PT 2007-2009

Notes on the new blogspace

by admin on October 10, 2009[edit]

Since New Year’s 2009 I’ve been meaning to migrate my old WordPress 1.2 blog over to a more up-to-date and designable installation, and this is where we are now.

I am about to write a post about some horrible, horrible experiences I recently had with some freelance work. But even bad jobs have their benefits, and this is one: in the course of designing a blog for a client, I took the plunge and bought a developer’s license (about $155) for Thesis, a theme framework with vast design capabilities. I am very glad I bought it, and I strongly recommend it to anybody, EVERYBODY who wants a customized look.

I’d had my eye on Thesis for a year. I held off not only because I don’t like parting with money, but because I’d used some of the free themes from the same developer (Chris Pearson), and from what I could see there was a dull sameness about them all. They were neat and newsy and predictable, with a photo image up top, a tabbed navigation bar above that, and near-universal use of Georgia and Arial for the headline and text fonts. Why bother to buy a blog theme that promises lots of design options when there are thousands of other themes to choose from, and most of them are ABSOLUTELY FREE for download?

In my case, I found myself with a project in which I was going to have to hand-code a number of static html pages, and I needed to have the blog look EXACTLY like the static pages. Furthermore, the exact requirements of the overall project were very much in flux. The design would probably change, and we might end up deciding to put the entire project within the boundaries of the WordPress blog, with a static home page. Or maybe we’d use static html pages for most of the site, but integrate the blog so that the blog would be the “news” section, with a clickable header image and/or homepage link that would take you to the html homepage. The permutations were mind-numbing, and I had never created anything with this much variability and scalability. And it all had to be done in two weeks.

I created the site, but got canned from the project—or maybe I walked away from it—for reasons which will be readily intuited by anyone who has been assigned something unwieldy and impossible. I was replaced by people who by now have figured out exactly how unwieldy and impossible  it all was.  Nevertheless my creation, both html pages and the WP blog, was a thing of beauty. I would not have been able to create the blog portion of it without Thesis, and its attentive and helpful support forum. If you want to learn more about Thesis, do go to diythemes.com and check out the latest version.

But what can I do with all this hard-earned knowledge about customizing a blog theme? Well, I can use it on my own personal blog, for one thing, so here we are.

Facebook and the Death of Personal Blogging

March 1st, 2009

If you graphed the activity of this blog since it was set up (in WordPress 1.2.2) a bit over four years ago, it would be a straight 1/1 downhill slope. This is partly because I wrote so much filler in the early days, as I experimented with various blog installations. But it is also because the blog was often personal–though not utterly personal–and neither required nor gained an audience. It had no purpose other than being a personal and experimental blog, one of many I’ve set up and then neglected. It was not there to find work or to chat about sex and politics. And since it was personal but not utterly personal, it was unable to draw upon the full flow of my teeming imagination. A blog like that requires complete anonymity, the sort of thing that Blogger specializes in.

Of course I have ten or twenty other blogs, set up in Serendipity and Blogger and Drupal and many, many WordPress themes.

I suspect the personal-blog world is drying up all over. You can now house your thoughts (personal–but not utterly personal) in Facebook Notes, and feel fairly confident that somebody will read them. Knowing who your audience is, is a big consideration. It shapes your writing and causes some ideas to germinate and flourish and others to be thrown out into the dust on the road.

Most Facebook people are Obama enthusiasts, probably as a result of some marketing campaign or other. Same reason people carry iPods. Well I am not an Obama enthusiast, so I have to soft-pedal my dislike of the whole motley gang. That’s fine, though. It keeps from yielding to my usual inclination toward turgid politico-sociological rants. It frees me up to Comment and Note about a hundred other things, and post novels, jokes and stories.

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Happy 2009 Resolutions

January 1st, 2009

Actually, January 2009 Resolutions. No point in making year-long resolutions. You don’t know what the future is. That is what Januarys are for, to get the lay of the land.

Januarys are transitional, never fully a part of the new year. We’ll be in the tail of 2008 at least till Groundhog Day. January is a good staging area, a period to put your ideas through feasibility testing. Here’s my free-form list for the immediate future:

1) Dump this site. Archive the contents, maybe put the blog up again with newer blogware and a shorter URL.
2) Clean off your desk and try to keep it pretty naked.
3) Transfer Farnco to its own site. Intro by Cornell Woolrich. Demo of a swf and a flv player.
4) Get rid of unused domains, either by letting expire or actively discarding.
5) Tie up loose ends of D&T and put it into typescript shape. Drawings: these can be sketchy till publisher buys.
6) Ditto TT…aim to cut to about 200 pp. Don’t rewrite, cut.
7) Comic strip or panel every day. Keep the rancid/incendiary stuff to 50%.
8) TAB: dummy up with columns by Faber, Shilling, etc., slightly redacted. Important-looking charts and graphs. Pepper & Salt cartoon, with Uncle Bill?
9) Bother Penguin till the CE comes in, bother Stuart for Random connections.
10) Job Hunt: we go with plan AOT, any old thing. Other plan wasn’t working. Stop looking for a career. No careers here.
11) Gallery News: Anything here? Two or three serious notices, a comic strip and the fervent Ian Stuart Dowdy may be all it needs. If you bothered to go to a gallery once in a while, you’d have filler right there. Just look at Fraser’s blog and follow the lead. Keep Peaches out, she’s killed it twice.
12) Job Hunt: resist the temptation to respond to Hindustanis who phone you up because they saw your resume online.
13) In these opening weeks, gain at least a basic working knowledge of PHP, and do the exercises in the Flex books.
14) By January 2, finish updating the addlist with all the new people and passwords. Print out, put into the Oxfam.

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You Spent HOW Many Years Writing this Crud?

October 13th, 2008

I am taking the incumbent unfinished-novel out for an airing and dry-cleaning and boy, does it need it. I can smell it from over…[points in the general direction of Carnegie Hall] there!

