That's Why They Called It XS | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


That's Why They Called It XS

It's been more than six years, yet Ronnie Greenspan still can't talk about the staff party without feeling a rise of queasiness in the pit of her stomach.

The shame she felt that night, though diminished by time, has never quite disappeared. Rather, it has spiraled down through the years to color the canvases she paints in somber

tones and may have contributed to her need for the pills she takes to control her recurrent depression.

"It's still very upsetting and confusing to me," she says. "Sometimes I think it was all my fault."

In the summer of 1991, Greenspan was a 26-year-old writer struggling to launch a career the hard way, selling articles and features at low-ball prices just to get some bylines. Still, for an aspiring journalist just starting out, she could count herself lucky; she'd managed to carve out a small but welcome niche as a freelance writer with a new Broward County weekly called XS magazine. A painter herself, she was getting into the paper with some regularity covering exhibits and trends as well as profiling artists and gallery owners. Exhilarated by the work and the exposure it brought, she nevertheless found it all somewhat intimidating. "I was very nervous about the whole thing," she remembers.

Although her 1500-or-so-word stories usually brought in less than $250 apiece, she was hoping they would lead to bigger and better-paying assignments. "What I really wanted was a cover story," she says.

But as the year progressed, it was slowly dawning on Greenspan that those goals were being jeopardized by her increasingly bizarre relationship with the paper's publisher and editor, Stephen Wissink -- a relationship in which the professional and the personal were becoming dangerously entwined.

This was an important partnership for Greenspan in several respects. For one thing, Wissink had direct control over much of her career; not only did he edit her work, he approved her assignments and set her pay. Plus, she was infatuated with him.

Within days of editing her first article, Wissink had left a "very sweet" birthday message on her answering machine. Soon he asked her out. On their first date, the editor and the writer went to the movies and kissed in the parking lot afterward. On their second date, they walked on the beach and shared secrets under the stars. "I felt like we were a couple of kids," she recalls. She was flattered by Wissink's attention, awed by the power of his media position, overwhelmed by his manic energy, and totally, thoroughly smitten.

"I thought he was brilliant," she says wistfully. "He did all the right things. He said things a girl wants to hear, things about the future, about us. For a while I thought maybe we were going to have a life together."

Those hopes diminished when the courtship ended. Although the calls continued, there was nothing tender about their content anymore. "He'd call at three in the morning and say come on over, the door's open," she says. "It was kind of like I was a groupie. He even gave me an XS T-shirt." Sometimes she hung up on him; other times she answered the summons. "I was lonely," she admits. "And infatuated, I guess."

At the staff party, a nadir of sorts was reached. It wasn't a swank affair -- "just a summertime barbecue by the pool with a bunch of staffers," says Michael Farver, then an assistant editor on the paper and the party's host. People brought their kids. They drank some beer and had fun.

Despite feeling a little apprehensive about how Wissink would treat her with staffers around, Greenspan decided to attend. And at first she was glad she did. He flirted and bantered with her, and that fed into her need to feel wanted.

Later, Wissink went outside, gesturing for her to follow. She did. Leading her into the bushes, he kissed her. She responded. They made out. Then she says he started pressuring her to have sex right there on the lawn. She refused. He insisted. They compromised. "We had oral sex," she says. They also had an audience. While they'd been groping, a couple of XS staffers had climbed onto the roof and were taking photographs.

Thus was the tone of the Wissink era set from the beginning -- with the spectacle of the new paper's editor/publisher having sex in the bushes with a freelancer while members of his staff captured the scene on film.

"When I came back inside, someone told me I had grass stains on my face," Greenspan says. "They were laughing."

Eventually Greenspan stopped coming in to the XS office. She had the feeling that people were talking about her, and she thought she detected a condescending attitude and tone of voice in some employees. That perception, coupled with her own shame, led her to tell Wissink that she thought it was time to quit writing for the paper. "I couldn't sleep, I was anxious all the time -- I just couldn't take it psychologically," she contends. Wissink's response? "'Good, there are twelve other women I can get to replace you,'" she recalls him saying.

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Paul Belden

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