Gray day thoughts


It’s a gray, foggy, windy day in my part of the world. Seems like a good day to be lazy. It’s my last day off this week, too. I work on Sundays like the good little pagan I am.

I woke up in a contemplative mood today. That last post is a good indicator. I’d decided to play around with the site a bit and, in the process, learned some new things that got me thinking about old things, and that led in a natural sort of way to “Learning the code,” below.

I’m a neophyte at blogging. But I think it’s wonderful that one can still be a neophyte at anything at almost-50. That’s one of the truly great things about computers and the Internet for people like me, who don’t have the time or the money to go back to school. I can keep learning, keep my mind sharp, keep growing, and all in my spare time. I’m going to get good at this. I’m going to learn HTML – don’t laugh, youngsters! I’m going to learn it so well your eyes will pop. Better late than never. Age and treachery …

Anyway, writing about typesetting got me to thinking about other jobs I’ve had. As a teen, I worked at a fried-chicken fast food restaurant. My proudest day was the one where I got to go “in back” and work the grill and deep-fat fryers. I liked it a lot better than standing out in front, taking orders, filling sodas, making shakes, bussing tables and cleaning up the bathrooms. Ew, to that last.

Then it was a stint at Montgomery Ward. I worked the “fine” jewelry counter. The job was a step up from fried-chicken take-out, and I didn’t go home each day smelling like my work, but it was unutterably boring. This was the late 70s, and even then, Monkey Warts was dying on the vine. There weren’t many customers for “fine” jewelry there, though we did have some pretty decent prices on wedding rings and bands, wrist watches, gold and silver chains, charms and bracelets. Oh, and grandfather clocks. I hated selling those, because invariably we’d get complaints about them after the customer got them home. They were, in a word, cheap.

When I graduated from high school, I started taking art at the local community college along with courses toward my AA degree. Imagine my delight, then, the day I got a job as a real graphic artist, working for a woman who ran a small business out of her home doing grocery store circulars for a slew of local stores. These were the old kind of circulars, hand-lettered in India ink on bluelined layout sheets, pasting down line drawings of boxes of macaroni and cheese and muddy photos of rump steaks and celery with rubber cement from big, brown bottles and a fat brush.

The big headers and prices were on pre-printed strips, hung in hunks on a big pegboard – STEAK; KETCHUP; DIAPERS; each word cut out with neatly rounded edges using an X-Acto blade and scissors to avoid the dreaded print shadow. And then, using Speedball pens dipped in little bottles of jet black ink, or Rapidograph pens filled manually with the same black ink, I’d hand-letter in everything else from handwritten copy taken over the phone from the grocer.

“STEAK juicy T-bone …. $1.79 lb.” When I started, my block-printing sucked, but my boss “Debbie” was patient – she knew I’d get the hang of it. And I did. I even got fast, turning out 8-10 of these layouts in the approximately 20 hours I worked. My goal was to be as good as she was, because “Debbie” was fabulous. Her hand-lettering was perfect, gorgeous, totally readable. And she was a great boss. I was 19, and I thought she was very grown-up and sophisticated. She turned 30 (!) the first year I worked with her. She’d done so much! She’d been a hippy and had done drugs I hadn’t even heard of yet. She’d gotten a BA degree at Oakland Institute of Fine Arts. She’d been to Europe several times already. When I met her, she was married and rather well off, very cultured, into ballet and classical music and gourmet cooking.

She had the first Cuisineart I’d ever seen. Debbie introduced me to Italian espresso, which I nearly spat all over one of my layouts the first time I tasted it. The bitter strength of the stuff was totally unexpected. Fortunately, I learned to like it just fine, and I’m a coffee-addict to this day. She made breakfast on Sunday mornings (yeah, I worked Sundays even back then) and I sat in her dining room with her and her husband and ate scrambled eggs with chorizo and crispy English muffins with orange marmalade. Very exotic, I thought. Sunday afternoons, as we wrapped up the work for the week, she poured good red wine in huge-bowled glasses as a reward. I got one glass, and it was lovely. It was from her, as we talked about Europe, that I learned that Nice, in France, was pronounced “neece”, not “nighce.” And Wagner was “Vogner.” Wow.

She woke up my wanderlust, but I had no way to go see the places she talked about. Still, I started learning about them, going out of my way to get some “culture.”

My next job, after I got sick and tired of going to school and being broke all the time (so I dropped out), was with a small publishing and printing company. There, I did pretty much the same sort of work I’d done for Debbie, except the product expanded to laying out everything from small weekly newspapers to insurance forms. Learned a lot there, too, and met some great people. Didn’t like my boss much, though. He was nervous around me (could it be because I had a habit of wearing jeans and halter tops? I had no clue, I swear). Also, he had a serious body-odor problem. But, I was working full time, and I liked that.

I still wanted, somehow, to visit Europe. The wanderlust was getting worse. I took an adult class in beginning Italian, because I wanted to see Italy, first. But I sure still wasn’t making enough money. I couldn’t save a dime. I was living on my own in a studio apartment, had a car and insurance to pay, food to buy – all the mundane costs of adult life I hadn’t known were coming until I was smack-dab in the middle of them.

I did go to Europe, eventually. But that’s for another post. This one is getting too long, and I need to check the fire in the woodstove and see about putting on a pot of soup for dinner tonight. Later, alligator.

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