Now, 100% Ad-Free

February 20, 2014

Maybe when you read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or The Atlantic, you might be tempted to purchase that swingy little Dolce & Gabbana number, or the season’s must-have bauble from Harry Winston featured right up front, full page and in full, luminous color.

Instead you are here, aren’t you? Looking for a cheap laugh. I can handle it: When it comes to literary legitimacy, Impressions of a Shop Boy is that section of the paper where you place the massage parlor ads.

Which is why Shop Boy was so struck the other day to call up one of his blog entries only to find an ad for a legitimate enterprise, a name brand, tacked onto the end. The kind of (you would think) classy enterprise that (you would think) would be scandalized to find itself a sponsor of my kind of humor. You might have seen it, too.

I felt badly for the advertiser. Then Shop Boy checked it out. The host of this blog has been giving me the space for free — knowing that I’ll get friends to sign up too — but is always subtly (until recently) suggesting that I upgrade to a premium (read: paid) service that’ll give me 200 billiom megabytes of storage and blah, blah, blah. Why would I need that? It’s a dumb blog … bunch of words, mostly. Even as wordy as he can be, how much space could Shop Boy take up? Besides, “if you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow?” and all that.

Well, apparently, the site got tired of Shop Boy’s freeloading and started placing ads with my posts as a way of shaming me into paying up. “People think I’m making money off this?” That’s rich. But it worked, didn’t it? The ads are gone. So is Shop Boy’s allowance.

As a Pandora user, Shop Boy should have seen this coming. You know how that one works: The “free” service slips in advertisements suggesting you upgrade away from it to a commercial-free version, then begins playing the most teeth-grindingly chipper ads you can imagine, and repeating them, closer and closer together — and interrupting a run of, say, Metallica-Megadeth-Maiden-Motorhead — until you are desperate for the premium (read: paid) service just to make the ads stop and let the music play.

And then they’ve got you. Me too. Shop Boy can’t be bought. (And he sure ain’t recommended by 4 out of 5 doctors.) Blackmailed? Eh.

Today’s Forecast Calls for Blue Skies

February 9, 2014

Sometimes I’m thinking we only survive February because we know pitchers and catchers report this month. Green grass, the slap of a baseball against leather, tender hamstrings. Oh, and “Mr. Blue Sky.”

People laugh at my love of this song. Mary especially. I’ve long said that, had I been a big-league closer, I’d have exploded through the bullpen doors and charged to the mound to something thrilling, like “Gel” by Collective Soul or angry, like “Feuer Frei! by Rammstein. Maybe dark, like “Mother” by Danzig.

All cool.

Were I the dude who picked the seventh-inning stretch music, however, it’d be “Mr. Blue Sky,” every night. I love this song.

Shop Boy’s studio neighbors? I wonder.

Is the falsetto that pours out of me, that I hear in my ears, and that feels so in tune, genuinely so?

True story: In high school, Shop Boy worked in a chalk factory, as he surely has mentioned. It was ridiculously hard labor, dangerous, and we looked for moments of drudgery-busting wherever we could find them. Such as when, say, “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers came on the radio. Or worse, when “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer came on.

Danny was all Southern rock (Dixie Dregs/Charlie Daniels Band … with a weird kink of Lou Rawls’ “Lady Love”); Shop Boy was Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and anything else “hard and fast.”

For argument’s sake, let’s just put it out there: Shop Boy could do falsetto — particularly a mocking falsetto, like few other 18-year-old men-to-be. Thus, mocking Leo Sayer was right up my alley. OK, so … we’d spent all morning and most of the afternoon packing chalk into boxes, onto a pallet stacked almost to the ceiling. We were beaten to a pulp, Danny O’Hara and me. Suddenly… “You’ve got a cute way of talkin’ ” … and it was ON!

Shop Boy hopped to the top of the stack of boxes and, from the rafters, started belting — OK, falsetto-ing — the song (brainworm alert)…

“You’ve got a cute way of talkin’
You get the better of me
Just snap your fingers and I’m walkin’
Like a dog, hanging on your lead …”

Shop Boy was killing it! At the top of his lungs.

Naturally, the boss walked in. Figured he’d choose today to show up. Let me tell you, now, about Mr. Matthews. Penn State Law. Straight-laced fellow. Frivolity-free.

Have I mentioned that Shop Boy was, at this point, shirtless? Perhaps I should.

“Quarter to 4 in the mornin’
Ain’t feelin’ tired, no, no, no, no, no …”

The eye contact was priceless. Imagine what this dude saw. Half-naked employee, 12 feet off the ground, screaming a Leo Sayer song.

He was ice: “Don’t break the chalk, boys.”

Then he turned on his heel and was GONE.

Did we wet our pants? It’s a wonder the chalk survived. Shop Boy remembers the coolness of the concrete on his face as he collapsed, convulsing from laughter, the lung-busting combination of chalk dust and sawdust soon driving me to stand up and run for the “fresh air” of the loading dock.

“Mr. Blue Sky”? Ahem. Shop Boy is 52 this month. Yet, some nights, when the three-phase converter is humming, and the atmospheric conditions are just right, old Shop Boy airs it out. Unrequested. The hours I’m at the shop, having worked a regular full-time gig at the JHU School of Nursing, tend to be late and lonely. Maybe no one hears at all.

That’s probably for the best. Either they’d tell me it sounded OK, and I’d be emboldened to sing even more loudly, perhaps during those rare regular business hours. Or they’d tell me I stink; that what I hear as OK in my own ears ain’t necessarily so.

February’s a cruel enough month already, you know?

Out of Nowhere

January 23, 2014

OK, so that last post might have been a bit out of context, if you follow this blog.

My apologies to the three of you who do. My aim, actually, was to make that blog entry one for the Hopkins School of Nursing website. But it was so all-about-me that it felt more appropriate here, where it’s all Shop Boy all — or most — of the time.

Not that the School of Nursing’s blog page isn’t — sometimes.

OK, a lot.

Too often?

Shop Boy is not above tooting his own horn anywhere he’s allowed to publish.

Hope you’ll take a look. It’s a challenging gig, but the school’s a great place to be. I don’t know … I was thinking maybe Shop Boy was dead. To think that nurses might have helped resuscitate him/me is sort of funny.

To me, anyway.

The Face of Nursing?

January 20, 2014

Makeup: check.

Lip gloss: check.

Eyelash curler: check.

All that’s missing is a whole mess of brains and education.

What you’re about to witness here is the result of my “faculty” photo shoot at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (Shop Boy’s fairly new non-letterpress pursuit). There was an open slot in the day’s schedule because one of the best in the business of nursing education suddenly had to travel somewhere to take charge of some amazing project or another. A photographer and a makeup artist (she of the overactive eyelash curler) were suddenly at loose ends. What to do? Kelley Carpenter here in Marketing and Communications at the Hopkins School of Nursing, who was coordinating it all, could rearrange the impossibly complex schedules of an entire faculty to fill the opening. Or, she could punt.

Blog_Steve

Fair catch?

Hardly.

Kelley looked around and, with the clock running, suggested — cheerily — that perhaps we ought to have an image of the nursing magazine’s editor — that’s Shop Boy — on hand. I wondered why anyone would want that. I’m not a nurse, just someone trying to translate for a wider audience what, ahem, the best in the business at nursing education and nursing care do for the world.

“For … for …. um … just in case … uh …,” she explained. 

“I’m here for my obituary photo,” I informed Will Kirk, a really neat guy and talented shooter who we use a lot for Johns Hopkins Nursing magazine and whenever, wherever something school-related is happening. Anyway, Will works hard at his job. But he’s had few challenges such as this: Make me look good. At least until they have an “ugly” preset button on the camera, this means work.

(Don’t you just bet that professional photographers like Will want to bop us all on the noggin for whining about “terrible” pictures of ourselves? Camera + your face + click = you. Sure, that’s easy for a guy to say. We age so gracefu … um, I mean, uh … OK, we kinda get a free pass. Whatever.)

A while back, we did a feature in the Johns Hopkins Nursing magazine about Global Heroes here at the school, with full-page photos of each chosen subject. One complaint heard was about the bags under several of the heroes’ eyes. Couldn’t we airbrush those away? We could, but then — Shop Boy suggested helpfully — you’re missing out on a great potential motto:

The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing: We NEVER Sleep!

You should have heard the groans.

So, in a flash — or 50 — Will’s work was done.

Remember that one time at the DMV? The license photo where you took 20 minutes to fix your hair and then, just to mess with you, the bored DMV person — I swear — asked a question in a Tamil dialect and, unless you happened to be of Tamil descent, you went “Whaaa-aaaaaa?” and she snapped the picture of your confused, contorted mug. Welcome to the next six years of your personal ID, not that you use THAT for anything.

Well, Will spoke slowly and clearly, so this one’s on me. The face, I mean.

Apparently, this is the face that I present to folks here at the school. What I hope it tells people is that although it might go blank on occasion as the acronyms fly — and do they ever — it is the face of someone who wants to learn, and share, cool stuff about Hopkins Nursing. Is it the face I prefer to wear? Nah, but people wouldn’t recognize that dashing young fellow as me when I showed up in person, so this face is stuck with me.

Actually not so bad, considering the subject. The repeatedly broken nose of a fellow always more smashing than dashing on an athletic field was a bit ajar that morning, but it’s looked worse.

I’d hoped that the image would portray me as a man of letters, a man of some heft.

Hefty: check.

Letters: Check. I have been told I’m pretty good at the ABCs, so at least there’s that.

And nice lashes, am I right?

What Goes Around Comes Around

May 24, 2013

A previous post reminded me of something.

So, our success at using the 8×10 C&P from Mr. Wilhelm and then a bigger one to build something of a letterpress printing business convinced us Mary that we were ready to add the clamshell power, speed and registration accuracy of a windmill press. She’d let herself be talked into buying persuaded Vince Pullara II of InterCity Press to sell us a Heidelberg that he no longer needed as he expanded the offset side of his printing business. Honestly, we’ve never regretted that purchase.

(Aside from the day Shop Boy locked the windmill up — too much packing — and thought he’d killed it, but I still don’t want to talk about that.)

Anyhow, Mary was looking through the old scraps of paper from Mr. Wilhelm’s files one day – we took everything, not knowing what it was but figuring we might need it someday – and came across the receipt from his purchase of the 8×10. It was signed by a Vince Pullara who, having built something of a letterpress business with it and others, had decided he need the clamshell power, speed and registration accuracy of a windmill.

I’ve stopped believing this stuff is random.

Door Prize

February 13, 2013
 
My chair came in first.
 
Then a bunch of others arrived and stole all the medals.
 
Serves Shop Boy right for getting his hopes up. See, I’m in a new job at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and kind of looking for ways to impress my colleagues. (Mary’s unimpressed by my lack of presence in the printshop, especially at lunchtime, but that’s a tale for another time.)
 
So right around Christmas, there was this contest for departments at the school. Whichever team created the coolest door decorations got a prize. Fun, right? We brainstormed, and Shop Boy threw out an idea: Every snowflake is different; so’s every QR code. What if you did snowflakes of QR codes that summoned fun things about how Christmas is celebrated around the world. (They’re very “global” here in East Baltimore.) We’ve got five doors and, thus, five displays. We did the teamwork thing, and improved the idea on the fly and … won. We got free breakfast sandwiches a couple of mornings. Hooray for the new guy, right?
 
OK, so even as all that was going on, we’d gotten involved in another contest: Whichever team can take a surplus chair from the cafeteria and turn it into something magical that can be auctioned off for a scholarship fund wins. Any ideas? New guy?
 
“Well,” the new guy says, “the chair has a cross carved into the back (that’s the symbol of Hopkins nursing). It looks kinda like the X on a ‘you are here’ map. What if we put everywhere the School of Nursing is in the world on the chair and say something like, ‘You are here. So is the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.’ “
 
The concept was for Shop Boy to sand the chair, then the team to paint it. But you know how that goes. Many, many breakfasts had passed before I even got a chance to sand it, and now everybody was busy or had lost interest. The new guy had gotten us into this, and I guessed that the new guy was going to get us out of it.
 
Shop Boy won’t lie. What followed was fun. A ton of work, and pressure. Self-inflicted, but presure nonetheless.
 
And on the appointed deadline day, I dutifully and carefully set the chair inside the car and drove it to work. My knees were shaking with excitement as I dropped it off at the Student House. I was proud of the chair, thrilled to have made the deadline and relieved to not have dropped, dented or otherwise wrecked it on the way over. OK, I’m a little obsessive about deadlines. But I’d said it would be done and, by gum, there it was.

 
It looked good, all alone in that room.
 
stevechair
 
The guy leading the contest said a few others were expected to trickle in over the next few days, but my chair looked like a solid entry.
 
Then a few others trickled in over the next few days.
 
Including this one:
 
duck
 
What the … duck?
 
It’s an inside joke: A “Duck Point” is something students should assume would be on the next exam. Whatever, big yellow duck on a red background vs. a chair with all these nations so painstakingly drawn by hand. Chile, “the world’s backbone,” along the spine of the chair. Australia “down under” the chair. Cool, right?
 
row
 
Voting commenced, and it was apparently a landslide. My artist’s statement didn’t sway anyone:
 

The idea for the chair came during a brainstorming session at our weekly meeting. It sounded like a cool way to make a point that the sun never sets on the JHUSON. The nations were drawn free-hand, with an iPhone in one hand (Google search: “outline map of Thailand”) and pencil in the other. My sincere apologies for any Atlantis moments, a slip of the pencil lopping off 100 square miles of land here and there. The lettering’s meant to look stenciled/spray-painted as though on the side of a random military crate or CARE package shipped to the ends of the Earth. 

