Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Washington Post Is A Practical Joke

My greatest contribution to the science of the practical joke was the creation of the "coup de chair." Chris was my first victim only because he sat just behind me. It was his bad luck I suppose. All of my practical jokes were first tried on Chris, though eventually they led to Randy. But I never tried out a prank directly on Randy for if you failed Randy would both humiliate you and get you back good. First I had to be sure the trick would work then I needed to figure out a way to blame the deed on someone else so I would not receive the wrath of Randy's retribution. At this point I hadn't even heard of the term "false flag attack" in my entire life.

Sometimes a prank would come to you in a flash of brilliance. For example when I was punching some holes in papers destined for a three ringed binder I happened to notice Chris sitting down to his desk and as usual clicking on his little fan atop his work station. He could do it without even looking he'd done this task so many times before. His left hand knew exactly where the fan lay, reached out instinctively as he lowered himself into the chair. I laughed pondering the practical joke possibilities. The truth of the matter was Chris arrived at work several hours before me and left for home earlier as well. This meant I could turn his work station into an cubical minefield before he'd return the following day.

Chris got up from his desk, put his coat on and began making his way towards his Metro station. I smiled and bid him farewell. I could see the unease in his face as he knew something may be up by the tone of my smile. He immediately checked the back of his coat for kick me tags. No, this would not be an evening where he'd walk out of the Post building, down 15th Street, into the Metro for his ride home only to have his wife pull the paper taped to his back and ask, "What's this?" Well...this was a sign that read, "I'm Stupid." At that point Chris realized why so many folks in the subway were so joyful and filled with laughter that evening. Yes one certainly had to be careful or one could find one's self walking out of the building with any number of tags or miscellaneous items dangling from their person.

But that would not be the case for Chris tonight as he groped and checked himself. "Chris. What ya doing there buddy?" I asked innocently enough. "I'm not going home with another one of you little signs again, thank you very much sir." I puffed out a couple of indignant blows of air and replied, "Chris, I'm shocked that you would attribute such a childish prank to me. Shocked...just shocked." Nonetheless Chris removed his coat and examined it carefully before putting it back on and backing out of the cubical. I bid him farewell still smiling.

This was Friday evening and we would not return to work until Monday. Be that as it may, once Chris disappeared around the bend heading down the hallway, I got up from my chair with my handful of paper dots from the puncher and deposited them unnoticed in Chris's fan. However, the best laid pratfalls often do not go as originally planned but can nonetheless result in acceptable outcomes for the developmental prankster. I returned to my desk and finished out my shift. By the time the weekend was over and I returned to work on Monday I'd forgotten completely about my little joke.

There was nothing to remind me of the dots either. Nothing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. All quiet on the practical joke front. Then on Friday the fruits of my efforts became apparent. Chris exclaims, "Goddammit! That's where those dots are coming from!" I wheeled around to see Chris looking down at his fan perplexed. "What's the trouble there man?" I inquired doing my darnedest to look like an alter boy. Then Chris launches into his silent struggle story. "All week long I kept seeing these paper dots appear around my work station. They were coming from my fan apparently. I can't imagine how they got in here." I got up walking over to his fan that was still running. "No shit man?" I remarked tilting his fan a bit. I few more dots flew out of the fan hitting Chris and landing on his keyboard. Apparently, all the dots didn't fly out of the fan at once when he turned his fan on the first time as I had planned. No. Instead a few flew out each time the fan was turned on or jiggled. He hadn't noticed where the dots were coming from all week. He would just clean them up and go back to work only to have more dots mysteriously reappear. "Oh man! That's clever." I commented wiggling the fan and once again releasing more dots in Chris's direction. "You know, this has all the markings of Randy." I speculated to Chris hoping to avoid retribution.

Sadly, my acting did not save me and I found my computer, keyboard, mouse, etc. completely Scotch taped the following Monday making it impossible to work. In the meantime Ronnie was screaming for close times for the Daily but I damn sure couldn't step the ads along their way until I'd freed my equipment of the tape. Fortunately I did so before Ronnie noticed and demanded an explanation.

Chris naturally was the proving grounds for the test flight of the coup de chair. Ah the coup de chair! Brilliant in its simplicity. The victim sits up an ergonomically correct $1,200.00 chair. I'm talking real comfortable compliments to the work experience. It certainly could lull a person into a false state of confidence in the laws of gravity. The chair itself sits upon six individual rollers which permit the seat to be able to flow easily in any direction. One can whirl to the left, then to the right effortlessly. The same holds true for backwards and forwards and all points in between.

The rub was this see. Those wheels lifted the chair about three inches off of the floor. I discovered a wheel could be easily popped out of the socket leaving the chair still standing upright. In fact one could sit right down in it and feel confident in the sturdiness of the construction. Ah but looks can be deceiving can they not? For as the poor sod is wheeling this way and that in a carefree manner just trying to do their job, that's when fate could strike and upend their entire world. Well it would seem that way at least for a brief second. That's because removing only one of the six wheel permits the sitter to roll in all directions except in the direction of the missing wheel. One might not, by happenstance, not move in the forbidden direction for quite some time increasing the folly in their belief of the chair and balance system of the universe. As with life, move in the wrong direction and you will topple. In the case of the coup de chair the fall would be fast and frightful to the poor victim who for in instant would believe the whole world was shifting from under their feet as they lurched towards the ground. Then the stump from which the wheel was originally attached would touch down to earth stopping the free fall in its tracks. The victim would still be clinging to the arms of their failed seating apparatus, teeth gritted with a look or terror and desperation. At this point you couldn't help but bust out laughing. It was impossible.