Worse than the bad writing itself (otiose exposition, if I am using those words correctly; pointless digressions) is the gross tonnage of doggie-mess that needs to be waded through. At one point I decided the book needed to have 60 chapters. Therefore I readily added padding here and there, introducing very minor and marginal characters, just so the crucial happenings in chapters 25 and 30 would have enough ballast separating them. Then, every few months I copied all my current drafts and notes into a new folder. It took me much of last weekend just to find the best and latest drafts of these chapters and copy them into yet another folder so I can whittle them down to size.

There are several good books here. Unfortunately none seems to be the book I set out to write. That was a semi-autobiographical novel, if that is not redundant, about my brief involvement with an educational-tv kiddie show, circa 1973. This was precisely the era when educational tv was trying to rebrand itself as “public television” on the flimsy grounds that it did not accept advertising (a dubious point even then). Still, if you said “educational television” in those days, everyone knew what you meant; whereas if you use the expression nowadays, people imagine you mean some kind of video classroom.

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Move to the Moon (Part I)

October 13th, 2008

It was a long entry so I am reposting just the first few para, and hiding the spicy and controversial remainder.

Say, I’ve got a swell idea. Let’s move to the moon. If we get enough people to sign on to the idea, I know some builders who’d just jump on it. The land is cheap, for one thing. I mean real cheap! As in FREE. That means it’s even cheaper than those buck-an-acre lots they’re selling in those gutted-out counties in Upstate New York. You hear about buying “summer homes” up there in those depopulated cow counties. Or “retirement homes,” which somehow sounds even more desperate. People keep telling you how lucky they were to get in on the ground floor, and how Jerkwater America is a fantastic place to invest, particularly if you can invest only $54.

There are minor inconveniences, sure. but they’re no more serious or consequential than those notional flaws that used to send some “factory second” Milano cookies to the Pepperidge Farm Thrift Shops. Those Thrift Shop Milanos were perfectly yummy, and the only possible flaw I could think of was that maybe some of the wafers weren’t perfectly aligned with each other–but I was just guessing.

What kind of inconveniences do they have in the sticks? First thing you always hear is, there’s no sewage system. What a stupid objection. Who comes up with comments like this, the United Sewer Workers Union? Hey look, in most of small-town and rural America nobody has a sewage system. It’s really no big deal.You just put a concrete pit in the backyard and flush your toilet into it. It’s called a septic tank. Out there everybody has one.

What other drawbacks? Okay, you’ve got to drive thirty miles just to buy a pack of cigarettes. This may be true, but look. They’ve got Indian casinos a little further up the road, Indian casinos where you can buy whole cartons for about two dollars. And that’s not all you can do.

Anyway, back to the two dollars. Think about it! Two dollars a carton is less than they went for when Red Skelton was plugging Chesterfields on the NBC Blue Network in 1945.

Now let’s talk about jobs. There are no good jobs nearby. I won’t dispute it. But you can always find something within fifty or a hundred miles, if you really look hard. And remember how modest your needs are. You don’t need a job that pays a lot, because now you’re living rent-free. Rent-free? Hell, you’re mortgage-free! You just bought fifty-four acres of prime bottom-land along the Schloogadooga and New Ilium Barge Canal. It’s true you’re living in an old horse-trailer that you picked up for ten bucks at the Devon Horse Show, but that’s just temporary and anyway you don’t owe anything on it, and pretty soon you’ll be building the house, I mean The HOME, of Your Dreams.

Transportation? Sure, there isn’t any, except for driving your own car, and gasoline’s horribly expensive, but look, everybody’s suffering. We’re in this together. Everybody’s got to have a car, right? And driving two hours each way to work each day isn’t the end of the world. Millions of people in California and Georgia do it every day. End of the day, you come home to your horse-trailer and you’ve got fifty-four acres you can call your own.

Now let’s look at the positives.

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Fly Me to the Moon

July 25th, 2008

Say, I’ve got a swell idea. Let’s move to the moon. If we get enough people to sign on to the idea, I know some builders who’d just jump on it. The land is cheap, for one thing. I mean real cheap! As in FREE. That means it’s even cheaper than those buck-an-acre lots they’re selling in those gutted-out counties in Upstate New York. You hear about buying “summer homes” up there in those depopulated cow counties. Or “retirement homes,” which somehow sounds even more desperate. People keep telling you how lucky they were to get in on the ground floor, and how Jerkwater America is a fantastic place to invest, particularly if you can invest only $54.

There are minor inconveniences, sure. but they’re no more serious or consequential than those notional flaws that used to send some “factory second” Milano cookies to the Pepperidge Farm Thrift Shops. Those Thrift Shop Milanos were perfectly yummy, and the only possible flaw I could think of was that maybe some of the wafers weren’t perfectly aligned with each other–but I was just guessing.

What kind of inconveniences do they have in the sticks? First thing you always hear is, there’s no sewage system. What a stupid objection. Who comes up with comments like this, the United Sewer Workers Union? Hey look, in most of small-town and rural America nobody has a sewage system. It’s really no big deal.You just put a concrete pit in the backyard and flush your toilet into it. It’s called a septic tank. Out there everybody has one.

What other drawbacks? Okay, you’ve got to drive thirty miles just to buy a pack of cigarettes. This may be true, but look. They’ve got Indian casinos a little further up the road, Indian casinos where you can buy whole cartons for about two dollars. And that’s not all you can do.

Anyway, back to the two dollars. Think about it! Two dollars a carton is less than they went for when Red Skelton was plugging Chesterfields on the NBC Blue Network in 1945.

Now let’s talk about jobs. There are no good jobs nearby. I won’t dispute it. But you can always find something within fifty or a hundred miles, if you really look hard. And remember how modest your needs are. You don’t need a job that pays a lot, because now you’re living rent-free. Rent-free? Hell, you’re mortgage-free! You just bought fifty-four acres of prime bottom-land along the Schloogadooga and New Ilium Barge Canal. It’s true you’re living in an old horse-trailer that you picked up for ten bucks at the Devon Horse Show, but that’s just temporary and anyway you don’t owe anything on it, and pretty soon you’ll be building the house, I mean The HOME, of Your Dreams.

