Posts Tagged ‘design’

Let me say right off that this blog post has nothing whatsoever to do with clothes, or the small rooms in which the tidiest of us keep them. It’s about work–my work, to be precise. I’m a designer, a writer, an illustrator, and a teacher. In most of those arenas, my job entails working to others’ specifications–making other people’s dreams come true. In some cases my clients know exactly what they want, and they just want my hands and computer skills. In others, though, my job is less giving my client what they think they want than it is showing them all the things they might want if they knew those things existed.

In short, I am paid to Think Outside the Box, to Dream Up Amazing Things, to show my clients things they don’t want so they can have a better idea of what they DO want. I am paid to take risks, to court certain rejection not occasionally but every single frigging day.

And I’m okay with that. Really I am. I understand that when I walk into a client meeting I will walk out of there with (if I”m lucky) two of my three dynamite ideas rejected out of hand–and it will probably be my favorite two. I understand that I am working in pursuit of another’s dream, creating another’s vision. That’s my job. I’m used to it. I know the dangers of falling too deeply in love with a concept–any concept. It’s likely going to get shot down–and the more I fall in love with it, the more likely the idea’s quick death on the boardroom floor is.

And yet sometimes it still happens. I go to the initial client meeting. I listen to their thoughts and ideas. I take notes. And then, at some point in the process, I am struck by lightning. I know–I just know–that I’ve got pure gold in my concepts. I hurry to the next client meeting on eager feet, clutching my concepts in my sweaty hands (not really–sweat is hell on comps, and these days it’s all about email and pdfs in my world, but you get the idea).

I present my work. And my clients look at each other out of the corners of their eyes and I know that, like Michael Bolten, I have perhaps been watching too much of the wrong thing. I have allowed myself to dream the big dreams, rather than the necessary ones, that my comps reflect me more than they reflect what my clients wish to say about themselves. There I am, singing in a rich, ringing voice of being Jack Sparrow on Tortuga, Forrest Gump on the bus bench, Scarface, Erin Brokovich, when what my clients want is a nice, tight little addition to their edgy little rap.

And so I put away my braids and beads, the crashing ocean and the blue, blue sky, my deskful of cocaine, and God-help-me my Erin Brokovich suit, and I re-set my sights on crafting a nice, tight little addition to their edgy little rap, because I am a professional, and i truly do know that my job is creating art and designs that will help my clients reach their dreams and goals. It’s not about me. Some days, I am a gun for hire.

But this video is for the other days, the days when I stride into meetings with a concept that goes giving my clients what they think they want, and shows them the world they might have instead. Sometimes they want it. Sometimes they don’t.

And this video captures that experience perfectly–so perfectly, in fact, that I suspect Michael Bolton may have spent some time as a designer. So for all those people who have ever wondered how a designer feels in a concept meeting–and for every designer who has ever been there–this video is for you. Play it proudly.

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Steve Jobs’ passing this week has gotten me to thinking about bosses. Way back in the hazy, lazy days before I started my own business I had them. Some were good. Some not so much. If you were my boss and you were Not Good, you probably know who you are, so I won’t waste time detailing the horrors of being your subordinate. What I’d like to talk about, instead, are my good bosses, and the key roles they played in my life then (and now).

Let’s talk about Kevin first. Kevin was my first “career” boss–the boss who first challenged me to expand my skills into an area where I was convinced I’d never make a living–design. He hadn’t hired me as a designer. He had hired me as an editor, mostly, I suspect, because I have a Master’s degree, and in our particular work environment advanced degrees carried more weight than they probably should have. At any rate, I got hired as an editor, but since at the time we had no designer Kevin encouraged me to refine my desktop publishing skills. More than that, though, he encouraged me–he encouraged all of us–to share everything we knew, and to learn from each other. The result was a remarkably productive team of happy, mutually supportive people. And when he left, Kevin left behind a letter which he urged me to submit in support of a request for a better, bigger color computer monitor. “Because with the right equipment, there’s nothing she can’t do,” he wrote.

I never turned that letter in. Instead, I saved it. Kevin’s confidence inspired me to switch career focuses. After he left I took a job with another company not as a writer but as a bottom-level designer. I used their educational benefits. I built my skills. And when the time came, I was able to move to a “real” design studio, where I did “real” design work–and where I was fortunate enough to find bosses whose confidence in my skills exceeded my own. Like Kevin, Peter and Michael believed in sharing knowledge and building skills. And so, when I started doing quick sketches for client design presentations they urged me to hone that skill, too. Among other things, they encouraged me to work on my own art on their equipment once my projects were up to date. “The better you get at this, the more valuable you are to us,” they said, and so it was that I started seriously working on children’s book illustrations. When I was ready they started taking on jobs that involved illustration as well as design.

Those me were good bosses, but in between them I had another good boss, Pete. Pete was the man who hired me as a bottom-level designer. He managed a large in-house staff of writers, designers, and production managers. The year after he hired me he remarried, and everyone in the department was happy for him, because Pete was one of those bosses that everyone loved–he knew his business. He knew how to deal with our in-house clients. He knew how to challenge, direct, and free his staff to achieve their best. So Pete got remarried, and everyone was happy. At about the same time my personal life fell horribly, horribly apart. As embarrassing as it is to admit this, it was such a terrible experience that I pretty much fell apart for a while. I had to take time off work. Pete arranged it so that money wasn’t one of my worries, on top of everything else. When I came back to work a month later I was weak, and wobbly. My hands shook. I did my best, and in fact found comfort in knowing that at work, at least, I had my life in some sort of order.