So I WAS rolling around on the floor laughing as Chris was marveling at the dynamics and the possibilities of this new practical joke fondly know henceforth as the, COUP DE CHAIR! Everyone on the floor would come to know that they could be toppled at any moment. But Tumbleweed would be the next victim and Chris couldn't hardly wait until Dave went to get a Diet Coke. As Tumbleweed hopped his heavy ass away from his work station around to the soda machine, Chris slipped over to Dave's desk. The deed was done and Chris return to our base location for some reconnaissance. We stooped over leaning on Chris's desk behind the divider waiting for Tumbleweed to topple. All we could see was his head poking up over his cubical divider. Dave swung this way and that but nothing. Nadda! We were wonder what went wrong? Then in an instant like a bolt of lightning Dave would go down. He twirled to his left grabbing a large page proof with both hands then twirled to his right to lay the proof on his desk. In an instant Tumbleweed's head dove below the cubical line of horizontal visual demarcation and Dave was gone. But not forever. After a moment Dave arises scratching his head looking a bit dazed if the truth be told. Then he reached down and lifted his chair to get a better look at the problems looking like a monkey pondering screwing a football. Seeing the wheel missing Dave looks up and begins scanning the horizon for signs of enemy activity. Immediately Chris and I duck behind our cubical wall. Naturally the two of us are gagging our respective laughter as best we could holding our hands over our mouths. Fortunately our desk was separated enough from Dave's that he never heard our laughter from afar. He found his wheel that Chris had left laying there then figured out how to put it back on his chair. He did so then went back to work never the wiser, at least at that juncture. Just a bit of damn bad luck is all he thought silently to himself.

This was good enough for Chris and Tom. Randy would be our next victim. Our assignment coordinator and grand master of the practical joke. Randy not only prided himself in the range of practical jokes he'd developed through the years, he was practical joke bullet proof himself. That dude had eyes in the back of his red head though Ronnie use to call him "yellow hair." Time and yours truly would come to prove Randy incorrect about that bold assumption though only now do I feel safe enough from his wrath to admit the facts.

The following day before Randy got to work I walked over to his desk and dropped a paper. I leaned down to pick it up and on the way yanked off one of Randy's wheels and laid it aside. I stood back up with my paper, looked around innocently enough and return to my cubical where Chris and I waited for the blossoming of the fruits of our evil genius. Of course it serves Randy right because he was late as usual and came rushing in throwing his things down onto his desk. No time to check for pranks, he logged onto his computer and began moving ads down the electronic conveyor belt. He was just happy Ronnie was still in the manager's hand off meeting and hadn't been there to catch Randy coming in late.

Chris and I lay in wait behind the grassy knoll...well the big gray file cabinet to be more exact but less dramatic to be sure. It didn't take long for Randy to dive below his cubical line out of sight as he picked the wrong direction to roll. In an instant he arose, Chris and I laughing as we looked from behind the big plants sitting atop the gray cabinet. Randy had both his hands indignantly on his hips staring downward while he assessed the situation. Then he reached down disappearing again but returning to our field of vision holding the wheel to his chair. He scratched his head then began to look around. Chris and I tucked our heads below the cabinet and hid straining to contain our laughter. After a moment Randy appears around the corner walking in our cubical flipping the wheel up and down in the air.

"What's up boss?" I inquired pinching myself to keep from laughing while Chris bit down on his tongue. "Are you idiots crazy?" Randy exclaims under his breath. "If the Post caught you messing with their equipment they might fire you, you dolts!" Chris speaks up and replies, "Fire us. Why would the Post want to fire us when we're just sitting here doing out jobs, boss. Got to keep the ad revenue flowing boss." I try to speak to defend myself but all I can muster is to spread my arms apart in a "what, me boss" gesture.

Randy returned to his desk for some tool time on his chair while Chris and I laugh the night away. I was never the victim of the coup de chair though several attempt were made on my regime. However, I fell victim to the sword of the practical joker often enough to feel the sting of embarrassment and shame. I would wear the pink spurs of humiliations.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Washington Post Cuts Expenses

As I've stated, when I arrived at the Post in the late 90's it was still the worker's paradise. Most employees didn't actually do that much work and had great job security as well. You almost had to kill somebody to be fired. The Post preferred to give wayward employees some sort of counseling to sooth them back onto the path of righteousness. In actual fact there was a murder in the Washington Post by an employee who killed another employee during a robbery. He was fired.

Rules, rules, rules were the rule of the day more and more. You can't do this. You can't do that. You better do this and you better do that. Smoking was on the way out. A gym was installed to coax workers to get more active which was fine for me. The health insurance plan we had, which was the envy of workers of the world everywhere was severely cut and our cost increased. That happened in several stages - each time the workers losing more coverage while being forced to pay more deductible.

I had never been in the union since they did their best to keep me from getting work in the beginning. So I figured why join them now that I'm an employee? I never came to regret that decision and the longer I worked at the Post the more former union members agreed and quit as well.  From my perspective, all the union was doing was selling out the workers slowly. This at a time when the Post was raking in the ad revenue. These profits were being made by an entirely new Ad Operations crew that was much smaller and made up of mostly younger, lower paid workers compared to the old expensive mostly union workers. So the Post was making more money with lower costs as well. They must have thought the economy would expand forever because they built two new plants to print the paper - one in Alexandria, Virginia and one in College Park, Maryland. They created a couple shadow Ad Operations, Editorial, etc. offices in these plants that could produce the paper should something happen to the L Street location where I worked. This fact would come to worry me later as I shall discuss. But it was of no concern to me then.

The paper went to color and bought two enormous color printing presses for each plant. The presses didn't register as well as was advertised by the manufacturer meaning the Post could not print as close to the edge of the page as they had hoped. This meant the printing area of the paper had to be shrunk so it would not run off the page. I wondered how the advertisers would take to the reduction in their ad sizes. Apparently they didn't mind because the ads were just screaming in - especially Real Estate ads. Thursday nights was my dreaded night since we closed the Real Estate section and the various zoned sections could be enormous.

Zoning was a little trick the Washington Post could do with the new CCI Pagination software we used to paste up the paper with. In the old days the same paper went to millions of people and you needed a good or service that you wanted to advertise over the entire region. With zoned ads the Post could produce sections for the paper that would only go to readers in the county in which they lived. So the advertisement would only be seen by those people in that region but it would be much less expensive than the daily ads which could cost one hundred grand.

I was going with the flow but all the union workers were grumbling under their breath about the working terms. All I knew was the Post had replaced everybody from the old guard in three months and things got better, more efficient and productivity soared in Ad Operations. We could go on strike about our working misery but we'd lose our jobs, the management would produce the paper for the couple months required to replace us with new workers happy to do so. I knew this and so did the Washington Post. But the union workers still had their dreams and regularly handed out their little flyers about meetings and such. I chucked them into the trash at least until the very end which I shall also discuss when the time is right.

Despite the large amount of ad revenue taken in each day by the Post, there was one fact occurring at this time which they knew about which none of us or anybody was privy to. The Post was starting to bleed subscriptions. Before long the number would dip below one million subscribers and then continued to drop. Finally the Post had to admit publicly that subscriptions were going down. It was close to being a scandal since the ad fees charged by the Post were based on the number of subscribers to the paper. When they finally admitted the numbers they called us into yet another meeting to massage the workers so we would not worry and do our jobs flawlessly with a calm, clear mind. So they explained all the things the paper was doing to remain viable and how unlike many papers they were still in the black. The management railed against for crushing the Post's classified ad revenue as well as the net in general for the demise of the newspaper industry. The conference room was filled with worried eyes but not for me. However long the Post would operate I figured I could stay till the end since I was a hard workers and management knew it too.

During this time the retirement parties began in earnest. In the early days the Post threw a lot of parties as well. But these were to thank the employees and make them feel good for making the Post so much dough. They had casino nights when the Post would take over an entire bar somewhere downtown or for karaoke, etc. Drinks were free and the delicious food was everywhere. Most of it I could not eat as it was filled with dairy product and other things killing the average Post worker. It was a slow death - killing themselves each time they bent their elbow which caused their mouth to open wide involuntarily. Those parties were great! I like to dance and sing and never miss an opportunity to do either. The drinking I did a couple of times but returning to work to proofread after five rum and cokes after one party where I was fried. I swore to myself if I got through the night without giving up a write off I'd never drink at a Post soiree again. I got lucky and decide to never press my luck again no matter how free the booze was. I just stuck to the food I could digest then went back to the sixth floor to proof ad copy or paginate and sometimes both.

But the retirement parties were a bit of a different affairs. Many times the retiring quests of honor were obviously not pleased with being forced to retire. That was the case with my boss Tom being pushed out just months before I decided to go myself even thought my managers said I shouldn't. I had my reasons which will become evident later in this tale of a mockingbird. There is always rivalry among various managers and at Tom's "retirement" it would be no different. In saying their goodbyes many managers gave their subtle little digs at Tom. He clearly didn't want to go, was not in a financial position to do so but that was his problem and it was not the Post's.

Still, these parties were a sad celebration. But at least the economy was doing well in the early part of the decade. Some got jobs in Real Estate as agents or other work in advertising elsewhere. The old employees would pop by from time to time. Some were doing okay while others not so. One thing for certain. I understood the Post's position. They were not running a charity. I figured the Post did things purely out of business needs including what they would print. As the decade moved forward I would come to realize this was not the only criteria.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Employed as a Washington Post Pagination Specialist

That's a fancy way of saying doing paste up but a digital paginator does it on a computer. In the olden days of the paper it was done on paste up boards. The film was shot from those pieces of art on the boards. It was a real cumbersome process and revisions could be a pain in the ass. During my first couple years at the Post I was sent down to the fourth floor many times to look at the paste up board that were laid out on drafting tables. There were perhaps sixty workers down there milling around because paste up, like many of the Washington Post jobs, was a hurry up and wait job. The paper needed lots of employees because there was lots of jobs to do all at once to put everything together for publication. However, you might sit for the last three or four hours with nothing to do especially if you were doing paste up. You were in the union and what the Post could ask you to do was very limited.