Transportation? Sure, there isn’t any, except for driving your own car, and gasoline’s horribly expensive, but look, everybody’s suffering. We’re in this together. Everybody’s got to have a car, right? And driving two hours each way to work each day isn’t the end of the world. Millions of people in California and Georgia do it every day. End of the day, you come home to your horse-trailer and you’ve got fifty-four acres you can call your own.

Now let’s look at the positives. Look at the social environment. Real honest-to-God hardworking salt-of-the-earth rural folk. Old ladies who bake pies. Public schoolteachers who actually teach, instead of marching in Gay Lib parades. Kind of people you want to know. And they’re all nice-looking people too. Wholesome. None of those oddball sorts or racial types who come in and ruin a society.

That of course is what the local boosters mean when they tell you Hooterville is a great place to Raise Kids. You don’t have kids? Well, the principle still holds. You may have to drive fifty miles to the nearest shopping mall, but when you get there they won’t be playing gangsta-rap music.

But moving “up there” isn’t half as good as moving to the moon. The moon isn’t depopulated, it’s UNpopulated. It’s nice and clean and white. You think Broome County is clean and white? Wait till you see the moon.

Wait, you’ve seen the moon. Tell me if that wasn’t white!

What kind of people are on the moon? Well, no one just now, but who’s been there? People with names like Neil Armstrong, that’s who. Imagine a great big Wapokoneta, Ohio in the sky. That’s what we can build if we set our minds to it.

I guarantee you the schools will be good. Yes, like California in the 1950s, only a lot better, because it’s going to take a lot more than a generation for this neighborhood to go down the tubes. Trust me on this: Max and Minnie Gefiltefisch aren’t going to move in and bring in a swarm of underpaid illegal Mexican day laborers because: 1) Jews HATE Space–don’t ask me why, but they do; and 2) Mexicans don’t go anyplace where there isn’t already a critical mass of Mexicans. It took 150 years to build a critical mass of beaners in California, for crying out loud.

No, the moon will stay pristine and clean for generations, my friends. Generations!

Now. What about the logistics and expense? Mostly these are similar to what our friends in Upstate New York go through. High fuel costs, long distances. You’ve got to drive everywhere. Only on the moon the vehicles will be lot more complicated and expensive. And that’s just for short travel.

You won’t be going home to Schenectady for Thanksgiving every year, unh-uh. It’ll be worse than Australia.

Then there’s the issue of the HVAC system. You’ve got to have a good HVAC system. Just like Houston, the moon never has really good weather. You have to go from one climate-controlled environment to another, and never really enjoy the outdoors. And just like Seattle, when you DO go outdoors, the silhouette of your usual outerwear is really going to suck.

On the other hand, you just know the beer will be very very very very good.

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Ambition

July 24th, 2008

Ambition is one of those qualities, like happiness, that can be acknowledged only in hindsight. You get tossed to and fro in the stormy seas of life, at some point you wash up on shore, and only then, or afterwards, it becomes clear that all this struggling to hang on made you a success. Or sort of a success. And all you were trying to do was hang on. Conrad’s butterfly man in Lord Jim had it right. Into the destructive element you must throw yourself. By merely surviving you will succeed. I suspect that in times of prolonged mass crisis (and one is upon us now, Samson) people with compulsions and manic-depression rise to the top. If these affective disorders did not confer some occasional advantage, surely they would have disappeared, no? Welcome to the brave new bipolar world.

But that’s not what I meant to say. My mind is wandering and spitting out unparseable thoughts.

* * *

Let me start over.

* * *

I was thinking about ambition because I had just noticed something about people who work in graphic design. Designers, creative directors, production artists, desktop publishers, Quark monkeys, whatever they happen to call themselves–they are an extraordinarily lazy and undriven bunch. Give them their iPods and a little repetitive work, pay them a tiny shred of money, and they’ll happily sit forever, never thinking of looking for another situation.

Actually I noticed this for years, but hesitated to make a generalized conclusion. It was always too easy to say that the graphics people I knew just happened to be at the lazy or ditsy end of the bell curve, or that designers I ran into were not “real” designers; they were sculptors with a perfunctory day job, or clerical workers who had learned PageMaker somewhere along the way. Or some of those commercial-art-school BFA types who are (let’s face it) just not very bright to begin with.

Now, with twenty years of keen-eyed observation behind me, I say they are a lazy bunch, and I will brook no contradiction.

What do I mean when I say they are lazy? I mean that, by and large, they will…

1) happily spend a whole day or week finding new ways to put an orange square next to a blue square
2) happily stay in a low-paid job for years and years, provided they don’t actually have to work very hard–see 1)
3) happily work in a job with little or no prospect of advancement
4) happily accept the trade-off of

job security, low pay, less-than-optimum working conditions
versus
promotion, money, adventure, novelty, having to learn new things, not knowing where you’ll be working next year, resourcefulness, risk-taking in general

I’m thinking of all this because I recently finished a short-term job with a small design firm. The firm itself (and this will be a flashing red light to anyone who knows organizational behavior) is basically a one-man band. Yes, you guessed it: our guy is unpleasant and overbearing. Why do you think it’s a small firm, ha ha? His staff consists of a few flunkies crowded into a tiny room in the owner’s loft in a slummy, inconvenient part of town. They came in as temps or contractual workers, for the most part. I figured most of them had been there for a few months or weeks, and were putting up with a bad job until something better came along. But it turns out most have been there for five years or more. And you have to ask why. And you have to think it has something to do with the fact that little is expected of them beyond sitting there in their headphones, drifting through semi-consciousness in a half-world of iTunes and typographical alignment.

Hour after hour, week after week, drawing their small salaries…daydreaming their goldfish thoughts about what they’ll do for…oh, what was that thought again? Never mind, let’s download something from iTunes.

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Those Mutant Children

July 12th, 2008

Here I am, working again at Chelsea Piers, the only place where you can keep up with top 40 hits while eating sushi, wearing workout gear, monitoring your e-mail and generally producing the words and drawings that your career depends upon. It will be very hard for me when I have to work in an office again.

