Archive for October, 2007

Letterpress List No. 8: The Beast

October 30, 2007

It’s ALIVE!

They said it couldn’t be done.

Mary said it could. She just needed one more … human brain!

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(That’s Mary after it was mentioned that Shop Boy had one. Instead she called in the ringer, brother-in-law Tom Beal.)

For 30-odd years it lay dormant, waiting for this day, when its life force would surge anew and its taste for flesh would reawaken.

The switch was thrown. The lights dimmed, then surged brighter. An otherworldly moan came from somewhere deep inside the beast. Then, chunka, chunka, chunka, chunka. Faster and faster.

Mary screamed with delight. Shop Boy cowered, then ran to warn the villagers.

***

Yes, as it was foretold in this letterpress blog, the Miehle Vertical has returned to menace the general population. (All right, mostly Shop Boy.) And it’s frightening how quickly it all came about.

For the Machine Whisperer — Tom — things fell into place in about five hours. Typecast Press had begged him to come down, again — Thanks, Tom! — to hook a three-phase converter onto the Miehle, using the 220 power we’d had an electrician run into the studio the day before. We figured it would take a weekend.

Suddenly, he was asking if we were ready for a demo. Shop Boy, of course, had been ready for demo — as in demolition, get it before it gets him — since the 3-ton monster had landed at Typecast Press. The Miehle scares the bejeepers out of me. I’ve decided to call it Audrey II, in honor of our own little shop of horrors. Shop Boy knows it wants blood.

Must it be human? Must it be mine?

For Mary, there was but one scary moment: When Tom turned the Miehle up full throttle to see what it could do. We still weren’t sure we had all the parts attached. But Tom, who puts broken things back together for a living — inventing parts if he has to — just had to play with the new toy. Well, we still don’t know if it’s a complete machine, but it goes like heck.

And it isn’t even all that loud, which reassures Shop Boy. For there is only one thing he fears more than the Miehle taking its pound of flesh: the massive martial arts dude who teaches in the studio down the hallway — who’s given Shop Boy snake face just for vacuuming — showing up with a pitchfork.

***
It’s the day before Halloween. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! What better time for Letterpress List No. 8? Here we go: In honor of the dark holiday, some tunes that just feel right. Many of these tricks and treats are available for a fee at iTunes or Napster.

Live WireMotley Crue (The Miehle; Tommy Lee’s, uh, drums, Vince Neil’s makeup … fear all.)
Them BonesAlice in Chains (Road map to the grave.)
HalloweenStephen Lynch (Stewing over cute little goblins.)
I Want CandyBow Wow Wow (Still a felony just to listen in some states.)
I Want OutHelloween (Shop Boy thought this the coolest ever in 1988. Boys …)
Possum KingdomThe Toadies (“I didn’t mean to scare you.” Creepy.)
Bullet with Butterfly WingsSmashing Pumpkins (Rats, pumpkin guts. A Halloween hangover.
Mother Danzig (Mary’s convinced Glenn Danzig is the reincarnation of Elvis, on HGH. Never seen them together, have you?)
Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath (With Ronnie James Dio, patron saint of Halloween.)
Ghostbusters Ray Parker Jr. (Dogs and cats living together. Sorry, massive martial arts dude. Vacuum time.)
DragulaRob Zombie (Like, it’s really scary … for a car.)
The Number of the BeastIron Maiden (1-800-YOUBURN.)
BeelzStephen Lynch (An alternate view of the devil: “I’m the reason that the Boston Red Sox even had a chance.”)
The Heretic AnthemSlipknot (“I haven’t the slightest …” LOL.)
Highway to HellAC/DC (We’ll give Patty the holiday off.)

Give Me a Brake

October 26, 2007

It had to stop.

Mary and Shop Boy were having a little misunderstanding — not really a fight as much as a failure to realize that she was right. In plain English, Mary was spelling out the need for an emergency brake on the ancient 12×18 C&P letterpress we were very close to bringing online. Shop Boy? Speaking French again.

You know: The French believe plumbers plumb, painters paint, machinists machine. It’s Shop Boy’s operating system, translated further into: Don’t know it? Fear it. Mock it. Get away from it: “Why do we need an emergency brake? I can stop the wheel very easily by hand. It’s one more thing that can go wrong.”

