Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Washington Post Old Guard

Mr. Groves worked right next to me building ads. He was an older black man and I think he played some professional football but many years earlier. He was a nice man but slowed by age and possessing all of the medical troubles common at the Post plus bum knees from football. We talked about many things every night though I can't say exactly what we spoke about. I just remember he was a pleasant man who was always glad to help you or answer a question.  Tom and Louie were two more ad makers I worked with. They looked like Mutt and Jeff. Louie was a short guy of Irish decent while Tom was a real tall dark haired man. They went outside on a regular basis to grab a smoke. Usually they smoked by the L Street exit. There, you would run into a particular click of smokers and air grabbers that differed from the fifteenth street entrance. I can't say where Louie is today but Tom is dead. He was undergoing treatment during his final days at the Post for Cancer. It was not very long after he left the paper that we got the word that he had passed away. That was a regular occurrence around the floor. You'd get a mass email every few weeks announcing somebody or one of their relatives had died. Most times you had to try to figure out who they were by matching their name with their picture and saying to yourself, "Oh yeah I remember that guy!" He worked  in this department or that."  Other times you had worked with them personally like Diane who died from breast cancer.

Brian and Brenda were an interesting pair. They had to prepare what were known as tear sheets. But Brian, who was a short, happy, black man, could not get his work done until Brenda, a tall, most times surly, black woman did her part of the task. They were always feuding. Finally, only weeks before Brenda would take what would come to be known as "the buy out," Brian in anger dumped a coke on her keyboard while she was not at work. She was not a work a lot and not at work much when she was and it was holding up Brian. The unfortunate thing for him was the Mockingbird had recently installed a hidden camera that oversaw their work area and taped him doing the deed. GONE!

Then shortly after that Ned, a heavy set black guy, was grousing about Brenda getting Brian fired so Brenda told personnel that Ned had looked at pornography at work on his computer. Personnel took a peek at Ned's history on his computer and found something because not long after that he was fired too.

Same with Michael though it was not always apparent to the other worker's in the paradise. When Michael got fire it took a while before I even knew. He was a late thirties family man proud of his two kids. He too is black and come to think of it, all the people they were firing then that I knew of were all black. One night he was making a hundred color copies for his kids' school project. Sure the Post is all for promoting education and such but not with a vice president of ad operations needing to make ONE color copy. Michael's print job would have taken an hour or so probably but who's going to notice at that late hour when it was just the night crew? Well it was the vice president working late that night as well who attempted to cancel the job but that just restarted it printing all over again from the start.

Michael GONE! The funny thing is, well not to Michael, but it was all hush hush. I recall shortly after that time getting a threatening email about using Post equipment for personal matters but I paid it no mind. Basically you had to ask your manager first to cover your ass. But I didn't see Michael at work and figured he'd gone on vacation. There were lots of workers back in the early days so it's hard to keep track sometimes especially when one of them works outside of your immediate department and you don't interact on a daily basis with them - like with Michael. So six months later during a rare slow period I focused on Michael's still vacant desk and thought, "Hey wait a minute! Michael can't still be on vacation." So I asked one of my contacts, Randy who shall be discussed in much detail if he ever grows a pair and lets me write about his days at the Post. Well he informed me under his breath what happened to Michael.

Normally, they kept quiet when somebody was terminated by the mockingbird. You had to find out through the grapevine and deduction or the terminated worker maybe would tell the ones who remained of their fate. It could be a good while before most knew the true outcome of a worker missing in action. Other times like when they fired Jackie everybody knew that day. She was a pleasant, attractive black lady. The management found evidence of her doing side work while on the clock at the Post. This was a no no but lots of the artists and ad makers did it to boost their side income. Jackie just got caught. When the guards escort you out of the building with a manager then in no case did that person ever return. The Washington Post always pays you enough money to go away rather than fight them and cause a big stink. Jackie would be no exception.

But the mockingbird must also appear to the subscribing public to be kind and compassionate to those especially less fortunate - which the Post considered black people to be in their condescending way. In the case of this other big deaf guy Tom they didn't fire him for threatening Bob, our manager. They paid for him to go to anger management charm school. Many think of the deaf as being passive and introspective. Tom may have been introspective but he damn sure wasn't passive. He wasn't outwardly aggressive but you didn't want to cross him. Bob never did again so we'll never know if the anger management worked or not. Bob was concerned for his safety and danced around Tom thereafter. The Post made my boss Ronny go to charm school as well because he didn't take any nonsense in ad operations. However, the Post felt he wasn't "sensitive" enough in doing his job so he had to attend charm school several times.