And then one day Pete happened to be getting coffee in the lunchroom when I was. As we stood side by side pouring our coffee he said, not looking at me, “I want you to know I understand what you’re going through. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” And then he hugged me, quickly, one-armed. And then he left. He never looked at me, and he left without waiting for an answer. I stood there in the lunch room, shaking and crying, staring at the coffee pot so no one would see. When I had myself back together I went back to my office and went back to work.

Pete never brought the subject up again. Neither did I. Everything that needed to be said had been said there beside the coffee pots. What I didn’t know at the time was that Pete was speaking no more than the unvarnished truth when he told me he knew how it felt to have your life fall apart around you. I didn’t know that he had fought depression for years, and on that day beside the coffee pots he he must have had at least an inkling that, even though his life looked like it was finally going his way, the depression was back. Just a few months later the depression won.

I’ve never talked about this with anyone. I never even told him “thank you” for the sheer kindness of his words–and for leaving my dignity intact. I wish I had known about the demons he fought. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but who knows? Sometimes even the department bottom-feeder can be a comfort.

So bosses, give your people room and incentive to grow. Remember we’re all on the same team. Don’t be afraid to offer a kind word beside the coffee pots. And Pete, wherever you are, I wish you the happiness, joy, and contentment your leadership, skills, and humanity fostered for those of us whose paychecks you signed. You mattered. You mattered a lot.

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When I was a sweet young thing I worked in a design studio with three nice men. As the New Kid, I inherited the job of picking up second lines when first lines were engaged, and functioning as Person B on big projects. One day I was working on a couple of my own projects and serving as Person B to just about everybody else. Those were the days of slow processors, and we had an extra workstation, so I had opened up projects on two computers. I’d give a command on one, and then go give a command on the other while I waited for the first computer to finish processing. In between I was returning phone calls, sending faxes, printing proofs, and building a “comp” over on the drafting table.

I didn’t think anything about it until one of my office mates started to laugh. “I can’t even answer the phone when I’m working on something,” he said. “And you’ve got every machine and the drafting table going down there.” A discussion ensued among the three men about a PBS show someone had watched about how women are better at multi-tasking than men are, but I don’t remember details; I went back to circulating through the computer, computer, phone, fax, drafting table, computer, computer.

I’m not sure that the ability to multi-task is gender-linked. I know it’s something I do well, and I know that when I’m doing it I tend to focus more intently on the jobs in sequence than I do on a single job, done separately. There’s something about bouncing between different types of tasks that seems to keep my gain more closely engaged for longer periods of time.

Now that it’s just me in the doghouse, I find myself using multi-tasking not only as a tool to get client work done, but to advance my own writing and design projects. I can only edit effectively for a couple hours at a time. Then I stop editing and go draw something. When I get a few sketches polished I put them aside and paint, or do creative writing. Each task seems to take a different sort of energy–and in some cases doing a different kind of task not only allows my batteries to recharge, but actually seems to help the process along.

For instance, in the time I devote to my own work each day I’m working on three books right now. I’m proofing Benchmarks, the memoir about single mothering that I’ve talked about here before. I’m also editing and typesetting a collection of short stories that grew out of some past-life regression exercises I did. And I’m writing on a YA book about a girl who discovers that her alter ego is all too real.

The mixture of projects not only helps me keep each of them moving ahead, but also energizes me for my “real” work–the design and illustration work I do to pay our bills. So here’s the thing: instead of waiting for time to work on the projects you love, try getting them out and working on them a few lines, a few stitches, a few paint strokes, at a time, as you’re passing by doing other things. It’s a great way to ensure that your personal goals, the ones that feed your soul, keep on track right along with the goals you meet on behalf of others.

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Here’s a little peek into a world that has now largely disappeared, one which most people didn’t even know existed–the world of printing high-end annual reports before direct-to-plate technology. It wasn’t funny at the time, but now? Well, I enjoy it. Happy Friday.
“I think you make this paper mistake,” said the soft, hesitant voice on the telephone.

“Oh?” I asked. I have a Master’s degree in English. My printer clearly was still at the apprentice level. Nevertheless, I asked. You never know.

“I see “the the.” You write two times. “The the.”

“What?” I gasped. “Where?”

“In big words.”

“I’ll be right down,” I slammed down the telephone and zoomed down to the printshop, cursing, my belly in knots. This was a four-color, full bleed, die cut job for one of the studio’s biggest clients.

“José’s got a question about my job,” I told the press receptionist. She didn’t answer, just went on polishing her nails and snapping her gum, the telephone propped between her ear and her shoulder.

I opened the door to the press room. The noise and the smell of ink hit me like a wall. The presses roared, churning out page after page of print. All except mine. José leaned against the control console, waiting. A single sheet lay on the review table. And there it was, right in the header: “The The Natural History Museum Cordially Invites You…”

I pulled the job. I repulled the film. I ate humble pie with my bosses at the studio. And I bought José lunch. José was a good pressman—he cared enough about my job to call me when he had a question. He cost the studio a little money that day, but he saved me much, much more.

