How I Worked My Way Through College

I love pulling this gag on a bunch of guys.

"Know how I worked my way though college?" I'd ask, then pause until all eyes were on me. Then I'd grin madly. "I was a stripper."

Invariably, all manner of rudeness and mayhem would follow. Then I'd add: "It's totally true." When the snorting and guffaws died down, I'd explain.

Back in my college days, printed materials—magazines, catalogs and such—began as multiple individual pieces of artwork glued to boards, called "paste-ups," which were photographed on negative film. The negatives were attached to large sheets of special paper, called "flats," which were then used to burn the printing plates. And the process of cutting and arranging the negatives on the flats was called "stripping."

That's what I did. Good strippers were paid very well, because all of the many negatives had to be precisely aligned on the flats—especially important for color printing, because this involved four separate printing plates that all had to be burned in precise registration. Since I'd become a good—and quick—stripper, I commanded handsome rates, often made more so because I mostly worked nights on rush jobs at double and triple normal pay. Like a doctor, I was also called in to fix problems others had caused.

Of course, talk such as this offers no end of opportunities for double-entendres, which often makes story-telling all the more fun. But in truth, my work as a professional stripper was quite rewarding, because print shop managers held great respect for the talent I (literally) brought to the stripping table.

In truth, I was quite adept at all stages of print pre-production, from typesetting to paste-ups, from darkroom work to stripping and plate-making, from press operation to bindery and finishing. But curiously, it seemed as though stripping often earned the greatest respect.

Ah, those were the days...

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