Respect is not a four-letter word.
No, those come when you forget to respect a machine you’ve gotten a bit too comfortable with.
Take the other day, Shop Boy at the big C&P, Mary at the paper cutter.
“Can you stop for a second and get me a bandage?” Mary asked.
“Sure,” I said. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, but I’m bleeding.”
OK. So Shop Boy quickly ran through in his mind the possible medical, biblical, even science fictional reasons for spontaneous bleeding from the extremities. But I kept coming back to one theory:
“Do you think you might have, um, touched the blade?”
Not that she could remember.
And that’s the thing. That bugger is so sharp that your first inkling that you’ve been cut is blood on the paper.
Then it stings. A lot. And you swear.
We doused Mary’s hand with hydrogen peroxide, did the backwards counting to the last tetanus shot she’d had, applied a nice pink bandage to the sliced digit — it’s her shop, all right? — and she set right back to work, with a mostly harmless little reminder that these machines will kill you as soon as look at you.
It’s the lesson we preach to Mary’s visiting Maryland Institute College of Art classes, especially when they show signs of impatience at how slowly we’re running the powered clamshell presses or the Heidelberg windmill.
First of all, most have never used a clamshell press before. It’s pretty exclusively Vandercook proof presses at MICA right now. Hurt yourself on one of those and you’re just not paying attention.
Or you’re paying too close attention — Mary and her class this semester have already shared a lesson in removing long strands of hair from the rollers. Honest. Word is that the young woman didn’t even scream. You gotta be tough in letterpress, baby!
True story: Shop Boy’s dad built a neat red shed in the driveway. A teeny thing, but just tall enough, if you used your imagination, to hold a basketball rim. We could all dunk there, even though we were, like, 12 years old. It set our basketball skills back at least a decade since we all suddenly thought we were 8 feet tall or something. (Shop Boy was 5-foot-9 and the tallest kid in our circle after a growth spurt that very soon afterward stopped spurting.) And we had some rough basketball games in that driveway. How rough? No whiny foul calls. If the bone wasn’t showing through the skin, it wasn’t a foul. Get up and play, weenie! We were all fans of the Boston Celtics back then — football players in short-shorts, they were. And so would we be.
Fast forward to New Jersey, circa 1985. There was a basketball court built for young kids at a local school — rims only 8 feet above the asphalt. As soon as Shop Boy saw it, he knew: “I will dunk a basketball again in my lifetime.”
So it seemed like destiny the day I awoke, grabbed my brand-new, undribbled basketball, laced up my high-top sneakers and drove over to the courts to find them empty and … freshly surfaced. A light fog enshrouded the court as I dribbled onto it, staring with evil intent at the basketball rim at the south end. Summoning my 12-year-old self, I dribbled toward the basket, tentatively at first and then accelerating, leaping up, up, up (OK, up-ish) toward glory.
Whereupon I clumsily clanked the basketball off the back of the rim and, watching it bounce away, didn’t pay attention to the landing gear. My sneaker gripped the new asphalt and didn’t budge even as my knee buckled and I was suddenly down in a groaning heap, the basketball rolling slowly toward the corner of the courts.
Today, there’d have been a camera just waiting to capture young adult Shop Boy’s epic failure at the kiddie court. Back then, it was just me, my forehead resting against the asphalt, which still felt warm, afraid for a moment to look down at my leg. Luckily, there was no bone sticking through — no blood, no foul — meaning I could drag myself back to my car before witnesses showed up. (If it had been a compound fracture, I’d likely have gnawed the leg off for sure rather than be found like this.)
Anyway, I hope the kids who found it later got some good use out of that basketball.
See? It’s about respect, whether for gravity or for a machine with the power to, um, foul you.
One more quick sports thingy: Comedian Richard Pryor used to joke about what a tough guy football player/actor Jim Brown was. Supposedly, a tackler once stuck his fingers inside Brown’s facemask, and suffered serious bite wounds.
Brown’s explanation to Pryor:
“Anything outside the mask belongs to him. Anything inside belongs to me.”
That, friends, is the very attitude shared by printing presses, paper cutters and a lot of other heavy machinery.
It’s simple. As Shop Boy learned that day in New Jersey and continues to learn every day in the printshop: