Knuckle Dragger

May 4, 2021

Shop Boy’s skin is pretty thick. That’s just a given … given that Mary is so much more often right than wrong, even on the things that I tend to take as gospel. (For no other reason than it’s what’s always been done.)

More importantly, Shop Boy has healing physical tendencies, meaning, mostly, that I’m quite the opposite of a hemophiliac, so far in life anyway. My saliva stops bleeding. When I get cut, I clean the wound and then apply my own saliva. The blood coagulates, and the healing rate from there is really like science fiction.

Now, I tend to admit things on this blog that I do not in real life, so here goes:

A paper delivery arrived by truck. It was heavy stock, so it was placed on a wooden pallet. The driver was unfamiliar with our loading dock and thus hesitant to back up to it to offload. Shop Boy gets it: With so many people parking carelessly along the alley, doing a reverse, angled, up-a-hill backing job can test you. No problem. Just park in the alley and Shop Boy will help you carry the pallet to the loading dock (about 6 feet). So I confidently take the end of the pallet as it comes off the truck, wait for the driver to get a hold on his end, then move toward the dock. This’ll be easy.

OK, so somewhere in that 6 feet of distance, this fellow sizes Shop Boy up and gets in his mind that my strength might not be all that I imagine it to be. And, when I’ve easily and calmly set the pallet onto the concrete loading dock, he suddenly shoves, giving me no time to remove my right hand, which in a split second is dragged a foot or so beneath the heavy pallet along the rough surface.

THIS … as you know … is going to bleed. But rather than show that to this dude, Shop Boy plays it off, not betraying any sign of pain or injury. No pain can overshadow my offense and embarrassment at his underestimation of me anyway. My soft belly? My silver hair? Where was HE when I would — at the previous printshop — carry these cases of paper down a long hallway, hold them aloft with one arm as I freed a key from my front pocket to open a door, continue across two full rooms and then into a paper storage closet, where I’d deposit each 26×40 box onto a raised shelf? Screw him, thinking he’s mightier than Shop Boy.

Rather, I thought how angry Mary was going to be at the driver. I’d let him be lazy/weenie. He considered ME the weak link. Now I was injured. It bled. (You know how it takes a few minutes for the skin to realize what’s up and start gushing?) It burned, right? Oh, you bet. It was already blue. Was it broken? The driver was gone. Was anybody else watching? Could I cry?

And how would Shop Boy tweak the story to keep Mary’s relationship with the paper company cool? My ego wasn’t worth that. This was my bad. Once I’d cleaned the wound (and licked it), Shop Boy figured, “Well, she knows I’m kind of a dumb ass.” I told Mary I’d slipped and dropped the pallet on my hand. Just … carelessness. Oopsie. It was a fib, just to make things OK. She was angry. Why wasn’t I more careful? Couldn’t afford to lose her best (only) worker and all that. And it looked really, REALLY bad.

Shop Boy got “lucky.” It was a deep bruise, and I mean six weeks of discomfort. Eating with a fork challenged me. But it was my story and I was sticking to it. (More on that in a second.) As for the skin, well …

Did Shop Boy ever tell you the story of a teenage snowball fight through a broken shed window during which I forgot to retract the landing gear (my right thumb)? Inadvisable. Mom was a nurse. I ran inside. “Mom, do you think I need stitches?” She surveyed the fillet of human digits at the end of my right arm, looked me in the eye and cracked: “Why? Do you want to look like a hero?” She put a tiny “butterfly” bandage on skin that opened like a flap. Message received. Maybe she knew of my magical powers. A couple of weeks later, the wound had full healed. (Honestly, they should test my saliva as a possible cure for bleeding disorders.)

My dock-scraped skin healed in record time. My psyche?

OK, my brother-in-law Tom, a hero of several previous blog posts and uncounted real-life episodes, would likely be labeled “old” by mere mortals. He remains a mountain of a man in muscle and intellect. And through his exploits and feats of superhuman-ness, he has earned the right to be the strongest man Shop Boy has ever crossed paths with until the day he leaves us — not anytime soon. If you underestimate him, you lose.

Likewise, the smallest, most meek or old-seeming letterpress printer you know, of any sex, is an absolute beast. Shop Boy is not sucking up here. Lead type, cast iron, 26×40-inch paper boxes, 2,000-pound printing presses. Ridiculous strength is the baseline of what we do. Of course we are careful. Smart too. (Present company excluded.)

You might not even think of yourself as strong. Look around. Think again. BEAST!

So, Shop Boy was injured because he overestimated some dude’s capacity to understand who/what he was dealing with. Maybe next time, just back the truck close enough to the loading dock.

Shop Boy will pick the truck up and move it the rest of the way.

Hanging In

January 12, 2021

If you ever happen to find yourself in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, you owe it to yourself to get your bones over to the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. So much great wood type, both the simple and the ornate, came to life in Two Rivers and at the old Hamilton factory.

We went up there a few years back for a Wayzgoose — an annual convention of letterpress weirdos (and Shop Boy uses that term with limitless affection) — and have been meaning to get back ever since. Shop Boy absolutely fell in love with the town, from the “Superman” ice cream (more later), to Lake Michigan outside our hotel room door to the cheese curds … just, YES!!! Funny thing is, rather than us getting back to Two Rivers, Hamilton kind of came to us instead. Yes, we invited Two Rivers, Hamilton, and anyone who would willingly offer up an hour of time to our segment of the “Hamilton Hang,” a COVID-induced virtual weekly meeting at somebody’s printshop. (OK, they invited US.) The hosts talk a bit, offer a tour, and then anybody who has a question or observation can share it. If you know Shop Boy, you know I might rather die than be on the other end of a camera — for good reason. And yet there I was, being coached by Hamilton’s superstar Assistant Director Stephanie Carpenter on how this was all gonna go down just fine, promise!

Well, you be the judge.

So as not to leave you with THAT taste in your mouth, let’s talk ice cream. First, let Shop Boy talk about one of his favorite Carl Hiaasen books, Native Tongue. The star of this divine madness is a “blue-tongued vole,” in fact a simple rodent whose tongue has nefariously been painted blue. Just add hype. Sideshow genius.

Enter … Connie’s Diner. We’d heard that this was the place to get ice cream in Two Rivers. It’s not a big town. You can’t hide your ice cream excellence. And you eat all those cheese curds, you need something thick, sweet and cold to wash it all down, am I right?


Anyway, there Shop Boy was — with Mary and Globe Poster’s former owner, “Professor” Bob Cicero — surveying the ice cream freezer. Now, I have this saying (among other very dumb things that come from my mouth): “Las Vegas is way too subtle.” So Rocky Road is gonna catch my eye? Forget it. Rather, think “Superman” ice cream, a tutti-frutti concoction that’s red, white and blue, and then so much more. “I guess we know what Shop Boy will be ordering,” Mary smirked … before I’d even declared my love for this rainbow mess.

“Usually, kids order that,” the young woman offered as Shop Boy inquired about a double serving. “Can I bring you a booster seat as well?”

Shop Boy will now paraphrase the late, great musician Harry Chapin: “Well another man might have been angry; and another man might have been hurt; but another man never saw Superman ice cream before…”

I stashed her scorn in my shirt.

My tongue was blue for two days, to the sheer delight of Professor Cicero. Mary will never forget it. Shop Boy will never apologize.

Superman ice cream is my Kryptonite.

I Am Typecast Press

July 1, 2020

It’s been a loony month and a half around Typecast Press, meaning mostly that Mary has not been in Baltimore to steer the ship. That has been left to Shop Boy … and before you snicker, I have managed to complete and ship three top-notch printing jobs, depending upon who’s counting, of course. (I am.)

  1. Wine menu books for the Dabney, a very, very awesome restaurant in DC that we have been lucky enough to support with design and printing since it opened a few years back.
  2. Weather-proof, erasable price cards for produce for the Farm Alliance of Baltimore.
  3. A massive batch of muslin bags featuring a two-color lavender plant for Starbright Farms. (They put lavender in them, natch.) Now imagine muslin bags, ordered in the hundreds, stuffed into a box, with a string tie to account for and exactly zero standard folds. They laugh at your make-ready, your dreams of perfect registration, and this little jig that Shop Boy concocted to make the feed on the big C&P possible-ish. As we’ve mentioned before, though, Shop Boy has a certain stubborn stupidity on his side. No, not like people who refuse to wear masks in a pandemic. That’s next-level moron.



Me? I’ll just slow the press down as far as it will go without stalling. Then, I’ll construct a three-quarters jig with double-stick poster-mounting pads that lets me place each … bag … slowly … carefully … into … perfect … position … before the C&P comes to crush my hands. Well, my hands are fine and accounted for. Fingers? Ten. My back? Oh dear. Lean deeply, bending at the waist, into the maw of a C&P, say, 300 times or so without a break, then do it again for the second color. But the deadline was … right now! The lavender crop is in! The festival is this Saturday!

You printers know. The show must go on. And Shop Boy for darned sure wasn’t going to be the reason that this one time it didn’t. So I applied alcohol directly to the area of the injury. (That’s a lie. I put it in my mouth when I got home and for a few hours felt like a hero. Yet tomorrow always comes, am I right?)

Before I get too deep here (hah!), I will mention that Mary was away for five weeks and a day — not that Shop Boy is counting — caring for family, including a two-week quarantine before she even walked through their door. Smart, but yikes. I tried to keep myself busy, with probably too much success. Sixty-five home projects started, two completed. You know the drill. But Shop Boy did print a few protest posters:

So, anyway, the shop is back in good hands. Who knows where our dimwitted efforts to blunt COVID-19 will take us as a nation. But as for Typecast Press, at least we once again have a steady hand at the wheel.