Blah, blah, blah. 

You are here. So is a duck.
 
Duck wins.
 
I’m not bitter.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

January 28, 2013

Artifact 1

It was an idea whose time had come. Right now, in fact. The muslin bags had arrived a few hours earlier in a bit of a heap, the delivery box a dented mess. But they’d been protected from the elements at least by a thick, clear plastic bag. Shop Boy could see that the bags needed some serious ironing, but there was little time for that.

These little beige bags, about 5 inches by 8 inches when flat, with a cute little orange string tie sewn into the top seam, were to be the wrapper for a line of goods – jams, roasted peppers and such – for The Gift Wall at Artifact, a caffeine-fueled offshoot of Woodberry Kitchen. You can’t miss it … it’s right next door to the big Pepsi billboard off I-83. Now serving dinner, prix fixe, different theme every week. Unbelievable. Can’t get in to Woodberry Kitchen? Artifact is a very worthy fallback. Just go. Now. OK, finish this first. But then go.

Mary, of course, designed the paper goods for the place, using “artifacts” from a previous generation of letterpress to add an odd charm. Many of these came from “Mr. Wilhelm’s Shop.” This was the Timonium basement operation left idle, but never dusty, by the widow (Earcell Wilhelm) of an industrious hobbyist. Some years after his death, she needed to move and put the contents of the shop up for sale, everything-must-go style. We jumped at it, and what is now known as Typecast Press was born.

Strange and wonderful scraps from his life of printing have become bits of loopy eye candy on the Artifact menu and coffee-cup wrappers. Very fun.

Anyhow, Artifact sells great stuff made over at Woodberry Kitchen in small packages, like muslin bags. So Mary decided we should go ahead and print the Tuscan O that is Woodberry’s logo on each muslin bag.

We’d done similar jobs, so Shop Boy knew what this meant. The first problem is corraling the drawstring so that it doesn’t flop down into the printing area and get itself inked, thus wrecking the bag, or slip behind the printing area and cause a seam in the logo, thus … wrecking the bag. Not so bad. I simply had to brush the string to the side of the tympan as I fed each one. An elastic band I’d put over the tympan bales helped there, stopping the bags from sagging and also keeping the sticky black ink from pulling the occasional freshly printed one into the maw of the press … wrecking the bag. (Full-bleed coasters, ones inked all the way across, do that sometimes, because an elastic band can’t touch any part of its surface.)

Finally, this would require some tomfoolery with the impression lever. Sometimes you can overcome inking issues by bashing the gooey stuff into an object. And the big C&P can really bring it. But Shop Boy saves that for “last resorts.” This was merely a crisis. DEFCON 5, as it were.

Teachable moment: Many people use the whole DEFCON thing improperly, assuming that a higher numeral means a higher probability of nuclear war. Rather, think “Countdown to launch.” DEFCON 1′s actually the really, really, really bad one, if any escalation toward mutual annihilation can be called less than really, really, really bad. DEFCON 5 is a moment for deep concern and reflecting. DEFCON 1 is a moment for deep doo-doo and genuflecting.

Ahem.

Shop Boy also didn’t want to hit the bags too hard because the material is porous. You don’t want the image to “ghost” on the other side. On that note, I had to account for an unexpected layer of packing — a little sheet of acetate would need to be slipped into each bag to keep the ink from going through no matter how soft or hard I hit it. That meant cutting 25 little sheets, inserting them, printing 25 bags, pulling the sheets out, inserting them into new bags and printing 25 more. Repeat, repeat repeat.

Foo.

OK, so now came the experimenting. Another way to overcome light inking is to hit it twice, or to “trip” once to get a little extra ink on the plate and then hit it once. Sometimes it takes a little more. Here was my dance: Insert bag into guide, throw lever into trip mode for two passes, throw lever into print mode for three passes. Remove printed bag, put new one into guides, throw lever into trip mode, etc.

Now, normally Shop Boy is pretty good at counting to three. But you get the big press going and start dealing with flopping strings, wrinkles in bags, elastic bands, acetate sheets and, well, you’d better have some extras on hand. Because hitting a cloth bag three times in exactly the same spot is tricky under the best circumstances. Pull one out after only two hits and there’s just no stinking way to put it back in for the third … wrecking the bag.

You get the idea. Printing can be annoying sometimes. But you should see the bags.

In fact, go take a look at Artifact. Seriously, we’re finished here. Go.

OK, here they are:

bags

Now go. I mean it.

Short on Time, and Cheer

December 19, 2012
elf2
 
 
One day, the company nurse was simply gone, laid off and replaced by the penny-pinching Scrooges in management with … a glass-encased defibrilator. It looked for all the world like a vending machine.
 
“What if I have a heart attack and don’t have 50 cents?” Shop Boy asked a colleague, only half-kidding.
 
“Or what if I fall down over there and the cord doesn’t reach? Do you promise to carry me to the hallway?”
 
He did not.
 
I was thinking about this late the other night in connection with Santa’s elves.
 
Not that Mary would ever let Shop Boy listen to holiday music while she’s nearby. And when she’s rushing around like she has been, I don’t push it. But earlier, I’d gone to make a polymer plate in another part of the studio and switched my Pandora account to Holiday Favorites or whatever. The first thing that popped on was an orchestral overture to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, little snippets of all the songs blended together to give you a hint of what’s coming.
 
Call Shop Boy a sap, but one of the things that struck me — even through the panic of knowing Mary needed the plate NOW – was that every stinking song on that soundtrack is a classic. Brilliant, moving.
 
Just that quick, I was up to my elbows in polymer-scented rinse water and awash in nostalgia.
 
And I thought, “I wonder if any of Santa’s elves ever had a heart attack on the job while racing toward the Christmas Eve “drop-dead” due date for the toys?
 
(In newspapers, when asking for the “real” deadline for a story vs. when the editor [me] would prefer to have it in hand, reporters were in the habit of asking, “So, what’s the drop-dead on that?” They wanted to know how many minutes and seconds they could stall before I’d walk over to their desks and tell them, “Your story is no longer required or desired: Drop dead!”)
 
Don’t know if you’ve seen old Shop Boy around lately. But a new (awesome) desk job and too much potential exercise time spent instead catching up at Typecast Press have left a bit of a belly that, yes, shakes when I laugh, like a bowl full of jelly.
 
OK, OK, there’s an extra cookie or tw…elve in that “to blame” file as well. Picky, picky. Who ever heard of a skinny Shop Boy?
 
(That’s paraphrasing Rudolph — Mrs. Clause telling a stressed-out Santa he has to eat something.)
 
The point is, it’s been a little stressful, and adding “pre-holiday mode” hasn’t helped. So I was taking a mental timeout, just sorta thinking what kind of Elf health plan Santa’s got at his shop.
 
I mean, surely a few of the elves are huddled right at this very minute outside the toy factory’s front door, fresh snow covering for the moment an ugly sidewalk full of discarded cigarette butts. They’re huffing and puffing about their names ending up in the wrong column of the Naughty & Nice list, about the reindeer constantly flying over and pooping on their windshields (and then it freezes!), about the company 401k, about Tim Tebow getting dissed by the Jets. (It’s Christ-mas, after all.) And the Angels! What on earth are they thinking, paying Josh Hamilton all those millions to play baseball? With his bad habits!?!
 
Mostly, they’re just blowing smoke, stressed about being so stressed. So close to finished, so close to putting their feet up, so close to a cocktail at Clarisse’s Tavern and … so close to taking a goddamn hammer and
 
Surely, one of them has simply keeled over on occasion.
 
Right?
 
Oops. That’d be Mary calling. Sounds stressed. Better put Pandora back on the Dirge and Drudgery station. It’s going to be another long winter’s night.
 
Happy Holidays, everybody! Hope to see you there.
 

Once More From the Top

November 29, 2012
Not to be melodramatic, but Shop Boy’s very existence is at risk.
Honest.
You might have noticed the dramatic falloff in the number of posts here (or maybe you haven’t missed them — hmmph!). Part of that’s natural. This blog started as a chronicle of the funny, nutty stuff that just happens when you’re starting a business on a whim. Especially a business that can be so emotionally and physically challenging. So, we laughed (or tried to) and learned here at Typecast Press. We’ve been doing this letterpress thing a little while now, though, and most of the ridiculous gaffes that so often took our legs out from under us in the first couple of years have stopped cropping up. Mostly.
(Ever lock up a Heidelberg windmill? Shop Boy now has. In the dumbest way imaginable. I’m not the religious sort — if you are, that’s cool — but I’ll tell you that Shop Boy was praying that he hadn’t cracked the impression collar, once I was through praying that we could even get the darn thing open ever again. Prayers answered: Impression collar intact, impression bar unbent, Shop Boy … recovering.)
Anyway, Mary’s been so distracted with saving the world – of Globe Posterat MICA – that Shop Boy has been spending an awful lot of time alone in the printshop. This, normally, would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, I’ve had to learn more than I ever thought I’d want to about printing. Now, don’t get crazy — this isn’t my printshop. Mary handles ALL of the design, ordering and finances of the place, as well as the fine printing jobs. And when the look of the place gets a bit too, um, “Shop Boy,” Mary lays down the law and “her way” is restored.
Let’s just say instead that Shop Boy’s role has moved past simply carting heavy stuff from here to there and standing in front of a press hand-feeding all day long.
Shop Boy has to be responsible. I can’t just laugh off a Keystone Kops mistake and run to the computer to tell the funny story of how it went down. Now I have to “own” it, as Mary likes to say I don’t do well enough, and fix it.
But I’d like to fix this blog, too. The lack of new stuff, you know? So here we go. I’m back. Not with a bang but a whimper — like the eerily un-loud sound of a Heidelberg locking up. Those you who still check in on occasion for my updates, thank you.
I’ll be back at you soon. Promise.

Getting Bombed: Salutations from 1812

September 7, 2012

You really ought to hear Shop Boy’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Seriously. I’ve never been asked to perform at, say, a baseball game. Or a football game or … OK, anywhere. Your loss. But I’ve done it (very, very late at night) in my Baltimore kitchen. And let me tell you, when the song/poem hits that third stanza, the one not too many folks know about, you want a Marilyn Manson fan like Shop Boy behind the microphone. Me bringing the pain … you appreciating hurting. Dogs barking. Police summoned. The performances are understandably as rare as they are surely breathtaking.

Let’s set the stage anyway.

There’s a dude stuck on a boat on the Patapsco River, hard by Baltimore, Md. He can’t use his cell phone to call for help or text his friends to let him know where he is and when he’ll be back.

Mostly because it’s1814. September 13, to be exact.

And he’s kind of a captive.

See, the British weren’t quite as squishy back then, and they were kind of bugged by all the smug posturing of a newly independent nation such as the U. S. of A. And they were honestly still a little raw over the idea that a ragtag bunch of militias had defeated them 30 years or so before in the Revolutionary War and had the gall to set up a legit government and ports that could compete (by hook or by crook) with London’s traders. So, they sailed a fleet across the Atlantic to smack us up. That they chose Baltimore will forever be a lesson in knowing the enemy. Baltimore, really? You’re looking for a weak underbelly … Baltimore? Mobtown? Good luck with that one, mate.

Anyhow, our captive’s a part-time poet, name of Francis Scott Key. In the middle of all this War of 1812 mess, he’d gone with a team of ambassadors to meet with the British navy to negotiate freedom for political prisoners. Alas, once he’d stepped on deck, looked around and seen the size of the British fleet anchored just off America’s shores, and accidentally heard a little bit too much, he couldn’t simply be sent home to let the locals know an attack was imminent, now could he?

So the supremely confident British figured, while they’ve got Key and his boys there, why not toast the Americans’ crumpets just a bit, forcing them to watch the bombardment into submission or death of their brave countrymen at Fort McHenry.

Umm …

Fort McHenry’s cool, if you’ve never been there. Kind of a star-shaped set of fortress walls, lots of grass, ancient cannons for kids to climb on and what look like they must have been cramped and cold quarters. They make you sit through a movie before you can see the grounds, but it’s informative and (all right, all right) stirring. Patriotism aroused, or not, it’s totally awesome once you get to walk about. The cell where they locked up the traitorous, South-leaning Baltimore mayor during the Civil War? I get a TB cough just thinking about it. Today, the cannons point out mostly toward industrial loading docks. But in 1814, the fort was the last line of defense for the City of Baltimore and, in British minds, America itself. Washington, D.C., had been whipped. Kill Baltimore and the annoying “don’t tread on me” snake was snuffed too. And the Redcoats were on the right track there. There’s an interactive map of the British plans, by both land and sea — along with the strokes of luck and genius that stopped them — that will scare the stars and stripes out of you. I mean, if you were, like, rooting for the Yanks. British visitors might find their day dampened at the prospect of what might so easily have been.

OK, so Francis Scott Key is stuck inconveniently if not uncomfortably on a British boat as part of a gentlemen’s agreement — today they’d cut off his head and send the videotape to his peeps — and experiences from afar a terror, torment and, ultimately, a triumph that will lead to a poem, and a national anthem.

The first stanza is all (warranted) apprehension over the fort’s fate. Look, the Americans were outgunned big time. No, “big time” doesn’t cover it. The British were loaded for bear, fully prepared with more modern, potent guns to shell the ever-loving hell out of Fort McHenry and its comparatively tiny battalion of defenders. Meanwhile, the British gunboats could park just yards (or what would be known today as “meters” if they’d succeeded) beyond the reach of the American cannons and fire at will.