I love printers. I court them. I cosset them. I pamper them like  temperamental mistresses. As a designer, I have learned that I anger printers at my peril; an angry printer can turn a perfectly ordinary print job into a hellish, expensive nightmare. They can literally destroy a designer’s business. I treat my printers like vindictive gods. I have reason.

A good printer, on the other hand, can turn a job into an art. Having a pressman with the creativity and the courage to experiment with his craft can result in pieces that move beyond the norm. A good printer allows designers like me to experiment with new ways of putting ink on paper. José and I figured out a way to use metallic inks in overprints, to integrate PMS inks into process separations, to create a “floating” effect by mis-registering a varnish plate. And he called me when he spotted typos. José was a great pressman, he was, he was…

But José is thousands of miles away, now, and I am printing an annual report for a state entity (think “jobs are awarded based on lowest bid”). The lowest bid was turned in by the worst printer in the world.

Witness my work journal for the last two weeks:

Day 1:
Mary, the writer and my state contact on the annual report I am designing, calls me to tell me that the State has finally signed off on the annual report, a mere two months behind schedule.

“We’re ready to go to press,” she says. “I’m just waiting for them to authorize me to contact the printer so we can work out the file submission protocol with them, find out what works best with their system… you know. I’m a little surprised that they haven’t given us the go-ahead yet. The guy said something about needing to get a revised bid before the project was firmly awarded, but it seems pretty definite…weird. I wish we could call them.”

I wish we could, too. Talking to the printer is a huge part of making sure a job prints right. Turning a job over to a printer without having even a single conversation about how they like to get their files and the potential rough spots in the job is carrying reckless behavior a step too far.

“Maybe tomorrow,” she sighs.

Day 2, morning:
Email from Mary:
! Printer Info

We’ve got approval to contact the printer! The guy at the State didn’t really want us to—said the printer wanted us to just drop the CD off at the Capitol Building. He said he’d pick it up from there. I said I didn’t think that was wise, that we really needed to talk a little bit about how he’d like the files, about the patch proof, and scheduling the press check. They finally agreed that it would be a good idea. Here’s the number, and his email address. I don’t have his mailing address; maybe you can get that when you talk to him. We’ll need to know where to go for the press check.

I dial the number Mary has provided.

“Hullo?” A woman’s voice.

“Hello. This is Bodie Parkhurst. I’m working with Mary Ketchum on the Annual Report for the State. May I speak to Mr. Allen, please? I believe he’s expecting my call.”

“Who are you?”

“Bodie Parkhurst. I’m the designer for the annual report you are scheduled to print for the State. Mr. Allen is my contact person. Is he available?”

“No. He’s at the other building.” She makes it sound like Siberia.

“Is there a number where I can reach him?”

“No. I have no way of contacting him there. He’s busy setting up the presses.”

“May I leave a message?” Setting up the presses?

“Now what’s this all about?” Setting up the presses?

“The State annual report—”

“I know that. Why do you want to talk to Jim?”

“To find out how I should prepare the files for submission, to work out press check scheduling…”

“Oh, Mr. Allen’s very good about that. He insists on getting a signed proof back before he’ll put anything on the press.”

“That’s good,” I say gamely. “But I need a press check, I need to see the job when it’s actually running on the press. It’s a way of protecting all of us.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that…”

“Can I leave a message for him? Or is there someone else I might talk to about this? Maybe your pre-press person?”

“You want to talk to Buffi?”

“Is she your pre-press person?”


“Well, then, I’d like to talk to her. Maybe she can tell me how I should prepare the files.”

“Can’t you just send them over?”

“Yes, but they can be sent in a lot of different ways…”

“I wouldn’t know about that.”

Click. I listen to a local radio host chatting with somebody about hog futures this year. It’s looking grim for the hogs. Click.

“Hello, this is Buffi. May I help you?”

I put on my warmest tone, which is very warm indeed. I want Buffi to like me. I want her for my new, temporary best friend. I want her to want my job to print well. “Hi, Buffi, how you doing today?”

“Just fine.”

“I’m Bodie Parkhurst, the designer on the state annual report you guys are going to be printing.”

“What state annual report is this?”

“The one for the state department of ———-.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Suppressing the urge to scream, I soldier on. “What I really need to know right now is how you guys like to get files. Do you like them uploaded to an ftp site? Would you rather I posted them on mine and then emailed you the link? Should I burn a CD or DVD? Do you want film?”

“FTP?” Buffi asks faintly.

“Yes,” I say heartily, hoping to carry her along with me. “Do you have an ftp page?”

“I don’t know,” she says.

“Oh,” I say. “Well, how about if I post the file to my ftp page then, and then email you the link?”

“Email?” she says.

“Do you have email there?” I ask. I stop and swallow, trying to keep my voice from trembling.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’ve only been here six weeks. I was FORCED to RETIRE from State University.”

“Oh,” I say. Forced to retire? “Well, can I ask Mr. Allen?”