Bob would send me sheepishly down into this union lion's den. I could feel the contempt for me coming from all directions. I was invading the turf of their union click, they knew I was a temporary worker and who the hell was I to come down and check up on their work? I was actually checking up on the ad makers work but no matter. When I would find a mistake the paste up guy responsible for that page would have to tear off the errant copy then paste up the corrected version - all because I found a mistake.

So I was happy the direction the Post went in regards to switching to digital pagination. Those sixty workers on the fourth floor spent the last year or so - doing nothing. There was a team of a half a dozen of us hired first to begin producing the paper on a computer. As more sections of the paper were switched from paste up done on the fourth floor to CCI pagination done by us more workers were added to our team. There might have been a ten of us during the early part of the decade after I was hired in 2000 when the economy was roaring and the ad revenue was coming in  hand over fist. But my how times change.

Every one of those fourth floor paste up workers took the buyout and went happily on their way. That was the sweetest buyout deal of them all especially with the lovely retirement packaged that complimented it. From there the offers to push out employees, including managers would drop lower each go around. But that wasn't a problem for the Washington Post just after hiring me and buying out the old guard. Their plan was working almost as flawlessly as anyone might have hoped for with a complex system like to paper to be switch over to all these new computer methods to do the work. Sure they lost a bit of dough because of technical troubles like when a font would drop out in the final copy. That's why Bob Tamoria asked me to proof the final pagination pages we produced each night. But the top brass thought this should be a duty only a manage should do so I was not permitted to do it any longer to Bob's disappointment. He hadn't been a proofreader for years and knew I'd do a better job. But the top had spoken!

There was a time when I'd fight you for my Washington Post and it only cost twenty-five cents at the time when I did just that. I remembered the incident on the way to the service for my old girl friend Lorraine Smith whom I lived with back in the early 80's. She died from a fatal brain tumor and as I drove to the Synagog I thought back to that day of the great newspaper heist. I was in good shape and was just finishing my stretching and warming up for my jog. I usually ran a couple miles. Many mornings somebody had stolen my Washington Post from my doorstop before I had a chance to get to it. As fate would have it that morning as I opened the front door of the Church Street townhouse a young black guy ran past with a Washington Post still in the plastic bag used to protect the subscriber's paper from rain. I wondered why he would still have the plastic on his paper while running - right when I heard my neighbor yell, "Hey that's my paper!" I was after him in an instance and began closing on him. As I got closer I could hear him panting heavily and I began talking to him. "How many miles you run every day? I run two or three most days." When I was only ten feet behind him he turned and threw me the paper. Then he back away with me calling him a stinking thief and lots of other insults as well. Then I marched back towards my neighbor's house to return their paper. The other neighbors had come out to see what the commotion was all about. As I walked up the street with the retrieved Washington Post they began to clap and cheer. That was the last time the papers were stolen.

But those days when Lorrie was still alive it was fifteen years before I was hired to be a digital paginator for the Post.  We were feeling our way developing procedures to follow while we used the new computers and software tools to make a national newspaper. The overall head of Ad Operations sees me making copies of ads on the correction board one day, for example, and she asks, "Tom...what are you doing?" I told her, "These late ad correction are the ones that are publishing in my sections so I'm comparing what's on my proof pages to these copies to make sure they are the same." Then she responds in the way that so many managers did at the Post who thought themselves too smart and believed that they had already created the perfect systems to use. "Well Tom," She continued using her polite Japanese accented speech, "if everyone follows Track-It then that would be unnecessary." To which I replied, "That's true but one guy screws up and doesn't and we have a write-off. This way I'm positive I have the correct ad on the page." She walked away unconvinced from the look of her but apparently decide to let me humor myself. In a few weeks after another big write off from one of these late ad corrections all of us paginators get instructions on a new procedure that we must follow where copies of the late correcting ads will be compared to the final output of our page proofs. Thank you Tom? Don't be ridiculous! I'm a cog so thanking me and acknowledging my idea as always was taboo. Only managers have good ideas.

I had lots of my ideas used at the Post but they were loath to admit it. The fact is I wrote their first training manuals to use Track-It for both Quality Control and for ad makers. Before I left pagination after two or three years to return to proofreading in Creative Productions again I wrote the CCI Pagination manual as well. But managers take these things and claim them for their own to advance their careers. My first pagination manager is a good example. After that first year that we had done so many new things and implemented lots of changes, our manager asks us all to email her with our accomplishment over the year. Everybody else blew her off but I compiled a three or four page report of Pagination's progress over that last year. Low and behold she cut and pasted the thing verbatim into her report to upper management. I know because upper management then put that in a general email to all Post employees reveling in our accomplishments. But I didn't mind because I loved working for Suzette. The only problem for her was she was saddled with some workers from the old guard who were of course unmanageable unless a manager was cunning and ruthless. Suzette was none of these things. She was sweet and understanding and like Bob Tamoria was great to work for. The Post had other ideas and removed Suzette and replaced her with one of the paginators, Dave. Eventually she was pushed out by the Post. This would be a repeating process in the next few years with increasing frequency especially for managers. I recently got word that Dave was fired too.