Well, let’s just say Mary’s operating system is a little more powerful: “What if your hand is stuck in it? How will you stop the wheel from crushing it to a pulp?”

OK, we could have the brake. But there were issues. For instance, the floor of the studio is concrete covered with tile, so the brake would need to be mounted on plywood that was then glued rather than screwed into place. Fine. The spring mechanism that once kept the brake pad an inch or so from the wheel had long ago failed, meaning the brake had become a permanent drag on the wheel. The part of the brake that actually touched the drive wheel featured a dirty old asbestos pad. It got gunk all over the wheel — meaning hand-washing every five seconds — and put carcinogens into the atmosphere. To fix that, Mary presented Shop Boy with a square of material that was rubber on one side and cloth on the other. This would at least keep the constant rubbing from releasing toxins. Great. She ran an errand and Shop Boy went to work, cutting the square to the proper size and gluing the cloth side to the asbestos brake shoe. A little elbow grease cleaned the years of gunk off the wheel and I was set to try it out.

The motor had been placed by the flywheel to power a friction drive roller — a yellow rubber/plastic composite thingy that in turn spins the wheel. You don’t need a belt mechanism. It’s very cool.

Unless your new rubber brake pad, rather than gently rub the wheel, stops it dead and the drive roller, still spinning like mad, starts throwing chunks of itself across the floor.

By the time Shop Boy could react, the roller had lost enough flesh — like bits of pencil eraser — that it no longer made contact with the wheel. No contact, no motion. F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-, um, Phooey! Now I’d have to re-mount the motor, which I never would have had to do if there was no brake, which we didn’t even need, and how am I supposed to know how to mount a motor? And Mary’ll be back soon and I’ve just ruined the press and we’ve got a job we need to run tonight and I hate letterpress anyway and I’m stupid and ugly and fat and should never have been allowed to grow up and …

You get the picture. Chunks of the drive roller and Shop Boy’s psyche commingled in grease and oil beneath the C&P.

Mary called to ask how it was going.

“You don’t want to know.”

But by then I’d somehow — Shop Boy now officially believes in miracles — tended to the motor and got the slimmed-down drive roller to spin the big wheel again. My psyche wasn’t as easy to put back together.

“Why didn’t you just ask me?” Mary said. “Of course the rubber stopped the wheel too fast. I would have told you to put the cloth side up on the brake pad.”

Of course, this made me feel waaaay better.

We decided it might be best to rig up a temporary system that prevented the brake pad from touching the wheel, but could be used in an emergency. We wedged a collapsible cardboard box beneath the brake lever. Simply stepping on the lever would crush the box and brake the wheel (and damage the roller, but an emergency’s an emergency). And we cut and attached a new brake pad, cloth side up.

OK, so I went to wash my hands. Two minutes later, I returned to find a concerned Mary turning the machine on and off. The wheel wouldn’t turn. She’d accidentally kicked the box out from under the brake lever, the cloth had stopped the wheel as efficiently as the rubber and … well, you know.

Phooey.

Mary: “Maybe we should just get rid of the stupid brake.”

Of course, she was right.

Letterpress List No. 7: Paper Cuts

October 23, 2007

They called it bad parenting.

We had entrusted a local “finishing” company with our baby — the Zolo holiday card — in the form of reams of a Crane’s paper called Lettra. This is the good stuff. Thick paper that will take a strong impression (the “feel” of letterpress), yet not let the image push through the other side, which can be a problem if you’re printing there as well. We were. The card is a Global Action for Children fundraiser, meant to help at-risk kids and orphans around the world. A buddy, Jennifer Delaney, is executive director. Byron Glaser and Zolo — known for its wildly creative toys — designed the card.

The paper comes in boxes of “parent” sheets, in this case about 22 inches by 30 inches. Mary does the math on how best to utilize every square inch of the stuff. (Her method is madness, but whatever … it eventually works.) The finishing company is in the same building where Mary had found a guy who would create cutting dies for us on a dime — but for considerably more spare change. The business has got years and years “best of” plaques all over the wall, and a jukebox with Juice (“It’s a Heartache”) Newton on it. The receptionist was nice and helpful.

