Photo courtesy FlickrWell into the 1960s, it was standard for all but the most utilitarian restaurants to spread each table with a white cotton cloth and napkins. During a business lunch, guests would make notes directly onto the cloth in fountain pen ink. When the ballpoint pen displaced the scratch, restaurant owners were deeply distressed that they could not bleach their linens clean, because ballpoint ink is oil-based.
Tablecloths disappeared, and with them, I fear, a deeply creative graphic medium. The loss may have impoverished business thinking. Around 1990, a so-called “Microsoft millionaire” took over an old-fashioned coffee shop on our Broadway, the main street in the neighborhood. The shop was an exercise in non-profit entrepreneurship that didn’t pan out, but its design was brilliant. The tabletops were slate, and it was impossible to sit at one for long without picking up a chalk, making some marks, and enjoying the irresistible staccato intervals of chalk on slate that used to make viewing a teacher on a blackboard so entertaining.
Soon, the other long-established coffee shop next door changed owners, and its new manager put cotton cloths and a layer of butcher paper over the vintage coral laminate with overlapping boomerangs. Once again, guests can think with their hands. Now that every phone has a camera, it’s easy to record and transmit notes a keyboard can’t encompass.
Writing on a tablecloth was something I took for granted as a child, and as a student of calligraphy, I found long practice tables covered with butcher paper. Later in commercial art school, covering a drawing table with fresh butcher paper was a standard meditation going into a tough assignment. Doing so taught basic bookbinding without anyone thinking about it.
Recently, I covered the trestle table that serves as my desk with a layer of butcher paper over the import cloth that disguises the structure. Stumbling blocks to planning evaporated: the paper turns the desk into one giant page, and I can use both gross and fine motor skills as I make notes across the expanse of the desktop. White-out pen makes deletion easy, and the surface works like a low-tech computer screen. Since my handwriting and the Lucida digital type that is my workhorse font of choice (see classical typography in Wiki) are offspring of the same calligraphic models, the physical desktop is a seamless overlay of the digital one.
My white plastic MacBook was sitting there undefended the other day, and in a moment of benign vandalism I discovered that it’s fun to tag a laptop with a dry-erase marker. (Test this in an obscure place first.) The future is going to be very interesting.
-30- More after the jump.