Another example of procedures created by me but adopted by the Post was the "Hot Sticker," for hot ads that had some trouble and needed to get onto the page soon. So I just mentioned that we ought to put red stickers in those ad jackets so they would not get lost among the hundreds of other ads not requiring urgent attention. Then, apparently the managers had a meeting about the idea. Next thing you know the head of Ad Ops is at my side telling me they held a meeting about my proposal but decided to reject the idea. I said, "Whatever...I was just trying to help." She thanked me and went on her managerial way. But within a few months the assignment coordinators just went ahead and implemented my procedure but they used hot pink paper rather than red. No credit for Tom though. That's alright. I was there for a paycheck not platitudes.

In those days I was like most Americans - a dupe. I thought the government had the people's best interest though I figured they were mistaken on their approach but not corrupt. I believed the Washington Post was moral and truthful. It would be several more years before I understood the gravity of the situation. That being the Washington Post was under the control of the CIA. As far as I can tell the CIA never did anything positive except what the agency might claim. Oh sure they said they stopped this terrorist act or that but nothing concrete that I could say, "Gee whiz! Thank God for the CIA." However the agency has a long history crimes. They overthrew Iran's elected government and reinstalled the monarchy of the Shah. The Shah of Iran brutalized his people for thirsty years until his overthrow in 1979.  The CIA was a vital part in the JFK coup. They never saw the Soviet Union breaking up of the Berlin Wall coming down. In fact I'd be glad to give the CIA their due but there is absolutely NO evidence they ever did anything good for America. Most Cuban exiles still blame JFK for the Bay of Pigs fiasco yet it was the CIA who double crossed the exiles and tipped off Castro they were on their way, where they would land and what the plan was.

After I realized the CIA was controlled by foreign banking powers I began to blog about their crimes. I can tell who comes to my blog with the site counter. A minute doesn't go by after I post anything that the spy agencies don't come and record what I write. It's automated. CIA or NSA computers automatically record my every word.

So I get word from an insider working for the CIA that they are watching me and recording what I say. During this meeting with the insider the bosses never said I had committed any crime. They wanted to know if the insider believed what I was writing in regards to the CIA criminal behavior and acts of treason. In addition they wanted me to know that they were watching me because the insider was never warned not to talk to me about this little meeting nor did they claim I'd broken any laws. In fact the CIA is supposed to only be involved in collecting information and conducting operations in other countries and not in the United States. So we keep having terrorist strikes on us even though NSA and CIA capture and store all communications. Why are they so concerned about what I say and write about while never actually protecting America EVER? I figure the CIA and NSA are the tip of the spear of the global banking scum right now destroying America from within.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Studied For My Drug Test

When the Post decided to background check and drug test me before deciding if I would be hired as an employee working for a paycheck I was in turmoil as was my family. It was the time when we were homeless homeowners living in a hotel as well as with family and friends for a month and a half. Try doing that with four kids who never wanted to leave their old neighborhood as is always the case. It was a nightmare. The kids figured if they misbehaved wherever we stayed temporarily then we'd get kicked out and have to go back to the old neighborhood. But our old house was already occupied with our renters who would eventually turn into squatters. The kids' plan even seemed like it worked for them as we stayed those last couple weeks back in that old neighborhood with friends until renting a house back in Maryland in Shady Side by the Chesapeake Bay. We would come to call it Shaky Side but it is only another story I will also have to tell.

But before this we stayed one week in the Racetrack Motel in Charleston,  West Virginia. This was the lowest point in my life in a long while. The whole credit thing was beyond me and it would still be a couple weeks before one nice person who was involved in that wonderful finance industry finally leveled with us by actually giving us a print out of our credit report. That was not so easy as it is now with the Internet. While at my bank, for example, the manager was looking at our credit as she denied us the loan that only three months earlier she pleaded with us to be able to write for the second house. I knew something was wrong with our credit but they would not say what was wrong. So I attempted to look at her computer screen to see for myself but the manager swiveled the screen preventing me from doing so. I tried to go around the other side but she turned the screen the other way. Once I understood my credit was confused with my father's credit and it would take half a year to sort out I knew we needed to rent a house and forget about buying a second home in West Virginia.

We got so lucky though and that was the best thing that could have happened. Today we live by the Bay in a great neighborhood that if you told me it would be so back while we roomed at the Racetrack Motel I'd of deemed you crazy. These houses were going for a fortune then before the collapse of the price bubble cased by Federal Reserve firing up the money printing presses. But the mockingbird never sings about the reserve bankers except in the most respectful tones - one that is pleasing to the ear for Americans not schooled in monetary economics. In reality the Fed is giving it to us all in the other end secretly thanks to great public relations compliments of the mockingbird and television networks.

I was told when to report for my drug test - an act that I detest but submitted to for the paycheck. You have to keep the wife happy. Not to take chances I bought a series of natural pills that were supposed to cleanse one's body of toxins to remove any chance of a positive, either real or imaginary. Why take chances? What the hell did I eat yesterday or last week? Was it a poppy seed roll? So I took the pills that numbered in a series amounting to about fifteen tablets to be consumed with pure distilled water. At the time it seemed like forty pills and the amount of water expected of me to drink was a week's worth for my normal needs - including the showers and laundry water requirements! Okay that's a bit of an exaggeration I shall admit but I am only attempting to convey the weight of gravity on one's bladder while consuming several liters of water while choking down more than half a dozen pills. This is especially so when doing it speeding down route 270 south for the fifty mile ride into DC for the test. You hit a lot of bumps.