For Those About the Rocks

January 31, 2020

So you thought Shop Boy was done, didn’t you. Done blogging. Done plying a craft for which he feels uniquely unqualified. (Letterpress or writing? That’s your call.) Done hanging out and breaking his back in crazy old Baltimore printing buildings to save fractured bits of history from being lost forever. Me too. Well I’m here to tell you:

Dang it, here we go again.

A Hoen history

That right there, in case you can’t tell from the sign on it, is the old A. Hoen & Co. Lithographers building in East Baltimore, about two long blocks from where Shop Boy daylights as an employee of Johns Hopkins University. And it’s where Mary has got herself a gig assembling an exhibit showcasing the building’s significance to Baltimore, Johns Hopkins and the world.

There are the fragile glass negatives that Mary helped to sort, stack, archive and entomb behind a plywood wall for safekeeping. There’s all the paper: the liquor bottle, medicine jar and cigar box labels; the famous old and, I don’t want to say creepy (but yes they are), medical illustrations; maps and what-have-you. And there are the printing stones.

Now Shop Boy will not pretend to know one bit about the process of lithography. It seems like some kind of black magic. Cyan, magenta and yellow magic too. As far as all that goes, I am a blank stone. (People have tried.) What we can share in this space is an appreciation for how heavy those stinking sorcerer’s stones are. This Shop Boy has once again learned from experience … and wandering too close while Mary is on one of her crusades.

Not saying this crusading is all bad — and this is a very worthy project, to be sure — just that the little red spinning arrow somehow always ends up pointing at Shop Boy. And if he’s gonna spend three solid days stacking, measuring, sorting and re-stacking unimaginably stout stones, Shop Boy might as well complain about it here, where it’s free.

A Hoen rock main

That one’s a little feller, something like 12 inches square or close to it. Mary’s not sure yet just what those two dudes in the etching are up to. Probably pitching tobacco based on … oh heck, a pure hunch on my part. (We joked that maybe that unidentified black thing in his hand might be a flip phone. Dinosaurs!) Maybe 25-30 pounds (at 9 a.m., that is; at 6:15 p.m. it’s more like 50). And here’s where Shop Boy must contractually reiterate that the historical bits Mary’s working with are undeniably cool. But always comes the conundrum.

A Hoen rocks

Yes, friends. We essentially would spend those three knee-buckling, mask-wearing, work glove-destroying, dusty days building a T-rex skeleton from a bone fragment. That, too, is an undeniably cool and worthy pursuit, but holy moly. These fossils of printing’s past were quite literally unearthed during a construction dig during the building’s rehab. Apparently, most were from a second Hoen plant in Richmond, VA. When that one closed down, they hauled the stones to Baltimore and unceremoniously dumped them into the ground as filler. So now’s the point where Shop Boy must bring up an odd truth about craftspeople and artists that many of you are already very likely aware/guilty: They do not see the instruments of their genius as worth keeping. “That old thing?”

Think Globe Poster.

Shop Boy ruminates on this a lot: See, all rooting interests aside, much of the work that Mary is doing in designing and printing for Typecast Press is really quite cool. I’m genuinely impressed. Heck, some of Shop Boy’s posters are at least fun if sometimes in iffy taste. And so we unceremoniously dump any leftovers into a “samples” drawer in a desk or a flat file or stuff them in some box. Yeah, we’ve tried at various times to build an archive system. But who has time? “Those old things? Forget it. We have a deadline tomorrow.” If there for some reason happens to be interest in Typecast’s work after we’re long gone, well, you’re gonna have to dig, folks. Good luck with that. (And “thank you” in advance, Shop Boy II.)

Anyhow, time in the ground did not suit these stones. Time back above ground has also been challenging — the perils of a construction site and all that. We were hoping for the Holy Grail, one stone that could carry the exhibit and make the fascinating bits and pieces fit together seamlessly to tell the story of Hoen.

I think Mary’s figured out how to do that anyway. (She’s like that.) It’s all very distracting from her work at Typecast, of course, but this is who she is.

And in any event, Shop Boy’s had his hero moment, the stones — such as they are (many amazing if a bit wrecked) — are catalogued and safe(r). And I get to mostly sit back, recover and wait for the grand opening. Fingers crossed. Somebody hide the spinner.

Alone With My Thoughts

July 11, 2018

IMG_8924Ten years is way too long a life for a blog. Eleven? Sheesh, I gotta shut up already.

This was a place Shop Boy could vent frustrations as a dragged-to-it-by-his-heels letterpress printer and mark triumphs, silly errors and inspirations — just … get it all out by writing. For a while, maybe I entertained some people, maybe even educated a few (which is kind of funny to me).

My in-laws long read the posts, or had me do dramatic readings around the dinner table or over the phone. My material’s better on the computer screen, believe me, but they seemed to enjoy it. A couple of my sisters and my brother read it occasionally too. Writing it helped fill time during my years as a commuter to Washington, DC. When I think back on how and when I wrote it (three-plus posts a week for a good bit), Dr. Seuss comes to mind: Did you write it in a car? Did you write it in a bar? Did you write it on a bus? Did you write it among us?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Cocktail napkins were my regular canvas, but that’s a story for another time and maybe another blog. (There was a time during Picasso’s life when he was reduced to painting on scrap paper, the equivalent of a discarded shopping bag. So, whatever, right?)

This blog has seen Typecast Press through a print shop move, an astoundingly hard process physically and emotionally. It has watched Mary go through the process of saving the Globe Poster collection, helping install it at the Maryland Institute College of Art along with our favorite-est big kid Allison Fisher (now Globe coordinator) and “Professor” Bob Cicero (Globe’s former owner) and then … somehow beginning to say goodbye to that amazing, excruciating, all-encompassing, Typecast-killing chapter of her life. (Mary still insists Joan of Arc got off easy, if that gives you an idea.)

Meanwhile, my alter ego has seen me through a painful layoff from what still looks to be my final job as a journalist. I’ve at least hinted at that episode, but I’ll share again the conversation with Mary from that day (one more she spent overwhelmed with worry and details at icy Globe headquarters in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood).

Shop Boy (as Steve): “Mary, I just got laid off.”

Mary (as herself): “Great! How soon can you get here?”

Two hours later, I was a full-time Friend of Globe. It’s only recently that I’ve truly had time to grieve about that layoff, so that’s good, right? One day we might recover financially. I’ve been employed at a real, paying job for a number of years.

The best thing about being Shop Boy on demand is that it freed me from being me. Not to get too deep on you, but streams of depression and blood from life’s various wounds have dripped onto the screen pages (and cocktail napkins) behind this sea of words from time to time. Alcohol too, sure. I hope none of that has soaked through until now. And I’ll not mention it again.

I’ve said enough, as has this blog. All but the sturdiest souls (thank you) long ago stopped reading. The blog stats tell me that I am basically alone. I’ve heard that zero daily readership is a trend in the wrong direction. We’ve had highs and lows there. Life happens, and the posts got fewer and farther between. Still, flat-lining is no shame. I’m proud of what we had … we just don’t have it anymore.

Mary and Shop Boy? We’re good and getting better. She’s hell-bent on her comeback with Typecast Press. And I’ll be damned if she doesn’t succeed in rebooting the business.

We’ve got a new website in the works … has been for a half-dozen years, in fact. (Please ignore the rolling of Shop Boy’s eyes here.) The photos are even prettier than the ones up there now. Our samples have gotten a ton more photogenic. You’ll want to hire Mary just looking at them. Swear. My writing will be part of that reboot. A new blog? Maybe. But something different.

I said before, this whole letterpress thing wasn’t my idea. I have been guilty — at one time or another — of wishing Mary would take the easy route and go teach at MICA with Globe. The Steve part has struggled with how much Mary needs me to believe, to care, to contribute, to sweat, to hurt, to worry. I’ve faltered, I’ve doubted, I’ve complained and I’ve failed from time to time. Still, I hope this Shop Boy experiment has shown that I do care and believe (and sweat, hurt and worry too).

You want perfection? You got the wrong guy, pal. You want somebody who’s maybe got a little storm cloud over his head at 4 a.m. but is still getting the grommets perfectly centered on those cards/tags we need for later this morning? Look me up. (Wait, give me a couple of days. Rough week at the shop.)

For now, though, goodbye.


March 9, 2018


Shop Boy is not much of a nag. Really, I try never to be. One place I make an exception is the hydraulic paper cutter. Safety is inefficient and, yes, a bit of a pain when you’re completing a long job with lots of separate cuts and piles of different shapes and lead edges and all that to mind. But you only get two hands and 10 fingers. And you only get them once.

Mary has become a bit too comfortable with this machine for my own comfort level, letting her hands stray beneath the blade and clamp as she works to jog the paper into uniform piles. This is not optimal or, as we like to say at Typecast, “noptimal.”

Shop Boy brings this up because twice in recent weeks Mary has run pell-mell from the cutter into the bathroom because …

She has waited too long to go to the bathroom.

And I have dropped whatever I’m working on and dashed in behind her because …

That run has meant blood in the past.

Now, Shop Boy has shed some red blood cells and platelets at the cutter. Always, it’s from paper cuts. I’ll absentmindedly slide my hand along the stack or I’ll slip as I’m loading in oversized sheets and … oh, jeez, you’d swear the paper was made of sharpened steel instead of cotton. Paper cuts are the worst, right?

Well, Mary has tangled with the actual cutter blade.


And we should leave it at that for the squeamish among us, like Shop Boy.

