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Blast from the past: 3-15-1998

Life of a press operator

Today I got fired. (3-15-1998)

I was just starting to enjoy my new day shift job. I had been cutting paper for about 2 weeks. A paper cutter in a print shop is the person who takes the paper from the paper truck, un-boxes it and trims it down to the size that is needed by the press operator. He also trims the paper down to the finished size (ie: a business card) after the paper has been printed by the press operator.

I had never worked full time as a paper cutter before. I knew I couldn’t possibly be fast enough just starting out in a new job, using a fancy computer controlled paper cutter. I had hoped that I could at least be accurate. And in fact, I was extremely accurate, making one bad cut in 2 weeks. But, the price I paid for that a____ retentive accuracy was cutting very slowly on anything complicated. One of the other main cutters makes at least one bad cut a day. But he is very fast, having run that machine, or one similar for over 20 years.

Me working overtime on a Heidelberg GTOV in Seattle in 1997
Me in my former career as a journeyman press operator. This is a 4 color gtov 15×20 inch Heidelberg printing press.

This photo is me in my former career as a journeyman press operator. This is a 4 color gtov 15×20 inch Heidelberg printing press. I was working Sunday and had worked 45 hours in 3 days. I was completely alone in the printshop, and I think it was the 4th of July.

Our full-time, professional paper cutter walked out on us two weeks ago. He had been going to school after work learning Pre-Press. He couldn’t even give us one day of notice. I never liked him anyway. Guys that carry a purse are confusing and I never could figure him out. He had a beautiful wife and kids. Why does anybody these days need to dress like a hippy?

I put in my time as a hippy back in the early seventies. But back then it was much more mainstream. We were protesting a war that we thought was wrong, and a civilization that we thought was mis-guided. The reason I am (in 1998) working in this blue collar job is a direct result of my choice back then to live the “Real” hippy life for three years, instead of taking advantage of the free college education my parents were offering. But I digress.

J___, our former full time paper cutter walked the walk and talked the talk. He had the long greasy hair, the hand painted Volkswagen bus, the tie died tee shirts, the ragged shorts and worst of all, that purse. The stupid thing looked exactly like the leather bags from the seventies that hippies used to carry around with the beaded peace sign and the leather tassels. I just couldn’t figure it. Here he was, doing a very technical, efficient job in the printing industry, studying computer graphic design after work in Seattle. What was the point of the hippie act?

My printing press, a Heidelberg GTOZ
My printing press, a Heidelberg GTOZ

But back to being fired. I saw my boss walking around with a young scrawny stranger who was clearly familiar with a print shop. That took me about 5 seconds to figure out. My co-worker saw it instantly also and asked me who that was. I said I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. My boss walks up to me and says,

“Mark, this is ____. He is our new cutter operator. You’re fired.”

“Well, that didn’t take very long,” I said. He grinned. We both knew that the shop couldn’t plug an important pressman into the cutter job for long before feeling the pinch in press production. Customers come to us because they know we (I) will be there on swing to clean up whatever the day shift crew didn’t get done plus my normally scheduled jobs on whichever press is busy. I looked over at the 7 or 8 jobs yet to cut on the schedule. I had been there 7 hours. A painful memory of the nightmare 14 hour day yesterday passed briefly before my bloodshot eyes.

“Gee, if I am fired, that means I don’t have to work overtime tonight?”

“Well, actually the plan is you will come in at 1:30 tomorrow as a press dog.”

“No, I like the sound of being fired. Unemployment insurance, springtime is coming, painting out in the sunshine…I don’t know if I want to come back tomorrow. In fact, I am not sure I want to come back at all,” I said with a grin.

“Say,” the new guy asked, “How do you program this cutter?”

“I am just learning it myself” I said, turning to the keyboard and puzzling over the latest malfunction. The keyboard is way past needing an overhaul. I talked to them all for a few minutes, told my boss I’d see him tomorrow and punched out.

 Just another horror story in printing.

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