I know some sneaky ways to slip into Washington having been a tow truck driver for a number of years. It's a good thing too because as I was finally screaming down Canal Road in the F-150 truck - my teeth were floating and my bladder was exploding. Fortunately I was making great time and was ahead of schedule except for my bladder when I came to the construction in Georgetown at Key Bridge. Only one car was getting through per each light cycle and even though the Washington Post was just five minutes down the road I sat there half an hour before my turn to go through the intersection.

I passed Key Bridge, roared down M Street without being sited for speeding by the cops or they would have also sited me for urinating in public as well, then hooked a left on L Street for the final leg of my journey. I pulled up along side the Post building just before 15th Street and parked illegally. I jumped out of the truck and ran into the restaurant on the corner and into their bathroom. I stood there going for what seemed like an eternity but every second was bliss at that point. However, one troubling aspect was the color of my urine was clear as water - because it was mostly water freshly out of a nearly drowned man. But I had taken that last pill while waiting in desperation by Key Bridge. So I was hopeful as I walked past the guards and up the elevator to personnel where I met with a heavy set black gentleman. We talked briefly then he gave me the location of the urine testing site which was about five blocks away on the corner of Connecticut and L Streets. That's just great I thought. I'm ready to go again right now. So we shook hands and I left for my date with the urine inquisitor.

As I said, I had to go again at the Post and that five block walk did not sooth that urge one bit. The fact is when I arrived at the building I had to go pretty badly...not desperation time but uncomfortable heading towards aggravating. But it took a turn towards desperation when I walked into the drug testing clinic and something like thirty people were sitting in the waiting room. No way I would make it that long before having to go again. I've never drunk that much water before at one time and my bladder was not pleased with me. There was even some sign about first come first served as well. The man behind the counter finally walks up and ask how he can help me. I said, "I'm here for a drug test but if I've got to wait for these other folks I'm not going to make it." He asked, "Pre employment screening?" "That's right," I replied. "We can take you right now." The man informs me and my bladder. "These people in the waiting room have Court ordered screening and we give employment screening priority." I turned to look at the Court ordered thirty again and I noticed they all were sucking on a liter bottle of water - probably washing down their pills from the GNC to beat their drug tests.

I go into the bathroom and try to hold the little cup while I go into it. This is an unnatural act for which man is not physically coordinated to do successfully. When I say man I do not mean that in the generic term signifying all humans. I'm talking about just the dudes. We have only recently been adequately reprogrammed to put the toilet seat down after maintaining an accurate downward stream centrally into the toilet bowl. For millions of years we had the whole world to aim at and could walk away freely afterwards. Now after we have only recently been wired by mothers, girlfriends, wives and sisters angry over the late night plunge to aim for a porcelain bowl a foot or so wide we get this dixie cup tyranny. Today we must shoot for the cup barely two inches across. As the cup was filling the good news was the urine was a normal color but the bad news was that cup was filling up and I had to make the transition from cup to bowl. I did so flawlessly even though this was my first drug test and I never even practiced peeing into a cup once.

I passed the test! So I was hired as an employee of the Washington Post. It was the fall of 2000, I was working, we were no longer homeless so I could finally relax. That's when I got sick.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Somebody Screwed Up

Lots of things can go wrong getting an ad on the page correctly besides an advertiser mistakenly using the wrong word. My boss Ronny was relatively understanding about an occasional slip up. After all he was the one who okayed the Toyota ad that read "TOYOYO" in the headline. So it happens. When the old guard was still there you had to go over every line of copy every time because they or the new systems could screw up anytime. The first six months I worked at the Post I found a huge number of mistakes that had been running incorrectly and nobody was the wiser. Once the new hires came in and got comfortable you mainly had to concentrate on just the new ad copy and the areas edited using old ads that were picked up from ads that had run previously. The way advertising operates, is the advertisers normally use say for example, a Christmas ad with a headline that might read, "Happy Holidays" which we would use again by changing just the title, yanking out the Santa graphic for a heart or roses, and some key info then bingo - you have a Valentines Day ad with a headline reading "A Sweetheart of a Deal!"