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the Rockets red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there:
O! Say, does that star-spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

Well, as the night goes on — and the British shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot, and the fort stands — Key gets more confident himself.

On the shore, dimly seen, through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence repose,
What is that, which the breeze o’er the towering sleep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner. O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Then, dare we say, lippy?

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Don’t go there? Yes he did. He gets all Marilyn Manson, Body Count, “we’re gonna Dougie on your dead.” The trash talking is a bit much, to be honest. But, big American finish …

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our Trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Probably best that the national anthem as it’s traditionally performed today stops just as Key is getting warm.)

So here we stand, two-plus centuries down the road in this crazy experiment we loosely call democracy. Say what you will about American missteps, and they have been and continue to be legion, but your mom and dad were basically right that you were lucky to be born in this nation. What’s not so good? We’re working on it.

Anyway …

Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen, two-thirds of the late, great rant-rock band Double Dagger and 100 percent of the superstar graphic design firm Post Typography (they’re MICA faculty, to boot), began talking with Mary about a really star-studded idea for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The guys are creating artworks for an exhibit at the Windup Space, a hangout on Baltimore’s slowly gentrifying North Avenue just perfect for such things, and they’d like to use — ahem — wooden type from the Globe Poster Collection at MICA to create original prints for it. Show runs September 8 through October 27.

She’s in. Partly because it’s an awesome idea, to set the first stanza (good call) of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a four-panel, stream-of-consciousness love poem to Key, to 1812, to Baltimore, to wit, to graphic design and, yes, to Globe. (The wood type is in, too, looking for all the years of hard, magical poster making as though it might have been at Fort McHenry that crazy night, wearing its scars just as proudly.) And Nolen and Bruce, who’ve got some letterpress experience, are up for doing the physical labor if Mary’ll be their sherpa.

Seeing as Mary also has an entire Pandora Radio channel dedicated to Double Dagger (groupie!), it should come as little surprise that she agreed. Any money that Globe and MICA would receive for her efforts was an afterthought. (Shh! Don’t tell the guys!)

If you’ve not worked with older wood type or long forms of hand-set prose, then the amount of labor and the number of hours it takes to produce such a project would likely amaze or intimidate you. But Bruce and Nolen had a clear vision of what they wanted the panels to look like, and they loved the idea that not all the Globe type is in the same physical shape. So, if the perfect E for the line had an “arm” that wasn’t quite type-high anymore, they eagerly set to work on make-ready, painstakingly building up a corner here and there using bits torn from the whisper-thin pages of a phone book. (Phone book … talk about your 19th-century concepts.) And the kerning (spacing between the letters) was just as big a job. Might even say the hours and hours they shot and shot and shot and shot and shot at the 1812 project show a distinct lack of sanity. Very rock-and-roll, though.

The prints they made? I won’t blow the surprise to bits, but they’re bloody brilliant. And available, on a limited basis. But come see for yourself.

If you’re not stuck on a boat somewhere, get over to the opening on the eighth — that’s Saturday night! — for a look at these prints and other cool stuff Bruce and Nolen have created. Mary and Shop Boy will be aboard. I probably won’t be asked to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” there, either. But I might hum a few bars if you ask nicely. Or just tell you the wet-your-pants story of Mary and Shop Boy loudly trading ideas at 3 a.m. on where the inflection should come on the fourth line of the third stanza.

Our final answer: Wherever you want.

It’s a free country.

I Have Trouble Finding the Words

April 3, 2012

Mary was sitting up in bed way too late … or was it way too early … it all runs together sometimes, when a vocabulary lesson broke out. Apparently, by not standing up, screaming “no, no, no!,” lighting myself on fire and running away down the street in the altogether, I had given my “tacit” approval to participate in a project.

By tacit, she meant that because I remained three-quarters asleep and unable to communicate my disapproval, my approval could be “assumed.” Like she had the “power of attorney” or something simply because Shop Boy was what in some states would be legally declared “comatose.”

Well, Shop Boy could huff and puff till he was blue in the face, but Mary had me by the dictionary.

(OK, that was a dirty little pun, but by making me do this with no advance notice and then by not watching Shop Boy’s every keystroke, Mary has tacitly given her permission for me to throw off the shackles of good taste and manners. And that’s enough of that.)

So here goes:

Andy Snair is a Baltimore illustrator and jolly good friend of Typecast Press. Inspired by wood type in our type cabinet one day, he asked if it’d be cool if he printed the letters and put charming or funny mugs on them, creating “Type Faces.” A, O and K by us!

Well, when Mary was asked recently to “sub-curate” an art show at a gallery called Case[werks] here in Baltimore, and bring along the work of artists we’ve been inspired by or loved collaborating with, Andy Snair was in. (Yup, there’d be Globe Poster stuff too, the old and the new that Mary and Bob Cicero have worked to get created as letterpress teachers at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And Glenn Dellon’s 2011 calendar — too good for that year, if you ask Shop Boy. Cool stuff, all. You’ll see.)

Andy’s an idea guy, so when Mary informed him a week before the show that he, too, had granted tacit approval for inclusion in the show (and all the last-minute work that this entailed), Shop Boy could just about see Andy’s brain gears start turning. Mary wanted him to mount the individual letter cards on wooden bases, then carefully paint the bases’ sides to match the colors we’d printed the letters. (He’d done a few a while back … they’re awesome. But the whole alphabet? In a week? The boy’s got a job.)

Unless he could come up with something better, of course.

We knew he would.

And so Shop Boy is here to tell you that a “reglet” is a very thin piece of hard wood used as spacing between images, letters or lines of type in a backward-reading “form” to be printed.

You need to know this because you have seen or will soon see Andy’s “word search” puzzle at Case[werks] — that’s him and part of it above — as well as the little sheet that Mary has printed for you to keep score on. (You weren’t just about to write on the actual art, were you?) If you can find them all, you get one of Andy’s letters for free! Anyway, on that score sheet, Mary had printed instructions on where to find more information about the words in the puzzle. (Ahem, on a blog that we’d need written by … oh, how’s your afternoon lookin’, Shop Boy?)

You’ve got “reglet” already, right? Oh, come on. I can’t tell you where it is. But I can tell you that it might read backwards, diagonally, vertically, or be staring you right straight in the face. Then again, all of Andy’s letters are doing that, aren’t they?

Shop Boy’ll give you a hint: A “quoin” is a metal device that expands with the turn of a quoin “key” to lock “type” and “reglets” in place. “Hamilton” is a famed old Wisconsin maker of wood type like the stuff that inspired Andy (a “Gothic” face) … and Globe Poster for that matter. A “Vandercook,” as you surely know, is a “proof” press, used back in the day to give a printer a chance to look for any errors on a “proof” of an individual page before the whole book or newspaper was transferred to the big press, whereupon finding an error would create hardship, heartbreak and significant cost (perhaps even one’s job). Nowadays, a Vandercook is the press of choice for book artists, designers, and poster printers who all relish the fine work it never got full credit for in its previous life.  The “tympan” is a coated paper that holds the packing in place and thus controls how much pressure is placed on the “form” to create the depth of the impression. The tympan is also famous for its annoying habit of getting in the way, picking up an unintended “ink” smear, and then — ooh! — marking the back of 15 or so sheets of paper before the printer realizes there’s a problem with “offset” (which we didn’t have room for in the puzzle).

Those are hints about what they are, not where they are in the puzzle. Hey, Shop Boy’s not going to find them for you. But you have my tacit approval to look as long as you like.

Old Enough to Know Better

February 9, 2012

When Shop Boy was a young lad of, say, 20, he worked Sundays in a Glen Rock, N.J., delicatessen called Wilkes’ that catered to … every single person in New Jersey, it seemed sometimes. On football Sundays when either the Giants or the Jets were playing at the Meadowlands — the football teams rotated, as they do now in a new stadium built for both — the line was out the door all morning. Tailgater after tailgater after tailgater after tailgater needed morning egg and cheese sandwiches to hold them while they sat in game-day traffic. They needed it on rye, they needed it hot, they needed it, like, right now. It was already stop-and-go on the turnpike. And gimme a large coffee, light and sweet. (Good call … we made really lousy coffee.)

And without fail, right in the middle of the endless line was someone who wanted a mere quarter-pound of deli roast beef, sliced thin, from the rarest part of the hunk, for lunches they’d bring from home to eat at their desks during their work week. Poor things … meaning Shop Boy and Robert, the other guy who worked the Sunday shift. Robert was the veteran. Taught Shop Boy the ropes. He was lightning on the eggs, whether frying them up on the stove or stirring them into a styrofoam cup and sticking them into the microwave. Robert, thus, handled the egg sandwiches; Shop Boy handled as much of the rest as he could. It was a great arrangement. You wanted me on that slicer. You needed me on that slicer. As quick as Robert was on the eggs … turn Shop Boy loose on the slicer.

Then the roast beef order brought down the whole house of cards.

Now, if you’ve ever worked in a delicatessen, you know that there are meats that were meant to be sliced. Salami, say. Hard salami … yeah. Shop Boy could absolutely fly through an order, handing you a beautifully sliced, beautifully stacked, beautifully wrapped paper package of that stuff, at exactly the weight count requested. Boiled ham … you bet. Turkey … no problem, boss. Head cheese — oh, man … yuck, I mean, Coming right up! But roast beef was, quite literally, a different animal.

Those other meats cut into a solid sheet, mostly. Roast beef didn’t want to do that. And the more moist and tender the section of the hunk, the less it wanted to conform into anything that could be easily stacked, wrapped and dropped into a paper bag.

So if Shop Boy was the Leonardo da Vinci of the salami, he was more like the Jackson Pollock of the roast beef. A blood-splattered mess. Robert tended to have a bit more success, being a seasoned deli guy, but even he hated the roast beef. And he was on the eggs. The roast beef was all Shop Boy. Sliced thin? I gave them shards o’ beef. Oh, the moaning from the customers. And the people behind them! I’d re-do the order. Same pile of beef shrapnel. I felt horrible. Like a complete failure. Deli dodo. Meat-counter muttonhead. But what could I do?

Overcompensate, that’s what.

When that customer would at last take the package from the counter, he’d separate a shoulder as about 3 pounds of roast beef — for the price of a quarter pound — surprised him. I’d wink, and ask who was next.

They complained, right?

Baloney. They’d be back the next Sunday for their, ahem, quarter-pound of rare roast beef. Sliced thin. Wasn’t hurting the owner. We hustled a ton of product out the door and a ton of money into the till every Sunday, without fail.

Thirty years can change a lot of things. But not everything. I thought my friend Jan, who got me the job at Wilkes’ Deli, would always be around, that we were best buds. Life happens. Haven’t seen her in a decade or more. But if we ever do happen to be in the same room again, I’m sure it’ll be like those years never happened. Mary and Jan’s spouse will be, like, “Who are you people?” We’re not those best New Jersey buds, anymore, really. But of course we are, sorta, you know?

And today, as a printer, Shop Boy still on occasion has the “roast beef reflex.” If I’ve done something I’m not sure quite hit the mark, I push it so over the top that you’d never complain. Mary’s like Robert with the eggs. She’s good, man. Gifted. Dogged. Very smart and resourceful. Shop Boy’s fast, accurate, and can stack whatever Mary wants printed into beautiful rows to be packaged. But I choke on the trickier jobs. Mary’s been the lead printer for so long that she sometimes assumes that Shop Boy’s absorbed all that she has and thus has the same skill level as she does.

Then sometimes I’ll remind her not to make that assumption. Not on purpose … but neither was the roast beef, eh?

Take Jan’s 50th birthday card. You’re not 50 every day, right? Over the years, it had gone from flowers for the birthday, to phone calls for the birthday, to e-mails for the birthday to, “Hey, honest, I remembered your birthday, but Facebook was down.”

Shop Boy had an idea: I’d make — start to finish, by myself (Mary was crazy busy) — a simple but fun card with an image on the front, an image on the back, and a pithy birthday message on the inside, using wood blocks and lead type already hanging around the shop. I wanted to do it almost as much to surprise Mary with how proficient I’ve become at the Vandercook as I wanted to let Jan know that I’d remembered her well — well before her big day.

Nothing says, “I thought of you, but not until it was almost too late,” quite like a rush FedEx envelope through the mail slot on your birthday.

Anyway, part of Shop Boy’s, ahem, genius is starting way ahead. It leaves lots of time to correct for, ahem, stupid mistakes. Mary doesn’t tend to make stupid mistakes, so she’s never been in the habit of leaving too much extra time. Whatever. So a week before the appointed time by which the card needed to get to the post office, Shop Boy had already run the first color, both sides of the card. My idea was to build a form on the bed of the Vandercook SP-15 into which I could easily swap some gorgeous lead type — Stymie, Mary says it is. We’ve got four sizes of this stuff. Heavy as heck, because it’s so thick. But it prints beautifully. Shop Boy’s been getting into the lead type scene a little bit more recently, partly because it’s so easy to manipulate on a Vandercook bed vs. locking it up in a chase and carrying it carefully over to a C&P. I’ve had a chase collapse and drop a heavy metal Boxcar base … NOT on my foot but close … and I can’t even imagine … OK, yes I can … how horrible it would be to painstakingly set some poetic language in lead, space it all out just so, and then have it dump into a big pile on the floor, or “pie,” as they say. The flat Vandercook bed allows no such dumping.

