Observations and arguments.

Archive for June, 2006

Uncalled for: One Was Johnny

I’ve learned that a common thread in my musical taste is a fondness for tracks in which if you stop and listen carefully to a single element–a vocal performance, a guitar riff, a backing horn track–you realize that the musician is doing something that in isolation would be completely uncalled for. Overripe. Near-ridiculous. And yet, within the overall mix, the excessiveness doesn’t stand out. And rather than detracting from the track, it somehow adds value to the overall vibe.

Today’s case in point, from the boy’s as yet limited musical collection: Charles Larkey’s stoned-funk bass line from Carole King’s “One Was Johnny,” the musical adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library story, as featured on the soundtrack to the television special Really Rosie. (Song available from iTunes.)

The boy was introduced to the four Nutshell songs from his DVD of Where the Wild Things Are, and we’ve listened to them by now hundreds of times. This morning he was working on his number puzzle, while attempting to recite “One Was Johnny” from memory. Except that each time he would get to “6” (the monkey), he would skip to the point at which the monkey steals the banana, which is from the back, descending half of the song (if you’re not familiar with the story, it counts from one to ten and back again). At this point he got a bit confused, in realizing that a) “banana” doesn’t rhyme with the previous line (“bit the dog’s tail”); and b) after “banana” comes “5”, and yet he’s holding the number 7. So we headed into the boy’s room and put the CD in the player to listen to the song again, so that we could get it straight once and for all.

Larkey was apparently also King’s bass player on Tapestry, which now I need to go back and listen to that again.

Jobs I Have Held: Assistant Manager

For the first week on my first paying job, I wasn’t assistant manager.

I took the standard entry-level job at the local movie twoplex. Sweeping, ushering, concessions, window washing. I was sixteen, the summer before my senior year in high school. My parents weren’t pushing me to get a job, but I wanted the extra walking around money that a part-time minimum wage job would afford.

Within a day or two, the senior assistant manager had somehow identified that I was different than my peers. I don’t believe I had time to demonstrate anything in the way of competence above and beyond anyone else, so I’m not sure what criteria he applied. Perhaps it was enough that I didn’t smell like weed.

In any event, I was promoted almost immediately to a spot in the box office. There was no bump in salary–I was sixteen after all–but during the quiet times I could remain at the window and read a book instead of having to clean, and that was plenty good enough for me.

By the end of my first week the mumbling manager had taken notice of the fact that in my few days in the box office I hadn’t embezzled cash from the till, plus in the nightly reports of ticket sales I was able to successfully enter numbers into columns and add them, with the aid of a device called a calculator.

I was duly promoted to management.

Still, no increase in my hourly wage, but the additional hours that came with opening up in the morning or closing up at night meant my paycheck did grow a bit–although not as much as it should have. With the added responsibilities I began to work forty-one, forty-two, up to fifty hours a week. The mumbling manager claimed that as a sixteen year old I could get into trouble for reporting more than forty hours a week, so he doctored my timesheets to redistribute my time to weeks in which I worked fewer days.

Allowing him to avoid overtime costs.

But while I grumbled at times, the exploitation felt minor compared to the thrill of being able to run the projectors (this was not long after qualified projectionists were kicked out of the industry and replaced with unskilled sixteen year olds such as myself).

I didn’t actually need to manage employees, but the title did give me the opportunity to delegate the task of replacing the letters on the marquee sign when we had a movie changeover. I did the task once, and was so terrified I never went up there again. It was a precious, teenage kind of scared, but in retrospect, the fact that there was no safety harness was probably an OSHA violation. At the very least it was a reckless and stupid cost saving measure.

The other practice that I found bothersome was the mumbling manager’s directive to pop popcorn just once a week in one large batch. We scooped it into bags and kept it in the closet, taking it out and pouring it into the warming bin only during movies, so that customers wouldn’t see you doing it.

Even on the day that we were popping popcorn, we were directed not to give the new stuff to the customers.

That always seemed rude to me.

Also: hot dogs. If you must eat them, do avoid the chopped onions and pickle relish.

Is all I’m saying.

Setting a pattern that would recur in later jobs, I never really took advantage of my position or the keys I had to the building. Something about my Catholic education and upbringing–not the fear of guilt or hell, this was post-Vatican II Californian Catholicism, after all. No, this was entirely about behaving nicely and obeying the rules.

My single transgression (if you could call it that) was letting four of my friends in for a “Rambothon”–multiple sequential showings of Rambo: First Blood, Part II. Three of them bailed after the second screening. One, David S., made it through four times before finally giving up.

(I will note, for the sake of the historical record, that David S. was indeed the individual described in Leigh Weimers’ column in the San Jose Mercury News, who on opening day of Rambo: First Blood, Part II some weeks earlier had been ejected from the Town & Country theater for wielding a plastic weapon. What Weimers perhaps didn’t know was that there were at least twenty boys in the company of David S., all fresh from their last morning of final exams at the local Jesuit college preparatory, all similarly armed with toy guns–the kind capable of firing small plastic projectiles. Of course, most of us were able to conceal our weapons in our clothes and backpacks. David S., carrying a plastic automatic rifle, had no such option.)