You forget about the real world here. Half the people are extraordinarily fit and good-looking, and the others are just, well, old. Or black. You forget about the epidemic of hormone- and corn-syrup-induced obesity that rages on in the outside world, beyond the piers and past the moat that surrounds Manhattan. But just yesterday I was sitting here and saw a FAT BOY. A little fat boy, about 11 or 12, the kind you see in shopping malls and friends’ houses (schoolmates, one hopes). He wore a voluminous t-shirt, shorts that came below the the knee, and a head that was nearly shaved. In other words, standard fat-kid wear. I used to think this look originated with fat black kids–gangsta rap and that–but now I realize that it didn’t; the first boys I ever saw like this were normal anglo-saxon types; no doubt little black kids took to the style because they are constitutionally more inclined to be obese. And when you’re an obese kid, an obese boy particularly, there aren’t very many kinds of clothes you can wear, let alone fit into.

I try to imagine this little porker dressed in the sartorial analog from, say, 1970, and what I get is a mental picture of very tight bluejeans worn with a leather belt and a yoked cowboy shirt. Or maybe some superhero t-shirt. If you saw someone dressed like that today, you’d assume it was a mental patient. Of course in 1970 if you saw a 200-pound 11-year-old with a shaved head…

Lil Fat BoyThe shaved head is the most mystifying part of the concoction. Is it a way of reinforcing gender identity or something? Years ago I had a coworker who was an eccentric computer programmer and mild transvestite. Nothing unusual there, but as he approached age 50 he decided to see if he could become a woman. Hatchet-faced and blue-bearded, he was a most unlikely candidate. But by jiminy he did it…sort of…though the journey required a continual tripping over the obvious, such as finding out that his wife didn’t care for the idea, told everyone he’d gone crazy, and ultimately tried to sue him for every last cent and prevent him from having access to their two preteen sons.

A bunch of us from the office made a journey out to this person’s condo one day to deliver a potted plant or something. The new woman was at home, recuperating from extensive facial surgery that enabled her to look a bit like Margaret Hamilton rather than, say, Murray Hamilton. She had her black kinky hair arranged in two plush cocker-spaniel ears that hid most of her face. She plied us with drinks and asked us to stay a while and meet her two sons, who were making a rare visit that evening. Nice looking boys, to judge from their pictures in the hall, neither fat nor thin. What turned up at six pm however were two roly-poly youngsters with shaven heads.

“They look like they’re recovering from brain cancer,” one of us said. This was some years ago, as I say.

“Oh they just did that recently,” said the programmer, meaning the hair. “It’s the new style.”

The rest of us looked at each other and mentally wondered if the New Style could possibly be related to Daddy’s New Life, but none of us was drunk enough to ask the kids directly.

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Holiday Exposure

July 4th, 2008

I’m on an IND platform, West 50s, 6:40 am on July 4th. It being a long holiday weekend, most people have left the city, apart from assorted bohemians and the colored underclass. And everything is moving just a little…slow. I have to get to Penn Station by 7 and am beginning to panic that I won’t make it.

I play little mental games: if the train doesn’t come in two minutes, I’ll run upstairs, get some cash, hail a cab. Then another two minutes, and another two.

An old gypsy female gets off a train going in the opposite direction. She has an entourage of about 15 parcels and shopping bags, each one about big enough to hold a pair of shoes or an old towel. She slowly drags them out to the platform and stands there, wandering around a little, shoving them to and fro with her thong-clad feet. She walks around to the stairwell, reaches under her sack dress, adjusts her underclothing, stands with her feet apart, and pees right there. Then she moves down the platform a little bit, away from the puddle now dribbling down into the tracks, and squats a little, still fiddling with her underwear. Then she gingerly takes off her black diaper, or panties, or whatever. Is she going to throw them into the track trench? The rubbish bin? No, she rolls them up a little and deposits them in one of her little plastic bags.

Meanwhile, farther down the platform, a very large negro, or some other nonwhite, is taking his shirt off, and washing his face and hands with water gushing out of some spigot. Or maybe he’s pouring water on himself from a bottle. I can’t tell; he’s an eighth of a mile away from me. At some point he sees me standing there, watching for the train. He pulls down his pants and waves his lunchmeat at me. I can’t see anything clearly; he’s far away and in shadow. Obviously, though, Big Nig is hoping for a reaction. He keeps this up for a good five minutes.

A few more people enter the subway station. At long last the train arrives.

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Chelsea Piers: Cafe Scene. Afternoon.

June 24th, 2008

Something seen in the cafe at the Chelsea Piers gym: A guy with scraggly blond hair has his MacBook open, is looking at the IMDB site, where we see a picture of a scraggly-haired personage named Martin Ewen. I can’t resist the temptation to creep around and see if this the same guy. Hmm–could be!

Martin looks very troubled. Some information is misstated or missing in the IMDB listing. He’s now looking at his e-mail. A half-dozen messages from IMDB support. They haven’t updated his listing yet.

Isn’t it bad luck to keep looking yourself up on IMDB? I know it is for Google.

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We Don’t Do Politics…

June 6th, 2008

….here at PT, not because everyone else does but because the idiom we think in—I think in, ain’t no we here—is just too rare and idiosyncratic to sustain a conversation. Like 18th-century Cornish.

But politics is like baseball (write that down! remember I said it!). You can only talk so long before inevitably referring to it (or as non-native English speakers say nowadays, “referencing it”).

So here I am, and I must say I am flabbergasted by the suicidal delusions of the pro-Obama Democrats and their media chatterboxes. Obama, the freshman Senator, seems to have hooked the Democrat nomination, but in a string of most odd circumstances. He trounced the opposition in states where there were very few white Democrats (or as in the case of Wyoming, very few Democrats, period). Where a state had a substantial white Democrat population, he lost by a wide margin.

broThe chatterboxes tried to explain this away by saying he had a problem with “the white working class,” neatly skipping over the bold fact that most Americans are white, and most are working-class. Obama’s “win” is the flimsiest nomination in modern history. It’s based almost entirely on race: blacks turned out to vote someone who looked like one of their own. This works well in the South Carolina primary, but it’s a fatal liability in a national election. Because if 20 million votes go to him simply on account of race, it’s a fair bet that at least as many will go against him on the same score. In November, it doesn’t matter if Obama captures every black vote in South Carolina: the state still goes to the Republicans. And therein lies the basis of John McCain’s nice-guy, politically-correct, sweet-talk strategy. He doesn’t have to do a damn thing except stand up and show that he has a pulse. He will smile and wave and wish the Democrats well as they gaily proceed to hang themselves.

