Sunday, July 29, 2012

Existing in New York City: With a Friend Who Wears a Lot of Hats

Foto by Berenice Abbott, "The Daily News Building," New York City

We are pleased to note that The Daily Growler is no longer a danger to your computer. It seems, according to Google at least, we were hacked and phished and tainted with malware due to one of the comments we allowed to get through--or else one of our Blessed Blogs links--one relating to the works of George Orwell of all people. According to the latest malware detective software we are now CLEAN again...though perhaps not in terms of the blunt language we use or the idols we cast our evilest and most foul spells on.
Say goodbye to: Gore Vidal,
to me one of the great thinkers and writers of my life; whether you liked his books or not, he hit so many nails on the head in terms of the culture and politics of this country his truths were glaring in their brilliance. Gore Vidal, 86, American playwright, novelist, and political commentator, pneumonia.
Say goodbye to: Don Bagley: Don Bagley, 84, American jazz bassist and composer.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Celebrates Its Tenth Year of Posting
In the early 1980s, after being kicked out of a place to live on a cold winter's night by a charming woman who I at the time was madly in love with and had been having a married-like affair with for 7 years, I became a desperado, homeless, and with very little money. I was rescued from having to report to the men's shelter by a dear old friend and his live-in girlfriend who I had known since my days of divine life experiencing in the deflowering of the Ear Inn in downtown Manhattan around 1976-77. This old friend had been the opening-up bartender at the Ear Inn and every morning since the Ear's opening and when he opened the bar at 6 am, there came I and there was I at my corner bar stool in the far eastern corner of the Ear's long bar, up by the big front window. At the time I was an editor for a vanity publishing company. I edited books only a zoo full of Shakespearean-writing monkeys could enjoy, either tearing to shreds or actually making sense out of them. Previous to this experience, I had been a copyeditor and copywriter (I have always spelt these two honorable professions as one word) with Time-Life Films, which in 1974 was folded by Time Inc. after we earned only $900,000 yet spent $2,000,000 in our final year of existence. I was offered a full-time job by Time-Life Multimedia (under David Susskind) but I decided, to hell with full-time good-paying employment, I was going freelance.

After trying for a year to living the life of a squire on a 42-acre farm in Upstate New York, I found myself back in NYC, an editor with this vanity press, and living in a loft in BLOHO (Below Houston) on Greenwich Street just off Spring Street. Just around the corner from the Ear Inn.

Every morning at 6 am, I would gather up my day's worth of mss to edit and truck over to the Ear and establish myself in my corner of the bar and with my friend keeping me plush with pints of Bass Ale, I would edit my terribly badly written manuscripts until noon when I would take my finished work home and then return to spend the rest of the day and night in the Ear cavorting with a staunch group of Earites (Earwigs you might call them) who soon after the Ear opened for business like me found the place a cozy home.

Editing for this vanity press was actually one of the best jobs I ever had in terms of making a living. By editing like a well-oiled-machine, I was able to clear $500 a week after taxes, which in those days was top-dog pay for an editor.

This Ear Inn bartender and I became the closest of both drinking and mafficking buddies but also the closest of just-plain friends. So close in fact that when homeless and broke and freezing my ass off that cold winter's night my gal kicked my butt out of her 14-room colonial up in Westchester, he said come on down, that I could sleep on his living room couch.

At the time I had no job. I lost the job with the vanity press when the owner came to me and gave me the assignment of teaching his daughter how to copyedit and in doing so, and she was a very charming and delightfully zaftig young thing, I over edited a manuscript, finding 110 "EAs" (editorial alterations) in the badly written ms, a no-no in the vanity press business, my real job being to only find changes that could be noted as "PEs" (printer's errors) or "AAs" (author alterations). After congratulating me for tutoring his daughter in the fine art of editing, he fired me.

So I moved in with my old pal and his gal and I slept on their living room couch, being told I was welcomed there as long as it took for me to find a job and get a place of my own.