So her delight at the arrival of a cutting die that makes fancy-colored envelope liners—rather than use a half-baked jig and a whole lot of body English to finagle an angled edge on the big cutter—was no match for my own. Not even close. Yes, I’ve almost wet my own pants watching her hands work beneath the blade.

The cutting die is a start.





December 6, 2017


To be a judge in a very local parade, you’ve got to be in the spirit, in the moment, or both. Being a little tipsy probably helps too.

Well, Shop Boy was none of these as he stepped up onto a platform to take his place with Mary and pal Kimry of Milagro, a shop on 36th Street, for the 45th-annual Mayor’s Christmas Parade. Every year, the bands, floats, politicians, steppers and Shriners (and balloons!) march, roll, or fly past Kimry’s—gotta say it—really cool shop of Mexico and South America and around-the-world folk art-themed and sourced jewelry, clothing, art and knickknacks. Kimry’s a gifted jewelry maker herself, an artist, and … it’s all so well curated. She’s an appropriate parade judge.

blog_milagroNot necessarily the case for all of us who would rule from on high while the parade started, stopped, and started again as it inchwormed through the heart of Baltimore’s Hampden, a few blocks from Typecast Press headquarters. OK, there was just one judge who was way out of his comfort zone. Old Shop Boy doesn’t necessarily care for calling attention to himself. Heck, I’ll tell stories on myself all day long and we can laugh or cry together. But my first reaction was to recoil when Kimry raised the notion of me and Mary filling in when a regular parade judge had a conflict. Up on a stage? At the big-finish line of the parade route?

Mary? Yes, of course. Shop Boy was all for it.

“I’m not doing it without you,” she told me.

You know how you can tell if you miss out on something you’ll always regret it? And then you miss out anyway? And you regret it? Dang it. Shop Boy wasn’t going to let Mary experience that on this. She’s a parade freak. I cannot imagine what the neighbors think as she squeals, shouts and stomps her way through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV every year, hollering her snarky commentary or childlike thrills downstairs to the kitchen as Shop Boy makes coffee or breakfast.

I was in.

Not as in “in the spirit.” Just in. Grudgingly, grittingly, grindingly in. And when we mutually agreed to skip carrying a boozy flask along, well …

And perhaps it was only those lowered expectations. Maybe it was just the sunshine and 55-degree day. Maybe it was having a very funny friend like Kimry along. Perhaps it was the magic that was written all over Mary’s face. But Shop Boy’s cold heart was no match. The whole stinking event was charming as heck, rough around the edges as it was.

Shop Boy was specifically tasked with helping present trophies to cheerleaders/dancers and equestrian events. Did I mention the Lone Ranger was there? (He didn’t win, but cool!) And oh my, Baltimore and Hampden’s (and my fellow lily white judges’) embrace of some of the more diverse, gender-fluid marching band/dance troops was a heart-warming respite from a truly awful parade of days in an America we love and lose sleep over.

But that wasn’t what I was thinking “in the moment,” a place where Shop Boy hadn’t been in a while. And that moment, the Christmas Parade and its aftermath, was unquestionably good. We stuck around to drink a little wine, eat a little pizza and wander down to 34th Street and the Milagro/Miracle.


Mary poked Shop Boy in the ribs. “See?”

Grudgingly, grittingly, grindingly, Shop Boy did see.

Both that and the judging gig might be one-offs. Or maybe we’ve given an old grinch some holiday bedrock to re-build on. I do try.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I suppose it’s a good reminder that sometimes the best gift is just saying yes when “no” is where you live.

Move out of there if you can.

Shop Boy has stuck one tentative foot out the door. March with me.

‘Chowder Downstairs, Boys!’

November 14, 2017

me illo_lowres

Mom used to ask me when I was going to get my name in the paper. She wasn’t thinking of the crime blotter (necessarily) or the obituaries (hopefully) or the sports section (hah!). She was thinking that it might be cool for her—or even me—to see my name in print as the writer of an article of some sort.

I’d explain that, as an editor, I was the invisible man, the wizard behind the curtain, the brains and the poetry behind whatever byline was on there — and that this arrangement was good and profitable enough for me.

Anyway, this magazine is my other thing, a whole side life for Shop Boy that I’ve mentioned maybe once or twice in this blog. Being its editor (and main writer) is part of my job for the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

It’s a funny symmetry of life to think that my byline now appears too frequently — by my own accounting — in a publication my mom never got to read. (My sisters and Dad read it, which is cool but adds a little pressure.) Often, I will pull my name off of an article as just — yeesh — too much me.

That thing at the top there, though? That is Shop Boy as a young man, let’s call him Steven, helping to wrestle a steaming (ouch!) hot vat of clam chowder down steep stairs to a takeout window at the Rocky Point Shore Dinner Hall.

It’s a picture an artist drew of me! Imagine. The artist is Jon Marchione, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art here in Baltimore. I was expecting maybe dancing clams  or something like that to illustrate an introduction to my little story about sense memory. But this is awesome … if I had been having an out-of-body experience or whatever, that’s really what it felt as though it would look like. The whole job was like that … crazy hard and absolutely nutso. Some of that was of course self-inflicted.

Did Shop Boy ever tell you about the day we were prepping onions? Burlap sack after sack after sack of them. Well, you get punchy doing all that kitchen prep. And Future Shop Boy decided it might be funny to tell really sad stories and see if — with all that eye-stinging onion juice in the air — I could get the whole group crying. Within 15 minutes we were an inconsolable mess, all wailing and carrying on so that the boss, Conrad Sr., heard the chorus of melancholy and came stomping into the room.

“YOU!” he thundered, pointing his finger at me. “I know you do this!”

Shop Boy busted his butt for that man. The energy and sense of humor that allowed me to work so hard did not suit him, however. We would too soon part. (His idea.)

The magazine’s out. Here’s the link again. I bust my butt for it. The full, brief Rocky Point story is there, as well as what I hope is a bunch of other stuff that might be worth a look — whether you’re a nurse or not. Heck, it’s got an image of Shop Boy.

And my byline. (OK, it’s at the end.)

So there’s that …

Letterpress List No. 83: Still on the Line

August 2, 2017

Shop Boy will never again underestimate the power of a love song.

(Has he ever done so? Fine, fine, not really. But we’ve got a new story to tell.)

Now, you know Shop Boy as a mostly (sort of) able letterpress printer who can be a fun guy to have around. Too fun by some people’s (meaning Mary’s) reckoning at times. So there I was, having had a little too much fun. And fun is a relative term. Relative as in: “I’m your wife. I do not approve. Knock it off.”

Oh, like you’ve never been there.

Well, the doghouse was getting a little claustrophobic. There wasn’t any room for my guitar. And this is how I introduce Shop Boy the mostly (sort of) able beginner musician, a metamorphosis (hah!) that’s been happening over the past year or so under the affable and able watch of Paul Hulleberg, a teacher Mary found for me. Paul generally works with young school kids, so he’s patient as heck. Really it’s as much concert as guitar lesson, as Paul plays his lilting folk riffs while Shop Boy hacks and plunks and plangs (!) through the latest menace to my fingers (honestly — who invented these chords?) that Paul has presented. Great musician, dragging around this guitar that he’s had since he was a little boy. It’s not the instrument, it’s the player, kids.

Shop Boy’s “ax” is a Breedlove, a used acoustic guitar we bought out at Bill’s Music. And here, a very strong recommendation from yours  truly:

You can’t imagine how intimidated Shop Boy was to even be in that place. Dudes were moving through the racks upon racks of guitars and sampling them by, you know, playing stuff. Shop Boy had nothing. Not even a basic handle on chords. Mary egged me on. Touch the guitars, she urged. Shop Boy faked his way for a few minutes. I could see a salesman eyeing me … but giving me room. He knew. But he did not judge, and for this I will always be grateful. Mikey is his name, and he’s probably seen thousands like me: guys who get a craze, buy a guitar and then never play. It’s hard, physically and mentally. Your fingers hurt. The craze passes. A guitar goes out the door at Bill’s … and eventually to a musty attic somewhere.

Mikey talked to me guitar player to, um, guitar player — Shop Boy is apparently on a run of patient dudes. When I pointed out the Breedlove (which I’d never heard of but thought was beautiful), he told me I could do better price-wise but that I should listen to the sound. Honestly, the thing produces gorgeous sounds, especially in others’ hands.

I’d heard how hard it was to replace worn strings, a dumb thing to be worried about at this juncture. You need to actually touch them to wear them out. (Honestly, Mary will acquire a “new” machine and the first thing Shop Boy asks is, “What if it breaks?”)

Mikey “plays out,” as the expression goes for actual musicians, and he explained gently that strings tend to age and break down if you bleed on them a lot after a four-hour performance or whatever. (Haven’t had one of those yet.) But mostly they are an easy thing to deal with, especially on the Breedlove, which on this model doesn’t require you to pop out any pegs. Just knot a string, put it though the appropriate hole and it stays anchored. Mikey pointed out beginner picks, made sure I had a no-frills strap, got me a Bill’s “gig bag” to protect the guitar and reminded me that the store offers free lessons for beginners on Saturdays. (Do it. Just learning how to touch a guitar is an acquired skill. And it’s a very mellow process. Various volunteers show up to teach and — oh by the way — let you know what they’d charge to teach you one-on-one.)

From there it was typical Shop Boy: Half walking on air as we left the place with a guitar—my guitar (have I mentioned that I own a guitar?)—half already second-guessing my purchase. A couple of hundred bucks will buy a lot of ink. It would be that way until I started working with Paul.