“No, he’s out setting up the presses. Setting up the presses? We LOST our BUILDING and this one’s a long way away.”

“And you have no way of contacting him?” Lost our building? How? Did they carry it into another room, set it down, and then forget where? Did they drive away one day and forget how to get back? Did it sneak away one dark night? Did it crawl away and die?


I think for a minute. “Well, can we talk about how I should prep the files?”

“Yes.” She sounds relieved.

“What method do you prefer? Can you handle high-resolution pdfs?”


“Pdfs. Can you print from a high-resolution pdf? You know—an Acrobat file?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She sounds doubtful.

“Well, should I send the Quark file?”

“No, a pdf will be fine.” I hope so.

“I’d like to send a patch print with my photos on it, so I can check my color-balancing. Will that be all right?”

“You’ll have to ask Jim about that. I don’t know anything about the job.”

—“and he’s in the other building,” I finish for her.

“Yes,” she says eagerly, glad that at last I understand.

“Can I leave a message for him?” I ask.

“Yes. I’ll see that he gets it,” she says.

I leave my number.

Email to Mary from me.
! Printer info

Hey Mary—

I called the printer. At least I think I did. After this conversation I’m concerned about whether this press can handle this job. I spoke to the pre-press person (Buffi) because Mr. Allen was apparently in another building some distance away setting up the presses (!) and unreachable. Buffi told me that they lost their building and are moving shop. She doesn’t know if they have internet access, doesn’t know if they have email, doesn’t know if they can print from pdfs, and doesn’t know how to reach Mr. Allen. She’s only been on the job six weeks, but I would think she would know about internet access…

Is there anybody at State we can talk to, maybe find out a bit more about this printer’s qualifications to print this job at this time? Did the bid get awarded to a quick printer by mistake? It’s black and white, but it’s too complex for a Quickie Print type of printer.

Email from Mary to Bob, her contact at State
Attachment: Email from Bodie Parkhurst
CC: Bodie Parkhurst

Good morning, Bob—
Bodie, the designer on the annual report project, called the printer this morning (see attached email). Can we talk to Andy, who I believe was in charge of selecting the printer, and learn a bit more about this press? The things Bodie’s saying have me worried, too—this is a big job, as I don’t need to tell you. We want to be sure that the printer’s familiar with this type of work.

Day 2
Phone call to Mary

“Hey Mary, it’s Bodie.”

“Hi Bodie. Have you heard from Jim Allen yet?”

“No, not yet. I got a message from Andy at the State while I was out, though.”

“You got a call from Andy?”

“Yes. I wanted to ask you about it before I called back, since normally you handle all that stuff.”

“Why is Andy calling you? How did he get your number?”

“I have no idea. There was just this message…”

“Well, go ahead and return the call…find out what he wants. This is weird. I haven’t given your number to anybody this year. Maybe he got it off some of last year’s old paperwork…”


Day 2
Late afternoon
Phone call from Andy

“Hello. I’m calling about the printer. We’ve worked with him for a long time. He’s printed more than six hundred jobs for us. He’s very competent.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I’m glad to know that, but I’m mostly concerned about if he’s up to running the job right now. His office staff says that they’re moving the presses. Will he be up and running in time to print this on schedule? Also, I’m wondering if this printer is familiar with jobs this complex. It’s one color, but there’s a die-cut folder on the cover, screens, photos, bleeds. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s not the kind of thing that a quick printer can handle.”

“He’s printed over six hundred jobs for us,” Andy repeats testily.

“Well, I’m glad to know that he’s familiar with this type of job.”

“Folders and everything,” Andy adds.

“That’s good,” I say. “But—”

“So what do you want to know?”

“Well, I’m concerned because I haven’t been able to reach him. There’s apparently no telephone in their second building, which is quite some distance from the office where the phone is answered. And his staff doesn’t seem to know about the job, or about how they like to get files, or if—

“He’s printed more than six hundred jobs for us. Folders and everything,” he says again, this time getting all his lines in at once.

“Good,” I say, giving up. “Maybe you could give Mary a call. She’s the person I report to, and she handles all the State contact. She needs to know this.”

“She’s next on my list.”

Day 2
Late afternoon
Phone call to Mary as I’m skinning chicken  for supper.

“Hey Mary. I just heard from Andy. He says he’s going to call you right away.”

“Oh, good. Did he tell you about the printer?”

“Well, he said this printer has handled more than six hundred jobs for them, including folders, which makes me feel somewhat better. But I’m still worried about the pre-press person not knowing how I should send the files. I’m also worried about the presses, and if they’ll be set up in time.”

“I wonder if he did the jobs himself, or if he jobbed them out,” Mary says meditatively.

“He might well have,” I answer, yanking a piece of chicken skin loose and dropping it into the garbage.

“Have you heard from the printer yet?”

“No, but I’ve left a couple messages for him to call me. And I’ve emailed him. So far nothing.”

“Let me know when you hear from him.”

“Sure thing.”

Day 2
Phone call from Mary

“Well, I heard from the printer.”


“He’s either the last of the three-martooni lunches, or very, very old. He’ll be calling you to arrange a time when you can drop off the proof. He’s agreed to do it for $100. Why is he charging us? The printer last year just did it as a part of the job. Is there some special process involved?”

