James E. Campbell, the principal of my all-American white trash rodeo of a high school, had devised a fool-proof system to guarantee posters hung on campus were official: he would sign them all in the lower right-hand corner. Unfortunately for James, I had fifteen periods of Graphic Art Shop a week and a hellbent obsession to plaster Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd lyrics up and down the corridors of higher learning. I mean, how deep is it when Robert Plant sings? I had a responsibility to spread the genius.
(I saw a lion he was standing alone with a tadpole in a jar.)
Graphic art shop nestled across the hall from Wood Shop, Metal Shop and Ag Shop. I did a little stint in Wood Shop but sniffing glue in the backroom with the rest of the class really wasn't my thing. Metal shop doubled as a free labor internment auto mechanic camp for the bus depot. And the Aggies kept to themselves, identifiable in their gang 4H jackets. But graphic art shop, well, it featured some interesting advantages:
There was a dark room.
Mr. Kreider fancied himself not so much a teacher as a print shop operator. He rode the school printing press like the father in A Christmas Story rode the oil furnace in the basement. The fact that 20-odd teenagers happened to be in his immediate vicinity never really captured his interest or attention. It didn't much register if some or all of those teenagers disappeared for lengthy and random intervals.
We had an unlimited supply of typesetting equipment, paper of all sizes and rubber stamp fixins.
On the downside, our apathetic ink-smeared teacher would select one sacrificial lamb each class as his assistant to run the printing press. He'd make you keep an eye on the paper rollers. Cross your fingers nothing would go awry, because if you touched the press, there was a solid 50/50 you'd be lit up by an electric shock transforming you into paralyzed Andy Gibb until you fell on the floor and your hand lost contact with the steel.
I made it a point to be as inconspicuous as possible at the top of the hour. I had my aforementioned obsession to attend to.
(But but but around the town it was well known when they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives...)
First, we collected a random sampling of official posters featuring the official James E. Campbell signature from a cross section of campus locations. As long as you had a lavatory pass, no one would bother you if you were out and about in between bells. Luckily we in Graphic Arts Shop were honing our craft and probably a reputation for irritable bowel syndrome. We manufactured a skid of first-rate lav pass forgeries. There were a lot of entrepreneurs at AC High School. Most of them sold speed, pot and meth. We Graphic Art Shoprats sold forged documents and rubber stamps of teachers' signatures. You could custom-order your dad's if you paid up front and brought in a clean original.
After an in-depth handwriting analysis spanning at least four hours and involving practically everyone in Graphic Art Shop, we fashioned a prototype of James E. Campbell's John Hancock. This prototype was taken into the dark room and burned onto film, then onto a press plate. From there, it was as simple as printing 1000 copies on poster-sized paper. Suddenly, the hallways were filled with much more colorful signage options and my dream of plastering the poetry of classic rock the entire way up and down C Hall was realized.
Through this experience, I picked up on the crucial nature of details, the value of teamwork, and that you can't rely on glue-sniffers for even relatively simple tasks. It was probably the most I'd learned all year.
Foregoing the bliss of ignorance, I stepped up to the newspaper machine.
Clink. I deposited quarters in the slot, pulled open the hinged door. The newspapers were piled up inside. I leaned over and grabbed one. My glasses fell off and landed inside the machine. The door slammed shut.
Bubby R always said Great-Bubby Frimmer hoisted thrifty to a radically new level. Fabric shopping with her... oy vey. It always turned into a farshlepte krenk already. She'd haggle with the clerk at Woolworths, for the love of Got.
Suddenly, I recalled this ancient family kvetching in the middle of the whole affair on Canal Street. Actually I was on Broadway, just south of that enormous kinky reggae impenetrable sidewalk swarm that goes on down there 24-7. But I was not there to buy a Rastafarian bobblehead. I was there because I couldn't go back to the Lower East Side, where I had overwhelmed myself in the claustrophobic labyrinth textile warehouse firetraps. They made me all shvitsy. I suffered a panic attack in the woolens aisle and had to call Lynn to talk me down.
That's why I went on the Yelp! and pinpointed a fabric storefront of managable proportion. Despite the risks to my psychological well-being, I was hellbent for Velvet. I had this grand vision to create a decadent table strewn with velvet and set with a magnificent feast.
And thankfully it was a eureka moment there on the fringes of Chinatown. Out front the fabric store was an industrial laundry cart filled to the brim with scraps of faux fur, shimmery satin and velvet. So perfect for an opulent banquet fit for pirate.
I picked out half the cart before I realized nothing had a price on it. I hauled my take inside the store and found the alter kaker shop owner.
He picked up the piece on the top of my pile. "$5 for this one. And for this one.... $8."
And instantly, like magic, I turned into Bubby F. "What?! Gonif. $5? $8? I'm a shnook to you? See that stain? See that rip? I'll do you this favor and give you $2 tops for that one and $4 for this one."
We went through the ENTIRE MOUNTAIN of fabric in this fashion. Approximately an hour later we had dug down to the last scrap... a fragment of electric blue feather boa. This is when the moment turned contentious and the bickering dragged on for long enough that both of us forgot the total price we had previously agreed to. The shop owner threw up his hands and spat "$40 for the lot of it. That's it. Take it or leave it."
I decided to take it, tokhis oyfn tish, but when I got up to the cash register I only had $38 in crumpled bills. The cashier took it.