He comes to the studio on alternate Wednesdays. The kickboxers in the studio below us at the Mill Centre provide the beat.

I’ll save you the Karate Kid montage, but we’ve very slowly worked up to playing songs. “Landslide” didn’t go so well. (There’s a chord change my fingers currently refuse to even consider. It’ll come.) “I’m a Believer” went better. That’s a fun love song, and long a favorite of mine. Admit it, yours too. But this wasn’t about Shop Boy, really. It was about proving to Mary, and I suppose myself too, that fear wasn’t going to stop me anymore. My brother had learned to play guitar as a teen in our very small and overpopulated house, embarrassment be darned. It was ghastly. He—all-hair and then not-so-much—has been in one thrash metal band or another mostly since that time. The latest one, called Held Hostage, is pretty fun. I was afraid to try and sound bad, covered it up by acting like I didn’t want to, and have been screaming jealous for years. That picture of a dude with a guitar and a dog and a cigarette (a Salem ad or something) in the back of a pickup truck parked on a sand dune made Shop Boy rage at his own lack of fortitude.

Of course I wouldn’t use such kind words for it.

This kind of makes me nuts too:

That’s Matt on the right. Dammit.

Different day, different me. A little different, anyway.

Mary was angry and Shop Boy needed a lifeline. I grabbed the guitar and launched into a very simple intro for “Wichita Lineman,” her favorite song—even sang as I played the whole thing. I’ll go on record (hah!) as saying it wasn’t the best rendition you’ll find. Mary (who owns every rendition but mine on iTunes) was surprised and charmed nonetheless.

Fight over. A big moment right there.

Oh, the fear and doubt? They still fight for position in the mosh pit that is my gut, getting a little loosey-goosey with the spiked wristbands for my taste. But life’s a marathon, not a sprint, folks. Some day Shop Boy will own his own space in a crowd, ask for what he deserves, take on a printing project without asking, “What if I screw it up?” And who knows what else?

Until then, Shop Boy will have his less proud moments. Maybe I’ll write a song about it.

The Letterpress List No. 83 (been a while sing Shop Boy did one of these—had to look up what number we were on):

“Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams)—Played it till his fingers bled … and worried about string damage later.

“Landslide” (Dixie Chicks)—They know from this.

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)—Need you more than want you, want you for all time. Post-fighting words.

“Faith” (George Michael)—Gotta come from within, people.

“Self-Esteem” (The Offspring)—Ditto.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (Ramones)—How many chords do you need, really?

“If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow)—”It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Oops! That’s from another song—OK, I knew that—but this is the one Shop Boy is currently “mastering.”

“Teach Your Children” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)—I’ll always regret not having started playing guitar years ago. I hope I don’t ever have to stop. This one looks fairly straightforward, um, minus the angelic singing. There are many who wish I’d stopped THAT years ago.

“Last Child” (Aerosmith)—Matt, the fearless one. The rest of us were kinda set in our “oh my god, we might be embarrassed” ways by then. Shop Boy for real.

“Superman” (R.E.M.)—”I can do anything.” Really?

“I” (Kiss)—Affirmative.

“I’m a Believer” (the Monkees/Neil Diamond)—Life’s a fairy tale in the which the “ever after” ends too soon. Get up.


The Cookie Crumbles

May 18, 2017


A friend on another floor of our building says he can tell when Shop Boy’s working alone at night at Typecast Press. It’s not the sound of the paper cutter, because Mary uses that too. There IS the familiar ring of the Heidelberg Windmill doing its thing … except it goes on for a very long time.

Mary’s Windmill jobs are generally short, tweaky and full of the thinking and measuring and factoring and “dialing in” that produce her truly fine work in mini-bursts. Then Shop Boy steps up, stretches a bit and begins a four-hour run of two-color menu shells for Woodberry Kitchen. They’re designed to be a little rough. Owner Spike Gjerde likes them that way. Shop Boy aims to please. I print a week’s worth at a time. It’s a popular restaurant. Good, too. You should try it.

So there’s the Windmill.

But what really (and loudly) tips our friend off that I’m on site is my listening choices. In summer it’s often baseball. You don’t care who I root for, but it’s the Rockies and Red Sox. Otherwise it’s stuff Mary would never agree to listen to, and she runs the radio when we’re working together. When Shop Boy’s alone, hilarity ensues. Which we’ll get to, but first let’s talk about the radio. My choice is a station that mixes funny music with funny people, think Jonathan Coulton (so many zombies) with Jim Gaffigan (so many bacon jokes). Anyway, the same songs and jokes tend to cycle through, including this one stand-up comedian riffing on the idea of cars that “sense the road” to brake or steer on their own to save you (and others) from yourself when you can’t be bothered to pay attention to, you know, driving.

The slogan, he says, should be: ” ‘Ford … FOCUS!’ ”

I laugh every time because it’s true. Do a head count next time you are stuck in traffic or simply stopped at a red light. Check the rear-view mirror. How many cars approaching you from behind will feature a driver actually looking at your vehicle? You could drive all day in Baltimore and not get to 10. Ooh. (Yes, Shop Boy DOES safely pull over to the side of the road to answer the phone or text, by the way, mostly because I KNOW that I can’t drive and do anything else.)

So … cookies. They’re up top in the headline so they must refer to something, right?

We know some folks who are vegan, and this is fine, so we work to accommodate that when refreshments are called for. We go to a local market (chain) that is helpful in this regard. Something we’ve noticed about followers of a vegan lifestyle: Y’all like your snacks. Yes, this is America. But I mean, the snack section goes on forever. It can’t be good for you. But whatever. Not my call.

Vegan baked goods are not something Shop Boy has ever had a fondness for. One night, though, dinner had been skipped out of necessity and there I was in the shop. Was it the Heidelberg Windmill press or my stomach making all that noise? Mary had left some cookies for me that she’d bought for a meeting featuring a vegan guest. Mary’s southern by birthright, and so she had bought way, way too many cookies and offered as how, in a pinch, I might let these particular cookies surprise me with their goodness.

This was just such a pinch and, boy, was Shop Boy ever surprised.

The Windmill seemed to have the job momentarily under control and so, seasoned pressman that I am, Shop Boy partook. They were chocolate brownie cookies, and so soft.

Too soft?

As Shop Boy turned his head to check on the press (mid-bite), a bit of cookie became unhooked from the rest and flew into the air. I did say I was hungry, didn’t I? Ravenous, apparently.

You know how this printing press works, right? The unprinted paper is stacked on one side and you set the suction level so that one sheet is pulled into the impression area at a time. Printed, it then drops gently into the “out” pile. You can adjust this based upon the thickness of the paper. There’s no setting, alas, for “plus cookie chunk.”

If you do know how a Heidelberg Windmill works, you surely know the rest. Here goes anyway: The weight of the cookie morsel made the next sheet in line fall out of the grippers. Well, the “intense black” ink had to go somewhere, and so now it was all over the tympan. Shop Boy had to get it completely off lest it mark the back of every single menu to come, and that was going to take some time and effort.

It could have been worse: Shop Boy could have grabbed for the flying cookie and gotten mauled by the machine.

It could have been better: Mary was really, really mad when I fessed up (because it was going to come out anyway, either right then or here in the blog).

Was Shop Boy crazy? Had I gotten complacent? Don’t EVER eat and run the press! STOP, EAT, and only THEN run the press.

Heidelberg … FOCUS!

Anyway, I rescued the cookie chunk and ate it.


April 7, 2017

zapCall me a weenie. Shop Boy is OK with that. But I am also satisfied with whatever “normal” electric current flows through my body. You know, the type of current that can pop car locks at a near touch, that can create an arcing bolt of lightning between Mary’s nose and mine before a kiss. So I just figured it wasn’t my place to go try and unhook a possibly still-“hot” three-phase electric current converter from the old space. Enough energy inside me already, you know?

You know what’s not inside me? One idea of how to work with electricity.

But the converter is valuable!

What am I, chopped liver?

Mary suggested that either I’d do it or she would, and so …

True story: Shop Boy’s mom would have moments when she was up to here with seven kids bickering around the dinner table. By the time we started arguing over whose turn it was to remove the dishes from the table, she’d blow. “Clear this table or I will,” she’d growl, gripping two corners of the tablecloth and threatening to yank them. We usually jumped over each other to begin clearing.

One day, we didn’t.

Cleanup took a bit longer than usual that night, despite the fact that there were now fewer plates and glasses to wash. You didn’t call my mother’s bluff. And I wasn’t about to call Mary’s. Instead, Shop Boy stalled. The proper tools were over at the new space, after all. But eventually, it was time.

“Hold my feet, I’m going in,” Shop Boy only half joked. Hey, might as well go out together, right?

Mary at least decided to call in a long-distance ringer to offer guidance on which wires not to cross. (I suppose my dad could have been more helpful there as well back in the day.) Brother-in-law Tom had installed the three-phase contraption, which allows you to operate machines like the Heidelberg Windmill from more common current rather than run actual three-phase electricity into the building. The money savings can be phenomenal. But when you move, you need to unhook it and see to it that the wires do not become a hazard for, in this case, the workers coming to begin rebuilding (and rewiring) the old factory.

One problem: Tom’s in Massachusetts. We’re not.

Second problem: He needed to see the wires Shop Boy was touching. We could FaceTime on our iPhones, but we’d long since canceled the WiFi that FaceTime requires.

Now, Shop Boy wonders sometimes why Mary keeps him around. He never wonders why he keeps her. She began figuring out how to use my phone as a zombie/hotspot to channel wireless to her phone, something she’d heard about once. While she was doing that, Shop Boy trudged to the new shop (just down the street) to grab a few final tools, surely the instruments of his own doom.