Anyway, we’d convinced ourselves that this was too big a job, timewise, for us to handle on our little guillotine cutter. Plus, Shop Boy is constantly preaching trust:

  • that Mary can do anything (believe it)
  • that things will work out
  • that others will put as much care into their work as we do into ours
  • that Shop Boy won’t do (NAME OF MISTAKE NOT TO BE REPEATED) again.

This would not turn out to be a trust-building experience.

When we went to retrieve the order a couple of days later, the receptionist was snarling. Uh-oh. The rep said the order was on a pallet out back. Double uh-oh, as we’d driven our car — my little pickup can’t fit a pallet in back either. Besides, it wasn’t a very big order. What did they need a pallet for? My heart sank. We’d need to repack it, for sure.

Shop Boy drove glumly around to the back loading dock. Then the rep opened the bay door. “Oh my god,” Mary said — over and over.

There, on a dirty pallet, plastic-wrapped so tightly that many of its edges had bent, was our order. The rep, seeing Mary’s face, ran to get boxes and a helper. Shop Boy, not knowing quite what to do, just stood there. This was a mistake he won’t repeat anytime soon.

“Don’t just stand there!” Mary barked. “Get a box.”

Four of us repacked the paper and loaded the truck in silence, except for this:

“The paper was damaged when we got it,” said the rep.

Shop Boy, I am not ashamed to tell you, was suddenly afraid — for a lot of people.

Well, to make a long story short, we printed what we could, discarding damaged and dirty pieces all the way through the run. And Crane, graciously, sent lots more paper once its rep — a guy named Dave Kidwell — found out what the project was for (even though we couldn’t promise he’d meet Angelina Jolie, a Global Action for Children spokeswoman).

We’re cutting this pile ourselves.

But Mary’s still fuming. Never seen her this mad. I’ve left the name of the finishing company out here, just in case Mary torches the place. Hate to see her go to jail. Worse, I’d hate for Mary to know that Shop Boy was the lone potential witness to the crime, know what I mean?

By the way, we never had this conversation …

***

Let’s lighten the mood, shall we?

Letterpress List No. 7: This is, like, three weeks in a row that Shop Boy’s filed a Tuesday list on a Tuesday. And how about that Red Sox-Rockies World Series that Shop Boy predicted — for Next Year? We’re on a roll, baby. Let’s keep it going: Here are some songs perfect for killing about an hour or so. As usual, most should be available at iTunes or Napster (just so I don’t seem completely biased).

BurnRancid (We don’t need no water let the [um … darn old thing] burn.”)
Sweating Bullets
Megadeth (“Sharpening the ax and my palms are getting wet.” Hmm. Must work for our finishing company.)
SmileLily Allen (Have mercy! On second thought, nah.)
Don’t KillHamell on Trial (“Thou means YOU.”)
SugarSystem of a Down (Going away forever, but feeling better.)
Calm Like a BombRage Against the Machine (Tick, tick, tick.)
Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Pat Travers (Not kidding: ready to fight.)
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and UnderstandingElvis Costello (Who are the trusted?)
Dirty DeedsAC/DC (Concrete shoes, cyanide, TNT … check. Bon Scott lives!)
You Oughta KnowAlanis Morissette (Can you feel it?)
RenegadeStyx (The jig is up.)
My Name is MudPrimus (Turn up the base … and grab a shovel.)
Guilty ConscienceEminem (Temper, temper.)
Some Heads Are Gonna RollJudas Priest (Indeed.)
Looks That KillMotley Crue (“If she don’t get her way, she’ll slice you apart.”
Ha Ha You’re DeadGreen Day (Moshing on your grave, dude.)

Symbolic Gesture

October 18, 2007

Go ahead, put an asterisk next to Shop Boy’s name in the record books.

I’ll do it for you: Shop Boy.*

Feel better? Me too. In fact, I’ve rarely felt as strongly** about an issue.

Really, people. Leave the asterisk alone. How did such a magnificent old typesetter’s symbol come to represent everything negative?