I’d cut pieces of 110-pound Crane Lettra long enough to accommodate a 5″ x 7″ card with a fold. I did the math myself. (Foreshadowing alert!) The idea was to build a form for the first color using non-printing spacers to mimic the size of what would sub in for the second color, in this case the words in lead. I set the lead type, measured the space it would take up, blocked in the space-holders and printed the red images — bits of the old Globe Poster collection. Then I cleaned the press, put on the black ink, swapped in the lead and used spacers to mimic the area previously occupied by the Globe cuts and, voila! It looked, well, lovely. I cleaned the press again, stuck a proof in the truck to show Mary and headed home.

She loved it. Said I’d nailed the printing. Shop Boy beamed with pride.

Which comes before a fall, or so it is said.

Let it be written.

For, a day or two later (we got distracted with a project), as I used a bone folder to crease the paper, having cut it to the perfect size with an X-acto knife, Shop Boy realized that he’s not so good with numbers sometimes. Oh, the card was perfectly registered front and back, but the fold was a full, honest-to-god half-inch off.

Shop Boy was near tears. Honestly. Crushed. It was a bloody pile of worthlessness. All that effort for nothing. Mary saw the panic on my face. She had guests at the studio, but I couldn’t help letting out a little “no, no, no” from where I worked, and she came over.

Too late to reprint, and she couldn’t really afford to help. But she did have a great idea … make it even better than a simple folded card. Take each of the panels, mount them with double-stick tape on beautiful backing paper, drill holes at the top and tie it all off with a big bow of red-and-white baker’s string.

Jan gonna complain about that? Nope. She’ll give me the business once she hears the story, naturally. That’s cool. So’s the card.

Might have saved me hours and hours of work had Shop Boy thought of that right off the bat. But I’m sure Mary didn’t mind me spending all that time on a 50th birthday card for a woman from my past. Right?

Um.

Mary: “Boy, my Valentine had better be something else.”

I’m dead meat.

The Last Thing We Need

January 10, 2012

At least it has a counter.

Not a scale, mind you. Shop Boy doesn’t want to know what the thing weighs. See, Typecast Press is actually a series of four rooms. Three of them sit atop a concrete foundation. One does not. So when you’re talking — roughly — a ton, it begins to mean something, weight-wise, where you place it.

When the building manager says he half expects to see the whole shootin’ match in a pile of debris in the basement by morning, then winks, that means something too. If you said it means, “Cover your ears, cross your fingers, and load the darn thing in anyway,” well, golly, welcome to Typecast Press, Mr. or Mrs. Vandercook Universal 3.

From http://vandercookpress.info/

It’s really all Shop Boy has heard since we started acquiring TLC-needy Vandercooks some time ago. “If we can only find a Universal, we’d be set.” They’re like the Cadillacs of Vandercooks, apparently. Some of them even turn the crank and take the paper down the length of the bed for you, an idea that sort of freaks Shop Boy out even as it sends his fatigued right arm into ecstatic fits. Unfortunately, they never come onto the open market…

So the phone rings one day at the studio. Perry Tymeson, master printer and Vandercook restorer and relocator, has found a couple of presses Mary might be interested in looking at. They’re pricey by our standards, but we might be able to get a package deal. Perry knew that Mary was hoping to get a jumbo Vandercook at a good price for the Maryland Institute College of Art, new home for Globe Poster and a lot of its larger-than-life cuts. It’s awesome to have a hand-carved 26″ x 44″ wooden FBI shooting-range target plate, for instance, but a little less so if you can’t print the dang thing.

Perry had been called in by a New York City printer to help sell and move a 232 Vandercook, an absolute monster, and the Universal 3, a mere giant by comparison. He called Mary and, long story short, once the screaming subsided, the Maryland Institute College of Art owned a Vandercook that could make full use of all the poster cuts that came along with the Globe Collection … and Typecast Press had its Uni. With a counter. No small thing when your doing a run of a thousand or so. And pretty rare on a Vandercook (in Shop Boy’s admittedly rather limited experience). Oh, it’d cost us. But it was still a relatively awesome deal, and since it was the last press we’d ever need to purchase, well, who was Shop Boy to complain?

Right, Mary?

Mary?

Right?

Rocks for Jocks

November 17, 2011


So, Mary says, the next APHA conference is on the University of California-San Diego campus.

Shop Boy: “Are we there yet?”

Truth be told, Shop Boy loved his years on campus (all the while complaining about them — that’s just what you do). A young man of letters, I was … like “C,” for instance. At least until journalism came calling, with a chance to write about sports and hang out with athletic types. I’d never imagined myself as a jock or a writer, so this was quite the life turn. And the A’s flowed as I stumbled onto something I loved. My story’s pretty ordinary. There’s just something that screams “possibilities!” on just about every campus out there. An energy or something, I don’t know. Especially campuses as breathtaking as UC-San Diego’s. It’s in La Jolla, to be accurate, land of the $2 million average home. Estancia La Jolla is quite literally right across the street from campus.

Yes, yes, it’s the place I swiped the fruit from. Shhh!

So, the bear. It’s called “Bear, 2005″ by Tim Hawkinson. Strangely appropriate. We were wandering across campus back to the Estancia on our last full day in La Jolla, taking a route we hadn’t tried before. From the Geisel Library, down a path adorned by a fantastical snakeskin brick pattern, past a building topped by the work “Vices and Virtues,” where big neon words alternate to display them. You know, FAITH/LUST, HOPE/ENVY, CHARITY/SLOTH, PRUDENCE/PRIDE, etc. Of course Mary knew it had to be by Bruce Nauman, the dude who did the “Violins Violence Silence” neon piece at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Affecting stuff, especially as dusk began to make the colors pop.

We’d walked a little farther through an open courtyard when Mary squealed.

It’s funny how one little curve of an object out of the corner of an eye can suggest the whole. But  whatever, Mary grabbed Shop Boy’s arm and we tore down a side path. It opened onto a grassy knoll where we spotted Hawkinson’s sculpture. “I just knew it was a teddy bear,” she said — suddenly a little girl again — of the mammoth sculpture, which does look amazingly cuddly up close. A photo can’t really conjure the feeling of the piece. Just … peaceful. We stood and looked at the stone beast in the fading sunlight of a final day in paradise and just had a moment, you know?

There, at the end of a magical journey, it seemed the campus was making sure we didn’t miss things we might never be within hundreds of miles of again. The things that students pass every day, late for class, without a second thought. It happens all the time at Typecast Press. People who’ve stopped by for a tour or an appointment to talk stationery will fixate on some object or another in the studio and be, like, “Wow! What is that?”

And we’ll have walked right past the cool thing without a thought for months, or years even. It’s odd. We just sold one of the Vandercooks, a No. 1. We hadn’t used the press for some time. It wasn’t fair to the craft of letterpress to keep it out of circulation any longer. Anyway, when it was time for the press to go, Shop Boy had to disassemble an entire still-life tableau that Mary had created with a gorgeous brass oil can, an ancient brayer, a funky ink tray, that kind of stuff.

So now, there’s just an empty space in the corner.

It made me think back to the bear. Some day, in all likelihood, it’ll be gone from the UCSD campus. Perhaps it’s on loan, and the artist or owner will call it home. The science building will need to expand. Maybe it will simply age and fall down like everything and everyone does eventually. Some students will never have had any use for it anyway. It blocked the straightest path to the candy vending machines or whatever. Heck, we now have a clearer path to our original printing press, the Vandercook No. 3, a sweet piece of equipment itself. Still.

Shop Boy’s always had a love/hate relationship with Christmas. For one thing, my parents worked their butts off to pile up toys for seven kids to spend hours opening up on the big morning. It was overwhelming. Numbing, actually. A half-hour later, I couldn’t name half the awesome presents I’d received. Same with Mary’s incredibly generous parents, holidays or anytime. It’s just so hard sometimes to stop and … truly appreciate the possibilities that we’ve been handed through the years.

They don’t really teach you that in college, after all. Never too late to learn, I suppose. Perhaps Shop Boy should thank the Bear first of all.

Yeah.

They Might Be Clients

October 25, 2011

So, Spike Gjerde loves his music lyrics. Anyone who’s eaten at Woodberry Kitchen and seen the — ta-da! — Shop Boy-printed menu knows this.

“If you’re after getting the honey, then you don’t go killing all the bees.”

It’s a lyric by Joe Strummer, once of the Clash, then of the Mescaleros, and now sadly R.I.P. That lyric is from a song called “Johnny Appleseed,” which Spike loves and whose nature-respecting theme his restaurant sweats to uphold.

Anyway … Spike’s apparently got a musical soundtrack running through his mind 24/7. Turns out he’s also a fan of They Might Be Giants, a sometime rock, sometime kiddie-music band with a huge cult following. He tells the story of, in the way-old days, peppering the band’s manager with faxes (lol!) pleading for the boys to stop into Spike & Charlie’s, his first restaurant, when They were in town. Lo and behold, They — John Flansburgh and John Linnell, et al. — walked through the door one night, ate well (no surprise) and invited Spike to a Baltimore concert, giving him a shout-out from the stage. Fandom cemented.

They Might Be Unisex

Woodberry Kitchen had inherited some fairly so-so restroom accommodations at its inauguration a few years back. Not horrible or anything. Just not … special. Well, it wasn’t long before Woodberry was so special that it needed to expand, and it was decided that the restrooms should be spiffed up big time while the whole kitchen expansion/remodeling deal was underway. And that the restrooms should be for both men and women. Equality. No waiting. Cool, right? (Shop Boy wonders if they wondered whether maybe the guys’d be shamed into keeping a place they shared with women a bit tidier. Couldn’t hurt. Shop Boy had four older sisters, one younger sister. I learned quickly. Painfully.)

And so it was that Woodberry came to have three unisex restrooms. With fancy sinks, soaps and, tra-la-la, cloth hand towels. The three doors were given a distressed-wood look, smoked-glass panels and the walls around them painted a nice gray. Classy. But what of the signage? How to alert a newcomer that, yes, whether you were a man or woman, boy or girl, this was the place?

How about this:

OK, so-so photo, but you get the picture: The title of one of Spike’s favorite They Might Be Giants songs, “Women and Men,” on each of the windows and the lyrics applied to the surrounding walls by a real, old-school sign painter. The story of Mary’s hunt for the right painter is one for another day (guy named Bill Pickett, out of Richmond — a find), but for today we can just skip to the happy ending. It’s a gorgeous sight in real life. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go see it.

Cuts Both Ways

October 21, 2011

Bone folders make me shiver. And not just because it’s Halloween season, and skeletons and all that. I know it’s because whenever one of them shows up, it means a standard score won’t work on the designated printing press, for any number of reasons, and Shop Boy is going to have to finish the job by hand. Usually into the darkest hours of the night.

Which is why I was somewhat less than friendly to the dude selling the hand-carved bone folders at the book sale portion of the American Printing History Association conference that Mary and Shop Boy attended at the University of California-San Diego. Nothing personal. But his wares were giving me the willies. I didn’t mind telling him so.

Trouble is, Mary heard me too. “Oh, he’s so good with a bone folder,” she told the craftsman, Al Rodriguez (alrod@cox.net). “We had a contest: The winner got to finish the job.”

And has gotten to do every bone-folding job since. Guess who “won.” Total set-up.

She made me buy one of his bone folders. A real beauty, if you’re into such things. Sleek. Whittled out of an incredibly light bamboo, it looked like it’d be perfect … for keeping me up all hours of the night. I cursed under my breath and handed the dude 10 bucks. Figured I’d, um, lose the sucker in our luggage on the way back to Baltimore. Worth 10 bucks to dodge the next folding session, you know?

Then came this:

Don’t let the color fool you — it’s an orange. A California orange. Swiped, ahem, from a “lime” tree on the grounds of the impossibly landscaped Estancia La Jolla. (Travel tip: Stay an extra couple of days and the rate plummets. Shhhh! Just do it. Awesome getaway. Swear to god … go there. I’ve said too much.) OK, we’re easterners. The “lime” trees with the lime-green fruit are actually a disease-resistant lemon tree. And the identical-looking other trees with the lime-green fruit are orange trees.

I didn’t ask questions. Mary doesn’t like the taste of most tap water. Shop Boy needed to doctor it. “Lime” sounded perfect. Only problem was, there was no knife in the room. A request for a corkscrew — which usually means a gadget with a blade for cutting the foil that seals the bottle — brought only a plastic handle with the corkscrew part. Didn’t cut it. Literally. So now Shop Boy faced a quandary. Go down to the front desk and say that I didn’t need the corkscrew-corkscrew but rather a blade to slice up the fruit I’d stolen from the Estancia’s beautiful grounds. They’d have strung me up, and Shop Boy wouldn’t have blamed them, to tell you the truth. (Picture it: Mary sneaking a wooden bone folder in a cake past the metal detector at the prison so that I could — over the course of 20 years of late nights — tunnel my way out.)

Or, I could fake up a cutting tool.

Yup.

Bludgeoned the fruit a bit as I jabbed it with the bone folder, slicing a jagged circle around and then through the orange, which soon enough bared its guts. I bled it dry into our water glasses.

Looked a bit like a Jack O’ Lantern at Veterans Day when I was done. Sad.

But Mary was happy.

And I think I’ve got my Halloween costume all picked out for this year:

Hockey mask.

Bone folder.

Kinda gives you the willies, admit it.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

September 8, 2011

Shop Boy’s 6-foot-4 father-in-law calls him Low Boy, meaning I’m responsible — when we’re tackling a painting assignment, say — for getting the floor-hugging trim and other “low” stuff while he covers the ceilings and tops of walls.