Posted in General, Mongrelization | 1 Comment »

Mister Cokehead, Media Recruiter

June 3rd, 2008

I made a new friend via e-mail a couple of weeks back. He runs a tiny advertising-temp agency and has a most pleasing electro-epistolary manner. So much so that when he shot me a note last week proposing I come in and meet him, I wrote back, “Dude!…”

I’d already Googled Dude’s unusual, double-barrelled name and discovered he was an occasional road-race athlete, with 10k times resembling my own. Except he was male, a bit younger, and not taking his racing seriously.

Hey! We would get along like thieves afire. Thick as houses!

So I get to his Murray Hill warren at 2 pm today. He’s not as handsome and dashing as I’d imagined, but he immediately greets me by name and I greet him back.

Then everything falls apart. He thinks he sent me “paperwork” for me to fill out. I don’t know what he’s talking about. He has his colored girl print out a new set and then he mixes it up with somebody else’s references.

He asks me if I have a portfolio. Well I do have a Prat case that I bought in 1988 and toted around to Art Directors for a few months when I thought I was going to be an editorial illustrator…but I certainly do not tote it around now. Not in this century. I do have a pile of junk–ads, cartoons, layouts, logos, corporate identity, Flash banners–displayed in a website, but it’s not something I spend a lot of time on.

[I know all about Portfolios. I got wise to them back in the 1980s. They were (and are) a strange obsession of commercial-art colleges. An example of anal-retentive typography on this page, a highly derivative ad treatment on that page (four-word hed in Futura Bold, powerful b/w image)…a little bit of everything…and that fourteen-dollar-an-hour job (1989 dollars) is right around the corner. Or so the career counselor at The Art Center/School of Visual Arts/Parsons was advising the kids. I loved graphic design and the occasional classes I took at the School of Visual Arts in the 1980s, so it took me a long time to accept the hard fact that graphic designers are a very dim breed. I started to figure this out at The San Diego Reader, where we had a designer who couldn’t read more than ten words of an article without moving his lips, and that took too much effort, so generally he gave up around word eleven, and picked whatever graphic or illustration suited his grasshopper whim, however inappropriate it was to the article he was laying out. He’d have an article on some grand-opera production going on in San Diego, and because he very much liked the old photograph of Dame Nellie Melba in 1920, he’d use that as the main design element for the layout, which turned out to be a cover story. Only trouble is, all the references to Melba’s visit to San Diego in 1920 got axed early in the edit process, so the design motifs made so sense whatsoever. Later on when I was at Salomon Smith Barney we had a very talented and charming designer who was very good at putting a green square next to a pink triangle but quite out of his element with anything involving the real world. Once he came to me with an outline map of Oceania and asked me which island (New Guinea or Australia) was the one that had Sydney. But I digress…]

Bad to worse. I’m at the temp agency, showing my poor excuse of an online portfolio. Now, I am pretty good at Flash. Timeline, code, you name it. I show Mister Double-Barrelled some Flash pieces on my portfolio. One of them is a complicated device that displays Flash banners as though they were on a TV. The whole point is that I created the coding behind this device, but he is focused completely on the low-resolution content I use as examples. He thinks the content shown on the device is what I’m showing off, not the device itself. He talks a mile a minute, bobbing his head up and down, looking from side to side.

I try to explain, as I point to the display on his big-screen iMac. He asks me to repeat. He doesn’t understand me. My diction isn’t bad, he just wants me to face him as I explain. The guy is either drugged out or half-deaf and needs to read my lips.

He natters on, like somebody smoking a midnight eight-ball. Slurs his words. Starts a sentence, then kills it for whatever happens to be the latest and newest idea in his drug-fueled grasshopper brain…says something completely unrelated, keeps interrupting me, then asks me to repeat and clarify myself and talks over me.

Fucking madman.

He asks another question, I try to answer in detail. Then he hurries me along. Finishes my sentences, finishes them wrong. Not a clue, no idea what I’m saying, doesn’t know or care. He listens for buzzwords coming out of my mouth, hoping that one of them will connect with something he thinks he knows about.

Scary. How soon do I get to leave?

This is the most unexpected and offputting encounter I have ever had with an employment recruiter. It’s not just his abrasiveness and herky-jerky manner, which might simply reflect a brain with to much Red Bull or coke. And I am too much of a libertarian to find fault with those indulgences.

No, his presentation suggests a much deeper problem: a lack of professional experience in any field other than temporary job-placement. For years he’s taken phone calls from secretaries and HR halfwits who relay their temp needs, he shouts back to them what he thinks they want–”you want a photo retoucher who knows type fonts? Photoshop? Someone expert with masks and channels? You don’t know? Does it matter? How high can you go? Minimum billing I can do is $45 an hour”–and either there’s a sale or there isn’t; then he does this again and again, all day, year-in-year-out. He doesn’t know what he’s selling and neither does the halfwit at the other end, but they both know a little lingo about graphic software. A meeting of the minds.

If it sounds like a hellish way to earn a living, consider that once you’ve been doing job-placement for a little while, you can’t do anything else. You’ve been selling canned goods over the telephone, basically, and you don’t have the skills for anything else, at least not anything that pays well. Moreover you’ve acquired a gimlet-eyed contempt for your merchandise and clients, and the idea of somehow joining them in the trenches is unthinkable.

***

It all reminds me of a similar shoestring operation I hooked up with soon after getting out of college. I wanted some paying work right away, so I went to a temp agency that advertised with big classified ads in the New York Times. I kept noticing this place that said it had plenty of jobs with a Major Television Network. The firm had a grandiose title, something like “Madison Avenue Agency for Advertising Communications.” There was a cardboard sign on the door and no indication of prosperity within–a bare office with a spindly pockmarked fellow named Clifford Scott and his colored receptionist. Clifford was nice when you first met him. Terribly friendly, terribly eager to meet the new talent. His slipshod charm made you overlook his frayed collar and dirty nails.