“No—he should just be able to strip it in with the rest of his press corrections. Most presses run the corrections for the jobs they’re printing on a single sheet of film every day, or every couple of days, then slice the film up and strip the corrections into the various jobs. The printer last year just stuck our patch on with the corrections. I don’t know why this guy can’t do that.”

“Well, he says it’s a lot of work, and he’s going to charge us for it directly. I’ve agreed—we have to know what’s happening with the photos before we try to run this.”

“Yes,” I say, happy to be working with someone who understands the value of proofs, and of checking one’s work before one gets to press.

“He’ll be contacting you to arrange for delivery.”

Day 3
7:45 a.m.
Phone call from Jim Allen.

“Hello. This is Jim Allen. Sorry I wasn’t in when you called yesterday. I was out setting up the presses in our other building. It’s out of town. Mary says that you’d like to send a proof down.”

“Yes,” I say eagerly. Setting up the presses? Out of town? “I’m so glad to talk to you. I wanted to find out how you like to get files, and how I should plan on sending them. Can you handle pdf files?”

“Yes. Just be sure to include all fonts and supporting artwork.”

“But with pdfs you don’t need those things,” I protest, startled.

“You don’t?” he asks.

“Would you prefer the application files?” I ask. “I can send those if that’s better for you.”

“No, no. A pdf will be fine.”

“Good. Do you have an ftp page where I can post the file, or would you prefer that I post it to my own ftp and then email you the link?”


I wait, but there’s nothing more.

“I can Fed-Ex a disk, if that’s better,” I add, a bit desperately.

“Can you give me your address?”

“No. I’ll give it to you when the time is right. Just drop off the disk at our office.”

“But I don’t have the address. And you’re three hours away.”

“Oh, that’s right. Well, I’ll come up and pick up the disk, then.”

“All right.” Why won’t he give me his address? Why doesn’t he want me to overnight the file? Why doesn’t he want me to post the file and email the link? What’s up with this guy? We agree to meet at my local Starbuck’s at 10 a.m. and discuss the job. I prepare a CD with the patch proof on it, pull a hard copy, and stuff everything into an envelope.

Day 4
10 a.m.

I walk into Starbuck’s order a coffee, look around, don’t see anyone with ink under his nails, and pick a prominent table. Then I wait. And wait. And wait.

10:45 a.m.

An elderly Galaxy 500 eases slowly up into the handicapped spot outside the window. The driver’s side door creaks open. An old, old, man hauls himself to his feet. A heavy orthopedic sandal covers one foot. His hair glints snowy white in the sunshine. He limps to the door, struggles with it. A strapping type in yellow spandex opens it and the old man shuffles inside. He stops and peers around, spots me with my job envelope prominently displayed, and shuffles over to my table.

“Bodie?” he quavers.

“Yes,” I answer. “Mr. Allen?”

“Yes. Sorry I’m late. The freeways. I couldn’t find the exit. You know they don’t work from both directions.” He sounds angry. “I looked and looked, drove back and forth.” I picture the Galaxy 500 creeping along the freeway, back and forth, back and forth.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“They shouldn’t’a done’em that way. That’s just not right.” Maybe not, but they’ve been that way for fifteen years.

“No,” I agree. “It makes it complicated…About the job…”

“I looked and looked,” he says querulously, his watery blue eyes earnest. “I just couldn’t find it. And I looked and looked.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’ve brought the CD with me, and a paper printout of what’s on it.”

“That’s why I’m late,” he informs me. “I just couldn’t find the exit.”

“It’s all right,” I say, giving up. “I’ve enjoyed the wait.”

“They shouldn’t’a done’em that way.”

We meditate silently on the Department of Transportation’s iniquities.

“I brought you a CD,” I finally venture.

He is silent. I am encouraged.

“It has a high-resolution pdf on it. If this works, we’ll know that this is a good way for me to prepare the final files.”

He is still silent. He is asleep.

I don’t shake him, even though I’d like to. I sip my coffee and wait.

“You’ve included all the fonts and the supporting artwork, haven’t you?” He asks suddenly, jerking awake.

“No,” I say. “I’ve made a high-resolution pdf.”

“That’s fine,” he says. “As long as you’ve included the fonts and the supporting artwork.”

“But you don’t need them with a high-resolution pdf.”

“You don’t?”

“No. Everything’s embedded in the file.”

“Oh. Well. All right, then.”

“Do you have a number where I can contact you? I’ve had some trouble getting through.”

“That’s because we lost our building.”

“Oh.” Again with the lost building.

“Yeah, they raised the rent” (I am a bit disappointed at this prosaic explanation) and we’ve had to move. Our new building’s nine miles out of town.”

Nine miles? I picture the Galaxy 500 creeping along country roads, inching its way past black and white spotted cows lowing in fields and pink pigs grunting in styes, inchworming between telephone and press. No wonder I can never reach the man.

“Is there a telephone there?”

“No.” From his tone I deduce that there isn’t likely to be, either. I wonder if there’s electricity.

“But you’ll be up and running in time to print this by our deadline, right?”

“What deadline?”

“The contract runs out at the end of the month.”

“Things are pretty much a shambles right now,” he says reflectively. “I’ve been setting up the presses.”

