“Despite what you may have heard, I am not crazy.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Four

Standing Tall

Last chapter I briefly mentioned choosing the path of least resistance. Finding an easy route to navigate through life. Why make it difficult when alternatives can suffice?

Sophomore year of high school wasn’t any different. Every possible method short of ditching and skipping out was tried on my end. My desire to finish high school ranked at the top of personal necessity.

Once I’m released from this nightmare, life will be better.  Just get through it as fast as possible. What ever it takes.

If something can’t be explained to me in a method that makes sense, I won’t have the capacity to understand it. Plain and simple. If the answer is akin to, “This is the way it is, and it’s right because it’s right, and the answer is accurate because… reasons… and I can’t explain the why, accept the facts as facts.”

I won’t get it. I’ll only have more questions.

Therefore, math was my Achilles’ heel.

The instructors couldn’t drill it into my brain. They’d sigh and frown, shake their head reeking of exasperation, pacing around the room, rolling eyes and loosening ties.

“Look,” He’d lean across my desk and drop a shaking finger on the equation in question. “Carry this over. Deduct blah blah blah, multiply the square route and additional math terminology, and solve for x-y-z, etc.”

“But… why?”

“Because.  That’s the way it’s done.”

“Just because that’s the way it’s done, doesn’t make me understand why, Mister Strictmath. Can you explain why the equation is broken down this way, to provide the answer? Don’t show me how to go through the motions to solve it, show me why it’s done this way. Educate me. Please?”

Whether the instructor was incapable of finding a way to force my understanding of it, or I outright refused to absorb the knowledge provided, either way, I still have yet to use any of what was taught to me in school, in the subject of high school math. I have yet to find a need to solve for X or Y, or incorporate the number Pi into anything.

Since misery loves company I luckily wasn’t alone. I was among a handful of students who struggled in this area. On my second attempt in algebra (first attempt, Freshman year, failed miserably) the teacher graded me on a curve so he wouldn’t have to deal with me and my ignorance for a third time.

Thank you, Mister Strictmath. You are a blessing in disguise.

Then he was stuck with me for geometry my Junior year. I remember saluting him with a smile on my lips as I sauntered through his door on the first day back from summer vacation.  He crossed his arms and chuckled, “Well, Jeremy. We meet again.”

Back in the day (can’t believe I can say that now) graduation requirements involved at least two years of math and four years of English, plus everything else. I plowed through my history classes, science, “shop” and whittled down the criteria to the bare necessities.

Because I managed to get through science fairly unscathed, was not a reason or an invitation to pursue higher science in any capacity, such as physics. No thanks.

The mandatory subjects were completed and my Junior year consisted of geometry, a fine arts course, and English. My Senior year,the only primary requirement for graduation was high school English.

It was the glorious morning, entering the wide spacious area of my fine arts class, where ultimately I found my first love.

I had a passion so fierce it can’t be explained. All my thoughts, attention, unwavering focus and utter devotion centered around one thing.

In 1993 it was called, Graphic Arts.

Today, it may have the name, Graphic Communications.

My friends and I had a ball in that class. We silk screened tee shirts with fake logos, which we thought up from scratch. Created business cards and school fliers.  Helped with the yearbook, sketched fun comics, animated flip books, and designed invitations for school functions; such as prom and sporting events. Our imagination was the topic of discussion for the entire class each and every day, and the results thereof.

After some time in that classroom I was provided the option to attend a nearby vocational school for the remainder of my time in prison. Attendance at VoTech would provide extra credits towards graduation and look good on future transcripts.

Whatever it takes.

I found some freedom at the new school.  Everyone at vocational found a subject they could focus on exclusively and were able to commit to their subject of interest. Auto-body, metal work, wood working, law enforcement, nursing.

That’s where I met her.


An ABD 360, offset, multi color printing press.  I was familiar with Janet’s sister, Heidelberg and enjoyed her company and capabilities, but Janet consumed me.

I knew her inside and out.  Every gear, chain, cog, pulley and belt. Every sound she made was memorized, and I could anticipate impending issues and troubleshoot in real time. I could tear one down to the floor into little pieces, rebuild it, and make it run better than it was before.

Before everything transformed to computer software, super fast photocopying and high tech devices, printing a product from a press involved multiple steps.

Photography was first, making intricate adjustments to aperture and shutter speeds as needed. Developing the negative in a darkroom.  Manipulating clip art on a computer screen to suit our needs; cutting and pasting (with scissors and glue) and designing a template.

Then, through a series of intense lighting and developing the solid image onto transparent plastic, we could then utilize magnifiers to zoom in on pixels, dust spots, rough edges and problem areas and scrape away black, extraneous material with sharpened tools. The picture  on the plastic is then “burned” onto a thin metal plate and washed with a series of chemicals.

