Keta's Storybook!

WORKPLACE MAYHEM

. . . CONTINUED FROM

I’m in a groove now, settled in nicely. It’s pretty routine generally but all the projects are new to me and I’m learning alot about the printing press requirements so I’m satisfied. Most of my co-workers are what’s to be expected; middle-aged softies with tenure that know they’d basically have to kill somebody to lose their jobs. There’s a few that care, work hard and are reliable but mostly they just look for ways to scam time off and take alot breaks/long lunches.

Attempts to Impress will Surely Backfire

Jack is having a high-level meeting in his office, everyone is on their best behaviour. I’m not really cowed by the presence of one of the most powerful men at our organization but decide to play along with everyone else. Soon they come to me with a new project; they’re acting as if they’re bestowing on me a birthday present! Petra seems to be having a minor heart attack so I keep my sarcasm in check.

“Keta this is RC, he’s the Director of the Prevention Division.”

Quick handshake, he barely makes eye contact with me. It’s clear by his attitude that he’s used to having people bow before him; watching Jack so willingly act the lap-dog is making me uncomfortable.

“The Industrial First Aid Regulations are up for editing, but in the meantime we’re going to put out a pocket-sized version on the tables at the back.”

Jack is talking fast and RC is already starting to move towards the door, I have a million questions but get the sense that this is not a good time to ask. I’m torn because if I don’t say anything now, there will be no other opportunity to bring up my concerns. As I flounder I look towards Petra who is trying to sink down into her chair and disappear. This is exactly why I need training in protocol, because when the time comes I have no chance to speak up and no one will help me.

Jack starts babbling on about how this pocket-sized thing is going to be so useful to those in the field, shooting sidelong glances at RC just like a faithful puppy looking for a pat on the head. I think I’m going to be sick. RC looks altogether too pleased with himself, as if the idea of a small booklet was their own personal invention.

“So . . . is there a file in the computer for this?” I am familiar with the Industrial First Aid Regs, it’s impossible to work in industry in this province without knowing about it. It’s a large volume with detailed instructions, full of graphic sketches.

Jack looks shocked that I should ask such a thing; haven’t they just let me know it is a great honour to be handed a project that has never been done before? But I am skeptical; no editor, no artist to give me design direction and a screaming hot deadline? Something tells me I am going to hung out to dry on this. RC looks at me sharply that I have dared to speak in his presence but I just gaze back at him steadily.

“No but the charts are at the back of the Regs so you just have to grab them and bring them into the new size.” Jack does his best to sound bouyant but I think he knows he is asking me do to something that doesn’t quite make sense. As soon as the technical talk starts RC makes his exit.

I’m left to hammer out the details with Jack. He’s made an arrangement with a client; two completely not computer proficient people are telling me how to put something into print and giving me basically no flexibility. But what Jack is saying does make sense; the department is behind in their deadline (big surprise) and in order to satisfy the Legislative requirements to have the printed material available to the public on time they want to put out this “quick & dirty” (a phrase Jack loves to use which I will soon learn to hate with a passion) version. All I have to do is a screen capture of the tables and drop them into a new, smaller document.

Sounds simple enough and I love a challenge so I accept it despite my misgivings. As the project progresses I actually start to enjoy it because there are some technical difficulties to overcome. I am learning some new things about the software. I manage to fit everything into the small page so it’s still legible, Jack likes what he sees and tells me to send a proof off to RC.

Jack has an odd manner of seeming overly pleased when someone is able to perform their job. I guess it’s a result of working so long in a place where most people try really hard not to do any work at all. He used to be a football player or something, now he weighs about 400 lbs. Soon I will take to calling him The Fat Man in the most derisive manner possible, but for now I am bequiled by his enthusiasm and his obvious recognition of my abilities.

The proof comes back from the client; now the real problems are starting. Due to the way Jack and RC approached me at the beginning of this project, and because I am new here and not quite up on normal work procedure, I got rolling the way Jack told me to. That effectively renders the page a graphic element, which means I cannot access the text to make any edits. I did what they asked on the assumption that there would be no edits.

WRONG.

There are a great many edits to the tables. In fact they are being completely overhauled. This means I have to go back to the First Aid Regs, make the changes, re-generate the images and re-place them into the pocket sized disaster. After this happens three times I complain to Jack. What was supposed to be a simple “quick & dirty” job is turning into a nightmare of epic proportions, and this unbelievably strict deadline looms ever closer. For some odd reason our department is carrying all the stress of the deadline, while the Prevention Division is lacksidaisically returning proofs to me in no great rush and with only a few edits each time.