“Oh,” I say. A nasty little silence falls. I picture him shuffling into a dairy barn somewhere, an elderly Gutenberg press strapped to his back. I wonder if he creates woodcuts by hand instead of using photos. I jerk my mind back to the present. “When can I expect the proof?”

“Well, by the time I get back to the shop the day’ll be pretty much gone…Tomorrow we can pull the film. I should have the presses set up by the time it’s done. We can probably get it right onto the press…You’ll have it by Friday.” Suddenly he is brisk.

“Can I get your address for mailing the final file?”

“I’ll give it to you later, when the time is right,” he says.

“Great,” I say, puzzled. When the time is right? Does he determine when to release mailing information by using auguries? Possibly entrails from chickens he captures in the barn? Why does he not want me to know his address? How will I send him the disk if the chicken entrails advise against giving me his address? We shake hands and he totters out. I take a deep breath and finish my coffee. Then I go home and call Mary.

Day 4 (Wednesday)
12:30 a.m.
Phone call to Mary

“I met with the printer just now.”

“What’s he like?” she asks timidly.

“He’s very, very old,” I say. “But he says we’ll have the proof on Friday. I’ll get it, check it, over, tweak the images, and then send it out before I leave to get my car fixed.”

My budget is tight and my car is sick. The best price—the only price that makes repair feasible—is with my mother’s mechanic three and a half hours away.

“Sounds good,” says Mary. “That way you’ll be up and running for the press check. What do you think of his capabilities, now that you’ve met him?”

“Well, I’m still worried. He doesn’t know what a pdf is, but he won’t admit it, keeps saying it’ll be fine to send one, as long as I send the fonts and supporting art. He says his press is a shambles, and it’s nine miles away from a telephone.”

“Nine miles?” gasps Mary.

“I wonder if it’s in somebody’s dairy barn.” I am only half joking.

Day 6 (Thursday)
2 p.m.
Phone call to Allen Printing

“Hullo?” A man’s voice grunts.

“Hi there. This is Bodie Parkhurst. I’m working on the State annual report project. Is Jim Allen available?”

“No, he’s not.”

“Well, do you know where I might reach him?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Uh, can I speak to Buffi, then?”

“No, she’s at lunch.”

“Is there anybody there who might know the status of the proof sheet you were working on for me?”

“No. What proof sheet? Is this a call for the book keeper?”

“No, This is Bodie Parkhurst. I met Mr. Allen at Starbuck’s on Tuesday and gave him a patch print file so we could test the color imaging.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Can I leave a message for Mr. Allen?”

“Who is this?”

“This is Bodie Parkhurst. I need to speak to Mr. Allen…”



“This is Jim Allen.” It is the same man’s voice. “I lie a lot. It was really me all the time.”

I have no idea what to say.

“So what did you need?”

“I needed to check on the proof status…find out if we were still on track for Friday…tomorrow.”

“Oh yes, we’ll be fine. We’ve got the film pulled and it looks good. We’ll have it on the press tomorrow.”

“But I’m supposed to have it tomorrow.”


“If it’s on the press tomorrow I won’t have it tomorrow…Fed Ex needs overnight to deliver.”

“Oh, yes.”

“So there’s no way it can run today?”

“No.” He sounds miffed. “We were busy yesterday.” I imagine him chasing curious Holsteins away from his Gutenberg, shooing white chickens away from his bins of lead type.

“So when can I expect it?”

“I can get it to you Saturday.”

“But that won’t work—I have something scheduled over the weekend. I’m going out of town.”

“Oh, well, when will you be back?”

“Monday,” I say. “If you can put it into the mail I’ll get it on Monday, and I’ll be able to deal with it right away.”

“Oh, I don’t want to put it in the mail. I’ll deliver it.”

“Well, okay, if you’re sure, but that’s quite a drive.”

“I’ll deliver it. I’ll talk to you Monday.”

I hang up, call my mother’s mechanic, and frantically rearrange my appointment so I can get the car in on Friday. With luck, it will be finished by Sunday, rather than Monday morning. Then I call Mary. “Mary,” I say. “I just had the most bizarre conversation…” While we are talking call waiting beeps. We hang up and I dial in for the message. It is Jim.

“Bodie, I’m sorry for my rudeness. I thought you were a telemarketer.” After I identified myself repeatedly by name and by job? And does he routinely send telemarketing calls to his bookkeeper?

“Please call me back.”

I call back. He is unavailable.

Day 7 (Friday)

My son and I make the drive to my mother’s house in good time and arrive shortly before noon. I check my voicemail. There are two messages.

“Bodie, this is Jim Allen. I’ve got the proof ready and I’m ready to drop it off with you. Give me a call.”

“Bodie, this is Mary. I got an urgent call from Buffi. She says she has the proof ready and wants to know where to reach you so she can deliver it. I told her that you had rearranged your schedule based on the information they provided, but if you could give her a call and arrange a time….” There is a heavy sigh. “I just don’t know about these people. Enjoy your weekend.”

I hang up, pound my fist on my knee, swear quietly, and then, when I can be professional again, I call Buffi.

“Hello, this is Bodie Parkhurst. Is Buffi available?”