Bob Cicero of Globe Poster has another name for me:

The Mouse.

I’m not offended (mostly). Painting the trim up to non-freakily tall people’s eye level is a reward in itself. I mean, how many people walk into your house and say, “hey, niiiiice ceilings.” If they do, they’re weirdos and it’s about time they leave, am I right? Besides, a lot of the magical stuff of Globe Poster’s past was waiting beneath something else … until Shop Boy/Low Boy/The Mouse got down on all fours and started poking and scratching around. All my crawling and digging brought some amazing stuff back into the light of day. So what can I say?

It felt a bit odd, then, that Shop Boy didn’t need to even bend at the waist to assemble the three plates that let me create … this:

In fact, I had to reach up for the black plate, which sat for years and years on a top shelf in the china/memorabilia cabinet out in Globe’s front office. Shop Boy had often admired the relief image of the snarling circus tiger but had never touched it. (Wasn’t dusty enough, I suppose.) Mary had a six-hour class to teach the next day, though, giving Shop Boy a free afternoon to play with the Globe stuff on the SP-15. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about running a Vandercook press before I took on the assignment of proofing cool cuts to be used on T-shirts to help raise money for the Globe move to the Maryland Institute College of Art and such. Mary would always set up the job, register the plates and do all the make-ready. I’d ink the press and provide the muscle to run the job and then clean everything. The system worked, but meant a lot of standing around for Shop Boy during set-up. And a bored Shop Boy is truly a printer’s devil.

Anyway, I never said I was a real printer. But it was time for me to learn my own machines. And the tiger seemed a neat place to start, with the three plates requiring adjustments for registration. Green was first, at least the plate that I’d make green, using the first tub of ink that was handy. (I’d never seen the beast in printed form, so I was winging it.) So far, so good:

Orange would be next. I’d seen tigers at the zoo, so I was pretty confident about that color. But printing the orange on top of the green just made the whole thing look like a big blob. Shop Boy soldiered on anyway. Might as well make some awful art while no one’s watching. I could learn from the project and ditch the evidence before Mary got there. Shop Boy aligned the black plate, inked up and rolled, expecting very little. Well:

What astounds Shop Boy most — still — is that the guy who hand-carved the set of wooden plates (the late Harry Knorr, in all likelihood) could have anticipated how the black plate would bring the whole image together. Also breathtaking is how a set of wooden plates, used non-gently for years, then abandoned for decades, could create such a sharp, detailed image today with very little make-ready.

And that it would be me — Shop Boy — whose skills would bring the image back to life.

But there it was. I brought a copy of the image down to Highlandtown the next day to show to Bob Cicero as a surprise. He’d been lending us stuff to proof all during the move prep and hadn’t even noticed the tiger’s absence from the shelf. Not that he’d have fretted. Mary’d left him a note:

“The Mouse Is Proofing Your Cat.”

King’s Ransom

August 25, 2011

Who are these clowns? And how in heck did they find me here?

Shop Boy was up to his ears in dirt and dust, on an archeological dig at Baltimore’s old Globe Poster Printing Corp. In Mary’s latest installment of “Saving the World One Grimy Corner at a Time,” we were prepping and packing Globe’s collection of amazing old stuff for a move to the Maryland Institute College of Art for its next life as a teaching collection. These were the raw materials used to create not only famed posters to advertise big-name R&B and rock music concerts but also for carnivals, burlesque, Hollywood moving pictures, car racing and, yes, Baltimore drag shows. Though “only” an adjunct professor there, Mary had somehow, um, persuaded the president and provost of MICA to purchase the truly mind-boggling collection. (This will not surprise you if you know Mary, but that’s a story for another day.)

Shop Boy was dragged kicking and screaming into the act. I mean, I was having enough trouble keeping Typecast Press in order. “Are you crazy?” But Mary needed me, so I went on that freezing winter day to Globe’s blustery, unheated Highlandtown headquarters, with a big chip attached firmly to my shoulder. Under the 17 shirts and eight jackets, of course.

While Mary and Globe owner Bob Cicero discussed strategy for keeping the collection safe and together, Shop Boy mostly was left  standing around on those Arctic ice floes that were serving as concrete floors. (Did I mention it was cold there? I should.) To keep the circulation going, I began to explore the cavernous place. For years now, most of the action had been on the other side of the plant from the composing room. Globe had been mostly screenprinting plastic “Going Out of Business” signs for others while worrying about its own future. But the composing room was where all that letterpress magic had once happened. Bob’s stories of a buzzing crew creating perhaps 20 unique posters a day there got Shop Boy to thinking of his and Mary’s trippy young days in humming newspaper composing rooms. And as they went off to chat, I tripped again.

It’s tough to describe exactly what Globe’s composing room looked like when we got there. It was just … stacks. And stacks. And dust. And stacks. You stepped over and through openings to get to other openings. Not to criticize, but it had literally been years since a person had stood, or swept, in some of those spots.

And so I found myself on a part of the floor that hadn’t been looked over in a while, at least from this prone angle. I wiped the dust off my shoulder, cursed, then sneezed. Mary called out, “You OK, Shop Boy?” I was fine. I kicked gently at the thing that had brought me down. Just a broken mop handle or something. But what was that next to it? I’d dislodged an old “cut,” an elk head that was probably part of some lodge’s logo that Globe had once printed. It was from a drawer whose bottom had let go. I hadn’t noticed the drawers before. Or the cabinet, for that matter. But there it was, so I decided to take a peek.

Well.

Turns out that in this here factory, among the stacks of lead, mountains of metal, vats of ancient fluorescent ink, reams of fabulously aged paper and rack after rack after rack after rack of hand-carved maple letters and signs were the scattered bits of mid-20th century posters for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Leagues team that, when it wasn’t playing some serious baseball, by all accounts (yup, Hank Aaron is an alumnus), was barnstorming the nation with African costumes, cornball comedy and … blackface. The poster pieces had been set aside long ago once Hammerin’ Hank and the other top black stars were grudgingly accepted into Major League Baseball.

Sports? Here? Shop Boy was all in. I took everything I could carry back to our printshop for proofing on the Vandercook, then packaged them up carefully and set them aside for Bob, who remembers his late dad, Joe Cicero Sr., talking about them, though of course it had been some years back.

Then came this:

Kind of neat, am I right? That’s Eddie Feigner.

Who?

The King!

No, really. As in, The King and His Court.

The long story of how he and his poster came back to life is more amazing, but I’ll give you the quickie version so we can all get back to our own lives a bit sooner.

There are eight pieces to the poster, an advertisement for the barnstorming softball team that would go town to town and, using only four players, beat the bejeepers out of any who dared to challenge them. Shop Boy had seen the act as a kid on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

The poster worked like many at Globe: The main image would be printed, in several colors, for a big stack of posters. Later, wood type would be used to fill in the locations, dates and times of the shows in black ink. If the client were traveling all over the East Coast, say, the wood type could be swapped in and out to create specific posters for each stop.

Well, the pieces of this particular poster had been scattered through time to the far corners of the Globe warehouse, but suddenly began turning up under here, over there, atop shelves, inside a box, wherever they should not have been. Each time, Shop Boy was waiting. OK, so my main job at Globe was to sort, alphabetize and box the metal-on-wood photo cuts of R&B, rock and hip-hop acts for their eventual further cataloging by young artist/historians at MICA. In the rush to prep the collection for the move, there wasn’t time to worry about searching for the other pieces to a forgotten poster for silly old ballplayers.

Instead, they began finding me. Swear to god.

The black plate popped up first. Shop Boy saw it sitting atop a work table. It clearly depicted a baseball stadium facade with the words “King and His Court” reversed out of it. “Hey, I wonder if this was for ‘The King and His Court,’ ” Shop Boy wondered aloud.

“What was the giveaway?” Bob joked.

The red plate, an echo of the black facade that added a few pennants and a big star with a silhouette of the King’s head, had been snapped in two somehow and ended up at opposite ends of the building. By dumb luck I happened to carry one piece past the other one day, recognized the color of the ink stain on the wood, and … what do you know? The “yellow” background plate — which I obviously prefer as baseball-field green — was mixed among a carton of auto racing poster plates. The four-man lineup cut popped out of a dusty box at the bottom of a stack filled with carnival stuff.

But The King was nowhere. So many pieces of early Globe posters (this was from 1955, as the central pennant shows) had been sawed into shelves once the job was finished or gone missing in a series of printshop relocations that I deemed him a lost cause and got back to the more important task of documenting the key R&B figures whose heads had been in cold storage for too long and bringing them back to life with a little warm ink. I’d culled about 150 heads from a collection of maybe 15,000 that I either recognized from a Globe poster or that just looked cool and different and brought them back to Typecast to proof as well.

It was the ears that caught my eyes. Not the buzzcut in the sea of very fine afros of, say, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Roberta Flack and Bootsy Collins. “No way!” I picked up the little head and walked it over to the carved wooden star. The ears matched the silhouette! Yup, the King of Softball had long ago been sorted into the kings and queens of R&B. Funny.

The cartoon part of the poster, explaining the King’s act, lay at the bottom of a crate filled with ink-coated wood once used to fill out huge poster forms. A needle in a haystack.

And finally, after we’d cherry-picked all the best lead type “slugs” produced by the Ludlow, a kind of linotype machine — FUN + GAMES + RIDES and such — three huge containers got filled with the rest, to be sold as scrap. A few stray slugs had ended up on the floor, and had been pushed with a foot or whatever into a dusty corner. Don’t know why, but I dug through the pile.

Hello?

E-D-D-I-E F-E-I-G-N-E-R.

S-p-o-o-k-y.

(Also a bit eerie: This just moved on the Web while I was fact-checking myself. King and His Court to retire, like, this weekend.)

P.S.: Bob Cicero liked the story of Shop Boy putting the poster back together so much, he told me to keep the pieces.

Now, where the heck did I put them?

Kidding!

The Devil Is in the Details Book

July 14, 2011

Look, Mary once got paper made of rocks or something to feed through a copying machine in her position at the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities. If she can’t get the copier to run a job, it simply won’t run that job.

So why do the Kinko’s guys always doubt her? They should just hand her the mouse and turn her loose with the better machines — and all those printer options on the computer programs they do not understand — behind the desk. Or … they can stay late and get a lesson in printer persuasion as she leans on them till their attitude bends.

Because we weren’t going anywhere the night before a bride was coming to pick up her magnificent invitations. All that remained was copying two-sided pages for a teeny details book that would give prospective guests the lowdown on lodging, entertainment, gift registry and even the happy couple’s plans for starting their future together. Cool, right? The idea was a take on the unforgettable fold-out detail card that our pals Stacey Mink and Geoff Brown helped us create for their wedding. And it was so close to finished. Just copy the sheets of paper, cut them to size and staple them into a lovely cover.

Mary 1, Kinko’s 0.

OK, so the staples. We have an old saddle stitcher, or at least that’s what we’ve been calling it perhaps ignorantly. It’s a big old, foot-pedal-powered stapler is what it is. Rather neat-looking, we think. And rather not up to the task, our pleading and coaxing falling upon deaf cast-iron ears. What we were hoping for is to avoid the big bends that the tines of most common staples end up forming on the inside of the paper, like a big bow or something. It’d be bulky in such a little book. And Shop Boy could not convince Mary that all we needed to do was staple through the cards and insert sheets into something soft, then fold the tines down neatly one at a time. There were 200 of the the things. So? We’ve done tweakier stuff, as Shop Boy will get to in a moment.

Mary remembered suddenly a favor that she had done for the folks at Alpha Graphics, an awesome shop around the corner that regularly does negatives for our plates and, on one recent occasion, had borrowed our drill press to create nice, neat holes in some bit of stationery or other. Alpha has an automatic saddle stitcher, so quicker than you can say “calling in an owesie,” we were sitting in the pleasantly air-conditioned Alpha, Shop Boy folding the printed sheets into the cards and handing them one at a time to a wild-eyed Mary, who was just a little too into the “bang” of the contraption each time she tapped the foot pedal, if you ask me. Had “emergency room” written all over it.

But we cranked them out, noticing partway through the blue line painted along the spine of the staples. Not sure if it helps the machine’s brain line up the punch or what. But on the individual staples, and on the back of the cards, it created a blue dot.

Shop Boy (in denial mode by default): “Who’s going to notice that?”

Mary: “Everybody’s going to notice that!”

Shop Boy: “OK, you’re right. But we can just take an emery board and …”

Did I mention tweaky? Yes, I believe I did. Shop Boy and Typecast interns/friends Allison Fisher and Ingrid Schindall once spent the better part of two days buffing the cotton hickeys off the edges of separate business card orders. Thousands of cards each. See, sometimes a cutting rule will dull in one spot and tear rather than slice the cotton papers that Typecast favors. Thus, when Mary does a die-cutting job on the windmill — currently above Shop Boy’s pay grade — the air is filled with cotton puffs, the machine is filled with oil hole-clogging dander … and the edges of the cards can be left a bit rough.

Not in our store, you don’t.

Some folks use sandpaper or a similar rough surface to fix the peachfuzz effect, lining a bunch of cards up all at once. That’s good for bigger printed objects, in Shop Boy’s book, but when the fuzz gets between the cards, the sandpaper ain’t going to reach it. And so we buff.

