Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 20 – Back to New England

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Looking Back: 20 – Back to New England

     Everything was in flux in 1960s America.

       The imperial and ideological rivalry of the post-World War world of the 20th Century morphed into the kind of nuclear paranoia that lay just beneath the surface of life and politics in the long Cold War, which, come to think of it, never really ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. But, that's another story.

at home - 1964
       Although experiences in the military had awakened a latent rebellious streak in my nature, I still thought to pursue a relatively conventional path in life when I returned to my home turf in New England in l964—find a job and perhaps eventually marry and raise a family—the typical middle class aspirations that most of my generation were expected to follow. “Longer hair and other flamboyant affections of appearance”* were still a little over the horizon in 1964—but foreshadowed by the Beatles mop-heads.

the Beetle in winter
       I heard from a cousin who worked there that a well respected book printing company called The Colonial Press in C. was hiring. C. was only a 10 or 15 minute drive from my home so I applied for a job and was hired as a proof-boy in the composing room. Since my old 55 Ford had seen better days I decided to trade it in for a more economical Volkswagen Beetle. I wasn't getting a very big paycheck so a more economical car to commute with was a sensible move.

factory outlet books
       Working in the composing room of a major book manufacturing company proved to be rather fascinating for someone who like to read. Being a fast learner I soon became very proficient at pulling galley proofs that were then sent to the proofreaders for error correction. In those days typesetting was still done on linotype and monotype machines that created lead type. The raw text was set on flat trays call “galleys” and stored in bins. My job was to pick up the trays from the bins and pull proofs on a small printing machine. The galleys could be pretty heavy and I developed a trick back that has been an intermittently constant companion ever since.

imperfect or
overstocked stamp
      There was a wonderful bonus to working for the Press. They had a kind of factory outlet where they sold imperfect or overstocked books to employees at a considerable saving. They sold everything from cheap paperbacks to bound hardcover classics and new releases, many from university presses. I still have a few well worn copies of the books I bought at the factory outlet.

       Working for a book printing company was the perfect job for a developing bookworm. I was constantly surrounded by the printed word and I thought that I would like to be promoted to the job of proofreader. Then, as I imagined it, I would be able to read all the time and earn a living doing it. But it was not to be. The composing room supervisor was impressed by my quick study abilities and I let him know that I would be interested in proof reading. But he wanted to know if I knew how to type. I did and he offered me a job in the mono-type setting room instead which I accepted.

family get together of the period
       There were half a dozen or so mono-typesetters working at the time. Most of them were very efficient self-absorbed robots who paid me little attention. But a couple of the guys took me under their wing and taught me the ropes...and taught me to play pinochle during lunch breaks. All things being equal, I suppose I could have made a career as a mono-type setter, become an ace pinochle player, gotten married and settled down to a conventional life, but all things are not necessarily equal, are they?

* from the Broadway musical “Hair”

To be continued...

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