Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Deaf, Dumb Washington Post

The Washington Post hires the handicapped. They don't do so just because it's fun to watch us work. As always the Post wanted to convey a compassionate image so for example they hired the deaf to work in ad operations. I knew this because in actuality this was not technically my first stint working at the Washington Post. When I was fifteen years old my neighbor Augie, who was a printer for the Washington Post, got me a part time job there. Yes, I know that's illegal and in violation of federal child labor laws. The Post was not aware of my real age however and it would not matter. I only worked there one night because I had to take an hour long bus ride downtown to the red light district at fifteenth and L where the Post is located. Then, when I got off in the early morning hours I had to wait another hour or so for the bus to pick me up for my hour long ride home. Finally, I received my first paycheck - It was something like twelve bucks after taxes. That was the final blow to convince me that working for the Washington Post was not going to work for me at that time. I would not work for them again for thirty years and twelve bucks wasn't even how much the Post would pay me an hour after tax and other prizes were deducted.

It was strange going to work as it's getting dark and getting off in the dark too. We were all in the dark in those days thanks in a large part to the Washington Post but now - not so much so. Kids will always be kids I suppose. I hear my children debating this or that everyday. When I was their age I was no different. It could be my brother or with friends but when you are younger you have the energy  combined with a overwhelming need to define your universe and how you fit into it. So we were always arguing over something. Who was the greatest Redskin quarterback? What was the name of the Indian in "My Little Chickadee?" How long was the "Ten Years War?" Okay I'll admit we were not great thinkers. Being that as it may, one damn sure fire way to settle the argument was if the Washington Post said it was this way and not that. When they reported the details of the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," there was not reason to argue. It was something that happened to us by those low down upstart Vietnamese who must not know who they were dealing with here. We're the Americans who just whipped the damn Nazis and you South East Asians think you can fire on our damn navy? Of course nobody was writing about war or anything as media like the Washington Post were all reporting that this was just an "incident." Because of this incident however the Post wrote more and more about this threat of communism spreading from Vietnam into the rest of South East Asia, over through India into Europe and finally across the pond to main street right here in America. This was the dreaded Domino Theory. So naturally we agreed with the media and felt giving the South Vietnamese a hand would be a wise thing to do.

My mom just can't stand a liar and that's how I was raised. My great grandfather was known for honesty as the first elected Cuban president. So before moving forward please allow me to be clear. Everybody today freely admits that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was complete nonsense and never occurred. It was a classic wag the dog operation aided and abetted by the Washington Post and it resulted in over fifty thousand dead young Americans and a million Vietnamese. In addition millions on both sides were maimed physically and psychologically. At the end of the day all the Washington Post has to offer is the truth.

When I began to realize that maybe the Post wasn't delivering the truth starting in the 1980's I was disappointed. But I thought it was just a business decision about what politics were relevant to their liberal readers. However, they were lying through omission. So I became suspicious nonetheless. It would not become apparent to me until after the turn of the millennium how many times the Washington Post had bold face Gulf of Tonkin lied to me. These editorial idiots thought they could fool all of the people all of the time and do it forever. They might have gotten away with it except for the Internet. With the Internet you can check facts and compare arguments to reach a logical conclusion. It quickly allows you to find out how many times media like the Washington Post has lied to you. That's the reason Congress wants to charge bloggers and information websites a tax then give the money to the newspapers and network TV dinosaurs. Everybody knows when you tax and regulate something it shrinks like George Castanza's pride and joy in a cold pool. Ah but subsidizing will at least keep business on life supports. In the end though businesses that need to be subsidized die a bloated undignified death brought about by their own greedy hands. The Washington Post shall not be immune to this law of the universe either. Their number of paying subscribers shrinks every day and were it not for federal advertising revenue I doubt seriously they could last a month. Well to be more accurate, Donny Graham sure would not waste any of his wealth subsidizing the Washington Post. So he and his minions will continue to pursue the creation of the newspaper life raft affectionately known on Capital Hill as the "Newspaper Revitalization Act." Just remember...it's all just an act that the taxpayers are subsidizing.

How dumb are the guys running things? Well first they let the Internet out of the bag. Then more and more Americans start to wise up and exchange information about how we've all been lied to by the Post and other newspapers and TV networks. So now these idiots want to tax us for spreading the truth and pay the Washington Post to keep on lying. Finally, they hope to pretend it is 1950 again, shut down websites the government doesn't like and hoping the people don't notice. Good luck because the horse has already left the barn. Even my formerly statist brother and my mother who worked for the Justice Department as the administrative assistant to a number of Assistant Attorney Generals as well as for John Fetters when he headed the SEC during the Reagan administration, know something is fishy about what we are all being told. The more the government tries to hide the truth the more suspicious the people will become so even when the government is telling the truth the people will think them liars. The people will simply email one another if the government shuts down website containing the truth.