I went to where you went in those days to find a job to the classified section of the Sunday NY Times where I perused the ads relating to editing, or what the hell, proofreading, too. I knew from past experience how easy it should be for me, out of desperation, to get a proofreading job. And one Sunday morning, exhausted from trying to land a copyediting job, I saw that a Big 8 accounting firm in Rockefeller Center was looking for proofreaders.

I put my cleanest duds on, a fine Bloomingdale's sport coat my ex-wife, the Welch-Choctaw-Mexican beauty had bought me about 10 years ago, and a pair of slacks that had seen better days but were somewhat clean and with definite creases still in place and I trucked down to Rockefeller Center and to the Exxon Building and went up the so many floors to this accounting firm and by that afternoon I was told I had a job as a proofreader and I was to report to work...but, whoaaa, wait a minute! the personnel director was traipsing after me calling me back into her office as I was preparing to go back to my friend's loft and give him the good news that I had a job.

Back in the personnel director's office, I was told she had called my Time Inc. reference and they had informed her that they had me working there only 6 months where I had put down (and it was the truth) that I had worked there 2 years. Accusing me of lying on my application, this accounting firm's personnel director informed me that liars couldn't work for this firm (which was ironic since accounting firms's job is to lie about people's personal incomes to the IRS).

Leaving that office with several choice curse words flung back over my shoulder, I de-elevated myself back down to the Exxon Building lobby. As I was ready to storm out of the building, I noticed a sign saying there was another Big 8 accounting firm in the building in a different bank of elevators. So, like the valiant pro I was, I elevated myself up to the 20th-floor receptionist area and presented myself as a man looking for a job in their editorial department. Lo and behold, the receptionist said, "Why, honey, our editorial director just happens to be looking for a proofreader."

To make a long story short (hard for me to do), that very same day I got a job with this Big 8 accounting firm as a proofreader in their Printing & Design department.

Now what's this got to do with L Hat's tenth year of posting, you are surely asking.

I hit this Big 8 accounting firm as things were changing fast. I started as a proofreader, one of two. The week I got there, the department manager quit and a new woman took her place. My starting salary was $11, 250-a-year. Soon the other proofreader was promoted to the production department and they hired another proofreader. My boss, the editor-in-chief, he called himself Average Al, gave me the assignment of interviewing the proofreading applicant he thought was best suited for the job. During my conversation with this guy (a character beyond belief), I asked him the salary they were offering him and he told me $11,500-a-year. I immediately went to the department manager and was boiling mad---this new guy was coming on staff making $250 more a year than I was. She agreed with me that this was criminal and immediately got my salary raised to $15,000-a-year.

Soon Average Al began talking about quitting his job. Desktop computers were just coming into being and he had been offered a higher-paying job in Jersey editing computer manuals, which he eventually took. Before he left, he recommended I take his place as Editorial Director and Supervisor of Proofreading $18,000-a-year. The department manager wasn't sure I could handle the job but after a bull session, she was convinced I was the man and I got the job. So my salary within six or so months shot from $11,250 up to $18,000. I was riding a very high horse suddenly...single male, living in Manhattan...I mean, "Whoop-tee-doo." It meant finally my own apartment; new clothes; new women.

My first duty as Editorial Director and Supervisor of Proofreading Services was to hire a proofreader to replace me. We put an ad in the NYTimes and soon a gaggle of candidates started cluttering up my office begging me to hire them on as a proofreader. I wasn't impressed with any of them and blew them off until one day this guy appeared at my door seeking the job. He, though wearing frazzled well-worn brown slacks and a similar brown dress shirt, impressed me. There was just something about him that clicked with me. Maybe it was he was wearing a hat. A hat that made him look Orthodox Jewish. He'd been working in the basement of the Doubleday Bookstore that once sat over on 5th Avenue back in the early days of NYC chain bookstores. His job over there was a dirty job; unpacking crates of books and trundling them up to the main floor where they were assigned a shelf life. The more I got out of this guy, the more we clicked. He was born in Japan; he attended Occidental College in L.A. (where President Barak Obama would later go), and he had worked on a graduate degree at Yale. By the end of our conversation, I went and told the department manager I wanted him for the new proofreader. That man was L Hat. My first hire as Editorial Director and Supervisor of Proofreading Services.

