anecdotes and diatribes? I don’t think so. We need a print journal that gives us one conversation, one interview, one essay, one short story, and one road trip—and that’s it.
The Handshake offers just that, and it looks to be head-and-shoulders above some of Chicago’s other independent publications. In its influences, informers, and heroes alone, it impresses: Studs Terkel, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace. These are some of the true greats in literary and narrative nonfiction, and if they are the standard, then The Handshake will maintain an excellence unseen in the independent publishing world as well as a spot on my coffee table. Check out what they’re up to, and if you live here, go to the launch tonight at Schuba’s.
If you’re looking for the story of its origins, you can find it, for the most part, in Daniel Duffy’s letter from the editor, which I’ve reproduced in an abridged version below.
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“This past Spring, I interviewed J.C. Gabel, who founded one of my favorite magazines, Stop Smiling, in the mid-‘90s. … [We] met at the Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building in the South Loop of Chicago. Jackson and Dearborn. The Monadnock—that thing is unbelievable. It’s the tallest commercial load-bearing masonry building ever constructed. It’s made of this purple-brown brick that looks amazing when it rains, and its walls slope gently out at the base and top. Inside, it’s all wood and aluminum and marble. Beautiful and ornate. … I love that Intelligentsia.
Gabel started Stop Smiling when he was nineteen. He got his first advertisers immediately. He got his first investor shortly after that, and he’s been on salary and working three jobs ever since—one with Playboy. And here I was, thirty years old, bartending two nights a week and living on school loans. And I was hungover. “I’m a piece of shit,” I thought.
But then this funny thing happened. … The brilliant motherfucker basically told me how to start a self-sustaining magazine. I stopped thinking about my faults then, boy. I started thinking about how I was going to do what Gabel had done sixteen years ago. I was going to start a magazine.
My high school English teacher … always called me Phineas, referring to a character in John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace who was a nonconformist, constantly refusing to follow rules and regulations, doing stupid shit like wearing his tie on his head, and organizing a group called the Summer Suicide Society.
There’s another Phineas out there, as well. At 4:30 in the afternoon on September 13, 1848, a twenty-five year-old foreman named Phineas Gage was preparing a roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in the forest near Cavendish, Vermont, when the accidental explosion of a charge he had set blew his tamping iron through his head. The tamping iron was 3’7” long and weighed approximately thirteen pounds. It entered on the left side of Gage’s face, under the cheekbone, demolished his left eye, and exploded out of the top of his skull before flying into the air and landing in the woods a good eighty feet away.
The most absurd part of this story is the fact that Gage not only survived, but also didn’t lose consciousness. He was speaking within a few minutes of his accident. … The thing is, however, that when Phineas was strong enough to return to work, the contractors who had employed him wouldn’t take him back because his personality had changed drastically. … Gage, in effect, reverted to savage-hood.
I want the Handshake Media Project to be our tamping iron. I want it to enter our faces, demolish our eyes, and explode out of the top of our skulls before flying into the air and landing in the woods eighty feet away. I don’t want it to turn us all into a bunch of emotionally-explosive, verbally-abusive assholes, necessarily, but I do want it to be a catalyst for change. I want it to change the way we think about things. The way we think about each other.
Phineas Gage, with tamping iron