Left-handed Compliment

It’s kind of like going to England, driving your SUV 80 mph on the right side of the road, ignoring all the signs, swerving, skidding vehicles and, um, helpful car honks because the right side just works better for you. You’re an American, and Americans drive fast — on the right side of the road. The Brits can’t adjust for once? Please.

Well, call me roadkill.

Mary is not right-handed. She is really left-handed. In fact, she’s somewhere left of left-handed on the handedness spectrum. So left-handed that a 100-year-old woman she tried to interview in her cub reporter days wondered aloud — as Mary took notes — if she was of the devil. See? I’m not alone here.

Oh, she’s learned to use scissors with her right hand, mostly because true left-handed scissors don’t exist. But mostly, she’ll be gosh-darned — or words to that effect — if she has to adapt to the righty lifestyle, even in the printshop.

Yes, yes, any (political) lefty will tell you that a policy or operation that favors individuals of one persuasion or ability over others is inherently wrong. And letterpress printing seems to have been designed and built by the righties and for the righties. Like Shop Boy, for instance.

But if it there’s any way at all to manipulate a mechanism or process, Mary’ll find it. Thus, on our imposing stone, where we mix inks and set up the chase, all our tools are on the left. The rolls of tape? On the left. The computer’s on the left side of the type cabinet we built. Guide books are on the left side of the shelves. “Shop Boy, can you reach across (over, around and through) and grab me a piece of blue tape?”

Everybody limbo!

It turns out that we even feed the C&P letterpress left-handed. See, normally — “normal” as in “right-handed” — the stacks of paper to be printed are piled up on the feed tray to your right as you face the machine. Gauge pins are positioned on the left side and the base of the tympan, the sheet that wraps the platen to hold the pins and whatever packing you’re using to adjust the impression depth. It’s all so that the right hand grabs a piece of paper, slides it neatly and in a natural motion into the inverted “L” embrace of the gauge pins, a firm impression is made, then the lowly left hand cleans up the mess, simply pulling the printed item straight back to the tray at the printer’s belly. Been done that way for eons, I’m told.

Not in Mary’s letterpress shop. It’s exactly the opposite.


Look, Shop Boy’s a flexible guy. It’s just a matter of adjusting my head, my hands, my arms, my back, my feet, my eyes, my hips and my attitude to something that’s completely foreign. I can deal.

In fact, it might not bug me at all, maybe, if Mary wasn’t forever doing the equivalent of a touchdown dance in my grill every time we share press run duties. Oh, she tries to be subtle about it. Like after I’d recently run hundreds of coasters left-handed, with a hellish registration margin between colors (she’d put the registration marks on “her side” after she’d printed the first color):

“Nice job, Shop Boy. Some day you might even be able to feed the press almost as fast as me.”

Right … thanks.

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