How soon we forget. The asterisk has always stood for added value. Think about it: An asterisk whispers of even more great stuff to come later. Present but never pushy. Always helpful. “Don’t stop reading on my account, for I’d hate to interrupt the author’s brilliant prose. But when next we meet, I’ll provide a little more detail or context.”

Now we’ve got a presidential candidate (John McCain***) and a fashion designer (Marc Ecko****) insisting that a baseball player (Barry Bonds*****) has done something so anti-American, so egregious and evil that only an asterisk can capture its rottenness.******

Barry Bonds may have made a Faustian deal in exchange for baseball greatness. It looks bad. And people are starting to go to prison over this whole steroids thing. The asterisk, meanwhile, has done nothing but serve mankind. Why, then, should these two be forever linked?

Just had to get that off my chest.*******

*Note: Shop Boy is not currently listed in any record book.

** Shop Boy does not use steroids.

*** Some day just a footnote in human history, as we all shall be.

**** Ditto.

***** Squared.

****** Shop Boy does not condone cheating in any fashion.

******* Again, unenhanced by human growth hormone (but I guess you knew that — didn’t mean to intrude).

Letterpress List No. 6: Partner in Grime

October 16, 2007

Filing your taxes on April 15 is for sissies. If you play your cards right, and apply for the proper extensions, you can put off the inevitable until … the Fifteenth of October. This, of course, was news to me, too.

Mary was officially starting Typecast Press in 2006 while slowly phasing out her graphic design business. There was new stuff to deal with, like manufacturer’s exemptions, equipment, expenses, inventory, depreciation, sales tax. And since her husband is … let’s be gentle here … not real strong with numbers — not even real good at keeping track of the bank statements — Mary also had 2006 personal taxes to prepare. But I figured she had them under control.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15, Mary slid a form in front of me and said, “Just sign here.”

Under partner.

Woo-hoo! So it wasn’t all for nothing! All that time on my hands and knees, mucking out letterpress crud, cleaning entire presses with nothing but a razor blade, paper towels, steel wool and a smile! Hand-rolling the drive wheel through project after project while we waited for a new motor! Spending hour after hour after midnight waiting for Mary to finish tweaking the 799th invitation in a “run” of 800 copies so that I could clean the ink off the press, the rollers, the mixing plate! All the hand-folding of holiday cards! Gently vacuuming thousands of pieces of wood furniture! Sorting drawer after drawer of lead type! I was a partner at The Firm! I’d never known that I had a vote!

“You don’t,” Mary said. “Silly bear. It’s just a tax form.”

She explained that I’m a different kind of partner. Dependable. Loyal. Silent.

Mary and that guy with the greasy apron over at Typecast Press. The other half.

So I guess that makes me … John Oates.

So I guess that makes me … Sonny Bono.

So I guess that makes me … Dawn.

So I guess that makes me … Shop Boy.

Sigh. I need some music to lift my spirits.

How about Letterpress List No. 6?

You know the drill, I hope. Great tunes for the letterpress printshop or wherever you happen to be for about an hour. I’ve added links where able. (One of these days this blog is gonna really sing! Not today, alas.) Some of the YouTube links aren’t great for video, but they cost nothing. And most songs should be available at iTunes. I figure if I link there enough, Apple will give me something. Hey, it’s free music Tuesday, so it worked!

Letterpress List No. 6: Strong women, God bless ’em.

Ah Mary Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (“She’ll be the end of me and maybe everyone.” Hee-hee.)
RespectAretha Franklin (Just because.)
My Favorite MistakeSheryl Crow (The woman had a lot to choose from, unfortunately.)
The Last of MeBree Sharp (Breaking up is hard to do, especially if she’s bent on hunting you down.)
Smoke DetectorRilo Kiley (For Eleanor Lewis, who rocks powerfully.)
Silent All These Years Tori Amos (How’s that thought for you?)
Fast as You CanFiona Apple (She’ll soon grow hungry for a fight, and she will not let you win. Ooh.)
SuperheroAni DiFranco (You’ve hurt her. Better not let her back in that phone booth.)
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)Joan Jett (Might need heat-resistant gloves.)
Bitter Jill Sobule (There is strength in acceptance.)
Brass in Pocket
Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde’s gonna make you notice. The rest of us are already there, dude.)
Lose MyselfLauryn Hill (Some guy thought L Boogie wasn’t good enough?!?)
You’re Speaking My LanguageJuliette & the Licks (“I bit your dog ‘cuz he hit on my cat.” Check this out: LOL.)
Goodbye EarlDixie Chicks (No you didn’t …)
Volcano Girls Veruca Salt (Hitting the wall, bouncing back.)
Why’d You Lie to MeAnastacia (Messed up. Time to leave.)
What’s Up?4 Non Blondes (Linda Perry, before she made Pink.)
RespectPink (You were thinking you were gonna get it for free? No, no, no.)
Highway to Hell Patty (I am going to keep listing this until it is on your iPod. Surrender now.)