On the blue polka-dotted staples, however, none of the above treatments worked. The emery board tended to stray from the staple and make a mess of the cotton booklet’s spine. And anyway, it didn’t get all of the blue off. So Mary handed me the dental tools. Honest to god, Shop Boy sat there with a miniature rasper — with the bride due any minute by this time — filing smooth each staple’s backside. No pressure. And if you think a slip with an emery board can chew up a cotton booklet’s spine, wait’ll you see my, um, handiwork on a couple of booklets that ended up in the sample drawer instead of the bride’s box.

Might match the unexplained nicks, gashes and grooves you find one day on the ever-recalcitrant copiers at your neighborhood Kinko’s. Mary’s tried everything else to get her money’s worth out of that joint. We’ll just call it the blue dot special.

Movie Time

July 7, 2011

OK, so these three students from the University of Baltimore decide to make their class project a film on Typecast Press. Each would do a short piece on us, documentary style.

Fun, right? For Shop Boy especially. No heavy lifting! Though I do think they could have airbrushed out the double chin and perhaps deepended my voice a bit. What are they teaching these people in film class at UB, anyway?

This, which is, ahem, more than a little charming.

That’s Josh Harless’ version. We’re still waiting on their other two, by Karen Summerville and Dean Nettles. Perhaps they will be more about Shop Boy. Honestly, the crew was marooned with me alone for an entire day of shooting when Mary was called away … and that’s it? I merely helped them work out the lighting and stuff for when Mary got back, I guess. They kept saying how great I was doing too. Sigh. Not bitter.

I’ll post the other films when I get them. (In the meantime, thanks, Josh. All kidding aside, that was a cool experience.)

By the way, I keep saying this, but Shop Boy hopes to be a more regular contributor to the blogosphere again soon. Got a million stories to tell. And that’s only the Globe Poster part!

Saved for Poster-ity

April 10, 2011

Shop Boy's take on a classic

It’s sort of like letting your screwball neighbor borrow the Hope Diamond to cut glass for a home-improvement project.

But there was Shop Boy, holding out his arms as Bob Cicero of Globe Poster piled on the priceless, hand-carved wooden plates to an old four-color rodeo poster. The original, a wonder, hangs at the front of the old Globe shop. The gesture was kind of a reward for all that Mary had done to broker the acquisition of the Globe collection by the Maryland Institute College of Art, and to commemorate the good time Shop Boy had given himself rooting through the old stacks of Globe paraphernalia in the mammoth and wacky old space in weird old Highlandtown that Globe has called home … while Mary did all that hard work.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy had this running discussion/argument the other day about which old blue-collar Baltimore neighborhood is more, um, eccentric, Typecast Press’ Hampden or Globe’s Highlandtown. Shop Boy said Hampden, where a trio of chain-smoking early teen mothers might be crossing Roland Avenue against the light, nary a glance left or right, leading with their baby strollers while a delivery truck is double-parked (next to an open parking space big enough for it and a twin) and a Brink’s truck approaches M&T Bank from the opposite direction and double parks as well, blocking the whole freaking main thoroughfare, 36th Street (“only be but a minute or two, hon”). Meanwhile, a drunk dude wanders across the intersection sipping a coffee (plus whatever was in the flask) from the RoFo, as they call the Royal Farms stores in these parts, a newcomer baffled by the “rear-in only” parking on 36th Street simply stops cold, leading stupidly impatient motorists behind him to pull over into oncoming traffic for a standoff of epically moronic proportions, a white dude dressed like a gangster thug in a music video and holding a crazed pit bull (on way too flimsy a leash) hawks drugs, a hooker drags herself home from a trick and a cop eats a pizza and cools his heels. Wait, is that an ambulance siren?

“OK, you win,” Shop Boy admitted as we fought our way past an even nuttier scene in Highlandtown. “Jesus God!” as Bob Cicero is prone to exclaim. That place is a piece of work.

But back to Globe and MICA. Now, Mary is a persuasive person, to which we must now add “legendarily,” as in:

“Jesus God, how do you argue with that?

Since the acquisition is as official as these things get with lawyers still present, let Shop Boy tell you a little bit about how it went down.

Mary heard that Globe was about to shutter its operations and needed to sell off its stuff, mainly hundreds of drawers of beautiful wood type, great old “cuts” — the metal-on-wood blocks that became the circus and carnival figures, the go-go girls, the R&B acts, the daredevil racers — and thousands upon thousands of classic posters from a shop that churned out more than 20 unique versions per day at peak production. Bob had little idea that anybody gave half a darn for the old stuff that had made the Ciceros (Joe Sr., and brothers Bob, Frank and Joe) such a magical act all those years. There were a few hardy friends who thought otherwise, hoping that Globe could be preserved as a whole and kept, somehow, in Baltimore.

What they needed was a crazy person visionary, someone willing to champion the cause at any personal cost. Mary’s cost included having to hear Shop Boy scream “no, no, no!” at the idea of her taking this project on, then eventually having to hear me scream “no, no, no!” as she tried at the end of another long day to pull me out of the Globe shop, which of course had become my personal playground. What a cool place. I mean, you know me, chicken to the core, scared stiff of what might lie in wait in that dark spot at the back of a cabinet that hadn’t been touched in decades. But there went Shop Boy’s bare hand, reaching for whatever that was. The discoveries! OK, they were the “Christopher Columbus discovers the New World!” kind of discoveries. (Really, you were the first person there, CC?) The coolest thing? Bob Cicero was so amused at my zeal that he let me take all this stuff back to Typecast Press to play with on our presses. Shop Boy was not shy about doing so. Thus, Typecast suddenly has stacks and stacks and stacks of proofs pulled from the mostly forgotten cuts. To tell you the truth (another Bob Cicero-ism), Globe had not made posters the letterpress way in some years, its 24,000-pound Miehles silent since a move from South Baltimore in the Eighties. The trade-off is that I’d clean years of dust and dirt off before I used the cuts, “repair” broken ones and then bring them back to await their fate as Mary pitched the “collection” to MICA.

This was touchy business. Mary, as a mere adjunct professor of letterpress printing at MICA, needed to awaken a school (all the way to the president’s office) to the possibilities that taking on a dusty, indefinable, and just plain vast assortment of letterpress stuff would present to the school. Oh, and the school would have to buy the collection …

Shop Boy can’t find the words to describe my pride at Mary’s efforts at persuasion — and those of the MICA folks to see in time what she saw and felt so passionately all along. And the MICA seniors … kids who’ll never get to actually use the collection. How they rallied for it! You could cry, really.

There have been a few bumps, of course, even now, with the deal so close to done. As I keep telling Mary, when you move mountains, chances are you’re going to have to set them down on someone’s toes. (I thought that statement fairly profound — Shop Boy will have to some day look up who I stole it from.)

Mary will never tell you that she saved the Globe collection (though she will say how much stronger this has made her belief in the power of a tiny, committed group to make a big  difference). Neither will Shop Boy (though I will quietly always believe it). Who cares, right? The Globe collection is saved.

Who could have imagined that six months ago?

And after all this, how hard can it be for Mary to turn Shop Boy back into a contributing member of society and build Typecast Press into the household name that I believe, ahem, it should already be?

It ain’t her first time at the rodeo, after all.

The Sign

March 24, 2011

That was odd. Shop Boy had come across the hall to scout for a background form — a type-high block (8 by 10 in this case) for printing a solid block of color — and lazily left the door open behind him. It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday, not a high-traffic time for the Fox Industries Building, and I’d only be a sec. Mary needed the block pronto for a demonstration over at her Maryland Institute College of Art letterpress class. We’d been moving everything imaginable around in the studio recently, but Shop Boy had a basic idea where such a thing might be.

Just as I pulled open a file drawer, there was a weird sound behind me. Somebody else was here. Shop Boy looked around for a heavy, blunt object just in case.

OK, every stinking thing in a letterpress studio is a blunt object capable of inflicting bodily harm. I might be dead before I could choose among potential weapons. Shop Boy summoned his courage and peeked sheepishly around the corner.

“Are you the Grim Reaper?” I asked.

OK, I asked that in my head. Mostly I just stared at the figure who’d wandered through the open door. But it was definitely what Shop Boy was thinking: My escort to the next world had arrived. She was the picture of calm, her long, white hair framing a serene, smiling face.

Shop Boy was struck dumb. I grew up on the Grim Reaper of the Monty Python sketches, the black-clad, skeletal Death with the scythe impatiently gesturing toward the salmon as the killer of all the dinner guests as the hostess quite literally dies of embarrassment.

The older woman was silent for a moment as well. Then she spoke …

“I have been coming here for years,” she said.

Gulp. Death had been stalking me. Waiting for this moment. Why this one? Was it the deli turkey?

Now, I’d always told my late mom that she wouldn’t die anytime soon, that she was too mean for a heaven-type atmosphere, that God didn’t want any part of her until she mellowed. Shop Boy figured the big fella saw me as someone who had a few issues to work through as well before I could even get a tee time at St. Peter’s Country Club, never mind pulling up a bar stool at the ultimate 19th hole. Guess you never know.

“Are you an actual museum?” she asked with a smile. “I get a shiatsu massage down the hall regularly , and I’ve never seen the museum sign before or seen the door open.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The sign next to the door. We were thinking of a demarcation for the studio, something that would be fun. Mary and Chris Hartlove came up with the words: “The Old Printers’ Home and Museum of Mostly Useless Antiquities.” Shop Boy had come up with the idea of a “right-reading” copper-on-wood printer’s plate. A normal plate would of course read backwards so as to print correctly. The plate maker, Owosso, thought it was all a cute idea, too.

“Um, hee-hee, that’s kind of a joke,” Shop Boy stammered. “Our old roommate was a photographer who used actual film, and we use these crazy old presses. You know, it’s all outmoded stuff no sane person would, uh, be caught dead using to try to make money nowadays.”

She looked around for an uncomfortable moment, turned and floated back toward the exit, as Shop Boy — still a bit shaken, honestly — realized he’d probably seemed kind of rude to his, um, guest.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just, uh, surprised to see someone here.”

The woman grinned. Then she was gone.

Spooked, Shop Boy grabbed the background block for Mary and decided to knock off, uh, cash in, er, stop working … for the day. Not, like, forever or anything.

And I drove home very cautiously, pausing only to pay $53 for 14 gallons of gasoline, an oddly reassuring reminder that this truly ain’t heaven.

Whew.

Back in Business

January 16, 2011

Is there an echo in here? Hello? Hel-lo? Hel-hel-hel-oo-oo-oooo?

OK, I get it. This has been a big, empty space for far too long. Well, Shop Boy’s been kind of hiding out. From computers, from e-mail, from everything. Anything not directly related to the holidays and the physical production of stationery, that is. Snowed under with work — yay! — Mary’s needed me to be a mini-her, something never really required of me before. Like flying solo on the Heidelberg Windmill. Tackling tricky cuts with pricey paper on the big guillotine. Or even more daunting, mixing my own ink colors. In fact, Shop Boy’s thinking of getting a T-shirt for around the shop: “Trust me. I do this professionally.” Wouldn’t that be a funny turn in all this?

Then again, it’s the only thing Shop Boy does do professionally these days. Yep, the economy bit me. At least Mary took the news of my layoff as a journalist better than I did.

“How quick can you get to the printshop?”

And once Mary knows you’ve got some free time on your hands, well …

As one guy recently noted of Shop Boy: “You’re the busiest unemployed person I’ve ever met.”

So, that’s where I’ve been. Plenty to write about but no time to write it.

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog by mistake or have been checking in occasionally, please stop by again soon. Just a taste of what’s to come:

Press acquisitions. (Surprise!)

Back-to-school plans. (Not as you might expect.)

A Hollywood ending.

And, of course, go-go girls.

Let’s talk soon.

Permafrosted

November 6, 2010

It’s safe to say that, if they X-rayed his lungs today, Shop Boy would receive a sparkling report.

And a dark diagnosis: Freezer Burn.

I mean, the warning signs were there. That odd glistening from certain angles. The telltale gleaming smears on the dinner napkin. Shiny dandruff. Disco-ball reflections off the fingertips.

Shop Boy: “How long do I have?”

Dr. Mashburn: “Ninety-one.”

Shop Boy: “Days? Just three months!?!?”

Dr. Mashburn: “No, 91 more cards. And you’ve got about three hours.”

Shop Boy “NOOOO-ooooooooo!”

True story: Shop Boy’s always kidded Mary about her love of handmade paper. I didn’t get it, and sometimes still don’t, to be honest. The edges were all rough and ragged. The thickness was all messed up and irregular. And it was expensive as heck. One Christmas when we were dating (yes, her obsession goes back that far, way before letterpress took over our lives), Shop Boy went to the drug store, bought a ream of garishly colored construction paper, crumpled it a bit and tore it into rough, kinda-square chunks.

“To Mary: Since I know you love wrecked paper.”

Oh, we laughed about it back then. But at 3 a.m. on a Thursday night/Friday morning, it was all Shop Boy could do to keep from crying.

See, the thing about handmade paper and letterpress printing is that inconsistent thickness of sheets of paper means the impression is all messed up, some sheets printing beautifully, some barely touching the form enough to pick up ink. The best you can do is segregate like thicknesses into separate piles and change packing depth as you go to match. Annoying? Oh, you betcha. Add sprinkles, which of course Mary had, and … oh, man.

The job was a card for wedding guests letting them know that a donation to a charity had been made in their honor in celebration of the bride and groom’s big day. Nice gesture. The design included a side-by-side silhouette of the happy couple, with it and the words of the invitation to be printed in gold ink on, yes, Freezer Burn, a white, sparkly, handmade paper from Porridge in Nebraska.

