job in a pritning plantMy first paying job was in a dirty book factory.

I don’t mean a grimy, grey, concrete facility located underneath a motorcycle dealership, although it was that too. I mean it was a place that printed and distributed “obscene” books and magazines. Obscene by the standards of the day. You can pick up more salacious material in the grocery checkout lanes now.

I was 15 and my mother decided that I should spend my summer vacation working. Looking back it was probably as much to limit my freedom to run loose in the neighborhood with my raging teen hormones as it was to provide me pocket money. So she put me to work with her and one of her friends in the printing plant.  How she got that job is a whole story if its own that I may tell one day.

If her intent was to control my hormonal impulses I have to admit it was an excellent ploy. It takes a surprisingly short time to get bored looking at pictures of naked men and boys. What really did the trick was being assigned to hand collate many copies of a little series of books called Male Nudist. There were six volumes. By the time that task was complete I figured I’d seen ‘em all, many times. 

This did skew my expectations somewhat, so there were some disappointments awaiting me in the future.

My Duties

I learned to strip up negatives into flats to make plates for the press. I ran a print justifier (this was in the days before digital anything), jogged paper for the press, helped out in the dark room, touched up negatives, collated books for binding, worked in the mail room, swept up and did pretty much anything else that needed doing that no one else wanted to do. I even got to draw shorts onto two nude men featured on a book cover. No nudity allowed on the covers I guess.

It’s been almost 50 years since that job and I still call upon things I learned; how to set up an efficient mail stuffing line, what a well-balanced printed page should look like, book pagination, the difference paper selection makes to the finished product, what’s involved in preparing a job to go to press, darkroom processes, work flow organization, and so much more.

I can still remember the smell of plate developer, probably toxic as hell, but I loved it. And that one handsome young man wearing nothing but football shoulder pads (in Volume 3, I think.)

What was your first paying job? I’d love to know if there are lessons you learned that still serve you today.