“No. She’s not here.”

“Can I leave a message for her?”

“Why do you want to talk to her?”

“I was calling about the proof she has ready for me.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

I bite my lip, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s for the state annual report. I’m returning Buffi’s call.”

“Oh. Oh. Well. She’s here. Just a minute.”

“Bodie,” Buffi says quickly. “I’ve got your proof ready. I can drop it off today.”

“But I’m out of town,” I say. “I rearranged my schedule because Jim told me the proof definitely wouldn’t be available today.”

“Well, it is. He likes to err on the side of caution.”


“I can drop it off on Saturday.”

“But I’m out of town,” I say again.

“I know. When will you be back?”

“I’ll be back on Monday.”

“How about Sunday night around five? That’ll be before I go to my comedy club.”

“Let me call you when I get back to town. That way you’re not waiting around in case I get delayed.”

“All right.”
Day 9 (Sunday)

My son and I arrive home groggy and tired. We unpack the car and I call Buffi at 4:30pm.




“This is Bodie. I’m back. When did you want to drop off the proof?”

“Right away.”

“All right. Just give me a call when you get in the area and I’ll meet you at Starbuck’s.”

Hours pass.


The phone rings.


“Hi. This is Buffi. I’m not going to make it before the show. My horses got out.”Was she planning to drive them over or what? What is it with these people and livestock? “I’ll have to drop the proof off afterwards.”

I am exhausted, but good manners are golden. Besides, they are ingrained. “What time does it get out?”


Cooperation has its limits. “I’m going to have to ask that you drop it by my house, then. My son goes to school tomorrow. I need to get him into bed.”

“That’s fine.”

Hours pass.


There is a knock at the door. Buffi has arrived. She is a bushy-haired, portly woman in an elderly, snug sleeveless sweater. She is not wearing a brassiere. I avert my eyes hastily to the thick wad of papers in her hand.

“Is that the proof?”


“Let’s go inside and take a quick look.”

I lay the papers on the table and flip through. There are several sheets of each of the two pages. The top sheet—the best one, presumably—is heavily smeared.

“It’s pretty dirty,” I say.

“We wanted to get it to you right away.”

But they had three days to let it dry, my inner voice shouts. Why did they have to yank it off the press and fold, spindle, and mutilate it?

A proof is a proof, dirty or not. I thank Buffi for bringing it to me, say good night, and fall into bed.

Day 10

I drop my son off at school and hurry home to review my proof in more detail. I pour a cup of coffee, open the blinds, and lay the sheet in the morning sunlight. Everyone is tan except for the African Americans. They are Stygian. Everyone is also flat. Everything above about a sixty percent tone has filled solidly.  I can’t believe it. Was I really that far off? I go to my computer, open the Photoshop files, and start rolling the mouse over the images, watching the numbers in the “info” box rise and fall. The images could be pulled a bit more, but the numbers I’m seeing in the “info” box don’t tally with the dark proof.

I call Buffi. “Hi Buffi, did you get home all right last night?”

“Oh yes, it was fine. I’m used to the drive.”

“Good. Can we talk about the proof a bit?”

“What about it?”

“Well, it’s pretty dark. And the tones are flat. We’re losing a lot of detail.”

“I was rather pleased with the way it printed.”

“Take a look at the—do you have a copy there?”

“No. Jim has them. Let me open it on my monitor.”

“But that won’t tell you what I’m seeing on the printout. A monitor doesn’t give a true image.”

“I know that. Okay, what’s the problem?”

Even though I know better, I give up. “Well, the governor has a heavy tan, for one thing.”

She laughs.

“And that woman is wearing bib overalls. You should be able to see stitching, folds, the modeling from fading. And everything’s solid black.”

“But it looks fine to me.”

“But you’re looking at it on your monitor.”

“I. Know. That,” she says, enunciating every word. “I can see every fold, every stitch. That tells me it’s in the file.”

“Exactly. But it’s not on the printout,” I say.

“But that guy in the next picture over is crystal clear. I can see every hair on his chest. The file’s fine.”

“But it’s not on the printout. Is it possible that in all the moving something got bumped on the lino settings?”


“Could you at least check?”

“No. It’s a closed system.”

“Can’t you adjust it a bit, see if we could lighten the images a little?”

“No. All I can do is push “Print.”

“There must be something you can adjust.”

“There’s not. You sent me a pdf.” She snips off the words. “All I can do is print what’s in the file.”

“This is not acceptable. Could the ink have been run heavy on the press? Or could the plate have been burned too heavily?”

“That could be. There was a light screen on the one side and they might have burned the film too much trying to get it to hold.”

“That could well be it,” I say, relieved. “I’ll pull the images a bit more from my end if the numbers allow it and darken that screen. Could I see another proof, this time one that hasn’t been burned so heavily?”

‘You’ll have to pay for it,” she says.

“But I’m not seeing a true representation of the file,” I protest.

“I’ll ask Jim, but you’ll have to pay for it,” she repeats. “The images are dark because you sent a pdf.”

I have never heard of such a thing. Like all computer tools, pdfs went through a shaky period in the beginning, but I have been shipping them to printers all over the country for years now and no one has ever raised that issue. But I don’t challenge her. I have to work with her. I want her to like me enough to be careful with my job. If she can’t handle pdfs, I won’t send pdfs.