The thin plate is then stretched around a metal drum on the printing press, ink is applied on rollers and drawn into the machine through a series of smaller drums and controlled pressure, the ink sticks to the image on the plate, a sheet of paper is guided onto a conveyor belt, shoots under the metal plate and the ink transfers the image to paper.


As long as the ink and paper is consistently fed into the machine when needed, the press will print non stop until the time the metal plate stretches, breaks down, and deteriorates.

Janet was my baby.

My instructor spoke with a school committee to have me compete in a regional competition. To this day I don’t know if he knew what my battle would entail, and did what he did as a favor, but I agreed and trusted the man and signed right up. My only advanced knowledge– I’d be starting at the design phase and produce X number of flawless finished products.

The judges would review the end product from each of the competitors and declare a winner based on a lengthy checklist of details.

It was the strangest battle I’ve been in, and I’ve been in some tough scrapes.

I ran unopposed, as there were no other local signups. No schools in the area wanted to participate in that specific subject.

I worked a quick small job at my own speed, just to say I did it, and the committee granted me a gold medal by default.

Even if the end product was garbage, I’d still win. Ha ha ha.

Goody goody for me, everyone.  Yeah… Look what I did.

It’s sad and pathetic, but the win allowed an opportunity to compete at the state level. I was automatically provided a chance to battle against all the schools in the state, technical, high school and other vocational institutions. Some competitors working at a college level.

I was terrified. From zero opposition to battling it out with eleven diverse students I’ve never met.

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the bus at the hotel that Saturday morning. The events of that weekend was my first ever competition.

My instructor guaranteed he’d attend and watch each event and he hovered as close to the sidelines as possible; cheering me on in his own quiet way. He was a hell of a guy.

The weekend was sectioned into blocks of time.  The finished product was expected on Sunday and the award/dinner ceremony for all competitors lasted through Sunday evening.

I had flawless marks in all categories. A perfect design.  The perfect negative, transparency and plate, and rumor had it a CEO of a large local print shop was in attendance scouting out college students.

Sunday morning I slapped the plate on the drum, worked the ink into the machine, stacked my paper, went through the motions with switch flipping, dial turning and lever pushing, and ran some test sheets to find my ink balance.

I had twenty minutes to complete the job.

If memory serves, we needed to produce fifteen perfect sheets.

The issue with time is the perfection of the product. The test sheets are the most vital to the process. Once a test sheet spits out the other side it’s checked to unsure the image is centered, blemish free and the ink is flawless.  The first sheet spells out any adjustments that may need to be applied to the machine. Shifting the plate, decreasing drum pressure.

The actions that burn up time.

Not until the test sheet shows perfection can the worker feel comfortable allowing the machine to run at full force.

The judges made a bunch of excuses as to why the machine failed seven minutes in, but my competition ended as quick as it started. The rest of the students continued on with their battle and time stopped dead for me.

My instructor came to my work station and the judges gathered around my machine.

One judge lowered his voice, “It’s been beaten up pretty bad this past week.”

My instructor spoke back, “Can you grant him extra time?  Have him start over on an available machine?  When someone else is done?”

“No, no. All competitors compete within the allotted time.”

I looked to a corner where an unused, slightly broken printing press sat collecting dust and glanced to my instructor, “Can I use that one instead?  I’ll use parts from one and fix the other.”  I looked to the clock, “please, I can finish in time if you let me fire that one up.”

The judges looked to my teacher and he half shrugged, “if he says he can do it, then let’s see if he can.”

I lost two minutes while chatting.

I cannibalized parts from one press and created a workable machine and when ‘thirty seconds remaining’ was yelled out from the bystanders, my last sheet came out and it was almost flawless.  One border along an edge had a hair width line partially out of place.

I was granted a gold medal that afternoon. Deemed the best in the state. The judges couldn’t believe I was able to fix it mechanically, run my tests from scratch, and produce a finished product in the time remaining.

I was on top of the world.

My Senior year was devoted to an hour of English in the morning and the rest of my day hanging out with Janet.

After graduation, I worked with a small group of students through the summer, at VoTech, and we made some money working small jobs for local businesses. Fliers, tri-fold brochures, business cards, and three of us designed and printed statistic booklets for a sporting goods store. We called it the Summer Printing Program. My actual first paying job.

I had a diverse portfolio, two gold medals and credentials. My name and picture in the newspaper. I sought and researched employment in local print shops that operated with high end models and expensive gadgets.

I eventually landed a position at a printing shop and after my orientation phase, I was placed with another gentleman in a computer and designing station. The presses were housed in the basement and it was an elitist position.

Based on my findings, the only way to run a printing press around these parts is to wait for someone to quit, get fired or die.

One month later, while manipulating  and working on a preexisting template stored inside a folder on a desktop computer, I accidentally destroyed (as in gone, not retrievable, disappeared into the aether, could not be recovered by IT services, destroyed) over one million dollars worth of company files.

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