Tex was in his seventies and when you asked him if he was working tonight he'd say, "Not yet" or "All night." He owned a number of rental properties and lived to make money. He had other side endeavors like many at the Post. Big George and Larry both were into old antique cars and put theirs in competitions. They were both friendly guys. George did the Calvert Woodley liquor ad which took up the majority of his work week in those days. The reasons for this were George was an older man who the Post trained to do this task and it was a big one too; the computers were nowhere near as powerful as today's and crashed with those big ads; many times these ads had to be created from scratch rather than just picking up an old ad and changing some prices, the dates, the times and such. The economy was roaring so the ads really were bigger than when I left. The Calvert Woodley ad was always a full page and they also purchased many other ads.

Billy George worked next to me and lived up in what Washingtonians call Fredneck if you get my drift. The town is really known as Frederick. There are many country boys up there like Billy though not so much now as then. Billy was a bit compulsive. He went through a routine every night beginning with the cleansing of the desk ceremony where he sprayed everything down with disinfectant. Some thought him obsessive over cleanliness but I must admit - he never got sick. After the cleansing he'd fill up the printers and copiers with paper. You could set your watch on when he went to dinner and he'd not return until the dinner break was over. But he was kind of quite and kept to himself.

Legler was a heavy set deaf guy who also QCed for the Post. He was a happy guy who could speak a bit. He was also a practical joker so you had to watch him and you didn't want to cross him because he always got you back. With Legler it was always better to use a false flag attack which can be blamed on someone else. It's like getting Israel to slap the U.S.S. Liberty with bombs trying to send the ship, "to the bottom of the goddamn Mediterranean," as LBJ demanded. Then it would be blamed on Egypt so we could invade if necessary. The Post wrote about it when it happened but said it was all a big mistake by the Israelis.

Heading our floor was our direct supervisor Mike Divvers. He liked to smoke cigars, watch the Redskins and he did a bit of gambling. I saw an ad one time and the tag line made me wonder. "Happiness is a Realty," was what the Real Estate firm had been running for months. I thought maybe they thought they were saying "Reality" so I asked Mike. But he was incredibly busy holding the floor together, running various gambling pools and lord knows what else. But he eventually got around to it and about six months later out of the blue tells me, "You were right! They thought all this time they were saying REALITY not Realty."

Most of the old guard had been at the Post for decades. The floor had its share of prima donas protected by the union. These workers were highly paid but didn't do that much work. At one point after I had been at the Post for about two years, Bob Tamoria had figured out how to pull the numbers on all the ad makers, proofreaders, artists and other workers using Track-It to see how much work everybody was doing. It wasn't long after that these guys were getting offered over a hundred grand to retire early. All but a couple took the offer. Over the course of a year virtually everyone I had worked with took the buyout and were gone. The Post replaced them all with younger employees who worked for less and did about ten times more work. The write offs declined drastically as well. About six months after they left several of the old guard called up to see how things were going. They expected to hear that the place was falling apart without them. But they were told how much more productive the new crew was so the the old guard never bothered to ask after that.

As for the mockingbird, they proved they could replaced everybody on the floor for less money, more profit, less trouble and all in a number of months. I was one of those new hires. No longer was I a temporary scab. So I spanned the time between the old and the new. I wonder sometimes where the old crew is and what they are doing. I wouldn't expect many to be alive still. Most were on their last legs. One dude damn near lost his legs and might have lost a foot or two. I can't remember his name but he used to commute with Lonny from south of Richmond to DC for thirty years. Then he accepts the buyout but Virginia is doing road work on route 395 causing traffic to be stopped dead in the middle of the night when we got off. I know because I was still living in Virginia then. Lonny was a creature of habit. When the Virginia Department of Transportation stopped traffic he'd sit there like I did once - for an hour at three o'clock in the morning! So I figured out how to exit before the construction to detour around the area. But not old Lonny. It drove his carpool  friend crazy so this guy decided to drive himself those last few weeks until retirement. He fell asleep at the wheel and I think his feet didn't make it after the crash.

No more deaf workers were hired by the Post. Management had had their fill because they could use their handicap to dodge work if they wanted to. They were like POWs who used a secret code to communicate and defeat their Nazi oppressors. Penny and Dave Herbold retired then moved to Arizona. Billy George took the buyout as well and the last I heard he was driving a school bus. Another Ad Ops artists left and began selling Real Estate which was going gang busters then. At first some of the old workers would pay us a visit. But as fewer of the people they knew remained at the Post the less that occurred.


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