Advertising has a rhythm which is connected to all of the holidays and occasions. On holidays and occasions people are buying something for loved ones, purchasing pens and papers so the kids can be dumbed down back to school as well as...say - going on holiday. The Washington Post was there everyday to make sure that we all got what we deserved.  I mentioned Happy Holidays because so many of the Washington Post ads, especially in the beginning, were wrong and nobody apparently knew. Not the proofreaders, management, the advertisers or the readers themselves. Nobody complained anyway. It was Christmas right after I started as a temp and I'm reading a big headline of an ad that has been running several years that reads, "Happy Hoildays" I asked myself what the hell is Happy Hoildays? I glanced down at the keyboard with the O the I and the L all sitting there together minding their own business but looking very suspicious. It was a simple type-o and nobody had noticed. I almost let it go myself until I looked more closely. It's funny how the brain works. Everybody was seeing Happy Holidays and not Happy Hoildays. Why? Well it was late December and the graphics in the ad reminded the reader that it was the holiday season. It had the correct number of letters. Both greetings had used exactly the same letters. It was just two letters switched places and they were even right next to where they should have been. So in our busy lives our sub-conscientious knew what was trying to be conveyed and just gave the mockingbird a mental Mulligan then moved on to what this advertiser was hawking - which apparently was selling because they kept running the ad this way. That's to say until I quietly changed it to Holiday. By the way, for the Post it was always a holiday and never Christmas, Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, nothing from Allah nor Festivist for the rest of us.. The farther back into Washington Post time one goes the more the ads said Merry Christmas rather than the generic Happy Holidays. Anything the Post generated for the Christmas season always said holidays but never mentioned for what reason. They didn't want to anger their Jewish readers not to mention the Muslims. Come to think of it the Post didn't ever mention the Muslims until some terrorists attacked Israeli athletes during the Olympics in 1972. Then there was the fall of the C.I.A. installed Shah of Iran and there wasn't any reason to mention Islamic holy days after these stories. The Post covered the protests in DC and elsewhere of Iranians acting violently at the events but didn't mention that the agency had been running Iran using the Shah since the 1950's. Apparently the Iranians were not happy about it and revolted booting out the U.S. Well the C.I.A. has been pissed off at those Iranians ever since. But the mockingbird doesn't mention these affairs as far as I can recall. I can't say I've read every paper but the father back in my life the more of them I have read. Not now...then. Now to be honest, I have the Internet now. Besides getting information about what is going on in my life right this minute, with the Net I can go back in time and learn of all the interesting events that never made it onto the pages of the Washington Post nor the airwaves of the networks. Instead they started saying these Arabs and Iranians hated our culture so much they were going to kill us. Well I said I'll be damned and was real pissed off at the Iranians for quite awhile. They should just relax and have a happy hoilday.

In those good old days most advertisers could give a damn about politics or even if the ad possessed all the qualifications required of the Queen's English. As long as they had an ad in the Washington Post they were happy. It was the only game in town print-wise. The Post was the town square that could be crammed into column inches and organized in such a fashion as to allow the modern person to be able to thumb through this printed town marketplace deciding what goods, services and ideas might be appropriate for life's daily needs. Advertisers had to book their ads early or the space might be taken by the competition. You better believe Sales played up that angle big time. Sales can give inside information to an advertising client about that client's competition just to be helpful of course in case their client may want to buy a bigger ad themselves - for whatever reason.

When I left the Post the few ads we were generating from private advertiser had to be absolutely perfect or they would demand a write off or a make good. However, in 2000 when they hired me as an employee, the economy was roaring. In the 1970s the Washington Post advertising revenue was one of the leading economic indicators the government used to decipher how good the economy was doing. Not any more of course. That would be a mistake for anyone gauging the size of the economy unless they wanted to tell the truth about it. Not likely when the government is gathering the word of the health of the economy while claiming at the same time the ability to have policies that will make it grow in a healthy fashion. When it doesn't the last thing bureaucrats want to do is tell the truth. The same is true for advertisers. Accentuate the positive - eliminate the negative. But nobody wants to look like a moron. Certainly not me so I didn't want my initials on a stupid write off.

I wondered what a "Slug Wheel" was on this sporty car that had been advertising this unknown extra for months before it was my turn to get the ad. I'm pretty good with cars. I can swap engines and tranny's, do brakes, shocks, etc. so I'm familiar with automobiles. I've never heard of slug wheels in my life and to an auto geek the term "slug" is not one that races to my mind. "Yeah, I was going for the Porsche when I saw this little baby with the slug wheels." I don't think so. Again I check my keyboard and there the S is aiding as well as abetting right next to the A. I had heard of the abbreviation for aluminum wheels however. I changed it to Alum and rejected the ad.

The fly was probably my biggest mistake that really wasn't my fault and I took no blame for it as the error was tiny yet enormous once discovered - on the Jay Leno Show. The chronicle of errors that ensued went like this. Randy Mays, an artist in Ad Ops, runs over to a new advertiser's restaurant with the assignment of clicking some pictures of some of the specialties offered by this Korean place. Then this family owned business would run the photos in some ads that Randy would create for them back at mockingbird fort. The Korean advertisers did their part and prepared several dishes which did appear delectable.  I then got the ad, proofread it and Step Done the copy so it would automatically generate copies for the sales team and the client to approve. The ad Randy created really did look great and everybody was happy and signed off on it. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot two key bits of info'. Just after Randy had returned to his tripod several feet away from the prepared dish to be immortalized in digital ink, a fly landed on the plate of food simultaneously to when Randy hit the shutter to his incredibly high tech, high definition camera. The darn camera could shoot a fly on a barn a hundred feet away. The trouble was, if you can imagine, we're talking about a relatively small ad. The output generated by the Track-It printers was not a high definition print and the ad had three separate food pictures amongst the ad copy. Yes, it's true that even though my eyes are failing me now I did say to myself while proofing the ad, "Damn...that raisin looks like a fly." I wasn't expected to examine every ad with a magnifying glass although many times I did if I thought it was called for to cover my ass. But I didn't verify the raisin and somebody out of the millions of Post readers did have a closer look. The papers produces high quality output with many dots per inch. Magnified the fly was easy to see sitting on the food. If life has a lesson here it's that raisins don't have wings. Leno thought it was funny but the Korean family did not get the joke. The Korean grandmother went into hiding from the shame to her family. Apparently in Korean culture, fly in the food is somewhat of an insult.