“Is that a problem for you? Would you rather get an application file?”

“Well…” she hedges.

“How do most of your clients send you their files?”

“As application files.”

“I can do that if that would be easier for you.  Can you handle a Mac Quark file?”

“Yes. No problem.”

“What platform do you run on?”


“And you can handle a Mac file? I’m surprised. Most printers have trouble cross-platforming the fonts.”

“We do it all the time. It’s no problem.”

She hangs up.

I want to smack her.

Email to Mary:
Re: The Proof

Well, I looked at the proof, and there are some problems. The images are quite dark, and we’re losing a lot of detail, particularly in the darker areas. Buffi says that the plate may have been burned too long, that she has no way of controlling the values of the film when she pulls it, and that if we want another proof—one that hasn’t been burned too long—we’ll have to pay for it. She also says that because I sent a pdf file she had no way of controlling the tones on the film.

In light of these facts—and that we seem to be stuck with this printer—here’s what I suggest. Since the pdf seems to be a problem for her and she says most of their clients bring in application files, I’ll do that. She says they can handle a Mac Quark file, so I’ll just pre-press the hell out of the file—clean it up, collect the images, include the fonts, and so forth.

Email from Mary
Re: The Proof

Don’t bother with another proof, since we’re not going to be using that technology anyway. I think your idea’s a good one. It’s not the way we’ve been doing it, but we’ve done it before, and thank goodness Quark is reliable. Quark is our friend. Go ahead with the CD, send it off, then let them know it’s coming.

I spend the afternoon of Day 10 and the morning of Day 11 going over the files with a fine-tooth comb, checking alignments, checking color values, checking rules, printing out a laser proof, gathering everything together, and overnighting it down to the printer.

I go home, send an email, and call. Jim is unavailable. Buffi is gone for the day. I leave a message with the woman who answers the phone.


Day 12 (The last day)

I have an email on my machine. “Allen Printing,” reads the return line. I am elated. After days of sending emails and placing telephone calls, I have at last gotten my very first email back. It is from Buffi.

And then I read it.

Good morning. The files did indeed arrive on Wednesday. I have been able to open and look at them. The fonts are there for the PowerMac but are not available for the PC. All I get is a zero K file on the PC.

We got the black and whites.

I was somewhat surprised to only get the raw files as I believe I indicated I would prefer the PDF’s with the raw files available only as back up. However, it was late and perhaps I was not as clear as I thought I was. I will be making the PDF (as that is what the film burner requires) this a.m. We will be in touch as soon as I have them in the proper form.

I stare. I am non-plussed, again. Why would she expect me to send PC fonts? She knows I am working on the Mac platform, creating a Mac file. Of course I sent Mac fonts. And of course all she gets is zero K on the PC. Few fonts convert. We talked about it.

Why is she surprised to get the application files? We talked about that, too,  in some detail. She told me that was how most of her clients provided files. She said that she had no control over values on a pdf file. We agreed that I would send the Quark file. She said they could handle it. And why the hell was she so upset about a pdf in the first place if “that is what the film burner requires?”

What is she doing to “get the files in the proper form?” And is that a snide implication that I’ve been sloppy? She says she doesn’t have the fonts. Why is she even touching the files without them? Will I be seeing a final proof set with Courier and Helvetica?

I forward the email to Mary, then call.

“Mary, I just don’t know what to do. I talk to them, I ask them what they want, I give them that, and then they tell me that they can’t work with it. She said she couldn’t manipulate the tone on the pdf, so we agreed on the application file. Now she says I sent the wrong fonts. Why would I send PC fonts? It’s a Mac file. I work on a Mac.” I can hear my voice rising. I stop and take a deep breath. “I’m afraid of this job. I’m afraid that they’ll try to print it and it’ll look terrible, and the State will reject it, and I don’t think this guy is a big enough operation to eat that kind of a loss. I think it could push them under. But the state has a right to expect a quality print job.”

“Let me call Bob,” she says. “This has got to stop. We can’t do this any more. Don’t do anything. Don’t respond to her email. Don’t call. We’ve got to resolve this.”

4:30 pm
Phone call from Mary

Allen Printing is a thing of the past! Bob, Andy, Andy’s boss, and I had a conference call. I explained what was going on. Andy’s boss strongly suggested that he contact Jim Allen and encourage them to bow out, for much the same reasons that you mentioned—if we had to reject the job it could put them under—and none of us have any confidence in them. We’re going to go back to the shop we used the first year we did this job. It was a perfect press check. I’m very happy.”

So am I. I hang up, lean back in my chair, and relax for the first time in days. But the questions still remain. How did they get awarded the job in the first place? Why was Andy at the State so defensive about them? Did they have something on him? Is he related to somebody there? Was he afraid to admit to an error in judgment? Where exactly is that press? Are cows and chickens involved? What format do they prefer for file submission? Why does Mr. Allen lie a lot? Why don’t they put a telephone in the press building? Why did the Department of Transportation only make the freeway exits only work one way? Is it really true that Buffi’s job consists solely of pushing the “Print” button on the film burner? If so, where can I sign up?

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