Heavy Metal Madness: Life and Printing Go On
Author's warning: The following column is a self-indulgent, teary-eyed, "closure" piece about a fallen co-worker. I am justifying it on several flimsy levels, and counting that creativepro's editor-in-chief is an emotional wreck when it comes to the subject. (Editor's note: She is.)
- I found a statistic that showed cats are favored by "creative" people almost 2:1 over dogs, so I figure this audience is more likely than most to relate to the topic.
- Since more than 50 percent of creative design businesses are comprised of less than three people and are run by the owner (and many out of the home), I determined that creativepro.com readers are more likely to have a cat in their office or studio than say, gunsandammo.com readers.
- This audience is statistically inclined to be Mac users, and Mac users are said to be intelligent, sensitive people, and thus more likely to be cat people.
- In 1987, cats overtook dogs as the most popular pet in America, so odds are good that among the pet owners reading this column, more are likely to have cats than dogs (though it's certainly not an either/or choice-I'd like to think creativepro.com readers are also more likely to be dog people).
- Many great artists were cat lovers. Monet, Renoir, Thoreau, Buddha, Stravinsky, Hemingway, Jules Verne, and Mohammed. It's reported that Chopin's cat walked across the piano keyboard suggesting a melody that became part of a piece he called "The Cat Waltz." Sir Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Albert Schweitzer were all cat fans.
- And if that's not enough, it's reported that Hitler was a cat hater. It figures. There's something very sinister about anyone who dislikes cats. And since I know nearly every reader of creativepro.com is opposed to Hitler, then this column should appeal to everyone.
But just in case, for you non-cat people, I'm providing lots of great design images that happen to include cats. You can skip the text and just look at the pictures, unless of course your Windows machines won't display the JPEGs correctly.
Figure 1: Cats can be cool, as shown in the RCA album cover above, or ready to pounce, as in the logo for Cat's Paw shoe-repair equipment, below.
That was our cat Sable -- an animal who only said two things in her entire 14-year career: one cry that saved her new-born life, and one that ended it. She was the exact opposite of me, and I suppose that's why I always had an extra-soft spot for her. She loved physical affection, and never said a word. We use our animals as foils lots of the time, and Sable was the perfect foil for me.
My wife and I have gone through four heavy pet deaths together--one of the times in life when you most appreciate an intimate friend. This particular pet journey began in 1988, right around the time I bought my first Macintosh. It was a IIx, and I got it for less than retail from a mysterious Apple employee I met in a parking lot in Sacramento and paid in cash. We were living in Pacific Grove, California, which has to be the cat capital of America -- in every front window of every adorable little cottage-like house in town is the silhouette of a cat. We already had two of our own, along with my wife's sweet but clinically neurotic Irish Setter named Quiche Lorraine (the dog with no brain).
Figure 2: Before Photoshop, cats and dogs were forced into some pretty uncomfortable situations, as shown in these photos from the Rand McNally Elf Book series of 1958.
Every morning in Pacific Grove was cold and foggy -- in fact, every minute of every day was cold and foggy in Pacific Grove. I think the fog had something to do with the high number of cats -- for some reason cats and fog go together. One particular cold and foggy morning in July my wife woke me up and said, "Listen. I hear kittens."
I couldn't hear them at first but when I strained, I could just make out the unmistakable mew that only newborn kittens can produce. So up we jumped, put on our Ugg boots and braved the chill in search of the source. It didn't take long to find a small basket on the sidewalk near our home. One cat, a large black one (of five) had crawled out of the basket (no easy task) and was off to the side, screaming her head off. Her cries were the ones that had clearly gotten our attention.
We scooped them up, searched in vain for a mom cat, left notes, put up signs, ran ads in newspapers, and made every attempt to find the rightful owners. But we had no choice than to conclude they were abandoned. The vet said the kittens were only a few days old, and he gave them a 50/50 chance of survival. He turned out to be right.
Figure 3: Illustrators often picture cats as sophisticated and smart, as in this Mark Hess illustration for the book "The Intelligent Cat," above. And of course you can't say "kitten" without using the word "cute" as well.
So we hand-fed them, medicated them, bathed them, held them and buried them when necessary. Throughout the process, only one was no trouble at all. This cat, the one who had cried out so hard to get our attention, was the biggest, the strongest, and the healthiest looking. She ate well and never threw up. She never cried, seemed alert, and looked you in the eye. We never doubted she would survive.
Figure 4: Cat's have the largest eyes in proportion to body size of any mammal, a feature not lost on the designers of Halloween candy bags, as shown here.
Off to Work
My wife was working in the composing room at the daily newspaper in town, and I was doing marketing and production work for a custom furniture company. I was sending out for imagesetter film at the time to a pioneer service bureau in Santa Cruz called the Aptos Post, which was owned by Steve Manuses, one of the founders of Fractal Design. Before it sadly merged with MetaCreations and eventually became part of Corel (is there a more depressing story in the graphics software business?), Fractal was a pioneer in pixel software, developing not only Painter and a host of other artistic tools, but ColorStudio. This early and very capable Photoshop competitor was driven from the market by a devastating distribution deal with Letraset, which also killed Ragtime, FontStudio, and other good graphics software.
