Monthly Archives: January 2017

On Process

THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION will have noticed that I am building in my Pinterest profile a series of boards full of pins containing reference images of stock decorative elements. The main board (the oldest one) is called Art Lessons. One of the more recent boards is Art Elements:

Many of the elements I’ve pinned there are oriented toward the design of ceramic tiles, about which I know a little (very little), having designed one.

In the fall of 2003, Sting’s Sacred Love album was released. And shortly thereafter, preparations began for a tour in support of the record. When long time Sting associate and tour manager Billy Francis contacted me to begin design work on the passes for the tour, he told me that Sting had played with a lot of diverse influences from around the world and wanted, as a theme, some Islamic influences. I immediately thought (though I didn’t say it then) of the line from Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”: By the blue-tiled wall near the market stalls/There’s a hidden door she leads you to./’These days,’ she says, ‘I feel my life/Just like a river running through/The Year of the Cat. The key point there being the “blue-tiled” bit. Moroccan tiles are famously blue. And intricate. And of wonderful workmanship. I don’t remember which one of us zeroed in on the ceramic tile design, but whoever it was, that became one of my focuses.

First, I found an image to be used as a reference. The image I found was perfect. It represented perfectly the tile I felt we were looking for. The only problem, as I remember it, was that the image was a photograph taken at an angle and the design wasn’t perfectly square and true, which meant, if I followed it exactly, my design would be all wibberty-jobberty. Not on. So I had to use it literally as a reference and NOT as a pattern. I had to figure out the size and proportions and the intervals, angles, and repeats geometrically. It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious.

Somewhere along in the process, I received in FedEx a DVD of photographs of Sting. The images were from a photographer (who works with Sting a lot) and had been heavily processed for use in the CD packaging for the Sacred Love album. Billy and I talked through ideas for the various pictures — this one to be used for the satin passes, that one for laminates, the third for signage and so-forth. We’ll do some post processing on one of them for the second leg and specials. (That may not have been the run of the actual conversations, but that’s how the process generally worked.) In the lot was a picture of Sting, barefoot, sitting on the floor with his back against a wall. The wall was in heavy shadow (The picture may appear in the CD package — I don’t recall.) I conceived the idea — harkening back to the “Year of the Cat” quote, of making a wall out of the tiles I was building — tilting them in perspective — and masking the figure of Sting to “float” above them so it looked like the wall he was leaning against was made of these beautiful Moroccan tiles of blue, white, and gold. Similar treatments in monochrome for the satin passes. (At the time we were still printing satin passes offset, not digitally, and so couldn’t print full-color except at great cost. Laminates were digital and so full-color, as well as being higher-value, so worthwhile doing something special (more on that in a bit).)

I worked the eventual pattern of the tile in CorelDRAW — giving myself the leeway to work the geometry in a vector application, which provided greater sharpness and precision to the design. Then I saved it out to Illustrator format which could be exchanged with Photoshop, where I had the ability to overlay color and lighting effects.

A fully-realized copy of the design, called startile with grout.

Although the image looks natural — and does more so in a smaller format and in perspective — it is wholly artificial. The geometric patterns are flat black-and-white. Each has an added color overlay and various shadowing and embossing or debossing to add the third dimension The white border is the “grout” to ensure that, in a step-and-repeat wallpaper pattern, there is a space between the tiles.

And, the “finished” product. Well, not completely. This is the base art, without type — which is added in CorelDRAW just before making up for printing. And I faked it. This isn’t the “real” image, but one I reproduced from memory. And, on the top-level laminate, issued to the inner circle of band, crew, staff, and management, the Sting logo script was stamped in gold leaf. I wish I could show the process of masking the image of Sting, and adding the shadow, but I no longer have access to those images, as they are the property of my former employer. Although, if you do a Google image search on Sting Sacred Love laminate, you’ll see a lot of other designs I did for this tour and other ones. (I never got the Sacred Love laminates onto my Pinterest board and, for some reason I can’t fathom, Otto has stopped displaying passes on their Web site. (CB: If you read this, can you shed some light on that?)