I asked him about the jobs in TV, and after some hesitation he told the Major Television Network was TelePrompter. TelePrompter, in addition to making cueing devices, once owned a few cable tv stations, though no one mistook it for a Major Television Network. This was a while ago. How far back? Let’s say 1979.

Anyway I did not get a job in television. But Clifford placed me immediately, that very afternoon. I was sent up to 53rd Street to answer telephones on the third floor of the Museum of Modern Art. I was very pleased with my good luck. I observed the lady who was VP of Public Development (whatever that might be) and with what bonhomie she greeted her coworkers as she sashayed about in her nubby raw-silk multicolored jacket, and thought to myself: “Hah, in a year or so, I’ll be giving orders to some functionary like that, and wearing an even finer raw-silk jacket.”

They didn’t need me to answer the phones at MOMA the next day, so a day or two later Clifford sent me to Foote Cone and Belding, an ad agency on Floor 42 of the Pan Am building. FCB had a very strange work schedule, at least for their temps. Nine to five, but you were required to subtract exactly 75 minutes for your lunch break (which had to be between 12:15 and 2:00), so that your daily billable hours would equal exactly 6.75 hours. You see, they wanted you to have a full lunch hour and have enough time to get up and down the elevators, but they didn’t want to pay you for all that travel time.

I typed one or two memos and otherwise spent the day reading the Sunday NYTimes Magazine and doing the crossword.

I was one of two temp typists. The other was a fat sulky Jewish girl named Robyn Fineman, who spent the day ostentatiously reading the Hunter College course catalog. I tried to joke with her once or twice. I got nowhere. She was fat, she was Jewish, she had issues. She was crushed with shame to be working in such a menial position. Actually she was borderline mentally ill and lucky to have a job at all, but let’s not get stuck on Robyn… Bad moods prevailed in the whole department. One of the account executives I worked for was a fat and thoroughly nasty shrew by the name of Helene Lo Grasso. When she gave me a scrawled page to type, she tossed it on my Selectric (as hard as you can toss a sheet of paper). One sentence was totally undeciperable, so I went into her office where she was bullshitting with a coworker. “Oh what is it NOW?” she yelled in her working-class Staten Island honk, following it up with assorted expletives and insults. In lofty tones I informed her that I couldn’t understand her writing and she had no grasp of punctuation.

Did I mention this was a one-day assignment? Initially I understood it to be longer, but something didn’t quite work out. Clifford never gave me direct feedback. Neither did he send me back to FCB, or anywhere else.

I decided that Helene Lo Grasso was to blame. But I knew how to find her. Before leaving, I had slipped the Foote Cone & Belding directory into my Whitney Museum of Modern Art tote bag. And for years afterwards I would send Helene Lo Grasso padded envelopes containing dogshit and roadkill (after first ascertaining that she still worked in the place).

Trite and childish, I know…but why be more inventive? This fat pig didn’t warrant imagination.

I kept following up on Clifford Scott, too, checking the classifieds to see if his enterprise was still in business. It finally folded around 1984. A year or two before that I dropped in to say hello. The agency seemed even smaller and rattier than before. So did Clifford. I told him I had a very good job but hated it, and wanted to go back to temping, preferably in advertising. He pretended to remember me, but obviously couldn’t, though he seemed to be thinking back very hard, and I imagined that the confused expression on his face suggested a faint memory of a bad smell.

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There Was an Earthquake in Red China

May 19th, 2008

Do you care?
mao

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NYC Declares War on Smoking Mulattoes

May 15th, 2008

No doubt about it, cigarette smoking is a disgusting habit—right up there with sex, nose-picking, and eating at McDonalds. But people persist, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is determined to give some of them a good whack upside the head.

renaldoThe Department’s main target is the mass of mulattoes and mestizoes from the Caribbean region. Last year they made a celebrity of one Ronaldo Martinez, a Puerto Rican who claims to have lost his voice box to cancer, supposedly brought on by cigarette smoking. His tale is doubtful, short on specifics. He claims to have lost his larynx at 39, but he looks about fifteen years older, while throat and laryngeal cancers seldom occur before age 45.

stumpyhandsThis season’s poster child is a mulatta who calls herself Marie and according to the NY Times is in her late 50s. All over town, on posters and subway car cards, she holds out her stumpy hands to you, claiming (in Spanish and English) that cigarette smoking caused her to have many amputations.

The image is shocking and grotesque, but really no worse than back issues of National Geographic and Holiday, wherein old crones of the New Guinea highlands were said to have their fingers amputated as “funeral gifts.” That’s just the way savages are. They have their little customs, and we should not be quick to judge them. Nor should we buy the nonsense that smoking cigarettes will make your fingers fall off. According to the Times, “Marie” has Buergger’s Disease, a rare circulatory ailment.

americankidsThe big mystery here is why the Department of Health (etc.) has singled out Spanish-speaking mulattoes and mestizoes for this extra-special treatment. Surely they don’t smoke any more than the rest of the population. Why are there no campaigns depicting domestic non-ethnic cigarette smokers? Wholesome, corn-fed, all-American Anglo-Saxon types, those 20- and 30-somethings who huddle in tavern doorways from 6pm to 2am every night. Are the bureaucrats scared of these fuming masses of hipsters, gays, and investment-banking analysts? That’s a possibility, though it’s more likely that they can’t imagine how to show off healthy young American smokers and and not have it look like a cigarette ad.

Posted in The Family of Man, Mongrelization | 2 Comments »

Grand Central Hell

May 6th, 2008

I got laid off a few months ago, and in the fullness of time came around to looking for a job. There are several stages of looking for a job:

1) I will have to start looking very seriously, next week, or when I get back from vacation.
2) I am finding all sorts of things on craigslist and those awful online job banks…it is going to be hard to pick and choose.
3) I am starting to get a little scared.
4) I’ll take anything.

