Letterpress List No. 23: No Clue

A trained monkey could do my job.

Even for Shop Boy, this was hard news to hear. Some years later, time has provided a little perspective. Still …

I could tell by the vocal patterns that the caller to my newspaper at the time, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, was a senior citizen. Folks like her called all the time with questions about how to write to Ann Landers, how to get the paper delivered a little more gently or why we never wrote “good news.” It wasn’t my job to have the answers, but the calls came nonetheless.

See, for the uninitiated, a newsroom consists of clusters of reporters, editors, artists and interns, none of whom wishes to take your call. If you phone the newspaper, the switchboard operator won’t bother to look up the proper extension but will blindly redirect you. The person who picks up will either handle your question or huffily forward you right back to the switchboard operator, who’ll send it elsewhere. It’s kind of like playing Battleship. When the operator finds an extension that doesn’t bounce right back — a hit — he or she keeps firing calls in that direction.

Well, call me a sucker, because I hated turning these increasingly frustrated people away. Which is how Shop Boy became, among other things, the Crossword Puzzle Editor. If, for instance, someone just couldn’t get the one word that would solve the entire puzzle, I’d say, “Let’s work through it together.” Same with the Jumble or any other puzzle. If we couldn’t find the answer in short order, I’d promise to call back, then I’d go figure it out and, yes, call back. (I even explained the meaning of a comic strip or two.) Well, heck, word of someone giving personalized service gets around.

So when this sweet little old lady on the other end of the line asked for the Crossword Puzzle Editor, I sighed and grabbed that morning’s classifieds section and thumbed through for the right page. She didn’t want to work the puzzle, though. Today’s answers didn’t match yesterday’s puzzle, she said. And she wanted to yell about that. As I struggled to figure out the problem and get her the right answers to the right puzzle, she kept fuming, eventually questioning my right to keep my position as Crossword Puzzle Editor and doubting my abilities to figure anything out. Yes, she dropped the “trained monkey” on me.

Then I did figure it out.

C.P.E.: “Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but I believe you might be looking at the puzzle from the wrong day.”

Caller: “Oh, there’s no way I … um … oh …” Click. She hung up on me.

I redirected the next call back to the switchboard. (Only that one, though, I swear.)

Mary and Shop Boy have never stopped giggling over this, despite how horrible I felt at the time. We even wear a monkey emblem on our Typecast Press lab coats.

OK, that’s also partially in solidarity with Paul Frank, whose company was stolen from him by his non-artistic partners — we, ahem, creative types could stand to learn a thing or two about business, eh? The iron-on patch featuring P.F.’s trademark Julius the monkey is a counterfeit, meaning no money for the bad partners. Bonus points!

True story: We were walking through a shopping district with buddies Lisa Pollak and Chuck Salter during a visit to Chicago a couple of years back. As a pack of young and proud-to-be-buffed cyclists approached, arrogantly hogging the road, Shop Boy spotted a Paul Frank outlet over their tanned shoulders and mentioned it to Mary, who excitedly whirled and shouted “Monkey Face!” — pointing toward the store and, unwittingly, directly at the passing mug of the lead cyclist. He about fell off his bike. Mary had no idea how she’d messed up the poor dude’s self-esteem until Shop Boy could quit howling and explain.

Somewhere the biker is probably giggling too, reminded of the incident by his friends every time they go cycling. Time heals. Perhaps, like the little old lady in Denver, he was humbled just a bit. Maybe Chicago and its streets are better places for it. Imagine … Me Shop Boy, you Mary, we Typecast Press. Making it a little less of a jungle out there.

Now, let’s see a trained monkey do that.

***

Letterpress List No. 23

Here’s about an hour of tunes to enjoy while doing your job so poorly that a monkey could be trained to replace you. (Apparently, Mary and Shop Boy aren’t the only ones obsessed with chimps.) Most should be available in the usual places.

Punish the MonkeyMark Knopfler (Let the organ grinder go.)
Bungle in the JungleJethro Tull (He who made kittens put snakes in the grass. Deep.)
Another PostcardBarenaked Ladies (Got some shaved chimps — that’s chimps devoid of any hair. Got some depraved chimps dressed up in the women’s underwear.)
I’m a Believerthe Monkees (Then we saw his face … hah! Talk about Smash Mouth.)
Shock the MonkeyPeter Gabriel (Strangely awesome.)
Wishing Well Terence Trent d’Arby (Hugging like a monkey see, monkey do. OK, it’s wimpy …)
Monkey Wrench — the Foo Fighters (There. Manly quotient restored.)
Banana PuddingSouthern Culture on the Skids (What else?)
Jungle BoogieKool and the Gang (Get down.)
Where’s Your Head At?Basement Jaxx (Mostly for the video, though the song’s great too.)
Head GamesForeigner (Just playing.)
Brass MonkeyBeastie Boys (17 Down [six letters, starts with M]: Funky ______.)
Bad TouchBloodhound Gang (Naughty mammals.)
Jungle LoveSteve Miller Band (You probably wouldn’t remember, I probably couldn’t forget … being called Monkey Face.)
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkeythe Beatles (Your outside is in and your inside is out.)
Happy PhantomTori Amos (Confucius does his crossword with a pen.)
Monkey to ManElvis Costello (Every time man struggles and fails, he makes up some kind of fairy tales.)
If I Had a Million DollarsBarenaked Ladies (Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?)

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