Of course, the main benefit of working at any movie theater (something I didn’t know about when applying for the job) was the call-in. I could call any theater in town and ask to place myself plus a guest on the secret “call-in” list for any movie of my choosing (anything that wasn’t an opening or weekend night blockbuster). When calling or when showing up, there was no identification or verification process to confirm that I was who I said I was, or that I worked at the theater I had claimed. Just give my name, and I got in.

A friend of mine continued to call in for free movies long after he’d stopped working at movie theaters.

Me, the uptight Catholic boy, I never did.

InDesign CS 2: Phantom Spot Colors

If I knew what caused it, I would know how to prevent it. Suspicions include placing a .ai or .eps graphic that contains a spot color. Or a pdf. Or copying and pasting such an object from one InDesign file to another–even when the spot color exists in both documents.

But at the point when I am preparing the file for final release, I often discover one or more colors I cannot modify or delete.

This annoys me primarily because I am the sort of production artist who prefers to delete all unnecessary colors, fonts, layers, objects, etc. from a file. The impact of such detritus on today’s modern RIPs (modern enough, shall we establish, to handle InDesign CS2 files to begin with) is likely insignificant at this point in the technology. But to me this kind of manual file scrubbing remains both a valuable idiot-proofing practice and a matter of common courtesy–towards my own self or some other designer or production artist who will be asked to adapt this file for reprinting in three to six months time.

But this is not merely a matter of my own work habits and hangups.

Often I am handed a file in which a designer has created swatches for dozens, if not hundreds of PANTONE swatch colors, and I must select each color individually (or in small batches) to winnow down the list to the set of colors in actual use. (The workaround in which I create a new mechanical document, and copy and paste objects from the designer document into my new one can often compound the problem of these phantom spot colors–turning previously editable colors into the undead.)

One trick I have found success with is exporting the file as an InDesign Interchange document (.inx), and then re-importing it into InDesign. Be sure to clean up your placed graphics (e.g. convert spot colors to process as needed) before you do this step, or you may find yourself doing it more than once.

tag: Adobe InDesign

Regular Comedian, Pt 2

The boy says “cold water”.

His way of forgoing his standard drink of bathwater, and instead asking me to fill up the liquid measuring cup with water from the tap.

I comply, and offer him the nearly full cup. He tilts it towards his face and takes a sip.

He then tilts the cup back towards my face, and I decide I’m willing to play along, so I take a sip of water myself.

He is pleased by this, and he pushes the cup up higher, giving me the choice of drinking more or letting the water spill down my chest. I drink, and then tip the cup back upright in between our faces.

My resistance makes him angry. He pushes back, harder, and I gulp the water awkwardly while attempting not to fall backwards from my kneeling position.

In my cheeriest redirective tone I ask him whether he might not like to take another sip himself.

He wrests the cup from my hands, throwing it down into the bath, and begins waving his arms back and forth towards me in a monkey-like threat of physical violence.

I give him my sternest glare and remind him in no uncertain terms that there is no hitting Daddy.

He ceases his wild gesticulating and stares into my eyes. I can see that he is weighing his next action carefully.

He grins.

And the water he has been holding in his mouth pours down his chin and chest.

I collapse on the floor, howling with laughter.

I am going to pay for this.

What to write

Topics for blog posts, presented here for headkicking purposes when there is nothing obvious in the here and now.

Jobs I have held
Skills I have acquired
Objects I have owned
Projects I am avoiding completing
Digital asset management
Software tools
What is in the box
What the boy is reading
What the boy is watching
Skills the boy has acquired
Things I am forgetting now but hope to add to this list later

Regular Comedian

Tonight the boy was practicing his dribble takes in the bathtub. Except that more than half the time his excitement at the hilarity of it all pushed the dribble take towards a spit take, projecting the water out several images and onto daddy’s pants.

I did not teach him how to do this.

Most nights I can maintain a straight face and a flat tone as I remind him this is behavior that is only acceptable in the bathtub. Tonight I marginally succeed at this.

Later, however, as we are struggling to get him to brush his teeth, and once we have bailed on that attempt and are encouraging him to rinse out his mouth, he sticks the toothpaste tube in his mouth and does a wide-eyed take into the mirror.

My wife and I both burst into defeated laughter.

We understand that this is not helping.


I stopped writing in my LiveJournal a year ago, around the time I started videoblogging. And now that I’m itching to write more, I am attracted by the shiny ball of WordPress, in particular the ability to tag posts.

I have opted for the free wordpress.com because I do not want to waste any of my time tweaking the template. I have plenty of that work that needs doing over at the videoblog.

Ambivalent about the Blogroll. To whatever extent I create one it will be an indicator to the degree I have succumbed to the emotional need for validation from others.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)