So with both of us being busy and the infant cats needing round-the-clock feeding to survive, I got elected to take them to work with me, since I had an office and my wife worked in a cubicle. By then only three were left, and we had named two of them, mostly as a way to identify each as we collaborated on their care. "Bring me the tiger one" lead to the name "Tiger." And the sickest one, who was also the cutest one, immediately became "Camille" after the role made famous by a dying Greta Garbo. The remaining cat, the strong one, was simply "the black cat."
Figure 5: Black cats and Halloween go together, of course, and for some reason cats are often pictured as song and dance animals.
Having baby kittens in your office makes you extremely popular, especially among the women. The only thing better is bringing in a newborn baby, but that's not something you can do every day. So I'd clomp up the stairs with my cat carrier, transfer the kittens to a fuzzy bed, and wait for someone to come in and play with them. I knew it wouldn't be long before "the black one" had a name.
Figure 6: Not all Halloween cats are pictured as sinister, and the whole black cat image was softened during the Victorian period as shown on these vintage postcards.
At this particular job one of my biggest technical challenges was accurately showing in print the various wood finishes and fabric colors of the furniture we sold. And I was working with a terrific furniture designer named Kipp Stewart who had studied with Charles and Ray Eames and not only designed the furniture, but beautifully photographed it as well. So sensitivity to color shift was a big deal around my office. But in those early days of desktop production, you were lucky to get out four pieces of usable film. The term "accurate color" was rarely whispered, and then only to suggest that accuracy is in the eye of the beholder anyway. Fortunately, I didn't screw up too bad, though several magazine publishers took the heat for my mistakes -- lucky I was also the media buyer.
One of the most difficult finishes to show was the darkest one, what the company called "sable," a dark black that showed a distinct shade of red when you looked at it in a certain light. It was a great color, and I never did capture it well in print. Nonetheless, it turned out to be an exact match with "the black cat," who turned a very beautiful red when you roughed up her long fir. So the black cat became Sable, and started her life as my work mate.
Figure 7: When children's book illustrators want to picture the ultimate friendship, they often show cat and mouse together as in these early Halloween images.
A Gold Watch
Over the years Sable and I would drift apart, depending on the office-cat policy in force at the time, and my work schedule. But I could always count on her for an eventual lap visit, and she was never very far, staring at you through a screen door, holding silent vigil in a window or appearing out of nowhere to block your path. She was still no trouble, never got sick, and never changed.
We reconnected during the last year when I set up my shop and moved my computer and desk in to where the cats live. Sable immediately resumed her role as my desk cat, and I immediately resumed the role of pushing her aside over and over again so I could work. We made a pretty good team and I could count on her to be quiet if nothing else.
Figure 8: Cats and dogs are frequently pictured together, despite a natural dislike for each other. These illustration and photos are from playing cards.
I knew something was wrong when I picked her up to throw her off my keyboard about a month ago. You get an instinct with your animals about things like weight gain and loss, skin condition, eye clarity -- you know, the same things that tip you off if something is wrong with a coworker. She was way too thin.
It's hard to get used to the cycle in these matters, and you always hold out hope that things aren't as bad as you fear. My experience with animals, though, is that by the time you know something is wrong, it's too late. The vet said to make her comfortable and let her go, it wouldn't even be worth doing more tests.
So of course we pulled out all the comfort stops-her choice of a heated bed, a down pillow, a cool beaded rug-whatever and wherever she wanted. I was honored that at first she chose to remain on my desk, or at least to visit me there while I was working. But after a few days she was so thin and weak she pretty much had to stay on the bed except for her brief dignity trips outside. Our best friends, and lifetime Sable fans, were scheduled to visit in three weeks, but none of us held any hope she could make it until then.
If you're an animal lover and you've made it this far, you'll have no problem accepting that animals have feelings, emotions and that we can communicate with them. Even if it's all in our minds, it's as real as anything else we experience, so I had no problem trying to communicate to Sable that her friends Mike and Ric were coming. And whether it was from that news or the cortisone shot the vet gave her, Sable made a bit of a comeback, and started eating and drinking again.
This went on day after day and each day we asked ourselves the diffuclt question: "Is she suffering?" And each day we said "no." A week went by, then two, and then we were within days of our friends visit. She was clearly going to make it.
On arrival our friends joined the vigil and added additional comforts to the mix. Hand-fed Pounce treats, Trader Joes Tuna for Cats (a long-time favorite), and fresh whipped cream were all put on the menu. Sable had a great day and ended it by sleeping on the bed with our friends and getting additional attention throughout the night.
We all knew the next day that it was time. Sable was a very proud cat but could no longer hold her head up. While the four of us discussed the situation, she let out a single, loud cry of the sort I've never heard from a cat before. So we took her in and we played God.
Figure 9: Sable in her younger days.
When I set up my shop and enlisted the three cats as my co-conspirators, I knew I was setting myself up for heartache. That's always the way with pets.
But now I'm back on schedule, the routine is normal, the focus is once again on the other pets, and life is moving ahead without Sable. I don't know when I'll re-arrange my desk to eliminate that empty spot next to the keyboard, but for now, I'm leaving it.
Read more by Gene Gable.
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