I have now arrived at 3), and am starting to feign interest in exciting opportunities I wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole. A headhunter at an agency found my resume online and persuaded me to apply for a job with a hedge fund. As a preliminary I had to go down and meet him at his office yesterday. Not an interview, exactly, but a pre-interview, so he could at least tell his clients he’d met me in person.

I got dressed up for the first time in weeks, trying to strike an exact midpoint between corporate-tailored and business-casual. What a lot of effort. I carefully packed up three copies of my resume, and timed my arrival to be exactly two minutes early. I memorized the address and brought a printout of the e-mail just in case.

The office building was few blocks south of Grand Central. “Oh gawd,” I thought when I saw the address, “Grand Central Hell! Where all those nasty temp agencies are, or used to be.” I was thinking of grimy warrens I’d stumbled into years ago, boiler rooms where hard-bitten girls from Queens sat in plywood cubicles and flogged $8/hr nigger receptionists to banks and ad agencies.

But this was going to be different. An executive headhunting firm, a boutiquey place with fresh flowers on the credenza and real milk with the coffee. And the coffee would be good, too…

Surprise! Grand Central Hell still lives. This place was bigger, grimier, noisier than anything I remembered. I was the only white person in the room. The girl at the reception area, a member of one of the Spanish-speaking mulatto tribes, directed me to a small room, labeled “Testing Room #1″. Tiny old desks with four foul, antiquated yellowish PCs. This is where I was to make my electronic application for employment. Gingerly I tapped my name and vitals into the well-worn keyboard. I got to a field marked “desired salary” and found it would not accept more than two digits. (Is that eighty dollars a week or eighty dollars a year?)

When this was over I went back to reception where another colored girl handed me a thick sheaf of application forms. My CIA application was bigger, but just barely. Every employer you ever had, every school you ever went to, authorization to phone everyone up and check on your credentials. I wrote down my name, flipped through the flyspecked xerographic pages, and took the thing back to reception. A joke’s a joke, but this was too much.

All around, obese negroes and mulattoes lolled around, lounged on sofas, and watched the wide-screen television on the wall.

“You know,” I said, testily but with a good-natured smile, “I think I may have come to the wrong place. This does not look like an executive search firm.”

“No, it’s an employment agency,” came the reply.

At long last my contact arrived, a normal-looking young fellow in rolled-up shirtsleeves, harried and sweaty, apologizing for being late. (Did I mention it was a warm day and the air-conditioning wasn’t on?)

We had a good meeting. As we went into the conference room, I couldn’t resist making a little gibe: “So…this agency places a lot of hedge-fund managers, does it?”

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Don’t You Just Hate Consumer Reports?

January 6th, 2008

Well I do. Have most of my life. Of course I haven’t read it much since childhood (my father was always fervently contemplating the purchase of something he never ended up purchasing, but he did keep sending his subscription checks to CR). But I see bits of it sporadically, in Xeroxed PR packs and online links, and from what I can tell it hasn’t changed much. Its main purpose is still to inform you that whatever you bought is wrong, and the better product is something that is ugly and inaccessible.

I was reminded of this technique today when I stumbled across a recent NYTimes article in which CR rated commercial gyms and health clubs, and informed its subscribers that “local” gyms generally satisfied their customers better than national chains.

This is a mystifying claim for a number of interrelated reasons. First, there really aren’t that many national chains. Offhand I could think of only two that had any presence in New York City (Gold’s Gym and Bally’s), and both of them are rather marginal in terms of local membership. Talk about major health-club facilities in New York, and you think of New York Sports Club (regional; branches in DC and Boston), Equinox (mostly New York City and California), Crunch (mainly New York), the New York Health and Racquet Club (Manhattan), and and a handful of high-end stand-alone places such as Asphalt Green and Chelsea Piers. Commercial gyms by their nature are space- and labor-intensive. High-quality national chains would work only if they competed on quality and charged top-dollar, which would necessarily limit the number of installations (since there aren’t that many devoted gym rats in the first place). Gym users tend to be specialists and gourmets, not susceptible to a McDonalds model of high-volume, limited services, and low price. But that’s the only way a national chain can compete.

So, to sum up the long story: there are few national chains. And the ones that are there generally charge minimal fees, give minimal service, and their customers aren’t terrifically happy. A logical outcome, but you won’t see any of this spelled out in the Consumer Reports survey.

One national chain that got good ratings from CR was a place called Life Time Fitness. Have you ever heard of Life Time Fitness? I certainly hadn’t. I now check out their website and find that they are basically a Midwest and Texas operation, with no outlets at all in the Northeast or the West Coast. (Goodness, how relevant to the readership of the New York Times!)

This is classic Consumer Reports, and puts me in mind of all those irritating CR articles I read in my childhood. The most nutritious chicken pot pies are those sold by a small grocery-store chain in Pipsewah, Ohio. The Kodak Instamatic camera system is inefficient and overpackaged (even though you can buy the film anywhere); your money would be better spent on the Rapid instant-load camera (even though you’ll never find its funny film cartridges at your local Rexall). That highly advertised dandruff shampoo from Proctor & Gamble is a waste of money: shampoo is mostly just detergent, you know–so you’d do much better just to buy the twenty-nine-cent Brand X gunk on sale at this supermarket we visited in Des Moines.

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Land of Hermits and Losers

April 28th, 2007

That would be a nice license-plate slogan for Maine.

I got into middle-age proudly proclaiming that I’d visited nearly every single one of the contiguous 48 states in the US of America. And lived in about ten of them, if you can call four weeks or more “living there.” East of the Mississippi, I’d been to them all–except Maine. I’d been within a few miles of Maine several times but never had any reason to go there. Until last fall, when I went to Portland for a business seminar for five days and hung around for a sixth so I could do a cross-country race.

Maine, to my mind, was the West Virginia of New England. Vast, underpopulated, picturesque and known to the rest of the country mostly as a poverty-stricken region with a few prosperous enclaves of vacation homes, resorts and (in Maine’s case) college towns.