That was many years ago now--1982--and L Hat and I have remained the best of friends ever since. I attract brilliant men and women and L Hat's one of the most brilliant of a host of brilliant friends I've gathered over my many years of friend gleaning.

My life as Editorial Director and Supervisor of Proofreading Services lasted a glorious 12 years, though soon in the early 1990s when personal computers were suddenly on all workers's desk, the good old times ended and the glory hole was shut down by something called the Hay Report and one fine day in the summer of '93 I returned from vacation to find both a birthday card from the company thanking me for my many years of steady service and a notice to please report to my boss's office immediately. In her office, I was met with a serious-faced new PR man from California and my dull-faced boss. They were sorry to inform me that after a twelve-year stint at this Big 8 accounting firm (by then they were calling themselves executive management firms), I was now officially FIRED as Editorial Director and Supervisor of Proofreading Services, and though I garnished a huge fist of severance bucks from the firing, I was soon out of a job and blowing those severance bucks faster than Superman outflying speeding bullets. It seems though I had given them 12 years of good work, according to the Hay Report and the new computer guys who had checked the amount of time we all spent at our workstations, my job was not at all cost effective (a new phrase that came into being around that time); in fact, my job and my staffs' jobs were a costly burden on the hard-times firm (it was at the time of what business big shots called a recession, which simply put meant their profits weren't what they used to be).

Fired, again I found myself in the street without a pot to piss in, though, like I stated, I was given a big lump-sum severance paycheck, big enough that for a brief moment I felt free as a bird, though as a free bird I was soon to realize with that depleting severance money, I was fastly becoming extinct. With my passing also, my boss informed me, the company was also going to fire my two best on-staff proofreaders, one of which was L Hat. I, with still a little influence under my belt, went to the head editor of the company's world business guides (they were guides to help globally minded corporations beat paying taxes in foreign countries) and insisted that he hire my two staff proofreaders as editors! Which, though he considered his job tougher than what my people worked on--hell, we had worked on his guides for years and years, he did.

I was out of work three years and damn stone broke when I was finally reduced to accepting a Sunday afternoon job playing keyboards with a guitarist friend in a SOHO bar making whatever the neighborhood bourgeoisies put in our tip jar and all the free pints of Bass Ale I could drink.

Soon, the severance pay bucks were gone and all I had was a large collection of Bicentennial quarters, which I started living on. For nourishment I was living off a daily diet of two Snickers bars and two small cups of coffee and for paying my rent and other bills borrowing money from my rich brother.

It was in this state of paucity that while playing keyboards at my Sunday gig I happened to put an eye on this tall redhead who sat at the bar every Sunday with her dog in tow. I had of course noticed her before--she was hard to not notice--but I had never really concentrated on what she was doing while sitting at that bar. When finally eying in on her, I saw she always had a pile of typed papers sitting in front of her and she was working at doing something with them. Finally, on that fateful Sunday, I went over and politely asked her just what she was doing. "I'm editing," she said. "Editing?" I asked. "Yes, I'm a medical editor with a pharmaceutical advertising agency." "Really," I said, "an editor, eh? You know, I'm one of the top editors in New York...." Blah, blah, blah, I carried on bragging about my professional talent. "If you can prove you're a top editor by giving me a resume, I will put you to work immediately." And that's how I got into the field of medical editing. True to her word, that next Sunday I brought this tall redhead my resume and she looked it over and said, "You've got a job. Come to the Look Building on Madison Avenue tomorrow morning and I'll put you to work." And that is exactly what I did. That next day I was a medical editor, freelance, making $30-an-hour. Holy Moly. You talk about being in high cotton. My first check after a week working for this tall redhead was for $1200. Yipes! I screamed on receiving so liberal a check and that night I sat up the bar at my favorite Irish pub and thus began a 12-year stint with this pharmaceutical advertising agency starting on Madison Avenue in the Look Building but moving in the middle 1990s over to 42nd Street in the famous Daily News Building, the News having moved out of the building to new digs though their TV station, WPIX, stayed there in the floors just under our offices.

