Hello Computer Graphics

In 1983, New York City had a raw feel. I stayed at a high school friend's apartment on Broadway and 12th Street. Rofe was actually subletting a room from a girl that was away for a few months. So, I kind of crashed there in the meantime. Our other roommates were... just about every mouse in the East Village. There were so many mice, we were catching them on glue traps - two at a time! It seemed routine, when coming home from work, to triangulate on where the death smell was coming from.

Most of my other friends from high school shared a railroad apartment on St Marks and 1st Ave - just down the street from Tompkins Park (which resembled a post-apocalyptic reservation replete with squatters in plastic teepees). The old St Marks Tavern was downstairs on the corner, and Strombolli Pizza (before it blew up, literally) was diagonally across the street. Leaving the building every morning involved a crunch crunch as you stepped on multi-colored crack vials that were like random land mines strewn across every doorway. We frequented many local dive establishments including the Blue & Gold - on 6th Street and the Grassroots Tavern. Friday’s would usually start at McSorley’s and end up down the Bowery at CBGB’s or over at the Palladium.

I was having lunch with my dad a few weeks after my legal career ended, and like a scene from the Graduate, he suggested computer graphics. There was a rack of magazines nearby and I picked through one of the pc trades.... and there was an ad for the Genigraphics Corporation. 

Classic Genigraphics system in action. Notice the three buttons on the top left. Attached is one color dye-sub printer.

Classic Genigraphics system in action. Notice the three buttons on the top left. Attached is one color dye-sub printer.

Presentation graphics was very much in its infancy. Before Powerpoint, there was Genigraphics. Genigraphics was developed by General Electric and spun off as a franchise. The Geni console consisted of a white tablet with a pen connected on the right. On the upper left were three white buttons: Select, Deselect, and Regenerate (Which would refresh the screen). All design moves made (i.e. aligning boxes or changing an object’s color) couldn't be seen in real time. Instead, you needed to "Regenerate" the image - which took about a minute - depending on the complexity of the image. So, it developed that the most efficient designers, could go the longest without Regenerating their screen.

Additionally, there was a typewriter, or “deckwriter” attached the the console. It was web fed with accordion computer paper. The deck writer ticked out a log of each time a file was saved, thereby allowing a manager to calculate how long it took a Designer to create a slide. Assembly-line mentality.

Genigraphics Corp had franchises in major US cities, including two in NYC - Lexington & 32nd Street and Broad Street in the Financial District. Business was booming. There were three full shifts of designers churning out presentations. Geni provided two weeks of training and then you were assigned a shift. I was offered either evenings (4:00PM - 12:00AM) or midnight (11:30PM - 7:30AM). The midnight shift offered a 15% differential. Also, I still wanted to hang with my friends and go to Yankee games and bars, and all that stuff happens between 4:00 - 12:00. So, I became a nocturnal.

Our work week began Sunday evenings at 11:30PM and finished Fridays mornings. We were a close crew, and after shifts, would hit whatever bars that were open at 9AM. The Gemini Bar on 2nd Ave was a favorite for Tequilla Sunrises. We'd catch the Breakfast with WNEW on location at the Cadillac Bar on Varick, and once shared a table with a just starting-out Joan Jett. Because there were few people awake at 4AM, we had a direct line to the overnight DJs at WNEW and would often get Mark McEwen (a future network weatherman) to play requests, "This is for the midnight Geni crew..."  

By this time, I was living in Jersey City. I'd take the PATH train to 32nd Street and Broadway, and then walk straight down the 32nd Street gauntlet to 255 Lexington. Directly across from the PATH station, was the grand welfare hotel, the Martiniqué. This place was abuzz at 11PM with dealers and prostitutes and the sidewalk was jam packed. I lived in a somewhat gentrified neighborhood in Jersey City, and came home most mornings to a variety of crack zombies wandering aimlessly around the block. I learned how to sleep during the day - with black window shades, and flipped around my meals, having dinner in the morning and breakfast around 5PM. Then, watch a Yankee game or meet my friends for drinks.

Widely used, Genigraphics' other core business was licensing their systems to Independent presentation companies. Some of these beauties included former stops: National ImageMakers, Manhattan Communications Resources Inc, and Masters (in LA). Much more to come on those wonderful experiences.

After finally making it to a day shift, I would head off to evening freelance gigs at JP Morgan, Bear Stearns, or occasionally take the NJ Railroad out to Morristown for 4 hours freelance at a shop on Speedwell Avenue.

After a year on the midnight shift, and losing at least a day of sleep each week, I was ready for a break. Through a family connection, I was introduced to Joe Weishar, a preeminent visual merchandise guru. I took off the Summer of 1984 and joined his firm, New Vision Studios, as an Assistant Art Director. They were gearing up for a makeover of the Canadian retail giant, MiracleMart - in Montreal, and I needed to learn the retail biz from scratch.