What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor, indexer, and proofreader. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a comment. Come back often.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

characters

Characters was the name of a typesetting and design shop I once worked for in Atlanta. I will always remember them fondly because it was the second night I was working there when I said I couldn't report to work for about a week because I had a gig selling souvenirs at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium during the World Series. They didn't mind. That was in the early 1990s, when the idea of a Braves team in the World Series made everyone happy. Worst-to-first, and all that. Times change. And I made far better money screaming, "Programs, get yer programs here," than I would have made telling some careless typesetter that their text alignment was off by 1/64 of an inch.

Characters also refers the types of people I ran into in proofrooms around Atlanta during the course of about 16 years plying my trade in various full-time and part-time gigs in that city. I worked every possible shift in just about every possible venue and for every type of client -- from high-rise downtown office buildings on the graveyard shift reading SEC filings (a dying art form) to laboring eight hours a day in a cramped little room next to the furnace in a converted house on Clairmont Road. Both businesses are long gone; the house itself on Clairmont, right across from Century Center, is also long gone. Some places I'd go to for a couple of hours, never to darken their doors again, and other places I haunted for a decade and more.

Memories:

Being run out of the high-rise after about 6 weeks for being too good, or so I was told by one of the typesetters. The second-shift proofreader was having an affair with the night manager, and she did not appreciate my productivity nor my ability, and conspired to have me not called in anymore. This turn of events was rather unfortunate, as I was 22 years old and making about $20 an hour in 1982.

Working at a type/design firm off and on for 11 years, full-time second shift, part-time, on-call, whatever. I had more tenure there than most of the employees and managers. The proprietor thought that anyone could be a proofreader, so he would bring in a series of untrained and inexperienced people off the streets to do the job. He'd bring me in for a few weeks to train them (as best as I could), then three months later bring me in to read behind them so he could build a file to fire them. The first time or two, I felt bad. Then I got used to it.

While at this firm, one of the jokers he brought in informed me one night that he had gone through aversion therapy (think Clockwork Orange) for sharp objects after serving in Vietnam, that he'd been a heroin addict, etc. I am sitting in a room with him looking at Exacto knives as he's telling me this.

My first job out of college was at a commercial printing plant that employed 11 or 12 full-time proofreaders to be there 24/7/365, three or four at a time. Friday would come, and they'd say, "You're working this weekend, 12-hour shifts." Or you'd be there during the day and they'd say, "Three hours overtime today." At one point I worked 42 days in a row, often with 11- and 12-hour days. I never had more spending money in my life, and I was making about $5.75 an hour. Then again, rent was $150, and my biggest expense otherwise was, well, never mind. My record there was the day after Atlanta's big 1982 ice storm. I made it into work the following day, other people were calling in and saying they couldn't make it, and I said, "That's fine." So I covered a 16-hour shift by myself. It was actually kind of fun.

In those kinds of situations (well, not when you're doing it solo)--where it's high stress and long hours and of course crappy work (reading airline timetables and scratch-off lottery tickets)--you get to know people rather well. One of my dearest and longest-term friends dates from that time. I developed at least one serious infatuation (unrequited, of course), and learned a lot about and from an interesting variety of people.

This was the early 1980s, when the AIDS crisis didn't even yet have a name (then it was Gay Men's Cancer), and there were two openly gay men in the proofroom. One was a party boy, and I have little doubt he probably didn't last the decade. The other was a brilliant individual, a translator with a working knowledge of seven languages (from Polish to Spanish), the seventh son of a seventh son. He used to tell me he was born with three strikes against him: he was a gay Jew from Mississippi. I used to give him a ride home after third shift (he didn't drive). One morning I went into his apartment to have a cup of coffee, and the first piece of artwork a visitor's eye would fall on was a very close-up shot of a penis and the accompanying testicles -- probably about an 11x16-inch photograph. I don't think they were his or his lover's, but I'm not sure. He's still in Atlanta somewhere, and I've got a book of his that one day I will manage to return to him, if I can track him down. Somehow, I think he'll remember me, and he'll appreciate getting the book back.

As I mentioned, it was 1981-82 when I was at this plant, before the days when MLK Day was an official national holiday. We were in Georgia, though, so there was more notice of his birthday as a statewide memorial day . . . in certain quarters, anyway. It was either 1981 or 1982 when it came up to a vote in the plant, which was mostly populated by redneck union guys, whether to recognize as a plant holiday King's birthday or Confederate Memorial Day. Thus it was, dear readers, that I received a day off from the proofroom to honor the Confederate war dead. As the grandson of Eastern European immigrants who didn't make it to this country until the 1890s and 1910s, I certainly appreciated the thoughtfulness of my brothers down on the pressroom floor.

One of the all-time proofreading characters, although I've never worked directly with him, and we've only collaborated on a single book of fewer than 100 words, happens to be my brother, whose memoirs/remembrances he claims he is compiling into a volume entitled The History of Proofreading, Volume 1 (alternate titles: The Days of the Green Impala and Cousin Lazar's Overcoat). My brother remains one of my heroes for many reasons, none of which might make any sense. He was a proofreader in the World Trade Center when it was first attacked in 1993, and thankfully he took a sabbatical from the emerging family business of editorial services to work at the old family business, HL Motors, in its final years, or I might have been writing a memorial here rather than an anecdote. Big Brother is still plying the aforementioned art of financial proofreading, while also laboring in other fashions for midtown NYC law firms. Perhaps I should open up this blog to his authorial talents as well, as he can give an entirely different perspective on this way we have of making it in this world . . . and he's incidentally a far better writer than I am. And unlike me, he'll read a book without being paid to do so.

Parting shot: Jesse Helms was a proofreader. I seem to remember that David Berkowitz was also.

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