I returned to find that the cavalry had arrived. On Mary’s phone, Shop Boy could see a white-bearded guru calmly dispensing the wisdom of the ages from his mountaintop lair. (Actually, it was Tom—a wiseguy for sure—from his living room. But the advice was no less sage for whence it emanated.)

On the factory floor, staring the three-phase converter in the eyes, was Jake Rivera of Baltimore’s Design & Integration. The firm does communications work, arena-sized (and less huge), amazing, one-of-a-kind, audio-visual gigs.

Jake, wife and business partner Tammy and their sons had been celebrating with us the end of an era at the building. Mary mentioned the converter, and Jake was curious. And wiring’s wiring, right?

Shop Boy’s brain: “Yes, Jake, it is. You go, young man!”

Before you could say, “Thank you,” Jake had disconnected the converter to much applause and explained how we should cap off and then seal up the loose wires. Even I could handle that. And as Shop Boy bravely turned the screw that sealed the wires behind a metal plate, Mary patted my head like the farty, old, loyal, afraid-of-lightning dog that I am.

Pride be damned.

Turn Out the Lights

April 3, 2017

When you spend enough of your life in one physical space—an entire life chapter filled with so many highs and lows, laughs and tears—it’s hard to close the door on it. That realization is not exactly breaking news, but there you (and we) go.

We are talking about a building that frosted our very souls each winter with lousy heat control and spooked us with weird, late-night creaks and groans or the occasional freaky insects—as in when the furniture place next door was importing all those Indonesian chairs. Ooh. It also took thousands of Typecast Press dollars to paint and decorate just so and improve the lighting in three separate spaces so that, you know, we could see the bugs coming and arm ourselves.

The building’s given Shop Boy headaches and heartaches and, lord knows, muscle aches. Oh, and plenty to write about lo these 249 posts later.

Sure, but over more than a decade the space also produced unbreakable friendships and a (fairly unique) business model that we think can withstand the twists and turns of the economy as well as Mary’s infamous crusader tendencies.

It’s done, then. (Not the blog, sorry. Shop Boy’s just getting started … again.) Late Sunday afternoon, we toasted the Noxzema-Fox-Simpson Strong-tie Building with fellow former residents and hoarders. We took a few pictures and one last look around the place to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind, then locked the door to 3100 Falls Cliff Road, future home of the reimagined Fox Building and the residents of its planned 93 apartments. Nevermore will a frazzled man and a tired but still tweaky woman hunch over a Chandler & Price printing press in the middle of the night doing crazy things to meet a deadline. Gone are the days of running frantically around the building to find the owner of the car illegally parked in the loading dock so we can get our paper for a big job. At Fox, anyway. Never again will a member of the Mashburn family—including myself—trip and fall down those concrete steps. (Sniff! I’m having a moment.)

As Rolie Polie Olie welcomes his own uncertain future with a trademark “Howdy!” so will we welcome our next chapter (already in progress).


We’re gone.


Suckers for Punishment

March 31, 2017

We were almost out of Dum-Dums, a very bad sign for how the move prep was progressing as well as our next dental checkups. These little lollipops had become dinner and dessert, as well as life preservers in the “just keep going” moments.

Mary has often teased Shop Boy about his love for Dum-Dums, which persists to this day even though the candy’s name is, well, D-U-M … dumb. And even though most often they come into one’s possession via a fish bowl at the check-out of a restaurant where 100 sets of germy hands have preceded yours. Or you pull one from the linty pocket of the jacket you put away last March … ah, fresh as the day sugar and artificial substances were magically mixed to create it.

Then there are the flavors. Mary’s got a problem with most of them, root beer and cherry being those she can best stand. Pineapple? Forget it. (Awesome to my tastes, by the way, as are grape, lemon-lime, orange, strawberry, raspberry, bubblegum and, yes, cherry too.) Hint: If there are two Dum-Dums left in the bowl and one of them has a “mystery flavor” wrapper, take the known quantity. In Shop Boy’s experience, the mystery wrapper exists only to sneak a few of the flavor mistakes into unsuspecting mouths.

Anyway, Mary had actually bought this batch of Dum-Dums as an enticement to shoppers at our two yard sales, events meant to limit what we’d need to carry away from the old Fox Building. We also had beer and wine, as well as birthday cake (for me!) at the first sale. The cake got hit pretty hard.

We sold some printing stuff we hadn’t touched in years as well as several printing presses. It was nice to see those machines go back into circulation, and operation. And as shoppers and friends of letterpress took their bargains, Mary and I kept busy organizing what—it was becoming clear—was sure to be left. All of it had to be out of the building by March 31. They were changing the locks. Whenever Shop Boy lagged (it happens), Dum-Dums were summoned.

Where would we be without those tasty little sugar bombs? Not here:

Fox Hunting

March 24, 2017

It’s cool going through old factories that have been mostly gutted out and prepped for a resurgence as some fancy “historic” this or that. Just to see the bones of the old place, to imagine what the developers see in that ratty old skeleton. And when the factory dealt with some pretty nasty substances and there are slimy remnants of them splattered up and down the beautiful support beams, that can take some pretty good imagination. Still, five years from now no one will remember what was.

So we were in the guts of the old Fox Building, most recently known as the home of Simpson Strong-Tie. These were companies that made protective coatings for construction materials. We’d long had a feeling and more recently had learned of concrete plans to convert the old factory—where Noxzema face cream was first mass produced!—into something like 95 apartments. Our initial inkling had come during a work break one day out on the rusty old loading dock, looking beyond the trees at the Jones Falls and the skyline of downtown Baltimore. Shop Boy can’t remember whether he or Mary said it first: “This is the next place in Hampden to go condo.” It was pretty obviously a prime perch on a hill.

We moved Typecast Press (or almost all of it, anyway) to another factory—the Mill Centre, as you know—as quickly as we could and were hardly out the door five minutes when the Fox apartments deal was announced. What had been our “windmill room” at Fox was now a storage space with a Vandercook, a C&P and a bunch of smaller presses and all the ephemera that goes with having spent more than a decade in the letterpress biz. We were given a date when all of our remaining stuff needed to be gone. That date is in two weeks.

Two yard sales have come and gone, the presses are all spoken for, and we’re down to a manageable pile of letterpress extras. The movers are lined up to take that over to a new little hoarder space we’ve added at the Mill Centre, because what else would you do? Meantime we’d run into a building manager who explained that the Fox and Simpson folks had taken all they were going to pull out of the building. We could go spelunking if we wanted, and if we found something and could carry it, we owned it now.

That hoarder space isn’t going to fill itself, am I right?

Crazy old paper towel holder? Check. Weird thing on the wall that held a key or something? Check. Folding yellow “danger” fence? You try to say no to that. Chemical hazard pants with yellow suspenders and matching boot covers? Shop Boy was all over that action. Some dude named Nick left a pile of his freshly laundered (me-sized) Simpson work shirts behind? We did not. A roll of plastic “Flammable Liquid” tape? You kidding me?

Seriously, I often meet people who own some strange but very cool object or other—a strip club neon sign, a merry-go-round pony or, say, hazard pants—and wonder, “How in heck did they end up owning that?” There’s your answer.

Of course, we did end up pulling a couple of lockers from a creepy back restroom that were unimaginably … clean. They’re clearly enchanted or something to stay so (relatively) untouched by so many years of grubby work clothes and worrisome air quality. We did a quick spritz with Simple Green, high-fived and called it a day.

I measured them each at a hair over 12 inches wide, 18 inches deep and 7 feet tall. We’d need to figure out how to fit them in the new print shop, which is laid out pretty intricately. Oh, there’s that narrow space between the metal shelves and the chest that holds the old McCormick spices cuts and such. And there’s that slender spot between the plate maker and the cabinet across the room that holds old die-cutting forms. Hmm.

For now, we stowed the lockers in our own space at Fox, then stopped at the new shop on the way home to measure. The gap between the metal shelves and the chest came in at a little over 12 inches wide and 18 inches deep with 7 feet-plus of clearance up the wall. OK, so I guess that works. Across the room, we measured the similar furniture gap at 11.75 inches. Dang. We’d have to nudge the cabinet over a whole .275 inches to make our evil plan work.

Meant to be? No. We should have left well enough alone. (Did I mention the two yard sales?) But we do now have one locker with shelves to hold our ink supply (currently stuck in a box or piled somewhat less than elegantly beneath the inking stone) and one locker with a rack to hold all of Nick’s shirts, so there you go.

February, Going on March

February 7, 2017

The other day, Shop Boy spoke with his dad. This would not be a big deal except for the political undercurrent in America and our starkly varying views on it. No, that’s not really it. My dad’s a smart guy, great with numbers and generous with his checkbook. He was the best man at my wedding to Mary (almost 28 years later, I still believe I made the right choices). But, ahem … what a pain in the ass!

OK, that’s not really it, either.

My dad’s 87, which means he’s seen some good stuff and some really bad stuff. He’s got the perspective of being alive through the aftermath of America’s Great Depression, of being an immigrant’s son, of working himself through college, of a hitch in the U.S. Army, of a career at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that let him raise seven kids, retire earlier than most and live not as a rich man but as a guy who’s got few worries besides the sands of time running out. He’s got a new hip, and a bum shoulder—which doesn’t keep him from swinging a golf club, so he’s OK with that. Again, he’s got perspective.

It’s just that he chooses not to use it sometimes. Dad’s a contrarian, in other words. He finds it funny that we get so worked up over the idea of a petulant egomaniac putting the whole world on edge. Trump? Really?