An Opportunity to Vent

October 11, 2007

During a snowball fight in his youth, Shop Boy once deeply gashed his thumb on a broken glass window. (I know. If you’ve been following along here, you are not surprised.) With blood gushing and tears streaming, I ran to my mother, a decorated emergency room nurse. “Mom, do you think I’ll need stitches?”

Mom: “Why? Do you want to look like a hero?”

She scolded me for being dumb, patched me up, kissed me on the forehead and kicked my butt out the door. I really miss her.

Anyway, memories like this go through Shop Boy’s mind when, for instance, he’s 25 feet up on an extension ladder that’s set in the bed of his pickup, with two hands holding a bit of plywood and a panel of metal louvers while someone is drilling holes through them from the other side of a factory window. Oh, and we can’t really see each other.

In retrospect, Shop Boy likely would have handled it differently. (Yeah, right.)

The fact that Shop Boy:

A. Didn’t drop the whole thing, ruining several days of work by Mary’s dad, who was crafting a venting system for the shop …
B. Didn’t get pushed backward, lose his balance and fall off the ladder to the pavement (with one bounce off the truck, perhaps) …
C. Didn’t end up with pierced paws (which would have triggered A and B in the process) … only makes me “a very lucky moron,” my late mom would have said.

Nevertheless, when Shop Boy stepped gingerly off that ladder for the last time, Typecast Press had itself a venting system — a fan that blows air out of the studio, forcing open the louvers and refreshing an entire room, we’ve been told, in about an hour. Now, we don’t use much bad chemical stuff. Like, you hear the old letterpress guys go on about using gasoline to clean their presses — while they smoked. What does the fact that they didn’t go up in flames make them?

We use a two-step cleanup process on our presses and rollers: start with canola oil, finish with California wash. The canola loosens everything up, so most of the ink is easy to remove and you need very little of the press wash, which gives off nasty vapors. These get dispersed by the new exhaust fan.

Which makes it a lot more likely that it’ll be a while before Shop Boy gets to see his mom again.

I think she’d be OK with that.

Letterpress List No. 5: iDrool

October 9, 2007

“Hi, this is Steve Jobs. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m off developing some really cool gadget that you never knew you’d need but now can’t live without. At the bell, please commence salivating and clearing space on your credit card.”

Steve. Hey, it’s Shop Boy. Just wanted to say thanks for whatever hand you had in disabling Mary’s new Razr cell phone. Apparently, she got a lemon. What are the odds? Looks like she’ll eventually — please, please — need to take mine and I’ll be, ahem, in the market, if you know what I’m saying. I know that you do. Or else you wouldn’t have dropped the iPhone’s price tag tantalizingly close to my range. Man, when I think of browsing my musical library with the touch of a finger. Watching NFL highlights on the morning train. Blogging on the go. It’s all so … beautiful.

Oh, and on that note, and when you get a chance, please send a tech over to remove these mind-reading sensors from my temples. Appreciate it, bud.

***
Mary’s got her machine crushes, I’ve got mine. Hers tend to run toward the greasy, cast-iron, 1,200-pounds-minimum variety. Shop Boy’s thing is accumulating teeny little devices that play music. And as has probably become apparent, we’re both enablers: Mary’s got about 5 tons of equipment; I’ve got about 2 pounds’ worth of iPods.

I guess in our own ways, we’re just always on the lookout for the next big thing. And our eyes are wandering again.

