Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Memoirs of a Stripper

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I'm lucky. I grew up in my parents' ad agency - Don May Advertising, one of the top 300 in the country (as rated by AADA) for 16 of the 17 years of its existence. I started 'working' there when I was 9 - as, believe it or not, a stripper. (Bring that out at a cocktail party and see what happens!) No, my folks were not perverts; in those antique days the idea of what we know as computer publishing was not even a dream, it was the stuff of science fiction.

Back then you first thought up the ad, then did a rough pencil sketch of layout to the specs of the ad space, whether it was in pixels, columns and/or inches. Then you decided how much space you had for the information your client wanted in the ad and how much for graphics. Then you typed your copy - yes, typed, on a typewriter and in our office that meant on an office-sized manual. Some clients wanted blocks of typed copy instead of fancy fonts, so we gave it to them, which meant what you typed had to be not only within certain space parameters it had to be letter perfect. And if you had a client (as we did) who wanted typed copy in different typefaces, you had to buy different typewriters. When my folks' office closed back in the early 70s, we had 27 of them. All standard manuals, big as an old-fashioned monitor and heavy as an anchor.

You chose your clip art or photograph, your headline and sub-head, and added the client's logo/information. You chose which type font to use (if they didn't want plain typed copy) and then the fun began. You had to use that tool of the devil, the proportion wheel, to figure out how much space each unit needs and how it all fit into your space and design. The copy (perfectly typed and with every word - especially the names - correctly spelt) was then sent to the typesetter with the name of the desired type and the measurements of the space. The images were sent to the photostatter with the measurements of where they were supposed to go. Then you waited... sometimes up to three days, which was not considered abnormal.

Once all the elements were returned you could (hopefully) construct your ad. However, if some mathematically-challenged person got the proportion wheel readings wrong the process - which was quite expensive - had to begin again, which made both the agency and the client furious. Don't ask me how I know.

Once everything was right, you cut out the various elements and pasted them down on art board with rubber cement, then once it was finished, cleaned up the little escaping dribs of cement with a square of something rubbery whose name I have forgotten. I pulled the little bits of collected cement off the rubbery thing and, instead of discarding them as the other artists did, rolled them into a ball. When the office closed forever, I had a ball of rubber cement drippings roughly the size of a softball. Have no idea of whatever happened to it, though.

My first job, as I have said, was stripping, which meant taking an eyedropper of acetone and very carefully using the acetone to dissolve the rubber cement so I could lift off the reusable elements, put them on a sheet of typing paper according to type and file them, so we could re-use them later and not have the expense of photostatting. Hence - I was a stripper.

It was a smelly, sticky job and I did it proudly (remember, I was nine years old, and the status of earning a paycheck however minuscule was great) but when at the age of 12 I was promoted to writing copy I was ecstatic. It wasn't romantic or even really interesting - ours was an industrial advertising agency rather than a consumer one - but I took to writing copy about industrial washers and drop-coin meters and car washes like the proverbial duck. I worked there until it was time for me to go to college.

This was all long ago; aeons in technological time. When our agency closed copy machines were huge boxes with a tub of liquid that the copy went through to 'set' it, turning out a slightly slimy, slightly blurry copy - and we thought they were not only incredible, but almost magical. Computers were around, but they cost millions (millions then!) and took up entire floors of office buildings. The thought of a phone you could carry with you or a computer that would fit in your pocket only existed in the realm of fantasy. Now they're not only commonplace but ubiquitous.

I wish my father could have lived to enjoy the age of computers and desktop publishing. He would have delighted in it. I still do a few graphic jobs, mainly for organizations to which I belong, and in an hour or so I can produce a job (including the inevitable 'tweaking' time) in what used to take three or four days. How my father would have loved such ease and control! Unfortunately, he died before computers left the 'full floor of an office building' stage. My mother, on the other hand, lived well into the computer age and never ceased to regard them with suspicion and dislike. She said that nothing so easily done could be good and the internet was a tool of the devil. Well, I guess sometimes she can be regarded as being right, but on the other hand modern convenience can be wonderful.

The only sad thing about such ease and luxury is that there is no place left for 9 year olds to enter the business world by stripping.


  1. LOL! You wild child. :) Love hearing about your first job, and believe me, it WAS glamorous in comparison. (I was a shampoo girl in Mom's beauty salon.) I am both impressed and horrified by the image of the leftover rubber cement ball, probably because your descriptive writing is so spot-on.

  2. Great post Janis!
    Good luck and God's blessings

  3. You were so fortunate to be in the world learning and doing at such a young age. I worked in an office at age 15, after working in a nursery school at age 11 and 12. I wonder if kids today get so much early experience other than sports. Great post.

  4. Very interesting view of yesteryear.

  5. What a great background to have! Technology has changed so much over the years.

  6. such a fun post and what a great experience to have had. I imagine you felt very close to your parents and part of their team!