Petra is no help at all; I am beginning to wonder if she enjoys watching me suffer. Jack offers a sympathetic ear but no true advice, only asking me to ‘do the best I can’ in a tone of desparation that I can hardly ignore. So I return to the computer to do something over and over again for the sixth bloody time all the while gritting my teeth and trying to keep in mind that I am being paid by the hour. I send another proof to RC truly believing that it will be signed off. It comes back with a request to put some more headings and other info on all the pages. This is really too much! The page is already choked with more text than it can carry, it’s been an excersise in precise design to get it this far. In order to be legible it is necessary for any page to have a certain amount of white space, I should think any intelligent person would know that, and I am already dangerously close to the limit on this one.

Rather than frustrate myself further with this nonsense I take it straight to Jack. It was his stupid idea, now he can find a solution.

“I mean, do you want me to go down to 6 point type? They’re going to need a magnifying glass to read it.” I chuckle after showing Jack the marked proof.

He is beginning to get truly worried and I can see he doesn’t know the answer. “Leave it with me, I’ll see what I can do.” I know there is no solution given the current specs and I’m curious to see what kind of tap dance he is going to do to get RC to change his mind.

“You know Jack, if you had just told me in the beginning that this is what would eventually happen I would have used a completely different method to put this project together. If you’re not up on the technical aspects you should just tell me what the goal is and let me decide the best way to make it happen.”

Jack does not look happy at my candor and tries to respond with some insightful comment but we both know I am right.

I never see the booklet thing again, it sinks into the mire of the client department. All that work and it never got printed. Very soon the entire Industrial First Aid Regulations will land on my desk and the true horror will begin.

. .. .

Now that I’ve been here for a while I’ve be able to get a grip on the heirarchy. The print shop is separate from the main building, across the street in an industrial park. So even though this is an institution occupied mostly by beaurocratic types we are in a little enclave of creativity; which makes for an odd dichotomy. People get SO EXCITED when they have to deal with printing. Maybe their regular jobs are really boring, I don’t know, but when they come over here for their once-a-year chance to discuss a project they are almost sickeningly enthusiastic. Plus there’s the whole added mystery that we work on Mac’s and that people not in the trade really have no idea what we do or how we magically make these books happen.

It’s funny watching their eyes light up when they see the proof; the text all put together nicely with the colour images into a neat little bundle when all they provided was some mundane Word document and a few instructions for the artists. Well, it would be funny if I didn’t have six other deadlines hanging over my head and once their project was signed off they didn’t hang around making small talk and generally soaking up the atmosphere. We share quick glances over their heads and roll our eyes while guiding them gently towards the door.

This building is divided into four main sections: the front room where I work is spacious and bright with the enormous layout table taking up the centre; the print shop in back with the three small presses, one monster and the high speed copier; the warehouse with all the printed materials stacked on shelves up to the ceiling and the distribution centre where the public can come in and take what they need; the editorial and design department upstairs with the writers, artists, photographer and the AV dudes. Everyone seems very aware of their place in the general scheme of things, and how much more they are above or below everyone else. It’s odd really because the mechanism requires that all the elements be in place in order to function; it seems very weird to me that everyone needs to stratify themselves. Of course it’s the artist and writer poofs upstairs that are above us all *cough*, the menial warehouse staff are at the bottom and us tech-heads land somewhere in the middle.

Our biggest client by far is the technical writers of the Prevention Division. Theirs is a scientific background, so they can write knowlegably about whatever the subject matter is, with a couple of editors to polish. After the consultation process is over and they have written the material, one of the editors comes over to get the project designed and printed. Our favourite is Janice. Petra tells me it took some real effort to train her in what we need to start projects; all I can see is someone who is organized, prepared and knows how to answer whatever questions we might have. Not like that consultant JV.

“We just get them trained and they leave” Petra laughs. I chuckle too but I should really find this comment ominous, given what’s going to happen later.

I’ve been trucking along with the First Aid Regs (the actual book this time, not that little bullshit bad idea) and it’s actually going quite well. RC may be a pompous ass but he sure does know the material. With no editor I am dealing directly with him; luckily I am not easily intimidated but it sucks not having an impartial third party to make editorial decisions. There haven’t been any problems so far though, since this book has been in print for a while and we’re just updating it. My only concern is that Jack keeps telling me how this project is so far behind schedule and whenever the proof comes back with changes I’m to drop everything and take care of it immediately, but RC doesn’t seem to be in any rush at all, keeping the copy for days and days before sending it over to me.

