Category Archives: money

“Kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

The day after I graduated, the day before I left.

After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles in June 1977, after an eventful trip west on my mortally wounded ’75 Suzuki T-500.

The first place I lived on my own was a dumpster apartment complex in Van Nuys, Located on the corner of Victory and Fulton Blvd, it backed up to a dinky strip mall on Victory Blvd. California Donuts, a CPA, laundromat, maybe a dry-cleaners. It was right across the street from Jimmy Smith’s Supper Club, where Jimmy held forth on his Hammond B-3 Fridays thru Sunday nights.

Immediately across the street was an Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, where you could buy milk, smokes, and the LA Times for a dime (but not all together). Down the street was Changing Times Hair Salon, owned by the irrepressible Juan Lizarraga; “Hair styled by Pierre of Pacoima, formerly Walter of Watts”. But that was in the future.

The traffic was constant, the air gritty with smog, and the neighborhood was relentlessly ugly. It seemed all the trees were several blocks away.

The apartment building itself was a faded 2-story courtyard complex with an alligator pond for a pool. I looked at the apartment the day after my grubstake arrived after being lost in the mail for three weeks. I’d been staying with a college friend whose young marriage was dissolving, the job she’d lined up for me had evaporated, and my wheels were a gigantic beast of a Dodge ’71 pickup truck to replace my dead motorcycle.

When I walked into the courtyard, the pool was half-empty, with several of the mullet-headed vato chicas with their KISS Army t-shirts and heavy eye makeup standing around looking at it. The rental agent was glad that the unit was occupied, and vanished seconds after I wrote the check.

Everything I owned in the world fit into the corner of the apartment, which was $200 a month. That night I went to a Lucky supermarket, wandered the aisles, wondering what I was going to feed myself. I remember buying fish, white rice, household stuff, and a mop. Then I went home and made dinner, and ate it in silence.

As the days passed, I slowly began to come to terms with my new home. The building manager was a rowdy Filipino with a large fish-tank. The Vietnamese extended family lived in one of the 2-bedroom units in the back; the patriarch, wife, daughters, grandchildren, and the Anglo son-in-law. There was a spectacularly ugly Chicana who lived upstairs, and had a face an iguana would’ve loved. She entertained callers at all hours.

The Filipino vanished after a late-night drunk-fight with one of his homies ended in a sickening crack of his fish-tank, followed by a dead-silence, then 50 gallons of aquarium and fish hitting the carpet. He was replaced by a married couple that used their 2 small boys as basketballs. Tom, the husband, was a comic-book palooka with a room-temperature IQ. The wife was a porcelain-faced, Cupid-bowed mouth, heavy-hipped foghorn whose profanities were loud and memorable. Nothing she said was ever less than 90db.

I looked for work. Navigating this very large, strange city was exhausting. My truck got 8mpg with a tail-wind, had one locking door, and a concrete-splattered bed, minus the tailgate. The FM radio had 3 options; KBCA for jazz, KROQ for low-wattage New Wave, and maybe KMET for what’s now classic rock. It was the Ultimate Chick Repellant, which might as well have said “Never Get Laid” on the sides. I’d park this beast next to Jags, Benzos, anything that looked better than me. Nobody jacked my portfolio.

Looking for work here was only somewhat better than looking in Cleveland two years earlier. Now I didn’t have a fallback. This was it.

“Aw kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

“Didja go to Art Center? You shoulda”

“Ohio what?”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

I kept at it because I’d crossed the Mississippi with the express intention to escape Ohio. I got a hand-typed rejection letter from ABC. After that, the mailbox was empty most of the time. My dad sent a large box with paperbacks he’d plowed through and tossed. There were days I didn’t leave the apartment.

One day I got a call from a tiny magazine I’d interviewed at. Was I still interested? Uh, yeah. I was down to my last $150. It’d taken me 3-1/2 weeks to find a job. Now I had  it.

Only later did I understand how lucky and fat that was.

Introduction, and Past Revelations



I’m going to share out observations, opinions, facts, and fabulisms about advertising, design, pre-press, Mac publishing and other incidental aspects of the work experience.

After 30 years in the business, I might have something to say that might be of some use or amusement to you, Gentle Reader. To paraphrase the late alpinist Willi Unsoeld; “sometimes I will tell you the truth, and maybe a few lies, and you will like it in spite of yourself”. Unlike Willi, I do not intend to die on Mt Ranier.

Twenty years ago I was putting together a catalog over in East LA at a print shop. It was a strictly industrial setting. My wee cubbyhole was under a flight of stairs. I would appear at 0730, and work until 1530 in the afternoon. The bike ride home was pleasant enough. When the presses would start up in the back of the building, it was if a steam locomotive was on rollers getting a workout.

In the midst of this funkiness I had an epiphany about work. Here was where Saul turned to Paul. It hit me that for the previous ten years I had been the most useless worker imaginable. And like all revelations, they appeared in numerical order. I cringed as they were revealed, but wrote them all down.

Now I had stumbled off the mountain, and with new zeal, had Share The Word. Specifically with undergraduates where I had gone to design school ten years earlier. I got the nod from my ex-teachers, and verily I Shared It Out.

I introduced my self by noting that I was a working professional, in the early middle phase of my design/advertising career. I wasn’t going to trot out My Greatest Hits, but instead discuss basics.

I started off with the No-Brainers, like Showing Up On Time and so on. A mere shiver of ennui coursed through the gathered. Not content with that, I quickly moved along in the outline. I told the dewy ducklings that sooner or later in their career they would face Three Things:

1] Getting laid off or fired
2] Getting stiffed by a client
3] Going to court and/or resorting to other methods to recover the money.

The train had now jumped the tracks and gone straight through the cornfield. A sudden still filled the classroom. As if on cue, feet began to tap nervously.

Finally, a girl in the back asked plaintively “Don’t you have anything nice to say about design?”

I said “Yes I do. Design is a chance to make some beauty and order in the world, but you have to understand that this is a business”.

Glassy smiles on all present told me that nobody wanted any part of it. My show was politely over, and that was that. Or so I thought. The following year I tried to give the same talk. By polite deflections the answer was “no” but I was invited to hear Michael Manwaring who was giving a talk.

His presentation was His Greatest Hits, and it was fun to watch his show, and see it through the eyes of the students. After it was over, I stood in line to shake his hand. And then I asked him The Three Questions.

“Have you ever been laid off or fired?”
“Have you ever been stiffed by a client?”
“Have you ever been to court to recover the money?”

He smiled and said yes to all three. I thanked him for his time and patience.

So. In the course of this blog I will use actual cases, and most of the time I will conceal the names of the attendees to whatever trainwreck or comedic disaster that occurred.

We’ll all have a swell time.