Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Heroes and Villains

It has been my pleasure to know several of the sweetest people on the face of the planet. My former de facto brother-in-law Bigscreen, to name someone I don’t often talk about, but always think of with the utmost fondness, is a paragon of kindness who devoted his professional life to helping others, most recently the — what do they call it now? — developmentally challenged. When we used to play tennis in Ham, my best friend in England, Rod, not only lent me one of his posh racquets, but also brought me bottles of chilled water. Also in England, the noted actor and music teacher Stiofan Lanigan-O’Keeffe always gently backed me up when a fellow member of the cast of a comedy revue I’d written tried to drive me crazy, by, for instance, accusing me of sexual harassment in response to my asking her to turn up for performances on time. I have Facebook friends on whose encouragement I’ve come to count, and of whom I'm correspondingly very fond.

I have also known at least one of Modernity’s Great Assholes.

Twenty years ago, when I was itching to leave writing behind (as it had left me years before!) and become a full-time graphic designer, my friend H— recommended me to a guy in San Francisco who needed one. This guy, whom we’ll call Stan, because that was his name, was in the business of advising retail businesses, for which he would prepare lavish booklets featuring prose composed in the hip, cynical, much-imitated style Stan Cornyn had developed for Warner/Reprise print advertising two decades before. It was never clear to me exactly what he was getting at, but a succession of deep-pocketed clients seemed to think they’d better take a chance on his pronouncements eventually making sense, and paid him enough to be able to live in a very nice apartment and buy expensive gifts.

He commonly had to buy such gifts to try to appease those, like myself, to whom he was unspeakable. A voracious adrenalin junkie, he’d wait to give me the text he wanted to use until maybe 12 hours before his prospective clients had been promised their lavish booklets. Then it would turn out not to be the text he wanted to use, not exactly, as he tweaked and tweaked and tweaked it even as I was trying to get the booklet designed. I felt constantly as though dancing on quicksand. We’d finally get the thing to the printer with 41 milliseconds to spare.

Two hours later, my phone would start ringing. In Call 1, Stan would tell me how much he appreciated my having stuck with him. In Call 2, 10 minutes later, his tone would be much darker, as he’d have discovered typographical errors (that resulted from his changing things up until the very last minute (and from my being a rotten proofreder)). By Call 3, 5 minutes after Call 2, he’d be screaming at the top of his lungs because he’d found further booboos. “How can you do this to us?” he’d bellow, though his little company was only him and the poor elderly secretary he sometimes importuned to scream at me when his own vocal cords needed a rest.

The next day, he’d call to say he’d bought me and my girlfriend front-row center seats to The Phantom of the Opera or something as his way of apologizing. Because I so wanted to get my design career off the ground, and because saner clients weren’t exactly lined up outside my front door, I’d accept them, on the condition he not put both himself and me through a comparable ordeal ever again.

A week would go by, and the whole cycle would repeat.

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