At Arm’s Length

It’s happened to me more times than most pressmen can count on one hand: five.

During a run, the paper jumps the guides on the tympan sheet, dropping toward the greasy guts of the C&P, and the first instinct is to reach in, grab it and reposition it before the press closes. Success means:

1. The paper doesn’t become garbage (key if you’ve cut it way too close on the paper order).

2. The tympan — which holds the guides and any packing on the platen — doesn’t get inked (and thus print a ghost image on the back of the next 25 copies).

3. You get to keep all your fingers.

Failure is messy. Kind of like for the golfer who, instead of taking a penalty stroke and a $4 hit, decides he can beat the alligator to the ball.

So far I’ve been lucky. But somehow I’ve got to shut off the reflex. It’ll take work, since it’s been with me a while. During college, I worked a few semesters in a dining hall at the University of Rhode Island. One day, I dropped a ladle into a screaming hot cauldron of spaghetti sauce. Zip! My arm went in after it. Let me tell you … no, let’s not summon the sense memory. But know this: The stain was still on the 25-foot-high ceiling when I graduated a few years later. The ladle was uninjured, by the way.

Mary has been helpful in my retraining on the C&P, promising to put my head in the press the next time I try my little trick. And it’s illuminating to meet printers in Baltimore and beyond who know firsthand how quickly you can lose a digit. One guy who saw the tips of several fingers get mashed to a pulp in a paper cutter says his colleagues welcomed him back from the hospital with congratulations: He was officially a printer now.

High-fours all around.

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