BIG WHEELS FROM SANTA
Read a lot of crap from folks on the Internet this past week, who were making their pronouncements as if they'd got folks queued up like King Solomon's Lines, waiting to hear what they have to say about every damn little thing, and the thought occurred to me that no one on the Internet knows anything about anything.
Except me, of course. And here's why.
Between my junior and senior years as an undergrad at Clark University, quaintly nestled in the heart of New England, I took a year off to get some perspective and earn some more money to go back to school. I ended up in rural Georgia, cutting block granite as a saw operator. That first year was drudgery to live through, but I learned more about How The World Works on the line there than I did my whole time inside the ivy covered walls of academia.
First off, I learned to make the distinction between "book sense" and "common sense," and witnessed first-hand that the latter trumps the former everywhere outside of school and other "academic" or otherwise sterile discussions.
Second, I learned from Dennis Hayes, the guy behind me in the saw line, how the Air Cav got its colors back in Vietnam, but that's sort of tangential. Google it up, if you're interested.
Just as I was finishing up a year of this, they realized I was more than just a fool Yankee college boy and that maybe I'd learned enough of How Things Really Go that I could handle my own crew. Of course, I couldn't wait to get back to New England, until they explained that as a crew chief I'd make nearly three times the money with half the work, and a week off for every three on. Sure, we'd still put in 160 hours a month, but in three weeks instead of four.
I'd run a crew of six on the gang saw and all the attendant paperwork and with none of the heavy lifting. I'd have to be officially rated for the forklift and the overhead cranes, but I was already doing that on the sly anyway. Plus a week off every month. What's not to like?
So I signed up for another year.
And this is where I learned to get really very good at staying in the eye of the hurricane.
The gang saw crews, you see, are at the very center of constructional stone manufacturing. Ever go into a ritzy hotel, or a government building, or suchlike, and see the polished granite on the walls or floor? The gang saw crews are the heart of the process that makes that go from rock in the ground to architectural ornament. Sure, you've got your quarry boys that work like dogs to cut blocks out of the earth, and you have your polishers and hand-workers who finesse cut slabs into puzzle pieces to fit inside your local Marriott.
But if the gang saw guys don't do their jobs, no one gets anything. And so the gang saw chief has to know what everyone is doing, who they're doing it with, and how far along they are. At all times.
See, it takes five days for a gang saw to cut straight slabs through an eight-foot deep block, so the saws are set up in fours. If all goes smoothly, the left-most saw should be just starting when the right-most saw is finishing up. In the time it takes to break down and remove the slabs and clean up and reload that one, the inside right should be finishing up. In the time it takes to break down and remove the slabs and clean up and reload that one, the inside left should be finishing up. In the time it takes to break down and remove the slabs and clean up and reload that one, your first saw should be ready and the whole cycle starts over again.
And in every step of that process, the chief has to know what the sales guys are doing, know what the architects specs are, wrangle with drafting for shop tickets, and keep an eye on how fast processing is going through slabs.
It is very literally juggling with 23 ton blocks, and every other department depends on the gang saw crew humming along, because the whole system collapses and logjams if it doesn't, and no one gets Christmas bonuses.
Nothing like hundreds of guys telling you they want you to personally tell their kids why they're not getting Big Wheels from Santa to make you keep your eye on your job.
So after I went back and got my degree, my first job out of college was as a production coordinator for Worcester Magazine, a small alternative magazine not unlike the Village Voice or the LA Weekly, but in central Massachusetts. As far as I know, the only thing WoMag is known for is being the launching pad for sci-fi author Allen Steele, Industry Week writer and analyst Tom Mudd, and me, and we were all there at the same time.
It was eye of the hurricane time there, as well. As production coordinator, I needed to know not only what the publisher wanted, but also what editor Tom Mudd was doing, and make sure that the advertising team, and the production staff, and the in-house printers were all speaking the same language.
Let's just say it gives one an interestingly vital perspective, having one's eye on the smallest detail and The Big Picture all the damn time.
Besides now running my own publishing house, that was my favorite job I've ever had. There's nothing quite like having all the various departments all facing the same direction; having everyone get together and working towards putting out a publication and getting that thing in the trucks, ready for Wednesday delivery. I remember one Christmas Eve with Mudd and art director Tom Cronin, and putting the issue to bed with hours to spare and having a shot of Jameson's in the editor's office to celebrate and it was positively Dickensian… and, well… I think that's when I fell in love with paper and ink.
And everyone got Big Wheels from Santa, that Christmas.
You can draw a straight line through cutting granite and producing tabloid newspapers to putting out quality trade paperbacks every month like clockwork, where I have to lasso artists and writers and lawyers and printers to make sure you get a copy of our books in your hands… and it makes me think that if some froot loop in Orange County sitting in front of his computer eating bon-bons and watching Entertainment Tonight thinks he knows what's involved in producing comic books…
…unless he's got a handle on every one of those irons in the fire…
…I gotta say no one on the Internet knows anything. Except me, of course.
Because I'm the one making sure everyone gets their Big Wheels from Santa.
Jupiter and Saturn are about to pull together in your house of publishing, higher education, and travel. It's a big deal, Lib; mega opportunities abound in any or all of these areas, but you'll have to move those cute little buns of firstname.lastname@example.org
Pop your virtual head into the Loose Cannon Message Board and post for the whole world to see the story of the time you had everything clicking over smoothly.
Award-winning author Warren Ellis will be making his only U. S. personal appearance this year, no doubt regaling the crowds and making his mark in available copies of Transmetropolitan and Come in Alone, at Comic Relief, on September 8th from 3 pm – 6 pm. Hit the website for more info.