I saw another one of these ad comedy bits on the Tonight show, fortunately not from the Post nor myself. This classified ad was offering a "House with an enormous dick." It said the "dick" was located out back. That's what happens when an "e" gets swapped out for an"i." Those kind of classified ads regular individuals create themselves and they have no one to blame but themselves. You can go on-line at the Post, whip up your own classified ad and boom - it's in the paper. So you better proofread it good unless you want your dick out back to be on Jay Leno instead of the deck. Perhaps you may?

I didn't and did my best to avoid it mostly to keep my job. One of the outgoing union cats who's name shall go unmentioned got me right before he took the buyout. He reworked an ad meaning he was just supposed to be moving stuff around but not changing anything. Instead of grabbing the telephone number and dragging it to the new location on the page he felt it wiser to delete the number and just retype it at the new location. One number was supposed to be an eight but he put down a six. Bam! Five thousand dollar write off and I'm sitting in Ronnie's office explaining what went wrong. Until this idiot left I proofed every pixel of his ad copy. There was always certain ad-makers who I knew must be given extra scrutiny if I knew what was good for me.

Mostly I made many good catches as they say in Ad Ops. No matter who's fault the guilty are happy it didn't publish in the paper looking like that and they would come by my work station saying, "Good catch, man. You saved my ass." One night I was reading part of the Metro section of the Post when I realized I had already read it the day before when it published then. Somehow the wrong plate was run or something because today's page never made it to press. I'm sure somebody's head rolled but not in the direction of my cubical so I would notice it.

The head of Ad Operations herself came over to thank me one time. It was my biggest save. I was in digital pagination moving ads onto the page and I noticed two full page Real Estate ads in the same big section when the market was being hyper inflated by the Federal Reserve and home prices were exploding. Even though prices were going through the roof I thought there is no one rich or stupid enough to run two full page fifty thousand dollar ads that are exactly identical in the same Real Estate section. Sure enough Make-up had typed a couple numbers wrong. So that one day's work save the Post over one year's worth of my salary. As long as there were lots of ads they wanted me around. Even when there were hardly any ads they still wanted me around but the mockingbird had been exposed to me several years earlier by that juncture. Working at the Post at the end had become a dirty job which I shall go into more detail about eventually. But I can say when I walked out the L Street door of the Post that last time - I felt cleaner.

But mistakes are made. Once, I decided to call the 800 number because the hand written copy wasn't great from this mom and pop store. Sure enough I dialed up a sex line. I rejected the ad and sent it back to sales to get a correct phone number. In QC we were the offensive line of the operation - there to block mistakes from getting into the paper. As long as your number isn't called everything is fine. Let even one advertising sack, slip by and you are sitting in a manager's office explaining why you have been so stupid. If it's a big one like a full page ad then managers could be sitting in upper management offices then eventually returning to theirs to remove their belongings.

At one point in my mockingbird career upper management decided on the self evaluation system for performance reviews which operated in tandem with our manager's review of our usefulness to the company. Basically, I'd say I was doing a good job. Then my manager if I was lucky would say I was doing the minimum required to skate by. Then we had to agree to a goal for me for the coming year. So I would agree that my manager wanted me to "Try harder!" and "Work harder." So when personnel was training us again how to use this system the instructor was commenting on how our managers were supposed to give us guidance on how to achieve our lofty goals which the manager has set for us - ah, for me to be achieving. So I asked him what if the management tips were to try harder and work harder? He said the managers weren't supposed to do that. I said mine already had, he wrote something down on a piece of paper then we moved on. In the not too near future that manager of mine was one of the ones who landed on the buy out chopping block. The mockingbird does not tolerate managers that won't do as they are told.

Sometimes there were differences of opinions like when one other proofreader confused the word hybrid in a car using hydrogen fuel. I caught it, then she got it once more and rejected it again back to the incorrect version. That was time for a manager to step in like Ronny. He's a car guy too and understood the vocabulary.  He signed off on the ad my way and the other proofreader had to head Ronny's way in his office for a chat.

Other times when I reject an ad but the ad maker insists they are correct, I let them have their way and Step Done the ad. When the write off comes back they took the hit that way and not me. Then they were less likely to insist on doing it their way and having to head Ronny's way.

All of the mistakes are funny to me now but at the time as the mystery of any mistake led a trail directly to me then it was very scary. With the new systems the Post was using there was no way to escape blame if you let it go into the paper. I'd seen people getting fired for a number of things including mistakes. There would be lots more of that as the economy turned south and all advertising revenue dropped except that from the U.S. Federal government. It's a cosy affair between these lovers that might be called more of a tryst if the details be known. The mockingbird still flies with federal advertising dollars while interestingly enough the mockingbird only sing federal government tunes.

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.