Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stripping, Deadlines and Memories

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

A writer’s mind is a funny – and sometimes fearsome – place. I was all set to write about deadlines and the havoc they can wreak on our lives, but yet we must adhere to them almost as much as the laws of God. I was going to tell how I learned to respect (and obey) deadlines while working in my parents’ advertising agency, but then I would have to tell you I didn’t just start out working with deadline responsibilities – hey, I was only nine, so my first job was as a stripper.

If you want to stop a conversation dead in its tracks, just say that your first job was as a stripper when you were nine years old.

Now to save my late parents’ reputations, I must say quickly that the job had nothing to do with removing any article of clothing. I did, however, sometimes wish to, as being somewhat spectacularly challenged in the dexterity department I got excessively sticky.

You see, in those antique days ads were built up with a great many pieces of paper put down with rubber cement. There was no point-and-click-shrink/enlarge-with-a-single-motion in those days. You had clip art (line pictures of all kinds of things which you bought in big books) or photographs. You had headlines and copy, done on a manual (in our office at least) typewriter, which was then sent to the typesetter to be set and printed in the font you had chosen. You had the size of your ad, generally enlarged proportionately on the working board so you could work on it easily. Then you had to figure out just how big/small each element had to be. Once that was done you sent each piece to the photostatter, to be reduced/enlarged to the desired size. So – hopefully - when everything was sized and pasted down the ad looked the way you wanted.

As we were a very frugal family, the elements that could be used again in other ads – clip art, some headlines, logos, etc. – were stripped off by using acetone, which dissolved the glue and rendered the whatever ready for use again. These were tacking in a big looseleaf folder divided into general categories, using just a small drop of glue to hold the paper in place. We could use an element sometimes ten or fifteen times before it got tatty, especially if it was of a standard size, saving the typesetters’ and photostatters’ fees each time.

Chosing the size of each element was done with a little tool of the Devil called a proportion wheel, which did exactly what it sounds like – told you how much bigger or smaller something had to be to fit in the space. God help you if you made a mistake, because getting things photostatted was expensive.

I have always been mathematically challenged (and why doesn’t someone do a telethon for those like me?) and the first time I got something wrong was on one of my first layouts when I think I was around twelve. I still stripped, but had received a sort of promotion to doing simple layouts. The first time I goofed Daddy took the time to walk me through it again and showed me every step several times, even giving me a written checklist.

The second time he docked my pay for the cost of the photostat. Yes, I received a paycheck – a token one, to be sure, as child labor is cheap – with social security and all taken out, just like a grownup. I have seldom felt so rich as the time I received my first paycheck – which Mother (the company bookkeeper) had to cash, as the bank wouldn’t believe that a nine-year-old child had her own paycheck. (And I have never used that bank since. Yes, I do hold grudges!)

After that I was very careful to get everything just right, usually by begging our real staff artist to do the calculations for me without Daddy knowing. As time went on I became more and more experienced and proficient, so by the time I was in high school I was working after school and weekends, and earning the same hourly wage as a regular artist.

That equality in my young years may be the reason I have always loathed school in spite of loving learning. (They are most definitely not the same, and a lot of the time not even close!) In high school I had to raise my hand and get permission from the teacher to go to the restroom, but after school I would take the bus downtown to the office where I could pick up the phone, call Tokyo and on voice order alone get over $5,000 (real money in those days) worth of ad placement. Heady stuff indeed.

Another memory. Most of the time in high school I dressed grown-up, in little Chanel-style suits or nice dresses and simple black flats, as after school I would go to the office where there might be clients – always have to project a business-like image, you know. Well, we had a period off in school once a day – they called it study hall, but it was impossible to study as everyone was so noisy. I quickly learned how to check in as present, then sneak out and go to the teachers’ lounge, which was usually empty and quiet so I could study in peace. The school year was almost half over before someone figured out I was a student and not a teacher and summarily ejected me. Sigh.

Strange how the pathways of memory will subvert even the most sterling of ideas and plans. I had been going to talk about deadlines, not stripping. Oh, well… maybe next time.


  1. Loved your post. It brought back vivid memories of my days as the high school newspaper teacher. We did all our paper by the cut and paste method. I loved doing the layouts. I also did the yearbook and in both layouts used that dreaded proportion wheel. I guess writers need to stay away from math! Thanks for the memories.

  2. A truly interesting post. At one time I was a yearbook adviser and had to do layouts with students as well.

  3. Loved this! I too have funny memories of putting together photos and print for publication before the modern age. It's a different world today. But my favorite part of your post is how you were already an adult in so many ways. I'm curious who your high school friends were and how you interacted. It sounds like your real world was after school and on weekends at the ad agency and high school was the "job" that you were forced to do. An interesting perspective!

  4. This post brought back memories of when I was the editor of a weekly organizational newspaper. I was it, writer and editor, everything up to the time it was sent to the typesetter then layout and proofing. I used hot wax to lay down the articles. Once, I had opened the waxer to add wax when the phone rang. By the time I got back to the waxer I forgot it was open and got my first wax job on the spot. it was the opposite of the usual saying: I hated that job but loved the work. Catherine

  5. Wonderful step back in time. The first time I met a friend of mine, she told me, "I'm a hooker." She let that hang there for a minute, then explained she did locker hooking (even wrote a book about it). I can imagine the reactions you get if you say, "I started my publishing career as a stripper.)

  6. Susan, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post. It reminded me of all the clipping, cutting, pasting, etc. I used to do with my first husband, who was a great self-promo man. What an exciting "double life" you led in your Chanel-style suits... stripper, indeed!