Throw Forward Wednesday: An Update

THE JOB I REFERRED COYLY TO the other week is no secret, I’ve just been coming to terms with it. It’s this simple: I’m driving for Lyft — the gig economy ride share service. In an interim progress report, it seems to be going well. I’m maintaining an acceptable-to-fair star rating and have a 100% acceptance rating (which probably means nothing to anyone not directly involved), and I’m making money. Not hand-over-fist, and not nearly $35/hour (though I can see how it’s possible). I can see how it can be a reasonable part-time job (I’m shooting to be on the road 36 hours a week), supplementing other income streams, or providing the mainstay of a diverse set of them.

The other day, Toni regaled me with some tales of her youth, spent in Detroit among a rich community of friends and family and a music scene that you have to see close up to realize how cool it would have been to be there.

Today, out doing my gig economy gig, I found myself taking a tour down memory lane, while listening to the nostalgia-inducing music of Crowded House on shuffle play on Spotify. I had a trip take me to the neighborhood that my high school crowd sometimes called Blonde Hill for the fact that my Jewish American Princess sweetheart lived there. After dropping off my rider, I tootled up the hill to what used to be her street. Just taking the turns at the stop signs, memories came flooding back. I followed the doglegs back to the cul de sac in front of her old house. There was another, similar one next to it that, somehow, I didn’t remember from back then. But I recognized the pattern of the windows on the front wall — the living room on the left, the kitchen on the right. The steep grade to the garage I don’t remember anybody ever using. They all parked on the street.

You have to picture all this to the sound track of Crowded House and a state of mind prone to fits of depressive nostalgia: she was the love of my life — the one who got away. She was entirely justified in leaving me, but, as Amanda Marshall put it, it broke me. I still feel it, but it was — also as the song goes — no-no-no-no-o body’s fault but mine. In a mood that grows out of Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I Loved Before,” I wonder whatever became of her. She’d be 61, now (she’s nine months younger than I). Is the petite girl who, on figure skates on Eden Park’s Mirror Lake, evoked Elton John’s Tiny Dancer for me still in there somewhere? God how I’ve missed her!

Then, a few moments later, I found myself again translated to another of my old stomping grounds — this time the University of Cincinnati area, called Clifton, and the various places I lived there in my early 20s, from leaving High School and hanging out in a co-op house near the Zoo, through my first solo apartment, the job at the Palace Theater, and starting out at Otto, on through until Toni and I, recently married, moved out of our expensive apartment on the other side of the hill to a house in a tonier ZIP code with a cheaper monthly mortgage payment.

Looking at this post, with its lack of a real conclusion, I suspect that the new job will be the source of other posts. I hope they will be entertaining. More-so than the one below, which finally explains from my perspective, what became of the greatest gig in the world and my mysterious departure from it.

“I Still Cry In the Night” — How I Torpedoed My Career

AND THREW AWAY THE DREAM JOB OF A LIFETIME in two or three keystrokes. It was really that simple.

Lawyers and others who deal in confidences place these mouse-type disclaimers at the bottoms of their emails (one assumes by default) to the effect of “This is privileged communication. If you’re reading it and not the intended addressee, stop, and discard the email. Notify the sender.” And such-like. Over the years, I had thought maybe we at Otto should have such a disclaimer on our stuff, but never did anything about it. It probably wouldn’t have helped me in my terminal situation, but I might have had at worst one leg to stand on, instead of having them both cut out from under me.

In the middle of a work week last December, I was, among my other tasks and duties, engaged in an exchange of emails with a person who was very thoroughly playing the asshole. They were jerking my chain and generally revealing themselves to be someone with whom I would never have a comfortable relationship. There have been others like that down the years. You meet lots of them in life … But this person was an unique specimen of the breed.

