Several years ago I produced an instructional video series on survival skills; we grouped these videos under the term “neo-tribal”: taking modern, easily-scrounged materials and using primitive or less-modern skills to make them into tools.
Nothing in particular has elicited this post; it’s just something that I’ve been thinking about for years and I want to get it out there so it no longer has to take up space in my intellectual attic.
When I worked in the video production department of a small but notorious publishing company, the department had a staff of two: the Video Production Manager and me. My job title changed depending on the mood of the manager: sometimes I was a Video Production Associate, sometimes a Video Producer.
Sometimes something unprintable.
We worked closely with many authors to develop video projects. With a staff of two, we did everything: contracting, set design, lighting, sound, camerawork, video editing, marketing, still photography. We shot video in the studio and on-location across the country (and sometimes in Canada; remind me to tell you about the Canadian carnet). I enjoyed the work. We went to all sorts of places and met all kinds of incredible people with remarkable skills.
Eventually I became the Video Production Manager. My workload increased tenfold, but I still enjoyed it, and it showed in increased sales and production quality. I wasn’t a parent at the time, so the travel and longer hours weren’t so much a problem. (If you’re reading this, my beloved wife, I did miss you on those on-location shoots!) There’s no such thing as having a bad day on a limited-budget video shoot: you have to be 100% mentally and physically all day long and into the night. Great stuff. I learned that any limits I had were entirely self-imposed, a lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
However, there was one troubling aspect to the job: it changed my relationship with certain people, and not for the better. Some of the authors whom I’d worked with as a Video Production Associate were markedly nicer and more friendly once I became Video Production Manager. Not all, but some. To some extent, this is natural: you want to be close to people who can do more things for you. Still, I had worked closely with these people through production and post-production and thought that I’d had them figured out.
I noticed this difference of attitude early on, made a note of it, and didn’t let it affect my decision-making. But it did teach me another very valuable lesson: determine who your real friends are. It’s a thing you have to experience for yourself. Learn how to separate people into categories, as unpleasant as that sounds. A real friend is someone who doesn’t want anything from you except your presence in his life. The others, the ones who will call you friend but just want things from you, they’ll fool you. It takes time and life experience to determine the difference. Some people never do.
I still retain some very good friends from my time in publishing, men and women I’m honored to know and speak with. So I have no complaints. And I make new friends in my new endeavors all the time. I’m very fortunate.
Is this cynicism, or experience?
One of the projects I’m most proud of during my time as the director of video production for a small but notorious publisher was the book and video project Battlefield Pankration by Jim Arvanitis. It’s a turnkey personal defense system, including everything from pre-combat de-escalation techniques to handling weapons like sticks and knives. Jim stands out among a hugely overpopulated crowd not just for his skill, knowledge base, and devotion to fitness, but also his personal experience in actual fighting. Until you know how you’ll react to being hit in the face, you have no business teaching self-defense. Jim Arvanitis is the real deal.
For over ten years I worked in supermarket retail, doing various jobs. I worked my way through high school and later through an indifferent college career and beyond. There were parts of it I very much enjoyed, and parts I loathed, which is pretty much typical when it comes to working.
Night crew was a blast, despite the hours. Most of us were young and strong, and the work was very easy. We got time and a half on Sundays in those days. Because it was a union store, we weren’t paid on performance, only longevity. It’s very difficult to get fired when you’re in a union. Here are a few night crew highlights, which I’m calling flash non-fiction so they just won’t seem like dumb little stories of things that happened:
- Howard was an older man: moved slowly, talked very little, and had more seniority than the rest of us put together. This is meaningful when you’re working in a union store. A likable enough fellow. He would start every ten to six shift with two two-liter bottles of Seagram’s wine coolers, and over the course of the night would polish them both off. Every shift. None of us commented on it when he was around. That was what he needed to maintain. Howard was, in our parlance, hard-core.
- Some of us did whippits. Not all the time, but when you’ve done all the work allotted to an eight-hour shift in four hours, you need to fill up the rest of the time. There was a trick to it: if you shook up the bottle, all you’d get was whipped cream up your nose. So you had to get one that hadn’t been shaken up. We used the store brand whipped cream, but not because the nitrous oxide in it was any better; it was on the bizarre premise that people expected a poor product from the store brand versus the more “premium” Reddi-Wip. Nobody got addicted that I know of, and nobody died, at least when clocked in.
- Turkey bowling was a thing, but not as much fun as you’d imagine. They didn’t wax the floors more than once a month in our store, and if you skated a frozen turkey across a waxed floor, you’d start scraping the wax off the tiles. That would create grooves for dirt to get into which made it difficult for the other guys to clean. The unwritten rule was to have fun, but not make more work for anyone else. So we had to do turkey bowling in the dairy aisle, which had grouted, unwaxed tiles. The rough “alley” made for a difficult game, and we only did it just to say we did it (turkey bowling and stories of it have been around at least since the 1980’s).
Those were the days.
We had gone to Maryland to shoot a martial arts video with someone you might have heard of; he was an actor on the show WMAC Masters and had once been featured on an A&E program about former felons who had gotten their lives back on track. His name is Willie “Bam” Johnson. I had worked with him on a self-defense project ten years earlier and found him to be a very strong, fit, and decent man. So when it came time for us to shoot another video, I jumped at the chance.
We were in the production phase of a shotgun video intended to take the viewer from firearm selection to the penetrating power of various rounds (slug vs. birdshot vs. buckshot) to bare-bones shooting tactics. Across the board, it was a great instructional video, and arguably the best of its kind.