Hank Stuever had a post on his blog yesterday, about a happy time in his life that coincided with a happy time in my life, i.e., working on the college newspaper. And even though his happy time was a decade after my happy time, it sounds as though the technology we used was about the same, and that was part of the fun of it:
I miss layout. It was probably the only crafty, tactile skill I ever mastered — starting in the journalism room in high school. I miss the waxer, the long strips of freshly developed type set in column inches, the bordertape, the pica poles, the photo reduction-ratio wheels, mitering my corners, the Zip-o-Tone, the 20-percent gray screen half-tones, the light-tables; writing headlines from count orders (”they need a 3-36-1 in 19-pica column width, and don’t forget that flitj only counts for half a character”). I miss the monstrous and cantankerous photostat machine. I miss light blue Copy-Not pens. I miss being able to fix a typo with a knife instead of a reset.
Much of that is probably gibberish to most of you, but to me, that paragraph, loaded with all those terms of art, is what separates a writer from a layout artist. I hadn’t thought about Zip-o-Tone (Zip-A-Tone, to be exact — sorry, Hank) since maybe 1978, and just that phrase brought it all back — the late nights at the Post doing just that, fueled on day-old doughnuts and bad coffee, trading jokes and insults. Disco light table! someone would squeal when “Don’t Leave Me This Way” came on the radio from down Parkersburg way, flicking the switches on and off during the chorus.
But I think I may have covered this topic before. What I meant to point out was this apt comparison later in Hank’s mini-essay:
I think I derived the same joy from laying out a newspaper that quilters derive from quilting bees. It required concentration, measurement, technique, artistry — but it never distracted you from conversations and gossip and laughs with your collaborators.
Yes. Exactly. It’s the craftiness of it. I’ve never been much for crafts, but like Hank, I miss the camaraderie of building something with your hands in a group. I got a little of that during my time on the copy desk; the work wasn’t so difficult you were risking anyone’s concentration by occasionally noting, out loud, “Name Redacted is the worst writer this newspaper has, and I’ll fight any man who disagrees.” We were just Amish ladies stitching squares together.
So thanks, Hank, for that. And yes, I will join your Layout Club. We can put out a newsletter or something, ol’ skool. I may still have some Letraset lying around here somewhere.
J.C. will probably use his admin status to post a photo in comments from those days. He was one of the supervisors of our backshop, back in the day.
So, anything else today? There’s this: You may have heard how the president of the Detroit Public Schools board imploded last week, or rather…[cue boom-chicka-wow soundtrack] maybe I should say, exploded. Mathis was briefly shamed into resigning after the superintendent accused him of playing pocket pool during their meetings, and if you want the gross details, well, read all about it.
I say “briefly shamed” because he had no sooner resigned than he tried to take it back, claiming “health problems” caused him to take matters into his own hands, ha ha. I think Laura Berman sums up the man in a few devastating sentences, here:
After graduating from Southeastern High School with a D-plus average, he got into Wayne State University in a program for the academically unqualified. When he failed to pass an English language writing exam required for graduation, he sued, claiming the exam discriminated against African-Americans. When the exam was dropped, a decade later, he duly received his bachelor of science degree.
Mathis was praised by his colleagues for his coolness under pressure and his lack of defensiveness: qualities that have stood him in good stead over the years, as he faced down challenges to his competency. As he told me in a March interview, his deficits had been written about before. “People make a lot of noise for a while and then it all blows over,” he said.
Maybe he felt compelled to test how low expectations might really go.
And they were already pretty damn low, let me tell you.
With that, an announcement: I’ll be scarce around here for a while. We’re taking a few days’ vacation, and this time we’re going someplace my cell phone contract doesn’t cover, so no mobile uploads. And where might that be? They speak French there, but it’s in North America. Where could it be? Let me put it this way: I told Kate I wanted to take her to Europe, but we can’t afford Europe, so we’re going for the closest equivalent within driving distance.
So: Au revoir for now, and I’ll see you back here Monday.