Poweful People will do their Best to Blame You for their Mistakes

Did I say that the First Aid Regs were going well? Because the edits are straightforward and I’m not having any trouble, but the timing is very bad. I’m turning it over in one afternoon but not getting it back for several days. Plus we’re almost finished now -they’re just looking at the index- and instead of editing the whole thing at once they’re finding three corrections at a time. I’m up to proof #16, which is pretty ridiculous (usually it doesn’t go past three); there’s so much material it won’t even fit in a file. Now I really am beginning to wish there was an editor working on this project. When one of the proofs comes back with a comment written in the margin “Can’t you find some of these typos yourself?” a whole army of alarm bells goes off in my head and I take it in to Jack’s office.

“Um, do they not know what they’re supposed to be doing? How can they ask me to find their edits? Or is this comment for someone else?” I’m truly confused; all this bullshit with not having been trained and having to grope around blindly in the dark is starting to get to me.

“Have a seat, let’s talk about this.” Jack takes the proof from me.

Yes. Let’s talk about this NOW that it is clearly an impending disaster, instead of having worked out all this issues beforehand like normal people. Idiot. I’m beginning to see a pattern here that I don’t much like.

I explain the manner in which the proofs are coming to me and the timing.

Jack’s face has turned a rancid shade of pink. “Do you have records of all this? Have you kept all the proofs? You put a date stamp on the proofs when you send them out, right?” He’s almost panting; I’m not sure if I should become alarmed.

"Yeah I date the proofs when I send them out. And for the past two weeks there have been so few edits each time that I send them out on the same day so I know when they came in, too.”

“Good. Because I think RC wants to roast my ass on this. They’ve been complaining about how long it’s taking.”

I’m completely amazed. It’s taking a long time because someone is asleep at the wheel over there. “Who are they complaining to?”

Jack won’t disclose details, he just wants me to write up a sheet of all the dates when the project came in and when it went out again. He also wants me to make sure I have all the proofs (that’s one thing I was trained on, and good thing because there’s a towering stack of them).

I grumble to Petra but, apart from being sympathetic, she offers no real solution. What the hell are we doing here, are we supposed to all work in our own personal little bubbles and ignore each other? That’s kind of stupid because none of us OWN any projects (except Petra with the annual report) so the chances are very good that next time this is up for changes it will land on her desk.

I’m doing a dance of joy! The project has been signed off! I copy it onto the pre-press server and drop the final proof onto Steve’s desk. It’s about time I can focus on something else.

My brief moment of joy evaporates when Jack comes around in a full sweat.

“Keta you have a list of all the dates for the First Aid Regs right?”

Even Petra spins around in her chair. “Yeah Jack it’s right here.” There’s so much it needs it’s own drawer in the filing cabinet.

“Better give me all the proofs too Keta.” Jack looks like he’s about to have a stroke.

“What’s going on?” Petra asks in alarm. Steve was walking by and stops to listen as well.

“RC has called a meeting with the Chair and a few other higher-ups. They want an explanation for why this project took so long.” Jack looks over my list of dates (it takes up a whole page) and visibly relaxes. “Oh, this is great. It looks like they had it for three days every time and we always turned it around on the same day. This is perfect.”

Steve and Petra try to prod him for more info but he has to go. I worked hard on that project, and on the booklet thing before it. This sucks that they are now trying to make headaches for Jack.

We sit around discussing the incident for a bit, trying to extrapolate what exactly might be going on in the boardroom. We’ve barely gotten back to work when Jack returns to plunk everything back on my desk; it’s clear all is well again.

“Tell me exactly what happened Jack.” I can’t let something like this go by without learning as much as possible; if it’s that easy to get burned around here I either have to cover my butt to an infinite degree or make a fast exit.

“Oh, it was very quick. RC spoke first for several minutes about how slow we are and how badly we work. Then they gave me a chance to speak; I just pulled out this sheet and starting reading off dates. ‘In, Jan 16, out Jan 17. In, Jan 21, out Jan 22. In, Jan 28, out Jan 28, etc.’ I had the big stack of proofs beside me, they thanked me and sent me on my way. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.”

Jack returns to his office feeling completely vindicated, Steve and Petra just laugh and go back to work. I however, am truly alarmed. Donna likes to comment that printing is the last department with any project so we always get blamed if it is late to press. I think there should be some recourse, some way to let the powers that be know that it is not our fault; that people don’t bring it to us when they are supposed to, pushing back the entire deadline. I also don’t like the idea of working hard on something and not only not getting thanked, but actually getting shit-kicked for my efforts!

Clearly I’ll have to watch my back.

CONTINUED . . .