Goodbye Cargo- almost published in NY Mag and Nerve, but killed
Cargo Magazine has folded, and, like one of those ideologically abused communists who mourned the death of war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, I feel an unexplainable pang of loyalist sadness. If there was a town square to stand in, I would be there holding up a copy of the much-maligned title, even though that was the hardest job I have ever had in my life, and I am pretty sure it almost killed me. Maybe I am just not as hardy as the coiffed, honey-highlighted, tartan skirted women who populate the Conde Nast Building.
I worked at Cargo for the first year of its existence, from 2003-2004. It was a more innocent time: metrosexuality was a fresh new word on everyone’s tongue, Queer Eye was still a phenomenon, and men hadn’t yet been programmed to shop like women.
I was one of those men. I walked in there wearing a polo shirt of my dad’s bright orange-brown Fluevog’s from 1995 and some rancid, faded Diesel jeans, not even knowing what “twill” meant.
“I like your jeans,” a market editor said to me, as we waited at the printer on one of my first days.
“Thanks. Um. They’re Diesel,” I said, flattered but confused.
He pinched his printout and laughed. “I know. I was joking.”
Cargo, based on the incredibly successful shopping magazine for women, Lucky, was to highlight the best gadgets, clothes, cars, grooming products, and more, and provide detailed credits about how to get your hands on all the stuff.
The bosses at Cargo hired me without much experience in fashion, or even in magazine production. But within a year, with the help of the knowledgeable market and style directors, I was coming back from the Varvatos show saying things like “What was the story with that leather duster jacket?” or flipping through a lookbook and exclaiming “those aren’t shoes, those are horseshoe crabs!”
In case you have forgotten, back then, oh so long ago in 2003, there was a manic, survivalist feeling to our consumer economy. We still believed in the preposterous Red Code Alerts, and instead of examining our flaws and looking within, we reelected Bush and made Paris Hilton a star. We were in a state of disassociation with the outside world, and our overabundant materialism was getting a new layer of eye-catching shellac to appeal to our panicked, war-averting eyes. And, as usual, the heterosexual man became the emancipator – the only thing that would save us from destruction. Straight men were suddenly considered a kind of untapped oil field to be exploited. Thus began the Men’s Makeover Movement. The Queer Eye guys became celebrity minions, men’s fashion experienced a renaissance, tee-shirts and jeans ratcheted up to higher price points, and we all started dressing better.
There was this tense pressure in the office that we had to find the right way to capture this elusive new consumer man that would save us. It was up to us to get the right language and pitch perfectly for this new army of Jude Laws before our entire empire crumbled.
This was mind-meltingly difficult, especially in the fashion department. Unlike the women’s apparel industry, men’s fashion wasn’t used to the kind of specificity Cargo required. We would often have to call stores or labels and ensure they were stocked. We also were experimenting on exactly how to talk to men. I had to write about fashion without using any fashion words like “This season” “hot” or “runway”. In essence, I had to write about fashion for guys without using any fashion words. Do you understand how impossible that is?
We were trying to appeal to a “regular” guy. Some version of a dude who maybe had a girlfriend, enough money for a car, and who could try on a 90 dollar Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt and say “Hey, do I look fat in this?” while still sounding completely straight, even if he was gay himself.
I saw a lot of them come through the doors. My desk was situated near the photo editors, and there was a constant parade of “regular guys.” Which I soon discovered meant they weren’t models; they were part time models. Like, “cabinet maker/model” or “surfer/model.” They had big frames and white smiles and wore knotted ropey chokers or pooka beads. Often they would have to be shirtless so that the editors could make sure they were right for the Chest Hair Trimming story or the Colored Briefs page. Everyone on the staff was so professional and unfazed by all this masculine swagger coming through. I would sit at my desk, stare at my Quark files, trying to be professional too.
I didn’t have much time to look anyway. It was a hard job. Many days I would leave the office at nine PM, with a brown Starbucks tongue, too fried to even watch TV, my eyes warped and watery like I had been swimming all day in a chlorinated pool.
That first year, we at Cargo were a lean, mean, overworked team. I think there is some secret Conde Nast rule borrowed from the military to keep the staff small when launching a magazine so that the machine becomes entirely efficient, and the staff develops Jarhead-style bonds with one another. We senior editors and designers had the workload of twelve Vogue girls each.
One morning after being in the office till late the night before, I woke up and urinated blood. I knew I had to see a doctor, but I also had to get to work because I had to storyboard the best army hats, call the Style Director on a shoot in Amsterdam for final approval on the Safari clothes story, organize the intensely detailed feature on Khakis, and track down a 4,000 dollar Martin Margiela sweater that was mistakenly sent to Paris. And it was our 10 AM Tuesday staff meeting, perhaps the most tensely crucial hour of the week, when the managing and exec editor would walk through every page and make sure everything was on schedule with the seriousness and concentration of nuclear engineers.
I went to the meeting, and then ran off to a urologist for a cystoscopy and after having a camera tube stuck up my male organ, limped back to work so that I could be sure to close my pages. Two weeks later I woke up in pure, burning, terrible pain, that I thought was food poisoning and later found out was a 6 millimeter-sized kidney stone.
Clearly, something had happened deep inside me during that time, and, perhaps deep inside the men of America. I passed my kidney stone while I got rid of my fluevogs, cut my hair, bought pricey tees. Men were successfully stripped of their saggy Bill Gates khakis and gaudy Ali G flavah and transformed into guys who wear leather wristbands, Rogue’s Gallery off-center printed tees, Trovata cotton blazers and Rogan low-rise jeans.
It’s not that Cargo wasn’t successful. It was an influential contributor to the Mens Makeover Movement. During its tenure, guys learned how to dress, to buy with a discerning eye, to look in the mirror and worry if they should get bangs. Maybe now, they just don’t need magazines, and they don’t need gay experts. The Queer Eye guys can’t help but feel a little used. Most notably, no one talks of metrosexuals anymore. Maybe it was just a phase.
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