It is indeed a very pretty state. At least the southwestern coastal section that I saw at the height of autumn. “Gosh,” I thought, leaving the Portland area, “if only I could find some solid rationale for moving up here. Yes, I’d do it in a flash.” Then I reflected on the all the people I’ve known of who retreated to Maine, and put that idea out of my head for good.

There’s a niece who got out of Wellesley a year or two ago, “married” her lesbian lover, and settled down in a small town in the northern interior. According to reports from her college friends, they are poor as church mice and don’t have much fun. For social life on weekends they sometimes drive for two hours to a town on the coast and meet with a New-Agey church group.

Just a post-college hippie experience? I wonder. Less idly, I wonder where the escape clause is. Does one of them write a book and become rich and famous so they can move, again to the sticks, but this time in a place with cachet (say, Normandy)? That sort of thing happens often enough. But it mostly happens to people who have spent the last ten or twenty years making it halfway up the ladder of bleak notoriety, publishing sad ‘zines (as with Pagan Kennedy) or shameless memoirs (David Sedaris) while making ends meet by working shit jobs and wearing bad clothes. And they’re more likely to live in New York City or western Mass. than in Grinder’s Gulch, Maine.

Besides which, I don’t know that either my niece or her honey is a writer. I would guess they are not accountants. Or actresses. (Oh let’s hope not.)

Which brings me to Case #2, Mr. Hornblower. He is a long-ago TV writer from New York who moved to a small coastal town in Maine on the strength of a small legal settlement and a tiny inheritance from his dead parents. When people asked him why he would do such a mad thing, he replied that he hoped to set himself up as a theatrical agent. True, he had no experience in this line of work, but that wouldn’t matter to the good folk of Bogside, Maine. There wasn’t another theatrical agent within a hundred miles, and the market was wide-open.

Well that was twelve years ago. Now Mr. Hornblower’s money is gone. However he just turned 62 and now qualifies for minimal Social Security. For fun he takes a bus down to New York once a year, crashes with a friend in Brooklyn, and sees a few half-price Broadway shows.

Those are two examples, and I could multiply them countless times in similar anecdotes I’ve heard about friends and friends of friends, about sad ineffectual folk who retreated to Maine some five, ten, fifteen years ago, and have done little since.

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How Many Chillun You Got?

April 22nd, 2007

That’s the important thing. That’s what all primitive people really want to know about you.

savage with one chillunThey get to the point where they’ve figured out that you’re either male or female (even though they they can’t see either a penis gourd or pendulous dugs), and they know your approximate age (somewhere between adolescence and total decrepitude). Now they’re happily puffing away on your Philip Morris Commanders (king-size, unfiltered, good for jungle bugs) and they’re ready to move into the small-talk stage of your acquaintanceship.

And here it is. “Hey you! You got chillun? How many chillun?”

Go ahead and tell them. Anything you like. One kid, six kids, sixteen kids. It’s not like the little savages are going to write down your children’s birthdays so they can send them something nice (just imagine!). No, they’re just being innocently nosy. It’s something they ask of all strangers, and no one’s ever smacked them down for this rudeness so they keep on asking.

Sometimes the questions get detailed—”You have a boy? How old? Is he warrior? You have girl—how much you sell her for?” It is always best to be prepared for this. Along with the Philip Morris Commanders in the left side pocket of your photo-vest, bring a fact sheet about your kids. Maybe even some fuzzy snapshots.

My own prepared script goes basically like this. “Oh yes I have four children. Two girls, two boys. Between five and fifteen. Evenly spaced. Their names are Mary, Joan, John, and Robert. They live with their other parent, as I am usually away on business. The boys play baseball [a game formerly very popular in America] and the girls do ballet [this is a kind of theater-dance some people do in my country]. Who is oldest? Oh, that would be John. Then Mary. Then…”

Even a savage has limited attention for this sort of thing, and by this point my new friend is probably waving and nodding and inviting me into his hut to look at the shrunken heads.

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Pointless Expedition

April 3rd, 2007

I was telling my Old Friend Tom how I gave away 1555 pounds sterling to the rhinoceros charity last year.

I wanted to run the Flora London Marathon but the only way I could get a place was through one of the charity groups. The rhino charity looked like the pleasantest of the bunch–no dying baldheaded children or mental defectives, and there’s something very appealing about big wild beasts with horns. The rhino people were happy to have me when I said I’d raise 1500 or more in contributions.

bluerhinoI had vague plans to hit up my affluent friends and coworkers for a hundred dollars or pounds apiece, but soon realized I was too bashful for that. So a month after the marathon I cleaned out my London current account and sent it to the rhino folks.

I felt foolish about this venture, I told Tom. But on balance it was well worth it. I did okay in that Marathon and now had a time that qualified me for a Good for Age entry in the next one, so I could go back without any of this charity nonsense.

Tom laughed. “Wouldn’t it be simpler just to run it on your own?”

“On my own. You mean unofficially? Without a bib number?”

“Yeah.”

Bandit the race? You think that’s easy to do?”

“Who’s going to stop you?”

“Crowds? Police? Security? They have it cordoned off, you know. Have you ever seen the London Marathon?”

“Couldn’t you just sneak in?”

“In theory, okay, look, yeah–I could probably make up a fake bib number. But what would be the point?”

“You wouldn’t have to go through all that rigamarole.”

“But it wouldn’t be official. I wouldn’t have a result. You look me up in the results on the internet and–I’m not even there. What would be the point?”

“Well you could do it for yourself, for your own enjoyment.”

“Enjoyment?” I said, really exasperated by now. “You think I would put myself through that kind of grueling hell for enjoyment?”

I was really annoyed at Tom for this line of conversation. I’ve been asked similar questions by other people, but they’re usually the kind of daft fatties who think that any road race is a marathon. Tom is a smart, fit, guy who ran track and cross-country back in his prep school and college days. On the other hand, he’s never run a marathon, and never had to qualify for any road race so it’s never occurred to him that getting in is half the struggle. He thinks only of the physical output during the event, so imagines it to be just a very long and exhausting workout–like three hours on the rowing machine at the gym–that one indulges in for a private sense of achievement. That, and maybe to drop a few pounds of flab as well.

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