Watching a documentary on Netflix over the weekend: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Running Down a Dream, I found myself nodding in agreement with Benmont Tench (at least I think he was the one who said this), relating of a time he found himself disillusioned with the music business — how sleazy it is and how many slimey and corrupt, individuals — how many malignant narcissists — there are in it… and then allowing that he came to the realization that most business, indeed most of life, is like that and the music business is hardly unique in that way.

Well, moving along, I was begging to be relieved of the burden of dealing with this particular individual. But it’s matter of policy (one I myself can lay claim to, as a matter of fact) that we didn’t say, “No.” That there was always a way we would try to meet a prospective customer’s needs or demands, no matter how unreasonable they might seem. And, as it had been my prospecting efforts which had brought this person to light, I was kinda stuck with them. Nevertheless, I bitched. And there were sympathetic ears in the office for me to bitch to, as it was agreed that, good customer service aside, this person was pushing the outside of the envelope.

One morning, I found a message from them in my InBox. It was insulting in the extreme, full-on unearned condescension and a good deal of malign spew. I probably would have been justified in simply ignoring it. And, if I had, you probably would not be reading this sad tale. I forwarded it to one of those sympathetic ears with a note asserting that it was not our place as a business to tell a customer not to behave like that, but…

At least, I thought I did.

Turned out that, instead of hitting Alt-W to forward the message, I must have hit Alt-R to reply, because it seems my little mini rant, couched in terms virtually guaranteed to inflame your garden variety malignant narcissist, was actually sent to the person in question. I called a spade a spade, making no bones about it, albeit laying out said calling in a way that was not truly actionable. I didn’t say, “You, (sir or madam) are a douchebag,” I said, “It’s not our place to tell people not to behave like a douchebag.” Nevertheless, they threatened to sue if I weren’t fired. I’m at all not certain how libel can be shown to be the case in a private communication, but … whatever. My defense, pretty lame as it was was that I had not intended the message for the individual, but for my coworker, and, in my view, they had improperly intercepted a privileged communication. But I was quickly persuaded that wouldn’t fly. Although the matter clearly was not actionable, the mere bringing of a suit and the cost of defending it could prove ruinous, so, I had to — so to speak — lean in and take one for the team.

Of course, it would have been nice if my employers had said, “Scroom. You’ve been a loyal employee for 35 years and nobody dictates our personnel policy — NO BODY.” But it’s business and they didn’t. In fact, they couldn’t get me out the door fast enough.

None of which is the point of this plaint. After a tearful goodbye to my work wife, I cleared out my desk, changed what passwords I reasonably could, and handed over the rest, and rode the elevator down and out of the world that had been my life for 35 years, spanning five decades, three cities in two states, my marriage, and all the rest.

Last fall, a video crew from Kentucky Educational Television had been shooting in the loft and, in a conversational moment, I asserted to the producer/reporter that “Most of what’s on the walls here (framed passes and RIAA platinum disc awards) is mine.” In the course of my exit, my work wife repeated that back to me. I hadn’t even realized she’d heard me. How could 35 years of a life simply be thrown on the scrap heap like that? I still cry in the night.

Tonight I lay awake, thinking about it — running over the sound track of the aforementioned documentary in my mind — and wondered how many, of all the hundreds and thousands of people I’ve met and worked with over the years even know I’m gone? How many, when they find out, will even care? Will any of them miss me — miss the things I did for them? Over the years, I’ve tried to teach the front line folk that their job is first and foremost to be the customer’s advocate. Will that ethos survive in a bottom-line kind of atmosphere?

I think, in the intervening months, I’ve heard from two of my former clients: one the touring director for a top country act, the other the tour manager for a Mexican folk singer. Both I have known since the early eighties. I’m still active on LinkedIn and Facebook. You’d think SOMEbody would write or call to ask, “What happened to you?” But: crickets. I sometimes wonder if the person who got me fired (Do they know they ruined my life?) is glad of their kill and wears my figurative scalp on their belt with pride.

I guess it’s true, what Orwell said. In a time of universal deceit, truth-telling may be seen as a revolutionary (or criminal) act. Be careful who you tell the truth to. They may not like hearing it.