After I left my job handling complaints at Hoffman Motors, I decided to
try increasing my salable skills. I bought a course in Speedwriting and set out
to learn shorthand at home. Once I figured I was good enough at it, I answered
a classified ad for secretary to the vice-president of Arrow Press. I didn't
realize at the time just how unsuited I was for a secretarial position. The
vice-president didn't either. He hired me.
After I'd been there a while, I was asked to sit in for the secretary
to the sales department while the regular secretary was out for an operation.
When she got back, it was the beginning of summer, and I was sent to assist in
various departments while people were out on vacation. While I was doing that,
my boss got a new secretary.
After a while, everyone had come back from vacation. I was not given a
new assignment, but they kept paying me so I kept showing up for work.
I'd liked the production department best so I scrounged around the
office and came up with an unused typewriter, a table for it, and a chair. I
moved them into a corner of the production department and began inviting work.
The production manager, Bob Relles, was delighted to have the extra help. He
started assigning me to assist production men on various jobs. And when a desk
became available in the department, he gave it to me.
Arrow was a large letterpress printer, with a plant full of five-color
presses, on the top floor of a building in west Manhattan. The offices were
tucked in next to the plant. We printed a lot of things like annual reports but
our main account was Medical World News
magazine. Copy for it came
to Allied Typographers in the same building
we were in. They told us when the locked up forms were ready. We would
arrange for Riley Electrotyping to pick them up and make the press plates. The
plates were delivered to us to go on the presses. This process was always
running late, so John Nardini, the production man who handled the account, was
on from 10:00 to 6:00 instead of 9:00 to 5:00 like the rest of us. He often got
stuck there until 7:00 or 8:00.
While I was helping out wherever I was needed in the department, I got
focussed on this account. Although I was terrible at secretarial duties, I was
good at record-keeping. I set up a color-coded system for keeping track of what
material had come in for the magazine, whether it was at the typesetter or the
electrotyper, whether the same ads had run previously and, if so, in what
issues. More than once, I ended up working late or coming in for a few hours on
a weekend when the schedule was rushed.
In time, the production manager asked if I'd be interested in working a
shift from 12:00 to 8:00 PM, taking in and routing the material that came in
late, so John Nardini could work regular hours and go home evenings to his wife
and kids. Well, I was a night person by nature. My evening socializing was on
Fridays and Saturdays and seldom began before 9:00, so those hours suited me
just fine. I didn't even mind that on evenings when MWN
was going to
press, I'd sometimes be there until all hours waiting for deliveries. I was
getting time-and-a-half for overtime.
Lunch hour in the office was 12:00 to 1:00 so my day started at the
same time it did. I could have gotten in at 1:00 but I went at noon anyway. The
company provided free lunch. Sandwiches, pastries and big urns of coffee were
delivered by the Stage Deli. The receptionist, Lisa Johnson, would take orders
every morning and call them in. She'd order for me. Lisa and I became the best
of friends, and we'd lunch together at my desk.
The plant ran three shifts, so it and the building were open all night.
The office emptied out at 5:00. I had it to myself for the rest of my day. If I
had to get type forms routed to the electrotyper and that my last chore for the
day, when the driver picked it up he'd give me a ride home.
During the evenings, the guys in the plant got a meal break. If I was
still there then, someone would bring me a hamburger and drink. Usually the
night foreman would come in and eat with me. I was already making up the
dummies and had learned some about the press paste-ups from the productin men.
The foreman taught me more, from his point of view. Things like which
arangements of pages made it difficult to hang the press plates, and which were
Sometimes there'd be a press batter--some damage to a printing
plate. If it were minor damage to text, it would continue to run until a
replacement plate could be had. Advertisements were more important. If a
full-page ad was marred, the press would have to be shut down until a
replacement plate could be had. We stored the old press plates for ads, so if
the damaged plate was for one that had run before, the foreman would hunt it up
in the plate room. I taught the night foreman my color-coded record system.
That made it easy for him to know exactly when and where an ad had run before,
so he could find the old plates quickly and easily.
Partial page ads that fitted into the forms with the text were stored
in racks by the typographer, so they could be re-used when the same ad ran
again. I handled the press proofs, made up the dummies and such, so I knew the
ads pretty well by sight. The typesetters found out I could spot a particular
plate in the racks more easily and quickly than they could, so every so often I
got called downstairs to find one.
I was really enjoying working at Arrow Press. The hours were long but
the pay was good, the work was fun, and the people I worked with were a great
bunch. So, of course, it couldn't last.
Medical World News
was growing. It outgrew our plant. We
started sending parts of the job to the big Conde Nast plant in Connecticut to
run on their high-speed web presses. A truck from there would come to pick up
the plates. It was inevitable he'd have to wait when he got there, so he'd
bring burgers and sodas for us both, and we'd chat while we ate. I spent a lot
of time waiting around in the evenings, and began taking my knitting along to
work on. The Conde Nast driver brought me a bunch of the knitting magazines
outgrew us completely and the account moved
elsewhere. A bunch of us got laid off. When my boss told me, he said there was
a job waiting for me downstairs at the typographers, if I wanted it.
I went to Allied Typographers for the same hours and pay I had at Arrow
Press. The boss there wanted to teach me to use a lineup table in the plant.
But a problem arose almost instantly. The Chapel Chairman (Shop Steward)
objected. I couldn't work on the floor unless I was in the union. Nobody
suggested getting me into the union. I suspect that if I'd had a card, it would
have meant an appreciably higher pay scale.
The company kept me on. I sat around watching the linotypes operated,
the forms being made up and proofs being pulled. I did whatever small chores
the union allowed. That got pretty boring, and it was not economically sensible
for the company. The boss proposed moving me into the office in a clerical
position. I'd done clerical. I felt ready for something better. I quit.
My next job was with a lithographer who'd advertised for a Girl Friday
to learn litho production. That company was doing too well. They were too busy
to teach me anything. I ended up just doing clerical work, so after I sold a
couple of books, I gave up on a career in the printing business.
© 2021 Gary Ross Hoffman