I used to work for a financial printer in NY- a big one. Many corporations, when they initially went public, printed their prospectus and many Fortune 500 companies printed their quarterly and annual reports through our company. As you might imagine, with Wall Street at the door on a daily basis, there were many perks: Unlimited overtime, free meals, limos home, the works. I eventually became a customer service rep, but initially I was a proof reader. Proofreading quarterly reports is like, well, put it this way- If the Japanese had been up on this form of torture during WWII and had used it on captured American spies these spooks would have certainly and happily given up all kinds of secrets and we would have lost the war; and consequently my Japanese would be much better than it is now.
There were a few other proofreaders working in the department. The proofreaders, as a rule, were always doing this to make ends meet, in the meantime between time. There was Andy who was really a screenplay writer and director and is now out in La-La Land trying to make it happen. There was Theo who was putting the final touches on his manuscript. He eventually got it published a year after I met him and it did pretty well as I recall.
Then there was me and Aaron. I was happy just to have a job at the time, and Aaron had been proofreading since the 50s and wasn’t going anywhere unless it was on a stretcher or in a hearse. He was a great old guy, salt of the earth, and he’d lived a full and interesting life. He’d often regale us with sumptuous stories of how he’d proofread and copyedited various famous writers’ works, and how the prissy bastards used to complain all the time.
One day he told us about how he even proofread a colored writer’s work once. “I forget his name…though he was a pretty famous colored guy, and a helluva writer!” The rest of the proofreading staff shifted uneasily in their seats with Aaron’s use of this anachronism, smiles glued to their faces, like you might do if your senile grandmother farted while she was talking to you. Andy, always good for a laugh, said “Don’t you mean, Negro writer? My god, Aaron, live in the now.” I guffawed. Paul grinned from ear to ear.
But, Aaron didn’t get it. And he was American!
So how in the world was I going to get Greg to get it?
I mean, political correctness and sensitivity to minorities in language is mostly an American idea. I had no idea what Australia thought of us or where they stood on the issue, but if Greg’s use of “colored” and “abos”was any indication, their racial sensitivity lay somewhere between Japan’s and South Africa’s. So I sat there trying to think of a way to tell Greg that, though, I assume, he meant no offense by its use, I’d prefer he didn’t refer to black people as Colored, or Negro, or Niggers, or Afro-Americans, or Abos, or anything other than black, or people of African descent (though I have no idea where the Aborigines in Australia came from originally, if anywhere) or African-Americans, or whatever nationality the person happened to be. That his use of colored was more distressing than the threatening call from the main office about the noise, and even more upsetting than his allusions to some kind of barbaric religious practice taking place in my bedroom. As you can see this was a very complicated subject. Short of explaining the US history of racism and racial bigotry and the impact of slavery and Jim Crow, etc, etc, etc, etc, how could he possible get it?
So I decided to go light first.
“”Have either of you received a call from the main office?” I asked them.
“No,” Joe said, “But, I lost my phone the other night so…”
He was on his third phone in as many weeks. His M.O. was to get drunk as possible as often as possible and challenge himself to get home safely with all his possessions and body parts intact. He failed constantly. He often came home minus some blood, skin, cash, even a tooth once. And that’s the times when he made it home at all. Sometimes he crawled into the house in the morning after having slept on someone’s lawn or on the ground in front of the train station waiting for the first train. Greg was worse. Greg didn’t even bother to come home and shower up. He went straight to work that way. Straight from some street corner or friends house, or gutter, grab some Mintia (Japanese tictacs), brush the grass out of his hair, throw a little water on his face and try to stay awake and employed. His co-workers would call me sometimes when he hadn’t gone at all. Sometimes he vanished for days, on a binge. His office would call me inquiring about his whereabouts. “Hell if I know…” He’d show up a couple of days later looking the worst for wear.
“They called my school, I think, but I wasn’t there that day,” Greg said.
“Well, the thing is…” I began. “They’ve gotten complaints about the noise from our landlord, and they threatened me over the phone, talking about we’d be evicted if it continues…”
“What kind of bloody noise?” Joe asked, looking a little puzzled.
“Yeah? What the…?”
WTF! You know good and damn well what kind of noise they’re talking about, both of you do! I wanted to yell. You fuckers come home every night pissed and play the guitar like this is Fuji Rock , or blast Red Hot Chilli Peppers like you want to introduce the whole neighborhood to rock, or bring a mob of Aussies up in here for laughs and brews, and all in the livingroom, just outside my bedroom, regardless of the time. But I didn’t yell. I kept my cool.
“You think they can hear you?” Joe asked, looking up at the ceiling, and at the walls. “I imagine they must, I can hear you even in my bedroom down the hall.”
“Hear who?” I asked.
“You, dude! When you have one of your Japanese girls in there it’s like a war zone.”
“Yeah, I almost opened the door to make sure everything was alright one time,” Greg said, laughing loudly. “I thought you were killing her. Now I know it’s just your style!”
“What the hell are y’all talking about?” I was perplexed.
“You!” Joe said. “I mean, I don’t like to talk about what a man does in the bedroom but, you!! ” Joe was shaking his head.
“Yeah, we gotta nickname for you, don’t we Joe?”
“Yep! The Machine!”