I called him anyway. He’d sent me a check at the holidays, and this is February. It was time to pull my head out of my … uh, the ground, see those four more years of nuclear winter staring us in the face, thank him for the gift and, ugh, congratulate him on the New England Patriots’ win in the Super Bowl.

People often ask Shop Boy, a New England kid, how I became a fan of the Miami Dolphins, the arch enemy of the “hometown” Pats. (I’ll keep it brief, but feel free to skip this paragraph if you hate sports, or especially football. I get it.) There’s a rule in the NFL that if you don’t sell out your games, they aren’t televised locally. The Patriots were very bad when I was growing up those million years ago. Few people chose to go see them in person, so their games were never televised. Instead, every Sunday, ta-da! Miami Dolphins, the only team ever to go undefeated for a whole season. Super Bowl trophies. Colorful players. Cheerleaders wearing … nothing, really. Flipper the dolphin doing somersaults after every touchdown! Today, the Pats are great and the Dolphins somewhat less than that. But you don’t switch allegiances like that guy with the brand-new Patriots hat in your office this week. End of story.

Again, it’s February, and I owed Dad a call. My birthday is this month. (Every single year it’s like that. What are the odds?) Here’s the thing: My dad is living his life, and I do my best to do nothing that pulls him out of his routine, which once again includes Zumba, because of course it does. He’s the only man in the class, because of course he is. None of my visits to him in Rhode Island lasts longer than a day or two, and even those are rare. It’s incredibly important to me that he get to live and die as he chooses. When I’m there he feels he needs to entertain me rather than be with his cronies at the golf course/bar or with the Ladies of Zumba. And my brother and all five sisters keep him surrounded. Will I regret not seeing him more often when he’s gone? Maybe. OK, I’ll miss him terribly. But I’d regret even more disrupting his late-life shenanigans.

Besides, I know this dude a little bit. The memories will remain if I, somehow, outlive him.

Anyway, I had to tell him that we printed posters for the Women’s March on Washington in January. He’d donated a little money to Typecast Press to help with our recent move to the Mill Centre, and I wanted him to know that our new, improved print shop was being used for good causes.

He laughed. I knew he would. Deep down, he’s all right.

OK, that’s not really it. He’d have been right there alongside us if he could be—giving us crap the whole time, naturally. My best man’s got his flaws. He thinks all this is funny, and I sure as heck hope he’s right.

Meantime, here’s to you, Dad:



… Or Die Tryin’

January 6, 2017

Take a remorseless Chandler and Price printing press, a pile of old school record album covers and a die-cutting form with metal blades in shapes representing phases of the moon. Now add Shop Boy, a pair of tweezers and a tight deadline.

What have you got? Bet you wouldn’t say “success story.”

Well, I’m lucky to be here to tell you that it was just that, somehow.

The job was for Baltimore’s own Anne Watts and her talented band Boister. It was Typecast Press’ second spin with designing and creating a Boister album cover. Mary’s idea this time was to make holes in the all-black cover that would create an illusion by exposing selected bits of a pre-printed inside sleeve.

It won’t blow the surprise (the album’s been out a while now) to tell you that the inside image is an eerie, artsy shot of eggs in a stream and that the die would cut phases of the moon into the cover, revealing a brighter, fuller “moon” as the egg shells and the cut-outs matched up at the apex.


We’d cut the shapes all the way through the album, so the effect works on the back side too — revealing faces of the bandmates as they match up on a collage. Cool, right? Most of Mary’s concepts are. But always … reality.

Because of the size and variations in the precise thickness of each cover, the die-cutting would need to be done by hand-feeding on the old C&P rather than the self-feeding Heidelberg windmill. But since since there were only a few hundred to do, it figured to be a snap. Except … well, you know.

Each time the die passed through the album, it created two little bits of loose cardboard per phase of the moon. A lot of these fell inside the album to be retrieved and recycled later. All but two of the others fell to the floor, making a delightful mess. These two became lodged in the part of the die representing the skinniest crescent of moon. These cutting forms are built with internal cushions that help to repel such scraps, but this one was overmatched. Do two passes in a row and the die would no longer cut that part. Paper jam. Wasted album cover. So Shop Boy would run one cover, stop the machine, remove the jam with a pair of tweezers, load a new cover into the guides, turn on the machine, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Jeez, the first 20 albums took about an hour as I slowly figured out the best way to clear the bits without damaging the die.

That’s when inspiration struck. I told Mary I had it under control, and since this was in our old, multi-roomed studio, she soon got bored and went across the hall. And I did the only logical thing. I mean, the clock was ticking. So …

We feed these C&Ps left-handed (because Mary is of that persuasion). There I stood, then, tweezers in my right hand, album covers stacked where my left hand could reach them, and turned the machine on. It went like this: Pull lever to print mode; place album cover into guides; cut shapes; throw lever to trip mode; pull album cover and place on “out” pile; reach into jaws of C&P to deftly unstick the paper bits from the crescent; place new album; throw lever into print mode. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Now we were (dangerously) getting somewhere.

See, as printers know, any human parts left in the impression zone of a motorized printing press for one second too long become the property of that machine. Thank heavens Shop Boy can be a dextrous little idiot. But it was scary. Honestly, it’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve done since that time with the 10-foot ladder and that extremely heavy table top and the loft and, oh, we’ll just save that story for anther day.

Besides, I should probably tell you a little bit about how I adapted the madness … I mean method … for die-cutting the little CD jackets.

Little bits. Really, really little bits.

And that’s probably enough said about it.






Give Us a Sign

June 24, 2016

Mary’s been so busy making signs for other people’s businesses that she’s never gotten around to making a real one for Typecast. I mean, isn’t that what makes you a real, legitimate business? Instead of, “Oh, just go knock on those green double doors.”

Don’t get Shop Boy wrong here. Mary’s work has kept the lights on at the print shop (and at home, where she works through the night on the proper kerning of eight-foot letters, the proper blink rate of an ice cream arrow and such).

a_ice cream

Our sign didn’t need to be anything flashy, just something that creates a feeling of permanence, if there ever were such a thing. Shop Boy ponders the question a lot: How long will we be doing this printing thing? Not to get all existential or anything, but Shop Boy left the “boy” section of life behind several decades ago. (I did have to outrun a mugger a few days ago, so it’s not all gone yet.) Wouldn’t it be fun some day to be that little old dude outside a print shop grinning by a sign that reads “established 1843” or whatever?

The inside of the shop will still scream “established by a 9-year-old princess,” but there you go.


There’s a little plaque we had made a number of years back that announces Typecast as “The Old Printer’s Home and Museum of Mostly Useless Antiquities.” It’s a right-reading, copper-on-wood plate that we had made when we were roommates with Chris Hartlove, back when he was a photographer who actually used film negatives (and a darkroom … imagine!). It’s fun, but it’s not really a “sign sign.” We’ve had the letter magnets you can see on this blog’s homepage, but they get all crooked every time someone, ahem, slams the door.

Anyway, while Mary’s been behind the visual renaissance of Belvedere Square Market, the sign announcing The Dabney (a new DC eatery), ridiculously cool and gone-too-soon sign painting at Shoo-fly Diner (permanence? yikes) and more at the thriving Parts & Labor, Shop Boy has wondered what it’d be like to have an external sign—again, just a little one—announcing our presence to the general public. Well, our recent move to a new shop, Mary’s completion of her assignments (hah!) and the fate that would land us next door to a sign maker removed all excuses.

And there we are.



Deals on Wheels

April 21, 2016

The first time Shop Boy ever laid eyes on a Fiat 500 was at Baltimore’s Artscape festival a few years back and … my goodness. Like the AMC Gremlin, the Subaru Brat (I’m dating myself), the Ford Ranger pickup, the original Scion xB and just-as-boxy Nissan Cube before it, the 500 knocked me out.

A dealer was showing them off, letting people climb inside. But just as Shop Boy popped open the passenger’s side door to let Mary in, some lady and her smelly, shedding dog hopped in from the other side, the sun’s rays catching all the free-flying fur that quickly filled the cabin. (People and dogs! I love dogs. Stop it anyway, please.) We closed the door and walked away, and I figured that’s about as close as Shop Boy would ever get to the driver’s seat of one of these adorable things.

Well, speaking of brats …

Mary tends to give Shop Boy anything he wants besides time off for good behavior. And I am prone to debilitating bouts of self-doubt and worry. She and Typecast Press can’t afford to wait out my darker moods, so when I get like this she bribes me, like so:

(Truth be told, Shop Boy gives her whatever she wants, too, whatever her mood. It’s a toxic combination, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun sometimes.)

Besides, with my truck on the demise, I needed a new ride, something small, fuel-efficient and relatively cheap. Being a junkie, Shop Boy knew right where to look. Smart Cars were the cheapest things they had at White Marsh, where we bought Mary’s silver Volvo wagon a couple of years ago and the blue 850 that preceded it. The price of the Fiats was running a little higher, and Smart Cars are adorable and I’ve wanted to drive one forever and so … then Shop Boy drove one. “You are witnessing the death of a dream,” I told Dave, the very patient Carmax guy.

Seriously, you should have seen us: two big guys piled into that tiny cockpit. Not happening. And I thought I’d wanted an automatic transmission after all these years with a clutch and stick shift. Turns out I was just practicing for this little baby.

Man, I’m going to miss that truck. (I wore dark glasses to hide my misty eyes as I handed the keys to a new owner with far more expertise in vehicle repair at her disposal. She swears the old truck — below, with the new kid — is just getting started. I hope so.) I’m also going to miss window shopping on, clearly. (What a loon!)

A Car truck



One Shop Stopping

April 1, 2016

EmptyIt’s hard to find anything good to say about the act of paying rent on two printshops at once, yet there we were.

The new space wasn’t yet ready to take in even one more box of letterpress stuff; the old one wasn’t yet empty of the stuff that needed to come with us. Worse, another tenant was waiting on us to get the heck out. But you know how it is. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough not to know:

If you’re relocating to someplace 1,000 miles away, you do it in one terribly painful move.

If you’re relocating to someplace 1,000 feet away (as we were), you do it in 753 (Shop Boy counted) small, terribly painful moves.

So, when we set the vacuum cleaner down (and changed out its bag — no sense bringing old dust to the new space) for the final time in Studios 4 and 12 (with Mary in photo) of the Fox Industries Building, it was a momentous and, yes, moving occasion. With a flick of the light switches to the “off” position, the Typecast Press monthly rent total fell by nearly half. (Of course, we had to keep a little space over at Fox — Studio 3 — for stuff that needs a new home, because that’s how we roll.) That job done, we trudged the 1,000 feet to the new space and got busy making it ours for real.

And the next day, something amazing happened. Usually, Mary or Shop Boy would call ahead to ask at which shop space the other one happened to be. Instead, we woke up, had a cup of coffee and headed off in the same direction. Sweet.

Together, I’m sure we’ll think of some way to spend the extra money.


Better Men Than Me

February 23, 2016

“I got this.”

When you move heavy stuff for a living, you don’t need Shop Boy’s input or necessarily his assistance to get things where they need to go: down the hall, onto a truck, down the road, into Typecast Press’ new home in the Mill Centre. You especially don’t need that help from the wild-eyed, panicked, up-all-night version of me who greeted Jimmy Jones and his guys on the loading dock on that cold February morning.

The only good information required of Shop Boy in the course of a long day of lifting and tugging was along the lines of “Where does this immense stack of paper made from stone go?”

JJ Movers

The fellows pictured above are Jimmy (in baseball cap) and, from left, Chico, John, and Hoss, who were so fast and strong that at one point an exasperated Mary, staying behind and struggling to keep packing as they moved three separate truckloads, simply stuck an open box next to a desktop and swept the contents into it with her arm. This is so not Mary, which is why the packing process had taken so long. But the pace was clearly picking up!

(To emphasize the strength of these gentlemen, at one point an ancient mimeograph machine that we’d acquired toppled and fell toward the floor as Jimmy passed it. He caught it: behind him, with one finger! I swear. It had taken me and Mary — and a few curse words — to coax the darn, clumsy thing down from the loft. Honestly, I can’t recommend J&J Hauling (email highly enough. Our big presses fly North American Millwright Services and Capt. Bruce Baggan, aka Santa Claus, because of course they do. But everything else goes via Jimmy.)

Mary kept reminding me to let the guys do their thing and get out of the way, but I like to be helpful. It’s like when the waitperson is clearing the table and I’ll helpfully stack some stuff and hand it over, never failing to dump the silverware on the floor or something extraordinarily unhelpful like that. So I kind of stood and pointed. We’d drawn a layout of the new printshop that mostly worked, so that part was pretty straightforward. Like the mimeograph, everything got to the new place safely.

I mean, everything that was packed in time or wasn’t being left behind by choice. That stuff’s on me now. So you want to help move stuff, eh Shop Boy?

Give me strength.

Truckload of Regrets

February 8, 2016

SB-fordShop Boy and his truck went over the hill at the same time. Only one, it seems, is coming back.

It wasn’t exactly the truck’s fault. It hadn’t gotten fat or ignored its blood pressure or cholesterol (like its owner). And it wasn’t totally Shop Boy’s fault that he loved a vehicle to death. Babied it to its grave. And yet, there it sat at the repair shop as a mechanic read off a dire list of things it would take to make the old Ford Ranger salvageable … at only 35,000 miles and 16 years of age.

Turns out Shop Boy’s low annual mileage routine was the worst thing for the vehicle. Mostly it sat … and rusted. It always was leaky. I’d jump in the driver’s seat after a rainstorm and put my foot into a puddle. And after a delivery truck smacked it one day outside the printshop, busting part of the wheel well, water was apparently free to roam its chassis, rusting out the brakes, exhaust system and the suspension. That’s all I can figure. Three of the four tires were shot. (Shop Boy had long blamed the teeth-rattling driving experience on Baltimore’s roads. They of course are not completely innocent in this matter either.) And my bad for not recognizing the extra care an idled car requires.

Anyhow, the very nice guy at the repair place suggested it would cost at least twice what the truck is worth to make it safe to drive for more than a few additional weeks, if it even had that long. I had him replace one tire, install a new battery (which was about dead too) and change the oil a final time.

It was a sad ride home, with all of the strange squeaks and instability Shop Boy had so long ignored now clear as a bell. Shop Boy, heart heavy, gets a second chance at getting this “being alive” thing right, with a little medication and a few “lifestyle modifications.” The truck is either going to end up in a backyard — thanks to a weekend mechanic who’ll appreciate my subtlety with the clutch, I’m thinking — or the boneyard. It’s not for sale right now. Shop Boy couldn’t do that in good conscience. (Lots of dudes have asked over the years if they could buy it. Nice-looking machine, it was/is. The parking meter readers are going to really miss putting tickets under its windshield wipers.) I’ll let Carmax make it safe or sell any good parts it’s got left.

Whatever good parts Shop Boy’s got left will soon be surrounded by a car-car. No more pickups. The truck bed was seldom used except as a trash can for jerks walking past. And Carmax will sell me a tiny little runabout thingy for less than I originally paid for the Ranger, which Shop Boy begged and begged and begged Mary to let me buy. There’s no denying it was a good run … that has run its course.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. RIP.

Ol’ Factory Issues

January 11, 2016

SB_CanarySo we’re moving. Typecast Press, that is. Lock, stock and most of the barrels, just down the hill as it turns out. The new studio is a bit smaller, but it’s one contained room vs. three separate spaces. It’s got solid wood floors that will eventually be lovely (I’ll talk about that another day) and will be easier on our legs. It’s got dependable heat! And it’s got that reassuring, stood-the-test-of-time smell of an old building.

“No, that’s a gas leak,” Mary insisted as I gave her a tour of prep work Shop Boy had done on the space. And when our little canary in the coal mine smells gas, she flies away. “We’re not moving in. I can’t work here.” This constituted a bit of a problem, since we’d just signed a three-year lease.

See, Mary’s nose is something of a marvel. It can smell a gas leak in the next county (proven) as well as a mouse taking its first cautious steps (and poops) in from the cold. I don’t even argue the second one anymore. I just go get the traps. But gas? Here? After all we’d been through to find the perfect place to start our second decade as a business? We’d eliminated several previous buildings because of molecules per billion of natural gas seeping from … somewhere. (And landlords who were dismissive of Mary’s concerns … bad idea, FYI.) We’d waved off a seemingly ideal spot in an up-and-coming complex (with a grassy amphitheater, water fountain, patio and gas grills thrown in!) because it smelled a bit of “basement.” Truth be told, the anticipated build-out costs even for our simple space there made that decision more OK.

Here we were, though, in THE perfect spot by Shop Boy’s way of thinking. One big room, just under 1,600 square feet. We were giving up a few hundred square feet in total. But no more wandering down the hallway to a separate space to make plates or to check color consistency on an envelope job with the Heidelberg windmills (wedding invitation) and Chandler & Price clamshell presses (envelopes) in different rooms. I’d measured the new digs, four squares on the graph paper representing 1 foot, then created little cutouts of each piece of equipment, furniture, type cases and shelving we own using the same formula. We’d need to offload some things we’d bought as newbie printers but outgrown or shifted away from. But my layout worked, and followed my only rules for a printshop Mary and Shop Boy occupy.

Rule 1: Lots of space to safely work on and around machines. (I realize that many talented and prolific letterpress printers have made do with far less space, but Shop Boy is far less proficient, nimble and organized sometimes and must build in the cost to cover his shortcomings. Anyway, the difference in rent ends up being a wash because Mary’s smart.)

Rule 2: Clean and, where possible, pretty.

Mary’s rule: No gas smell. (Oh, and aprons with fun patches like “Bear Friends Society” or “sock monkey in a chapeau.” This part Shop Boy has on lock, being fairly accomplished at the ironing board.)

But the holidays were approaching, we needed to get our presses moved out of the old space and, well, we’re printers. We kind of needed to, like, print. Shop Boy called the building manager and, oh, um, uh, asked whether Mary could maybe examine the heating apparatus and test gas levels under the building.

(Stand in Shop Boy’s shoes for one minute and tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.)

Oddly enough, the answer was not “we’ll open the basement door and then you can just keep going all the way to hell” but “sure, why not?”

And so that is how (and where) Mary met the building contractor, and if Shop Boy ever meets the dude I’ll kiss his ring. He showed Mary around, patiently explained stuff, even sort of confirmed her theory that pre-winter boiler work could be behind it all. A bad valve had indeed been replaced recently and the gas smell was probably just working its way out of the building.

Sounded about right by Shop Boy and sensible enough that Mary gave the riggers the OK to move in the presses. Still, she’s not taking chances. “What’s this?” Shop Boy asked of a box that arrived the other day.

“I bought a gas meter,” she said. “I’m getting a reading over there. It’s still a little seeping up from the basement. But if you caulk, and fix the loose baseboards, and do trim around the whole room, and …”


We’re home.



May 18, 2015

beeblog1The bees ignored the buzz. And so, for a minute or two, could we.