Mary’s crush might already be in-house. I know, I know. You should never look for romance at work. Try telling her that as she gazes longingly at the Miehle Vertical, about 3 tons of love. The press would be the high-speed letterpress churner that we’ve lacked. Typecast Press has had to turn down some jobs because the volume requested simply can’t be achieved through hand-feeding. The Miehle’s been sitting in our secondary shop space for more than a year. We had a cleaning party several months ago to clear 30 years of gunk off the beast, and now we’re going to wire it up.

It’s got some special needs. The drive belt had snapped long ago. Pieces of the machine had been strewn about its previous home. At least we think they might be press bits. We stuck them in a box. The Miehle is also a bed-wetter — oil leaks, that is. This means it must always be set upon a large drip tray. Several “pigs,” sacks of who knows what once placed under old machines to absorb oil, remain lodged beneath ours. Let me state for the record here that I am as afraid of this machine as I’ve ever been of anything and I am not going in after them. (Also, for the record, I once told Mary that only an idiot pays $60 for a pair of pants. Fifteen minutes later, I was an idiot. So stay tuned.)

Oh, and the Miehle needs special electric current. Three-phase, whatever that it. We called the building’s electrician for a bid. He looked around, eyed the Miehle. His bid: $5,000! He wanted as much to do with the machine as Shop Boy does.

No deal. Once again, we’ve called in a ringer. Tom Beal, Mary’s brother-in-law, who’s been so amazingly helpful already, somehow has in his possession a thingamajig that can adapt the Miehle to run on 220 power, the kind that a washing machine requires. We’ll fly him down in about a week. Tom will get it done in short order, I’m sure, and also install the new drive belt and figure out which pieces of the machine need to be pulled from the box. He’s that kind of guy.

So Mary will soon have the 6,000-pound mangler of her dreams.

All Shop Boy’s asking for is an 5-ounce iPhone. Geez.

***
In the spirit of all that is iPod (bow down, mortals), here’s this week’s list of about an hour’s worth of songs. With the recent release by singer — and onetime Shop Boy Heart-throb — Ann Wilson of (alas) mostly lukewarm covers on Hope & Glory, I thought it might be fun to gather some more successful attempts. Most should be at iTunes.

Smooth CriminalAlien Ant Farm (Oddly rocking. Better than the original?)
Real Wild Child Josie and the Pussycats (Go ahead. Say it to my face.)
Sad Songs & WaltzesCake (Props to Willie Nelson.)
I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself White Stripes (Weirdly wonderful.)
Welcome to the JungleRichard Cheese (Sorry. Just had to.)
Eye in the SkyJonatha Brooke (Shop Boy tear-jerker.)
Tired of Waiting for YouGreen Day (Versatile punks slow it down. Nice.)
Highway to HellPatty (I’ve mentioned it before. This acoustic rendition is spine-tingling.)
MaybellineTed Nugent (“Atrocious Theodocious” behind the wheel.)
The Thrill Is GoneBig Time Sarah and the BTS Express (The evil gal at her best.)
Are You Gonna Go My WayTom Jones (Who’da thunk? Wow.)
Microphone FiendRage Against the Machine (Kick hole in speaker. Pull plug. Jet.)
Smells Like Teen SpiritTori Amos (I swear: Nobody else could have done this.)
Wichita LinemanFreedy Johnston (Mary’s favorite. Freedy nails it.)
EasyFaith No More (Like Sunday morning … religiously rendered.)
*Honorable mention: PrinceBest of You (NFL Halftime magic, all evidence of which has apparently been locked away by Universal Music.)

***
(Uh-oh, the phone is ringing. Better let the machine pick it up.)

“Hi, this is Shop Boy. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m off developing a crush on some really cool gadget that Steve Jobs just waved under my nose. Please leave a message at the beep.”

Hey, Shop Boy. It’s Steve Jobs. Glad to help on the iPhone. Gimme a few months, and I’ll ring your bell again. And sorry, the iTemple sensors are permanent. Enjoy!

Letterpress List No. 4: Wax and Wane

October 2, 2007

When you’re a kid, you don’t always “get” what some of your favorite songs are trying to say. You’ve never heard some of the words. You wouldn’t know a single entendre, never mind a double. And yesterday’s technology means zip to you–quite literally. (Go ask your teen to grab the Zip drive from the attic. Who knows what the kid will bring back.) Now, how about a Victrola? AM radio? An 8-track tape? Please.

The Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” was a current hit when I grew up. Like Tom Waits, the Stones took about 30 years to grow on me, but I always liked this song. One part threw me, though.

Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax,
And your father’s still perfecting ways of making ceiling wax …

That’s how I heard it, anyway. I remember wondering whether the British had a miracle product for fixing cracks in the plaster. We had some cracks. Hadn’t my dad heard of this stuff? We didn’t have the Internet back then, or maybe I’d have stopped … and looked around.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia at, like, age 35, that I realized what the lyric was about. Sealing wax. Ohhhhhh. They used it on envelopes before they invented lick-and-stick envelope flaps. It held the letter closed so only the recipient could see it, or be able to tell that someone had snuck a peek.

Wow, so the dude the Stones were going on about was an anachronism, tilting at windmills, not realizing that time had passed him by, ignoring his child as he tried to perfect the outmoded Zip drive.

Working in a letterpress printshop makes you feel a bit like that guy sometimes. Case in point: Typecast Press is still perfecting ways of using sealing wax.

It started with our first big project, a wedding invitation. Mary thought it’d be cool if the pieces — the invite, r.s.v.p. card, return envelope, map, etc. — were wrapped in a “belly band” of handmade paper. We’d fold the band over the finished invites, drip liquid wax on the pile, then press a stamp of the happy couple’s initials into it. Shop Boy stopped … and looked around.

Shop Boy: “Are you crazy?”

Mary: “It’ll look awesome.”

S.B.: “It’s their wedding invitation. What if we wreck them all?”

Mary: “Stop worrying. We can do it. Besides, they’ve volunteered to help.”

S.B. “Oh, this should be good. Standing by as a bride- and groom-to-be turn prized, sweated-over invitations to their wedding into something that looks like an invite to a voodoo ritual. Maybe we can add some chicken feathers.”

Actually, I didn’t say that last thing, but I sure thought it. Of course, Mary was right. Shop Boy was wrong. (Is there an echo in here?) The invitations were great. The bride and groom loved them. We got tons of compliments and Typecast Press was in business to do business.

Cut to her latest brainstorm: Drip sealing wax onto favor boxes I’d just spent hours making out of art paper, then press a stamp of an acorn onto the puddle as an accent.

Shop Boy: “Are you crazy?”

Mary: “It’ll look awesome.”

OK, she was right again, my 20th nervous breakdown notwithstanding.

And you know what? This stuff would be perfect for fixing cracks in plaster.

***

Letterpress List No. 4

It’s Tuesday! The Colorado Rockies are going to the playoffs! And Shop Boy is offering — unsolicited — another hour’s worth of music for your shop, most of which you can find at iTunes. This week’s theme: Am I hearing what I think I’m hearing?

Bad Habit Dresden Dolls (“And you might say it’s self-destructive.” Might?)
Sweating BulletsMegadeth (Shop Boy once sang/devil-spoke this to Mary — subbing in the words to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Made her nuts. By the way, this video sets the record for Most Hair in a Single Frame.)
Bombs Over Baghdad — OutKast (Verbal amphetamines.)
Jane SaysJane’s Addiction (Verbal barbiturates.)
KommienezuspadtTom Waits (Good heavens.)
President DeadMarilyn Manson (Stained-glass skulls. Cool. OK, maybe not.)
Jailbait Ted Nugent (Hunting minors. Ted, Ted, Ted.)
Doll Parts — Hole (The girl with the most cake wins.)
Billion Dollar BabiesAlice Cooper (Hide your Barbies.)
F*** the Pain Away — Peaches (Um, thanks anyway.)
DigMudvayne (Suicidal or homicidal? Or both?)
Feuer Frie!Rammstein (I’m singing along, and I don’t speak German. LOL. I think they’re saying, “All Americans must die … Bang-bang!”)
Get It TogetherBeastie Boys (Included only because Mary, rapping along innocently, thought a lewd reference was to “Don Ho,” not “John Holmes.” Ho-ho-ho!)