Mary loves her some Porridge Papers. We’ve done magical cards for a fantastically, um, creative friend on orange paper with orange sprinkles — Shop Boy forgets what that paper shade was called. (Mary informs me over my shoulder that it was called Fuzzy Navel. Awesome!) We did a baby announcement on a bluish paper that Porridge had added a scent to, so that when recipients opened the announcement of the little darling’s arrival … they smelled a hint of baby powder. Cool, no?

“What’s with Baltimore and all this sparkle paper?” Christopher James, the proprietor of Porridge Papers, was asking Mary, having received several similar orders recently from her.

You have to remember, Baltimore is the city whose favorite nutty mayor decided that an answer to the recycling problem was to take all the glass bottles piling up, crush them, add them to road-paving materials and … glasphalt. A number of the city’s streets shine like diamonds when your headlights hit them. Swear. That’s just how we roll. Besides, when clients get a look at some of the funky stuff we’ve printed on sparkle paper, sometimes nothing else will do.

Now, what can Shop Boy say about gold ink? It’s an odd deal. First off, that’s actual gold leaf in there. Meaning it’s a bit pricey. Second, on certain papers it prints more brown than golden. Baby announcements that smell like baby powder? OK. Baby announcements that look like baby poo? Not so much.

Gold ink is also picky about how you apply it. Spread it on the ink wheel of a C&P, get it to the right density for the run and you’re off. Awesome. But say, for the sake of argument, that sprinkles get shaken loose from the paper your printing with each and every impression, creating golden blemishes wherever they land, sometimes sticking to the plate and messing up five cards before you even notice. Then you take a speck of gold from the ink plate and dab it into the crummy-looking crevices. Two very different shades of gold. That’s OK. It’ll dry back and blend in. Same ink, right?

Um, nope.

Which Shop Boy really didn’t get through his skull until 3 a.m. rolled around, he proudly picked up the pile of “finished” cards and he noticed that six hours of eye-straining, nerve-testing, absolute focus had produced … garbage. I mean, it was incredibly subtle work, using the steel tip of a long-expired pen to dip into a droplet of the gold ink and then, very carefully, tracing the contour of a nose or a chin on a cameo or adding a splash of color to a spot here and a spot there, and there and there and there and there and there and there and there.

Look at the dried card straight on? Nice. Let it catch the light? The effect? Bird doo on a statue, like from a golden eagle or something:

And the sparkles? In my nose. In my tear ducts. On my scalp. In my teeth. And, yes, in my lungs.

A big pile of wrecked paper. And a job that would have to start again, almost from scratch.

I see spots.

Stage Dive

October 5, 2010

Shop Boy may have claimed to be many things in this letterpress blog on occasion: chronicler of the absurd, poker of hypocrites (self included), lover of heavy metal as well as syrupy pop music, hater of bugs.

One thing I’ve never tried to pass myself off as … not even once … is a printer. Oh, I may offer a helpful hint now and then to a shop visitor or blog reader by mistake. But Mary’s the brains here. Really. She gives me grief when I call Typecast Press her shop. But honestly, all that we’ve accomplished as a business is her doing. How the printshop looks? OK, some of that’s me. But Mary’s the printer. She does her thing, then Shop Boy cheers … and cleans the presses. And maybe writes, ahem, a word or two about it.

Believe me, that’s how I prefer it.

So imagine my surprise — OK, horror — when Mary handed me her iPhone, displaying the ad for a recent AIGA event.

One of the featured speakers? Guess.

“They’re not making people pay for this, are they?” I asked.

They were. Shop Boy? Already paying as soon as I saw the ad.

Kat Feuerstein of Gilah Press + Design, Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy of Typecast Press and Ray Nichols of Lead Graffiti will share their love and war letterpress stories, tips and tricks and answer all your questions!

Where to hide?

“Mary Mashburn and Shop Boy.”

Ooh. Ever hear the expression “a face for radio,” meaning “too ugly for TV”? Shop Boy’s got a face — and a voice — for blogging.

Mary assured me that this would all turn out fine. That, yes, I am a printer:

Who ran the job on the windmill last weekend?

Shop Boy, but …

Who does so many of the C&P jobs and sets up demonstrations on the clamshell presses for tour groups?

Shop Boy, but …

Who empties the garbage cans, fills the solvent dispensers, changes the water jug, deals with the recycling, unfolds the boxes of envelopes (then re-folds them after they’re printed), digs out the 26″ by 40″ ream of Lettra from the absolute bottom of the stack of enormously heavy boxes then puts it back when Mary decides to use a different paper, rounds the corners on the coasters, wrestles the eyeleter to a draw, picks up lunch, makes the coffee, reminds Mary which way “clockwise” is and sings a few really bad songs really badly?

OK, Shop Boy, but …

I don’t know about the whole “Shop Boy as expert” deal.

So there we were at the Windup Space at the appointed hour, ready to give our talk. The Windup sits on Baltimore’s once-hopping North Avenue, now kind of a gloomy stretch of fried chicken places, cash-checking services, Jo-Willie’s Bank & Trust, sketchy taverns, no-tell motels and the castle/fortress that the Baltimore school system built as a symbol of its great successes with urban students. To be fair, North Avenue also has Joe Squared (awarded the 2010 Shop Boy Gold Seal for pizza) … and the Windup Space. It’s essentially a big old, hollowed-out tavern itself with an extensive show of tattoo-inspired art along one wall, a long bar along the other, a small stage and a bunch of tables. It looked like a fun place to hang out. Beer in bottles or on tap, what looked like an OK liquor assortment and a bathroom that didn’t give Shop Boy the creeps. We’re there!

Mary had prepared a slide show (as had Kat and Ray) to give the audience a feel for our shop and work, helpfully illustrating several panels on the joys and hazards of collecting — and cleaning — printing presses with doodles by Shop Boy, who has never claimed to be an artist.

Shop Boy has never tried to pass himself off as a computer whiz either, by the way. So, as the IT guys threw up their hands when the projection projector wouldn’t project the project that Mary had spent all day on, Shop Boy began pacing even more furiously. No A/V aids meant more talking. Not good.

But Mary doesn’t take “no” from any computer. So while Shop Boy sweated, she elbowed the IT guys aside and set about untangling cords. There was a wrong adapter in the mix or the pixel setting was discombobulated or whatever. (Like I said …) At last, the  guy behind the bar — who it turns out was Windup Space owner Russell de Ocampo — remembered an old Mac laptop he’d had stashed in the back room and, as old Macs will, it fired right up and saved the day. The picture wasn’t great, but our audience would get the idea. And the less they could see of Shop Boy’s doodles, the better. You, readers, are not so lucky:

Anyhow, Mary sailed through her 10-minute presentation, mixing humor with the insight, then Ray and Kat did likewise, and nary a peep out of Shop Boy (even with Kat poking me a couple of times to urge me to speak up) — they were doing so well without me. But then came the Q&A period, and Mary’s hand reaching over with the piece of paper that held the questions we were supposed to answer whether they came from the audience or not. “You do this one, Shop Boy,” she said sternly.

It was a “complete this sentence” kind of question: “You will do well at letterpress printing if you are …”

I choked on the wording until it came out something like: “What kind of person would want to do this?!?!”

Freudian slip? “You will do well at letterpress printing if you are …” CRAZY.

Then something crazy did happen. From somewhere deep within Shop Boy came a soliloquy on the art, the majesty and the magic of letterpress; how it can turn someone who isn’t a printer, isn’t an artist and isn’t a computer tech (duh!) into a creator of a tangible beauty — that blank piece of paper transformed into something lovely.

Sigh. There goes all of Shop Boy’s whining down the tubes.

Nip and Luck

September 10, 2010

The windmill certainly let’s you know where you stand. Or should stand anyway.

“Oh my god, Mary, what did you do to your finger?” Shop Boy asked after noticing the gnarly bruise, blue and purple stretching about an inch fore and aft of the knuckle of the middle finger on her right hand.

“Um, I screwed up?”

We’ve discussed how Mary loves the Heidelberg, and all its knurled knobs, dials and doohickeys. Apparently it loves her back. Enough to let her off easy.

Just this once.

The way Mary described the incident, it went kinda like this: The paper stack started getting wonky in the “out” rack and she worried the sheets might begin to slip onto the floor and get dirty or, worse, end up in the guts of the machine and have to be fished out. So she made a quick reach in from the right side of the windmill, thinking she had clearance.

She very nearly had a little extra room on her right hand. There are several moving parts on that side of the machine, and her finger got “pinched” between two of them.

Complacency. Lack of focus. Familiarity. Overconfidence.

There’s enough danger in the printshop without adding any of the above.

Mary, it seems to Shop Boy, added all four.

Next time, she might end up with exactly that many fingers.

If she’s lucky. Lesson learned.

Composite Metal

August 31, 2010

It was 10:30 on a Tuesday night, and all but a few of the Denver bars had closed up shop for the night. (Don’t get Mary started. Let’s just say that she and I often differ on the wonders of Denver … and we’ll leave it at that.) She’d picked up a copy of Westword, the local independent publication that has become a whole lot more slick since Mary and Shop Boy left town, perhaps riding a high brought on by page after page after page of ads for all of the, cough, legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Now, don’t you go calling them “head shops,” you sassy thing. You need a prescription to score your doobies.

Giggling aside, Shop Boy and Mary believe in the legalization of marijuana for a bunch of health reasons. It can help fight nausea in those undergoing chemo. It can help fight pain and, OK, stimulate an appetite in those who’ve been through similar medical hell. Look, if Granny’s hurting and scared, and smoking a joint would help ease her suffering, I’m buying. But it’s still a bit trippy to see ads for delicious-looking pot brownies and chocolates. Swear to god.

Here’s the kicker: Since the state law on medical marijuana passed, the taxes on the stuff have been puffing up local budgets. That will make it a bit tougher to pull the hemp out from under the law. Either way, it’s a fascinating social experiment.

So, in the midst of these pot ads, the straight and the dopey, Mary stumbled across a listing for a book-signing at the legendary Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver.

Mary: “Isn’t this that Megadeth guy?”

Shop Boy: “What, Dave Mustaine? He’s written his autobiography? That should be some story.”

Sex & drugs & drugs & drugs & drugs & drugs & sex & drugs & drugs … and rock & roll.

Shop Boy’s been a huge fan of the rock & roll part of Mustaine & Megadeth for a long time. Mary? Ooh. Shop Boy had this running joke, using words to Mary’s favorite songs and singing them like Mustaine does in “Sweating Bullets.” (Mary’s classic response: “Isn’t he a little old to be talking like the devil?”) Mustaine’s snarling version:

Hello, Me.
Meet the real Me
And my misfit’s way of life
A dark black past is my
Most valued possession
Hindsight is always 20/20
Looking back it’s still a bit fuzzy
Speak of mutually assured destruction
Nice story …
Tell It to Reader’s Digest!

Shop Boy’s:

Billie Jean is
Not my lover
She’s just a girl who
Claims that I am the one …

You get the idea.

Mary: “Too bad you missed him. He was here the 25th. Oh, wait. That’s tomorrow.”

Alas, he was scheduled to sign books at 12:30 p.m. or something (although you could line up at 6:30 a.m. if you wanted). Shop Boy and Mary’s dad, Wayne, would be in our seats at the blessed cathedral known as Coors Field for a baseball game by then. He’d planned the journey months in advance.

Mary: “I’m going to go.”

Well.

Let me tell you, I’ve whined in this space about Mary sending me to makeup stores on my own to stumble blindly (and choke on the fumes) while looking for the Kevin Aucoin mascara or the “porcelain delicate” shade of this foundation or that. Shop Boy clearly had no idea how much she appreciated my sacrifice.

She asked me to tell her again why I like Megadeth so much. Well, it’s speed metal, of course. I mean breakneck speed metal. Yet oddly melodic. Somehow it all sounds like a classical composition, not simply a song. Very tight. And, as you might have guessed, Shop Boy loves to play around with words. Ditto for old Dave here.

Mary wanted to hear a different song by Megadeth to remind her of what it sounded like. Cue the air guitar: Dun-da-da-da-dadada-naa-naaa! Shop Boy let loose on a few bars of “Almost Honest,” a slow song by Megadeth standards, but a big favorite.

I was nearly pure
When I said I loved you
You were semi-sincere
You said, “I’d bleed for you”
We were kinda candid
Now you’ve gone away
We were almost honest … almost

“Oh, I like that one,” Mary chirped.

(Who needs bars when you got this kind of entertainment handy, am I right?)

Thus Mary declared herself primed and ready to meet The Man.

And so she did. Mary and the metalheads.

To hear her tell it, she was unimpressed. At least at first. Shop Boy’s never written a book or been approached for his autograph — yet — so I can’t imagine how difficult a book tour is on a guy. But “Mr. Mustaine” had apparently woken up on the wrong side of the bed this afternoon. When one young chap offered that he’d met the rock star a while back in a show in Small Town X, suggesting that he and the guitarist were now old buddies, Mr. Mustaine snarled, “We do a lot of those events. I don’t remember you.”

Next!

A few moments later, a young mother approached, with toddler in tow, announcing that she planned to raise her child on heavy metal, and indeed rocked the child to sleep accompanied by Megadeth. That really got to the author, who took off his sunglasses — for just a second — to wipe … a tear? “F-ing kids … always get to me,” he said to no one in particular.

Now it was Mary’s turn. She’d bought the book downstairs, where a fastidious librarian type had attached a Post-it note clearly alerting Mr. Mustaine as to whom he was signing for. In this case, he was thrown.