I worked as a freelancer for this pharmaceutical advertising agency for 9 years and then one day the big shots announced they were no longer going to use freelancers and that the loyal freelancers were being offered staff positions. Just before this transition took place, my new boss, the redhead had given up the job to freelance, came to me and said she was looking for an editor since she was firing this Canadian dude's butt for incompetency. Did I know of anyone who might be interested in the job? I knew L Hat, who was still working for the Big 8 accounting firm in their World Guide department this time as an editor, was unhappy with the change in guard over there. So I called the Hatman up and asked him if he were interested in being a medical editor at $60,000-a-year. Hell yes, says he, and soon L Hat was being hired by my boss and soon he and I were office partners and soon he and I got iMac Blueberry computers and soon he and I were spending most of our free office time on our computers doing personal Web surfing and emailing and researching and me buying tons of stuff on eBay and him getting interested in, at that time not affiliated with Google.

He talked to me about starting a blog. He was going to call it Languagehat, combining his interests in language as a linguist and his interest in hats, of which he had many--I especially remember his authentic Greek fisherman's hat and his prize Borsolino felt and his real Panama straw from Ecuador.

And then one day there it was the languagehat blog. July 2002. With his banner designed by his stepson. And he was off and running in the blogosphere.

It seems to me like languagehat caught on fairly fastly thanks to L Hat's competence as a linguist but also his confidence as a writer. I have always been amazed at my friend's thirst for knowledge. I recall a time when he became interested in Vietnam and the Vietnam War. He read every book he could get his hands on that covered the subject and, of course, got deeply into the Vietnamese languages. He has for as long as I've known him also had a deep interest in all things Russian and especially the vast Russian literature scene and, of course, the Russian language, which he both reads and speaks with fluency. As a young man, he went to Moscow to study there and used to amuse me with many stories of his time living there in the days when it was still the Soviet Union. If you go on his Website today, you'll always find a post on something Russian, several of which on Tolstoy I find very interesting since I, too, find old Tolstoy a pip when it comes to writing, my first encounter with him reading Resurrection clear through in one sitting one long afternoon and night in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when I was just married and just becoming civilized.

I have now considered L Hat a dear close friend for 30 years. I have also considered a daily read since I was there when he started writing on it 10 years ago. I must admit sometimes when he's writing browbeating linguistics arguments it flies way over my head, but most of the time, he's such a interesting writer, even some of those posts I end up comprehending. What started as one of the first blogs on Blogger (now controlled by the Google gang) is now a highly respected Website by a gaggle of very serious L Hat fans. I'm jealous, of course, since his site garners upwards of hundreds of comments per post whereas the old Growler is lucky if it gets one comment, one of which may be L Hat, but still I probably wouldn't have tried blogging if it hadn't have been for my friendship with one of my truly great and close friends, a man for all seasons, a man for whom languages and how man speaks them and writes them is his metier...and, too, he knows a lot about chapeaus.

Congrats, old friend, on one of the most successful blogging efforts in the blogosphere. I raise my glass of non-alcoholic beer in three cheers to ye.

for The Daily Growler


Marybeth said...

Lovely post. Happy Birthday,!

Welcome back to blog-land, Wolfie.

languagehat said...

Why thank you, old friend! Those were good times, those Big 8 days. (Are they down to the Big 3 yet?) Minor correction: my stepson does the blog administration, helping out when it has chest pains or bad digestion; the banner was designed by a fine lady who lives in Greece and goes by "Taz."

languagehat said...

Your post got 'slotted:,%202012

Marybeth said...

That is very cool. Plus wood s lot is one of my favorite site to browse. Excellent!

Marybeth said...

Also, notice the great hat photo just about the post. Classy.

languagehat said...

Yeah, he runs that photo most years to commemorate the Hativersary. I love it.

Marybeth said...

That is so cool!

Marybeth said...

Sorry to see Gore Vidal pass. I, for one, will certainly miss his penetrating insights.