None of these things were apparent to me or anyone back in the sixties when I made my first tour with the Washington Post. I met with the supervisor that Augie had arranged and he spoke briefly with me to describe the work. As far as I can recall those were the last words I heard until the end of the shift when he asked how everything went. It's not that the other workers were rude. They were all deaf.

I walked onto the collating floor and everywhere you turned workers were flashing sign language back and forth. Supposedly, they were handicapped but I was the only one who didn't know what the hell was going on. So by any definition I felt like the handicapped person. For all I knew they could have been talking about me like a dog. I didn't know any sign language except for the rude ones that all fifteen year-old boys know instinctively. However, I never recalled any of that vocabulary being used during the evening. The feeling was a lot like when I was in France years later. In Paris you can get by with English but in the countryside you better know some French. I did and would leave France after two weeks knowing a hell of a lot more. But when I left work that night the sign language was still completely Greek to me. One nice young deaf woman, who I think the boss got to keep an eye on me, showed me a couple different signs but I couldn't say now what they were. Obviously, they went into one ear and out the other so to speak. I always wondered if she was Penny Herbold, one of my assignment coordinators who I would work with during my second tour of duty with the mockingbird. Penny had about a decade on me and she did work in collating. What's collating? Well on Wednesdays the Post had inserts which had to be, well...inserted into the paper. So all of us were lined up standing by a conveyor belt which brought us stacks of newspapers. Five papers were stacked this way and five were stacked that way so the papers wouldn't topple over before we could get to them. Some toppled nonetheless. We would grab a stack off the conveyor, take the papers one by one and shove the insert into it. Finally, we would re-stack the freshly inserted Washington Post alternating them five facing this way and five facing that way so they would not slide off the conveyor. That's it! Not rocket science and I would have done the job but as is the case with my life, I got lucky.

Back in the late 60's the newspaper business was a highly toxic endeavor. The job was filled with lead type and chemicals too horrible to be legally exposed to today. I'm sure Augie is dead now but I can't say. He smoked heavily and worked his whole adult life in a toxic work environment as a printer so I would bet his chances for survival today are quite slim. Certainly, if the job had only been a bit more convenient then I might have continued to work there and God forbid - become a printer. I too would be a dead man today.

Whether or not it was Penny Herbold in the late sixties I'll never know. But she was nice to work with and spoke very clearly for someone with a hearing problem. So Penny could speak to you unlike most of the other deaf folks on the floor who needed pen and paper to get anything across to thick Tom - a dog too old by then to master the sign language trick. Penny's husband Dave also worked on the sixth floor in Ad Operations. Like me, he was a proofreader. He hated his job and being at the Washington Post in general. Like everyone there however, he enjoyed the nice paycheck as well as the worker's paradise benefits.

Every night Dave Herbold and most of the Post employees could be found traveling down the information highway surfing away during my first few years at the Post. On his desk would be just one ad jacket. He had already QCed the ad meaning checked it for errors. In QC the last thing you want to do is have the Washington Post get a write-off that has your signature on the ad. I don't care who you are or what union you belonged to. Nobody could get many write offs and keep a job at the Washington Post - at least not proofreading. The tactic used by absolutely every other proofreader the whole ten years that I worked in Ad Operations was simple but effective. Just reduce the number of ads with your name on them any way you could. This was especially easy for a deaf, union proofreader to do. Dave Herbold sat at his desk, strategically position to face Bob Tamoria's office and he'd be surfing away. Every so often out pops Bob from his office and the sign language starts to spread through shop floor before Bob had taken more than four steps. The other three union proofreaders hit the Step Done or Reject button to move the ad down the Track-It line and get up to file their ads appropriately. Then they'd grab another ad, return to their desk and start proofing the ad until Bob returned to his office. Continuing the cycle of life they would hit the surf once more with their insurance ad jacket at their side. I, on the other hand, had a pile of ad jackets on my desk. In a shift back in those pre-economic collapse days while the Federal Reserve was pumping up the economy with lots of space bucks I proofed over a hundred ads or more every night. Some nights there were so many ads in the QC rack that they would fall out occasionally because it was so stuffed. The guys in the union? They may have gotten twenty or so under their belt. With the union contract all they had to do was show up for work and look like they were working. They knew as long as they didn't get a write-off and showed up for work sober and the work got done they were safe.