“Who’s Steve?” he snapped.

Not the woman who stood before him, dressed prettily in a skirt and a designer black blouse. She’d removed her little green-patterned sweater so as to better color-coordinate with the jeans and black T-shirt crowd. A bicep tattoo might have helped there.

Uncowed, she told Mr. Mustaine that “Steve” was Shop Boy (a.k.a. her husband), relaying basically what I’d told her about his music and lyrics as he went about the business of applying his John Hancock to the book. Behind his dark glasses she wasn’t sure if he was listening or not. She didn’t much care. “Well, I need to shake your hand,” she said matter-of-factly, “so that I can tell him I shook Dave Mustaine’s hand.” (She said later that she wasn’t going to wash the hand so that I could shake it later and touch the master’s essence or whatever. But then she remembered all the horror stories Shop Boy’s told her about men not washing after using the bathroom, and she quickly headed off to freshen up.)

“Hey,” he called to her. She stopped and turned. “Those are good words, man. I appreciate it.”

Apparently …

Makeup counter, here I come.

Defying Description

August 2, 2010

Typecast Press, chasing off potential customers since …

Well, last weekend.

The weather was perfect as Shop Boy arrived at the studio from an errand. Mary had been inside all week scrambling to finish a couple of wedding invites and also dodging the heat, so I figured she could use a micro break on the loading dock. Somehow I talked her into it.

As we stood in the sunshine and cool breeze — in August! in Baltimore! — an unfamiliar pickup truck turned into the lot and drove behind the building. When this happens after normal workday hours or on the weekend, it usually means one of two things: hooker hook-up or illegal dumping. It’s kind of secluded back there, and there’s a dumpster for building tenants — a magnet for trash haulers looking to make their load someone else’s problem. Either way, it kind of makes Mary angry.

“Will you remember the license plate number when they come out?” she asked me.

Sure.

True story: We were visiting Mary’s mom and dad in Colorado Springs a few years back when there was a knock on the door. Wayne was out running errands, Mary was in the shower, and Mama was doing laundry, so I answered it. On the stoop was a bleeding young man who said he’d just crashed his car and wondered if he could use the phone to call his mother. What can you say?

I called Mama in and she set about nursing the wounds on his face and arms, telling me to get the young man something cold to drink — southern hospitality and all that. The young man called his mom and we figured we’d wait a few minutes with the kid, send him on his way and that was that. Good deed done.

In the meantime, Mary had dressed and come downstairs, acting all weird and stuff about the presence of a bandaged stranger in the living room. Gosh, she’s so suspicious. To be honest, in looking back at it now, he was perhaps pacing a bit, maybe sneaking looks out between the living room blinds, which might have been odd. But his brother came soon enough, dispatched by his mom when she couldn’t get away from work. And, all right, maybe, in retrospect, it was kind of funky that his brother would ask him angrily, “What have you gotten yourself into now?” and he would answer, “Let’s just get out of here.”

And that probably would have been the end of it, had Wayne Mashburn not arrived at that very moment and smelled something very fishy about the whole deal. Our quick explanation had him darting out the door to see where the brother’s car went. Oddly enough, it was still just up the street. And when Wayne saw our young accident victim duck down in the seat as a police car passed … well, Shop Boy won’t tell you what he said. But he wasn’t impressed. He noted the brother’s license plate number as it left the scene and flagged down the cop car.

Well, golly. You’d have thought Shop Boy and Mama were the criminals the way they grilled us back in the house. The cop was almost as bad.

It turned out that the kid was a fairly well-known burglar who had made the mistake of breaking into a nearby home with a dog that immediately attacked him, leaving no escape but straight through a locked glass patio door. (The kid didn’t lie … that’s a car wreck, am I right?)

“Do you mean to tell me I’ve been hopping fences and running down alleys the past half-hour looking for this guy and you’re feeding him lemonade and cookies?!?!

Yes, Shop Boy found that a bit of a rude way of putting it, too. But the officer was sweating and breathing hard, and he’d sprained his ankle or torn his hamstring or something, so I just chalked it up to a bad mood when he became even meaner about my lack of recollection of what the young perp was wearing.

The topper was when he asked Shop Boy, for the police report, what I do for a living.

“Journalist!” he half spit. “Some journalist …”

I quickly demanded a lawyer. That was all this copper was getting out of Shop Boy.

He did manage to get a full description of the dude from Mary, and Wayne of course had the license plate for the “wheel man.” So the kid was behind bars before long. And a few weeks after the fact, Mama got a commendation from the police chief for her crime-fighting efforts, giving us all a good laugh. (Shop Boy got squat, and I’m still a little sore about that, to be honest.)

Anyhow, so rather than count on my memory to save the license plate number on this weekend’s illegal dumper/hooker hook-upper, I ran to get my phone with the camera. Mary was super suspicious, so I hurried. Really, I was gone all of 20 seconds.

And just like that, a gentleman with long, grayish hair who’d explained through his rolled-down truck window that he’d read about Typecast Press, might have even mentioned this blog, had worked in letterpress shops all over Baltimore and thought he’d come say hello …

High-tailed it out of the parking lot as though Mary’d begun unloading a shotgun at him from the loading dock. Shop Boy showed up just as he was hitting the accelerator.

He hadn’t given his name, which I guess is where the New Yorker in Mary kicked in. Still, the remorse hit immediately. “Oh, my god. That was so mean,” she said. In her suspicion, she hadn’t really bothered to listen to the guy’s explanation. All she saw was someone who shouldn’t be there. And she felt horrible, running through in her mind who it might have been. Perhaps the man who’d e-mailed her from time to time asking her to read his life story of a Baltimore printer. What was his name?

“This is why I always ask people to make appointments,” she said. “How was I supposed to know if he was legit? Put that in your blog: Please make an appointment. God, I’m so mean.”

(Sir, if you are reading this, give us a call. She doesn’t bite that often. Really.)

I rummaged my memory banks, too. And I was sure that he was the guy who’d stopped by once before while we were cleaning galley trays on the loading dock, covered with grime and sweat and not really prepared to “talk shop” with unannounced visitors. But Shop Boy did chat with him just a few minutes and told him he could read more about us at the website before saying I had to get back to cleaning.

“I think it’s the same guy, Mary. Looked just like him to me.”

“Shop Boy, that other man was African-American, with close-cropped hair.”

Oh … um … uh …

And she laughed.

And laughed.

And patted Shop Boy on his silly old head.

Well, la-dee-dah. Just give her a commendation or something.

Workin’ on the Railroad

July 28, 2010

When we look back some day at this whole letterpress thing, I think Mary and Shop Boy may very well remember the kindness and generosity of strangers most of all. Then there are the quirky, completely weird and totally amazing things we’ve stumbled upon in somebody’s basement as we’ve barged in at the worst possible time for a looksee at some heavy stuff they’re at long last ready to part with.

Sometimes it’s a sad duty. For us as well as them. The final remains of Pop’s old business stacked clumsily in the back of Shop Boy’s pickup truck. Or maybe you’re dealing with Pop himself, watching his life’s work, most of it too heavy to lift himself anymore, carted off by some guy — and a girl!

Other times … well, check this out:

Welcome to Jimmyville.

First, let Shop Boy apologize for the photography. The new iPhone’s camera is still a bit too smart for me. Anyway, this is one view of the layout of the astonishing trainscape of the latest printer whose house we invaded. It captures a Baltimore of the 1950s, all Natty Boh and Bromo Seltzer and Baltimore Colts. The detail is stunning, down to the stuff the vice squad of those times might have wanted to speak with Jim Ullrich about. Jim has got a naughty, naughty sense of humor. And endless patience, a handy defense mechanism when Curious Mary arrives on the scene. As does wife Doris, a collector of all things carousel, from paintings to actual merry-go-round horses to the ornate facing of an old amusement park ride. It’s funny how husbands and wives tend to collect very different things. It’s like Mary and Shop Boy. She collects presses. Shop Boy collects lost hours of sleep. Works out great. In Jim and Doris’s  case, she and her horses rule the upstairs; he and his trains have the run of the basement of their astonishingly tidy home.

We’d come after breakfast to look at some wood type, a lead cutter or two and whatever else was on hand letterpress-wise. Jim needed the space in his workshop to spread out a set of model fire engines he’s wiring to flash their emergency lights on cue and to cook up whatever other optical tricks pop into his mind.

You kinda had to be there to understand how cool the cemetery effect is — dancing ghouls, ghastly fog, the while nine yards (or is that six feet? hmm), but I promised more pictures for this blog and, by gum, pictures you’re gonna get.

Dude’s only been at this a a couple of years, doing most of the work on cold winter nights, and if Mary and Shop Boy would just agree to take the letterpress stuff off his hands, who knows how lavish it could become? Have I mentioned the amusement park section? With the dodge ‘em cars, haunted house and spinning octopus ride?

Yeah, it’s incredibly cool.

So the upshot is that we didn’t get around to even talking letterpress for the better part of two hours. But when we did? Sheesh. A multigraph machine! (Below — precursor to the mimeograph machine that cranked out duplicates of handouts at your junior high school. If you’re under 35, you’ve never seen either.) With lots of type. Much heavier than it looks, by the way. A cabinet for metal furniture. Brass and wood trays. A long rack of cool old cuts. And those brass solvent cans — if you’re ever looking for a birthday present for Mary, there you go. Jim had two brass solvent cans and one brass oil can. Mary asked if we could just go ahead and take the whole collection. What could Shop Boy say?

I could have said, “Are you crazy?” But I didn’t. It was a great haul. And I think Jim was pleased to send it off with us. Below is one of the cuts, catalogued and printed by intern Allison.

See, it might be tough for these veteran printer types to understand what the heck we want with their old stuff. But they’re always glad we came. First, we give them a good price. Always. Second, who doesn’t want the chance to talk about the amazing heyday of letterpress? Finally, they’re happy, as we will be surely some day, to watch neat old stuff that has sat idle for far too long go to a good, working home.

Sure beats collecting dust.

Have You Seen Me?

July 27, 2010

OK, so I’m blocked.

See, Shop Boy once was a newspaper headline writer of some renown (Mary liked them, anyway) but used to worry that the well would run dry. That I’d lose my touch some day and never write another worthwhile headline again.

I worry just as much about this blog. Will it start to bore people? Has it already gone there? Or will it, gulp, just stop altogether, the well run dry? No more words. Shop Boy is sure that you also quake at the thought.

A New York Times headline the other day on the spread of dengue fever — yikes — in Key West led me to reflect on this:

Dengue Fever?
What About It,
Key West Says

I turned to Mary at the breakfast table and said cockily, “Hey, that’s my headline.” Meaning that’s the headline I would have written for the story. I mean, had I worked for the New York Times. It’s probably for the best. Very un-Times. Shop Boy did work at Newsday, where one day’s assignment was to sum up a second failure by JFK Jr. on his bar exam: “Belly-Up on the Bar Jr.” Ooh. We watched on the news that night as Gabe Pressman of Channel 4 in New York City railed in an editorial at whatever anonymous jerk had written that headline.

And that wasn’t even one of my good ones (though it was one of the least good-natured).

Anyway, the dengue fever headline reminded me of one I wrote as a young man just to make my Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record supervisor laugh. (OK, she was cute. Sue me.) See, there was this dude who won the lottery. Two million bucks. Well, by the time taxes and everything were taken out … he went into a screaming tirade.

$2M Lotto
Winner:
Can You
Spare It?

She laughed. Hard. But local newspaper decorum demanded that I go back to the drawing board. Still, Shop Boy slowly began to bring the editors around to “my way” of headline writing.

A Flash in the Can

This was for a TH-R story about guys who (swear to god) put runners on the bottom of outhouses each year and push-race them across a frozen upstate New York lake — with a “driver” seated inside the thing.

8 Billion Times, No
S&L tycoon calls tax deal thrifty, not shifty

This was for a Newsday story about a guy who bilked $8 billion from his savings and loan (or thrift) and testified in court that he’d simply made a wise financial decision on his taxes that paid off handsomely. Asked over and over  and over again in court if he knew he was being a crook, he answered again and again and again, simply, “No. No. No. No. No. No…”

Quantum Physiques

This was atop a Baltimore Sun story about a beefcake calendar of handsome scientists. The headline was stolen the next day by the Washington Post for a movie review of Fair Game, a film starring Cindy Crawford, a tank top and … some dude. Point taken, but sheesh. Now, everybody steals headlines. There’s very little that hasn’t been written before. But the very next day?

Good Intentions Pave the Road From Hell

This one was dead on arrival for a Newsday story about constantly delayed repairs on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I mean, everybody knew the road was dangerously in need of repairs, and someone was always trying. But jurisdictions, politics, budgets and special interests always got in the way.

It was a play, naturally, on the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” meaning that it’s not enough to have good intentions. Do something good — don’t just intend to do something good — or you go to hell. The boss didn’t get it.

But where was I? Oh, writer’s block. Could have fooled you, eh?

Oh, heck. It’s probably just my brain scrambling as it tries to re-create the work that went down with my old iPhone.

I (don’t deserve but) have gotten my new iPhone, which came with the promise that Shop Boy will blog more often, post regular updates on Twitter, organize and post Typecast Press photos on Flickr, launch and maintain a Friends of Typecast Facebook page and just generally wave the flag of social media for a very worthy organization. Us, naturally.

So perhaps this has just been a bit of stage fright.

We’ll know in a few days, I expect.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.