It was a Saturday, the final day under a curfew set by the mayor after unrest in Baltimore City. It had been a scary week, with wild swings between worrying about ourselves, our Bolton Hill home, and our favorite city places and also whether fellow Baltimore residents — those so angered over the death of a man in police custody — could themselves stay safe as they continued to protest peacefully (Mary among them at one point). It never felt as though the whole city would explode but it felt enough like it could. From where we sat, the endless rotor noise of the police and National Guard choppers hovering above our house and circling our neighborhood was annoying at first, and soon became maddening.

How could this possibly end well? We fretted aloud as Mary kept track of events via Twitter.

beeblog2And just outside our door, in the mad tangle of a gnarled, old wisteria vine, the bumblebees were oblivious to everything but the nectar that awaited them within the fresh purple-blue blooms. It was bee-petting time.

Mary’s birthday tends to coincide with the first wisteria bloom of the season (hence the festive poster I made for her this year) and she finds it great fun to celebrate by sniffing the blooms as the bees fly drunkenly all around her. When one alights for a few seconds on a nearby flower, she’ll extend her index finger and gently pet the furry yellow portion of its upper back. She reports it to be incredibly soft. I have not had the pleasure. “Bee” is a synonym for “ouch” in my personal dictionary. I took my share of stings while running barefoot through the clover that covered our shoddy “baseball field” as a kid. But whatever. It was Mary’s moment, in the middle of all this angst, the bees just doing what bees do and a couple of us Baltimoreans trying to do the same.

She giggled as a bumblebee she was petting took flight, its wings flapping against her finger to create an angry-sounding “BBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZ!” She apologized to the bee, which simply moved to the next bar stool.

The Last Printing Press You’ll Ever Need

April 14, 2015

Mary speaks of printing presses in what for her are hushed tones, or anyway what they lack in hush they more than make up for in reverence.

And every time I think we’ve found and acquired her holy grail of letterpresses, she develops a reverence for another one. It’s like I married a dude having a midlife crisis sometimes. Like, for instance, a red Ferrari would weigh 3 tons less and have only a slightly larger footprint than the latest printing press she fell for: the Heidelberg KS.

Oh, but what it’ll do … or so Shop Boy is told. See, we’ve never laid eyes on the thing. Mary bought it at auction from a place in, I swear, Novelty, Ohio. Today it’s in Baltimore, at North American Millwright, a name you should surely know if you’ve followed our loopy path as printers or have had to move something really, really, really heavy. Bruce Baggan and his crew are the best. (Bruce reports that the press arrived in good shape.) This month or next we will meet the thing in person, at our shop.

I’m excited, and not. Like a sports car, these printing presses cost money. Mary will naturally tell you she got a sweetheart deal, but she’s in love, so whatever. All I know is 4 tons and that, to get this one in, another press has to go.

a_miehleAnd it’s looking as though the Miehle V50 is it. That one wasn’t Mary’s fault. It followed us home, for “only” the cost of moving it, from a Baltimore printshop before we knew enough to say no. We know it works, and it’s even got brand new rollers. Two problems: Mary’s first love is the Heidelberg windmill (Shop Boy lands anywhere between No. 2 and No. 5 depending upon how timely I am with dinner). She’s a whiz at running the windmill, and now another Heidelberg is (almost) in the house.

Also, the V50 is a younger person’s press, with ink tray cleaning performed from your knees and big, heavy chases (even when empty – imagine it with a Boxcar base!) that must be dead-lifted into the guides.

Shop Boy just had another birthday go past. Geez, it’s like that happens every stinking year. Pretty soon you’ve got more behind than ahead. And so that might soon be the story for the Miehle. We don’t want to scrap it. Mary listed in on Briar Press for $600 or best offer.

Zero offers and counting. Apparently the last thing people need is a 3-ton paper towel holder.

Or are you that person?

It’s great at holding coffee cups, too.


A Snowball’s Chance

January 28, 2015

snowball launcherWhen we were kids, a friend had this plastic snowball stick.  It looked like a baseball bat but with a hollowed end. You stuck it into the snow and the flakes were packed down and transformed into what looked like an artillery shell. How it worked was, you swung it downward like an ax, launching an icy projectile (Rhode Island snow tends to be slushy). It wasn’t very accurate at all. That’s why I really didn’t think twice as I swung it toward the road where a classic old car was going beautifully about its business.

When it came to hitting cars with snowballs from great distances, I was advanced for my age. It was a thrill to mentally compute the speed and direction of the car, distance, density/weight of the snowball (and escape routes) all before letting it fly and waiting for the target to reach spot X as the snowball roared out of the heavens to meet it. Land it on the hood and … wow, what an angry driver. I’d done the math for this gorgeous, shiny black car, but I didn’t really want to hit it, and the stupid snowball stick never worked anyhow. So what in blazes was that way-too-big chunk of ice and snow doing flying over the electrical wires toward the exact spot I’d aimed for? As soon as it left the stick I knew. (A natural snowball thrower has a feel for such things.) Yup …

Bang! Screeeeech! Run!

You don’t think of consequences so much when you’re a kid … and fast enough to get away. (A high school-aged guy caught me once and roughed me up a little bit. The gentlest beating of my life, though. He didn’t want to be hitting me, clearly, but knew I needed to learn a lesson — since I’d really wanted to hit his car, a fast-moving Chevy Nova. Or maybe he had a criminal record and didn’t want to end up back in one of Cranston, RI’s fine prisons. I wasn’t going to complain either way.)

I tell this story because that’s just so amazingly not me today. One, I can barely throw a snowball across an alley, never mind most of a city block. Hurt my elbow at a young age. (CAR-ma, ha-ha! Karma! Get it?) Two, just the idea of hurting someone, even unintentionally (snowball hits car, driver panics and crashes, say …), makes me feel cold inside. And it’s way too easy to hurt people simply by being stupid. Take the car commercial featuring potential buyers being given a high-speed thrill ride in a “race car” only to learn it’s just a normal sedan when they peel away the plastic parts. Message: Buy this boring-looking sedan and you can race on the city streets, fella.


Or, for that matter, ads for the more modern snowball launcher, which I found doing a web search for pictures of the old stick. This one is a VERY BAD IDEA. I mean, look at the face of the kid in that photo up top! He’s gonna put somebody’s eye out.

Three, today it tends to be far more thrilling to do the quick computations on how to be a nice guy and then watch that (mostly) happen instead. Or, to relive those childhood memories (on days when it was supposed to snow!) from a distance even my adolescent arm couldn’t reach. Bang! An old softie.

Anyway, Shop Boy originally wrote this blog entry for a way to talk about other, more important bloggers — real nursing students — at Johns Hopkins University, where I work now when not at Typecast Press. Take a look if you get a chance. You’ll also see more of Shop Boy’s writing (under an alias, this St. Angelo dude). I had nothing new to say that day about nursing but needed a fresh entry. Veteran readers of this blog know that Shop Boy can talk a whole lot about nothing. New readers, beware.

Today, Impressions of a Shop Boy needed a fresh entry. Next time I might blab on … just because I can. Like, remind me to tell you about the time I got into a snowball fight with a Boston Red Sox pitching prospect who threw 89 mph, and my face ended up playing catcher. Karma. Get it?

All Downhill From There

January 6, 2015

deer He of the nose knows not to mess with Monument Hill.

He of the nose knows not to mess with Monument Hill.

Why can’t we learn?

Most days of the year, Denver is about a 75-minute drive (at 75 mph!) from Colorado Springs on Interstate 25. In between the two cities, every day of the year, is Monument Hill. I’m guessing the pass was so named because a lot of monuments tend to be made of white marble, so think “white knuckles” and “white-outs.” On the wrong days, you need to get over the Monument Hill pass before both set in.

This, then, was the wrong day to make a snowy, last-minute dash for tacos just so we could get one more pile of Mexican food into our rounding post-holiday bellies before heading off to the Denver airport. “Denver-ish airport” is far more apt. When we lived in downtown Denver in the 1990s, Stapleton Airport was a 15-minute run. Stapleton was the best. The modern Denver International Airport is really not so very good at all in comparison. And it is a long, long way from downtown Denver. Very bad idea, but it did make some people a lot of money and of course that’s awesome.

As were the tacos, but c’mon, folks. Let’s go already.

Mary’s parents live in Colorado Springs, which is actually at a higher elevation than the Mile High City. It’s a strip-mally kind of existence, just vast expanses of big-box stores and gas stations and silly housing developments surrounded by the most breath-taking scenery. There’s a slightly religious feeling, for instance, to looking out the front door of Trader Joe’s at … the glory that is Pikes Peak. Honestly, it’s like going about your miserable little bingeing, burping, barfing life in a postcard. And soon you begin to take the surroundings for granted. Humans (yuck).

Anyway, Mary grabbed her laptop and checked the Monument Hill road cam: Clear as a summer day. She checked the Denver weather: Sunny, with light winds. So the snow falling like mad in the Springs was merely a lovely annoyance. The TV weatherman described it as a southern storm, with the Springs its northernmost edge. Once we’d reached the city limits, headed north to Denver, it would trouble us no more.

All those trips back and forth from Colorado Springs to Denver in the 1990s and on a bunch of visits ever since … and we believed this?

So, two hours of driving an unfamiliar car in the snowy ruts made by the vehicle just ahead, afraid to blink your eyes lest you end up plunging, doomed, into the lovely valley below, should not have come as a complete surprise.

At least we had all those tacos inside us to add a little weight to the vehicle.

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 billion 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.

steve_JHU3419_steve st

Fair catch?


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?