Before I could leave it behind forever, I had to squeeze whatever money I could from New York.
After 20 years at home and half a philosophy M.A., a year of pavement pounding and ten thousand resumes emailed into the void, of course I had to end up there: the graveyard shift, midnight to 8 a.m., proofreading 401(k) reports.
It wasn’t quite a bloody horse’s head in my bed, but the cruelly smashed blue pencil laid at my computer station still spoke pretty loud. The trainee typesetters were on my case. The assets and liabilities tables weren’t going to be pretty like a picture tonight.
My guts were quivering like Homer Simpson’s blubber, but I couldn’t let them see me cry. And I wasn’t here to make nice with the typesetters.
I picked up my work, chose my words carefully, and spoke with any honey that years of hard living had left in my voice.
“Danny, could I have file FE printed out again… my checksum isn’t matching up.”
Danny looked at me, his Irish eyes cold and hard. He just nodded. He hated me, but I had his number. He’d do what I wanted.
The printer spat out the pages. I picked up the paper, compared it to the client copy. Brought my red pen to the fore and then my heart sank. I wasn’t sure, wouldn’t bet my mother’s life on the meaning of this client’s instruction. You can’t make mistakes in the job of checking other peoples’ mistakes. I looked up; I laid it on them straight.
“I’m going to have to check this with Ivan.”
The very air shuddered.
Ivan strode like a colossus astride the graveyard composition staff. A very small, socially maladapted, colossus. He was a man who knew when to use a hyphen in anal retentive (not there!) and yet his eyes spoke of pain.
My feet were reluctant to get started when silence hit me like a very quiet brick. Ivan was standing in the doorway, his hands covered in blood. I gasped.
Ivan’s brow furrowed. It furrowed a lot. You could have grown corn in those furrows, fed a starving family in India, if there were any starving Indians left in this crooked, outsourcing world of ours.
He looked at his hands; he looked at me. It was a look that said everything. It said he wanted out, but couldn’t find his way.
It said I had missed an edit on page S-3 and I was a frigging moron.
Oh. That wasn’t blood. That was just a page Ivan had marked up in his bloody hieroglyphics with his bloody red pencil. I really should wear my glasses more often.
But I hadn’t missed that edit; the typesetters had ignored my markup and sent the pages out without my approval. This was my test. Their eyes followed me.
Lorenzo’s little piggy eyes would have showed pity, but he had no heart. It had been taken a long time ago when he lost his slot on second shift.
Jerome was a sweetheart. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home, but I still had 15 months left on probation from the last time I tried that. He couldn’t look me in the eye right now.
And then there were the kids, Val and Joe. They were young, tender. They thought graveyard was exciting. Val was sweet and pretty; she wouldn’t be on graveyard long. But Joe had the look of a long-timer; he’d turn hard and bitter in soul and soft in belly. He was going to die here.
Now they were being carefully attentive to their computers.
But at 5 a.m., all that matters are the haunted financials where the numbers move from column to column, the headings disappear into other dimensions, different realms of reality.
Ivan threw the pages down. “F— it, get rid of it,” he said, with his customary elegance. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I quickly did the edit and sent the document off to the customer service representative.
The typesetters seemed to breathe more freely, their keyboards suddenly singing like jihadists in a secret CIA detainment center. I had passed.
No one would ever know I nearly released a typo to the clients, in their pink supima cotton Brooks Brothers’ sweaters. They didn’t know what we did for them.
The night was almost over; soon we would go home, crawl back into the dark places we came from.
I’d have a drink or 12, get some sleep. I’d wake up in the dark.
And then I’d be back. There was another Securities and Exchange Commission filing deadline down the road.
Much of this column originally appeared as a Yarnslingers story by Leah Casner. Learn more about the group on Facebook at Yarnslingers.
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