The turn of the millennium found the Washington Post evolving to the desktop environment to make a newspaper. The management was switching over to these new computer systems and various software packages which all had to be integrated to work with one another without a font dropping out or a logo vanishing. Needless to say but I will, the bosses were just happy each night to survive one I.T. crisis after another during those early Track-It days when the systems crashed every other day it seemed and twice on Thursdays. Managers were busy smoothing out the kinks. They had not yet figured out how to use this new technology to gauge how much work their employees were cranking out each day. However, the Mockingbird would eventually sort out how to use their computers to maximize worker production in the paradise.

So the other proofreaders loved me right from the beginning. I did all the work and took all the chances of getting the write off. The work was getting done and write offs dropped. When I began at the Post in the late 90's the management had budgeted for a couple million in write offs and make goods (print the ad again for the advertiser but this time get it right). When I left the Washington Post in 2009 the budget for write offs was under $100,000.

Bob Tamoria was happy with me too because the work was getting done on time correctly. Sure I had a few write off during the decade but not as many as the other proofreaders who all were reading far fewer ads than me. At the Post they had a "don't ask don't tell policy." For example when I worked in digital pagination several years later I would collect all the close times and any other things I thought were important and send them to Ronnie. Before Ronnie was head of the night Ad Op department Paul Poteat had the job and we use to hand write all this stuff and walk it down to his office. Then Paul would create the report by retyping our close times and what not. Ronnie saw the wisdom being more computer savvy to bypass the paper and typing. He let me just email the data to him so he could cut and paste it into his report to his superiors. His superiors wanted to know how everything went every night. Somebody screwed up in our department but luckily I caught the mistake and proudly included it in the pagination report I emailed to Ronnie always looking for that "atta boy...good catch." Sure enough later or perhaps the next day Ronnie calls me into the office and does thank me for making the "catch." Then he tells me never to put that in a report again. "We don't air our dirty laundry." I caught his drift. Never tell the Washington Post hierarchy how to make Ad Operation sausage. Just keep grinding away every night getting perfect ads on the page by the hundreds for less and less employee costs with these new fancy computer machines making the mockingbird millions of dollars in revenue. Donald Graham and the top people who report to him always kept an eye on the bottom line. Those good old days they had bigger fish to fry with their time though. The result was the farther back I go into my time at the Post the more lavish soirees they threw on a more regular basis. Everybody from Don on down did a lot more smiling in those days.

Penny Herbold liked me well enough but she would get real cross at her husband from time to time. I'd see her dressing him down with sign language. In case you didn't know, you can tell when a deaf person is pissed off while signing to another deaf person. Well...you had no trouble telling when it was Penny pissed off at Dave anyway. Penny's fingers would be flying talking a mile a minute, slashing this way and that, because her husband was slacking and she needed to get the work done before she could go home. Her husband, on the other hand, would be groveling with signed excuses I could only imagine. "Baby, I'm sorry but I have a head ache and I'm still tired from mowing the lawn yesterday..." He was a bit out of shape as were most all of the Post workers. Penny however was very physically fit. She could have kicked his ass if she wanted to and I'm sure he knew it.

Dead men walking was the case mostly with the old guard. Cancer was big on the floor especially for the smokers of which their were many. You could still smoke inside in the smoking lounge back in those days next to the cafeteria. If you didn't have cancer then you certainly had high blood pressure and diabetes. Somebody was always celebrating something at the Post and the food flowed liberally resulting in the vast majority of Post Toasties being gravitationally challenged. These folks were big and sick. Many of them are dead today. All of them are gone from the Washington Post today accept for maybe Pete Gragnanni my old high school buddy down on the forth floor. When I left I was one of the old timers. Everybody I had worked with on the sixth floor was gone through retirement, death, termination or were paid to go away like me. My boss Ronnie retired and only shortly after we got the word that his wife passed away unexpectedly. This must be a bitter pill for the boss to swallow after working all those years to retire with his wife only to lose her just upon reaching the retirement promise land.

The Post never hired another deaf person after me of course. Maybe they would not have hired me if they knew how badly I scalded my ear drums with loud rock and roll growing up. When you don't hear well it can be a handicap because I speak fine but a bit loudly is all. I tried using a hearing aid but it turns out that this is too much information. I am overwhelmed by all the little buzzes and background noise. So people don't realize my hearing is bad and I do my best most time to hide it as well. Some mistake my volume for aggression.  I hate to ask people to repeat themselves because I can't hear so I do lots of smiling, nodding in agreement and commenting where I sense it to be appropriate with phrases like, "I'm hip" or just "cool." If they laugh then I'll laugh too. I don't know what we're laughing about many times but at least we having fun. I think we are anyway.

1 Comments:

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