And we thought Baltimore was a small world.
While in Tucson, Mary and Shop Boy had stopped in at the University of Arizona to check out the school’s letterpress shop. Mary found the name of the young woman running the program earlier and, while we were in town, decided to give it a shot. Margaret Kimball — or Margi — said she’d be happy to meet us.
So, once more we packed Mary’s mom and dad into the car — actually, Wayne Mashburn served as our tireless chauffeur all week, with Mary riding shotgun and Shop Boy and Mary’s mom, also Mary, making wisecracks, pointing out odd landmarks, complaining about the heat and providing lousy directional advice from the back seat. We’d lured them with the promise of an art exhibit at U of A’s modern art museum and lunch at El Charro, the Mexican place everybody quite rightly raves about. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
We were to meet Margi in the courtyard. How would we find her in the crowd?
Mary (to Shop Boy): “I think that must be her.”
Margi (eyes wide in recognition): “I knew that had to be you.”
What’s up with that? Letterpress pheromones or something? These printing people are so weird that way. Oh, wait …
And so there was Margi, who Shop Boy must report looks an awful lot like a young Teri Hatcher from Desperate Housewives. Sorry, guys. She’s got a boyfriend. But maybe he’ll get kidnapped and locked in the basement by the jealous guy next door, whose wife will get revenge by sleeping with the mailman, whose ex will set him up by adding poison dust to the letters he drops in the mailbox of …
Or you could just join the University of Arizona Letterpress Club.
Margi, a grad student from Connecticut, is trying to build that part of the Arizona graphic arts program. Equipment-wise, she’s off to a great start. The evolving U of A shop is long and fairly narrow. There’s a Vandercook SP15, a beauty, at its center. Then there’s a sweet Old Style C&P, one of those with the swirly, “decorative” wheel spokes that, Margi explained, are as strong as the cheaper-to-make, thicker, straight spokes of the New Style machines. Hmm.
There’s also a Baltimore No. 10, of all things. What’s that press doing in the desert? Not rusting, that’s for sure.
Mostly useless travel tip: Cars do not rust out in Arizona. We saw more classic muscle cars — in all states of customization — in Tucson than Shop Boy has ever seen in his life.
More useful tip: The Boneyard, where the Air Force mothballs its planes, and the Pima Air and Space Museum are farther beyond cool than you can possibly imagine. As a bonus, the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base had invited all sorts of military fliers down for a little air show training. Meaning — and Shop Boy nearly fell over when Mary’s dad, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Mashburn, pointed to the sky — a C-130 cargo plane, a modern fighter jet, a P-52 Mustang and some WWI bucket of bolts were flying in formation. It was like that all week: A-10 “Warthogs” doing tricks above the baseball stadium, attack helicopters maneuvering to refuel in midair as a C-130 uncoiled its hoses.
Even Mary was whooping over all of the impromptu shows. Dang, that was neat.
But where was I? Classic cars in the desert … poison in the mail … oh, of course, letterpress.
Margi showed us around, pulling the dust covers off everything — no wonder they’re so clean — we chatted a good while and then we left her with well wishes for the club and an invitation to come visit next time she’s on the East Coast. And one more thing: It turns out that a printer by the name of Heather Green will be teaching a letterpress course at U of A this summer. She owns the Vandercook that Jim Irwin — on the other side of the city — had only the day before told Mary and Shop Boy about once owning but selling to someone named Heather Green. What are the odds?
Then off we went to meet the Mashburns in the art museum. Mary’s mom, I should tell you, is the Fairy Godmother of the Arts in Colorado Springs, Colo. It was she who helped lead the charge, when schools began cutting art education, to put it back. She’s no artist, as she’ll tell you herself. But she’s the one who instilled in Mary a passion for and an understanding of the arts and their importance to the human soul.
And I love her dearly, but …
Shop Boy partially blames Mary’s mom for this letterpress voodoo her daughter has me mixed up in. There, I said it.
Anyway, we found the Mashburns wandering through a gallery of restored works from a Spanish church — by Fernando Gallego — the creepiest progression ever on the life and death of Christ. Oh, the scholarship was fascinating: Restorers had discovered lines and doodles beneath the outer surface to suggest the artist’s thought progression.
Shop Boy’s thought?
Downstairs to the main gallery, that is, where a retrospective of modern expressionist works by Nancy Tokar Miller included, you guessed it, a book of poetry illustrated by Miller and created by a local letterpress outfit called … Chax Press.
Well, there you go. Quicker than you can say Google, Mary had the printer/owner’s vitals down his HDLeally, folks. She’s always said she’d make a great spy. And Charles Alexander, This Is Your Life.
Wayne and Shop Boy had one more baseball game/air show to attend. So Mary and Mama dumped us off, went to visit Chax and, by all accounts, “Jenny Appleseed” here has officially let a loose group of Tucson letterpress types know a whole bunch more about each other and the potential for forming a tighter circle and saving the world through wood type and polymer than they’d ever imagined wanting to know.
Welcome to the club.
Letterpress List No. 75
A friend, Gail Gibson, has a great expression for the act of swinging your head side to side and scanning the room before dishing the real dirt on someone: The Baltimore Swivel. Swear to god … around here, if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t spread the nastiness without first checking the tables and barstools around you. They don’t call it “Smalltimore” for nothing. Shop Boy will tell you the horrifying true story of how he got burned another day.
Meantime, how about an hour’s worth of music to bond, watch a P-52 flyover or recondition a ’68 Mustang — by?
In Da Club — 50 Cent (Margi’s asking much more nicely.)
Johnny Appleseed — Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (A little snippet of the lyrics to this tune are featured on the menus we print for Woodberry Kitchen.)
Craig – Stephen Lynch (Shop Boy’s going to hell for loving this so … it’s about sibling rivalry and, um, the brother of Jesus.)
Pictures of You — the Cure (Craig would love these Gallego images.)
Heard It Through the Grapevine — Marvin Gaye (Or from the next table over.)
Pretend to Be Nice — Josie and the Pussycats (And don’t forget the swivel in your small town. Hey … isn’t that Rosario Dawson?)
Mexican Radio — Wall of Voodoo (Mary had wanted to make a side trip to the Mexican border. Sadly, not a very wise thing to do these days.)
Designated Drinker — Alan Jackson/George Strait (With Wayne driving, all bets were off for the, um, Typecast Press crew members aboard.)
Wild Wild West — Escape Club (Can’t hear this one anywhere else but the ballpark anymore. What does that say about baseball fasn?)
Your Love — the Outfield (Ditto.)
Wild Wild West — Will Smith (Much cooler: “You don’t want nada … none of this.”)
Dreams – Van Halen (And saw a lot of this above the field.)
Centerfield — John Fogarty (True story: Wayne catches the first foul ball of his life at the beginning of the week and gets his photo taken with the guy who hit it, Rockies centerfielder Ryan Spillborghs, at the end of the week. He and, ahem, Shop Boy’s hands make the nightly news in Denver … about the 1:35 mark of the video. We were totally geeked. It truly was a cool moment, folks.)
Shock the Monkey — Peter Gabriel (In honor of the “Monkey on a Stick” at the Kon Tiki Lounge, a Tucson legend.)
Poison — Alice Cooper (And the drinks ain’t bad there either.)