Proofreader's marks

I came to work as a Metro Times volunteer proofreader in 1988. A picture of me at age 10, lying on a bed with book open and a finger in my mouth, demonstrates my major qualification to proofread: I read all the time. Proofreaders at the time cooperatively learned the skill around a large conference table. Managing editor Toni Swanger assisted. She also reads all the time, with red correcting pen in hand.

I became part-time paid proofreader in 1990. I compare my view of big stories and events at MT to an ant looking up a mountain — to get the scoop I have to dig, and hang around awhile.

My MT Romance ad in 1989 resulted in a mention in The Detroit News gossip column Yours Truly for “Best Classified Ad of the Year.” It satirized the daily papers’ joint operating agreement: “SWM, 38, disgruntled Freep reader, desires SWF, 30-40, disgruntled News reader, to exchange unwanted sections of Sunday paper, and possible romance.”

My workday begins after a quiet 15-minute bicycle ride to the office. Coffee break, check e-mail, smoke with production department pals — then I settle in to proof the paraphilias of Savage Love, Brezsny’s astrology and the rest. A 1998 Esquire cover of a battered Jerry Springer hangs over my shoulder like a very unreliable angel.

Cheerful managing editor Kim Heron comes in. A jazz stalwart, a juggler, Kim also can be heard humming, happily, at 10 p.m. Monday, after working 12 hours. The arrival of the copy editor — metaphorically, the multitasking guy with three heads — is when the day’s copy battle begins. He edits raw copy and sends it through the computer to be put on a page. Then I proofread and he adds my corrections. The fun, or at least interactive, parts are the discussions and quips of a few English or journalism majors struggling to find the right word. A maybe cockeyed example is my headline for a Savage Love column on condoms: “Don’t rubber the wrong way.”

The search for that correct word can be sidetracked by power blackouts or lack of building heat (both have happened for up to three weeks — old buildings, national grid screw-ups). Or, thinking micro, a misplaced clipboard or the overwhelming aroma of Thai food or buttery popcorn can disturb the process. Former arts editor George Tysh loved music and played loud jazz horn and classical piano pieces. My taste, unfortunately, is for jazz piano and classical horn or stings music.

A favorite story is of seldom-shown rebelliousness by managing editor Dennis Rosenblum in, maybe, 1994. An “Up with People”-type singing group paraded around the office singing Christmas carols. Bad music, bad idea. Rosenblum jerked on his hat and coat, muttered “Christian B.S.,” and stomped out. I couldn’t blame him. Shalom, Dennis.

Larry Gabriel was managing editor around 1990, and later editor. He showed steady confidence in my work. His music was jazz, though his guitar renditions of Hank Williams Jr. tunes were also credible. His hair was worn in dreadlocks, which recalls a story from an MT golf outing Larry attended. He wore a dashiki and his dreads that day at the post-golf dinner. Self-assurance is required to do that. The middle-aged sales types at his table sneered, “You’re the editor of Metro Times?” Larry’s unperturbed handling of the give-and-take as much as said, “And who are you?” Judging by the cut of someone’s clothes wasn’t his thing.

Current copy editor Michael Jackman enjoys the irony that MT has a proofreader who’s legally blind (in my right eye). But, in 1996, when I was in deep trouble at MT (on probation, my job and income in jeopardy), the double vision of incoming dreadlocked supervisors (Larry and Kim) was a most welcome sight.

Maybe elsewhere in this issue is a prediction of what MT might be in 2030 — at 50. I’ll conclude with words from an olden Phil Ochs song.

“I’m a quarter of a century old,” he sang. “But I’m half a century high.”

Dennis Shea is Metro Times proofreader. Send comments to [email protected]
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