Body and Soul: White Noise Afternoon 


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"When I use offset, I e-mail the guy a file and pick it up the next day," says Sophie Howard, who designs stationery for many Hollywood executives and stars and who often spends an entire day at Aardvark. She'll come there with a basic design in mind, but she can hunt through those shelves and find some cool type font. She and Brooks will lay out the stationery -- a meticulous process in which lines of type are put in metal galleys and held in place by various size wooden blocks -- and make adjustments until it looks just good. Instead of using the standard ink colors, Brooks will mix his own, adding a little blue or yellow until Sophie thinks it's just right.

Brooks never did anything to attract people like Sophie. He and his dad, Luis, were running a sleepy print shop serving their working-class Latino neighborhood. Luis learned letterpress as a 13-year-old in Mexico City setting the type for newspapers. All of their pressmen over the years have been Mexicans or Central Americans who were trained in Nicaragua or El Salvador, places where offset printing never acquired the firm hold it has in the U.S. and Europe. Brooks never planned to become a master letterpress operator. "Here's the thing," he says. "I didn't really do that well in school. I didn't have a specific goal." So, he just learned to do what his dad did. He and his father spent much of the 1980s wishing they could get out of the letterpress business but never had enough money to invest in offset or in computers.

About 10 years ago, design students from Otis Parsons somehow found Aardvark and realized it was an easy place to get their printing-class homework done. Some of those designers became successful and remembered the place. Unlike many of his old customers who didn't care about letterpress -- they'd yell at him if the indentations were too great -- these new designers "get amazed. They say it's like a hidden art form." And in the end, that's what Brooks likes best about all this new business . . . maybe more, even, than the pretty girls.

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I LIVE IN A HOLLYWOOD APARTMENT with paper-thin walls. I eat dinner to the sound of a neighbor whistling along to Streisand musicals. I fall asleep to the blaring television and wake to the hacking coughs of the elderly man on the other side of my bedroom wall. On occasion, usually Sunday afternoons, the young couple in the apartment below contributes moans of pleasure to the mix. The lack of privacy is not only intrusive. It is repressive.

If I can hear my neighbors, I assume they can hear me. Because of this, I hesitate to disclose personal information over the phone, and I muffle sobs with my pillow or, in worst cases, I go to my car. When I come home at night, I shed my platform boots at the door to not wake my neighbors as I cross the hardwood floors. These are small concessions. I do them freely.

But some things are more difficult to smother, relocate or refrain from. For example, stomach upsets occur and gas must be released. Despite the universality of the predicament, I blush and worry. Can my neighbors hear me? Do they think me vile? Are they losing their appetites?

And then there are my bedroom sounds. I am embarrassed to admit that I am a snooze addict. I used to get angry with my sister when we shared a room and she snoozed the alarm. Why didn't she set the alarm for the time she needed and get up when it went off? Why the transition period? Why did she have to wake me repeatedly?

Recently, however, I have fostered an affection for snooze. On more than one morning, I have gotten out of bed to press snooze, then crawled back in for six minutes of lucid dreaming after which I get up and snooze again. And again. For an hour. Then the alarm turns itself off, and I'm left to wake when my body desires -- sometime around noon. Living the freelance life, without fear of being fired, it is difficult to leave the pleasure of post-snooze sleep. Yet my enjoyment is tainted as I wonder, with each beep, if my neighbors secretly hate me.

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