Archive for January, 2008

The Pristine Chapel

January 31, 2008

This calls for a toast!

Baltimore, home of Typecast Press, tomorrow — Feb. 1, 2008 — becomes part of the latest ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, following other states and communities that soon after enacting the ban have realized the obvious: People like to drink. You have a bar. People are going to drink in your bar. Unless it’s really, really, really sketchy.

OK, maybe even then.

There’s a little bar around the corner from Mary and Shop Boy called the Mount Royal Tavern. A dive’s dive, with a bathroom’s bathroom. Its clientele runs from bikers to bums to Baltimore ladies and gentlemen. (The bar discriminates against only one group, as my buddy Dave Schmickel and I learned when we showed up in tennis whites one day. They were required, OK?) Many customers are students of the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, where some are taking courses in letterpress and apparently all are learning how to smoke. The Mount Royal is their study hall.

Not anymore.

Gone soon — a few days, maybe a couple of weeks — will be the unholy cloud that greets a beer or gin worshiper at the door. And on that day, from the ceiling, a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterwork (Rome? Whatever …), God will smile down, no longer taking his own name in vain for creating such a dumb species. (Really, you’ve got to see the ceiling.)

Now, don’t get us wrong. Mary and Shop Boy do not smoke. We also don’t think it’s very bright, given the cost of cigarettes and the proven health risks of inhaling. But we’re not here to judge. Shop Boy was a two-pack-a-day guy in his late teens. Still gets cravings once in a while. And Mary and Shop Boy came of age in newspapers — in newsrooms and composing rooms where it seemed everybody smoked. Heck, you know some of these old-timers can remember fellow printers who’d clean the press with a gasoline-soaked rag while a burning ember dangled at the end of their lips. Might have even been drinking at the time. Crazy, but kind of Humphrey Bogart crazy, no?

Once, Shop Boy was called on the carpet during his first few weeks at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver over a headline he’d written about a set of sleazy women-in-prison TV movies about to hit prime time. The headline: “T&A Behind Bars.” (We’d come from a New York tabloid, albeit the “tabloid in a tutu” as Newsday was once sneeringly dubbed by a competitor. Didn’t feel racy to me.)

Nancy Murray, my boss, was a potty-mouthed beauty, a 6-footer with big, blonde hair and a low, sexy voice. Smoking … literally. But she was also steaming mad. Her office seemed to get smaller and more oxygen-depleted as she ran down a list of my offenses, expelling smoke to emphasize each point.

“Do you know what ‘T&A’ stands for?” (I was silent, paralyzed. Nancy was offended?) “Tits (phoo!) … and (phoo!) … ass (phoo!),” she hissed. “It is no language for a family newspaper (phoo!) and it will not be accepted at this newspaper, mister. Now (phoo!) get back to work.”

We’d moved across the country for this? Truly, Shop Boy was shaken.

Later, when I’d won her over, Nancy would explain her earlier anger away, saying she was under way too much pressure and had been existing on coffee (phoo!), cigarettes (phoo!) and diet cola (phoo!).

Then there was Vida Roberts, fabled Baltimore Sun fashion editor. What style! Lord, but she was a tough old broad. Said so proudly. Vida could kill you with a quip. Or turn on the charm. Wow! Smoked like a chimney. And she held court many an afternoon at the Mount Royal.

So, Mary and Shop Boy have known some really cool smokers. Still do.

But we’re just bottom-line about some things. When you can make things better for everybody but the tobacco companies without really inconveniencing anybody, we think you ought to do it. And, doggone it, having to bury your clothes in the backyard after happy hour to quell the stench has gotten a bit old.

So, we’ll hold your place — and promise not to let the barkeep dump your drink — while you (phoo!) get a breath of (phoo!) fresh air (phoo!).

Thanks, Baltimore.


Oh, what the heck? Let’s do a Bonus Letterpress List. Not a full hour of music, but a good extended smoke break’s worth of songs that fit the moment. Most should be available in the usual places.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — the Platters (Visine sales plummet.)
Tobacco Roadthe Animals (Blow it up, start all over again.)
Gettin’ Jiggy With ItWill Smith (“Just for the look … I don’t light it.” Shop Boy can’t help loving this stupid song.)
Ashtray Heart — Captain Beefheart (Heard this late one night long ago, and have never been the same.)
If You’re GoneMatchbox Twenty (Wimpy, but nice.)
Warm Beer and Cold WomenTom Waits (“The drinks are on me tonight.”)
Look SharpJoe Jackson (Go ahead. Bogart my cigarettes and beer, smart guy. I’ll help myself to your watch and wallet.)
Smoke Detector Rilo Kiley (In the, ahem, movie version of Shop Boy’s life, this will be playing in Nancy Murray’s office.)

Letterpress List No. 20: Mirror, Mirror …

January 28, 2008

OK, I can say it. Deep breath.

Shop Boy is …

he’s a …

a Sephora Beauty Insider.

I mean, not that kind of insider. Yes, I shop there, but only because Mary makes me a list, jams it in my shirt pocket, reminds me to use my little bonus card and expects to see the black-and-white bag in my soft-and-supple hands when I get home. Does that make me less of a dude? Or does the fact that right now I’m holding the little keychain tag that signifies my membership mean that I probably wasn’t much of a tough guy to begin with?

Wait a minute. What on earth does this have to do with letterpress printing?

Well, um, you know, you can’t have your face falling off in the printshop. Plays hell with the rollers. Am I right, fellas? (Work with me here, guys. Besides — my blog, my rules.)

Anyway, it all happened so fast.

There we were in Georgetown, checking out the area around U.S. News & World Report, where Shop Boy was about to begin moonlighting as a journalist type. Perfect location, on the block between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (there’s a canal boat and mules!) and the Potomac River. Oh, there’s other stuff, too. It’s on the main flight path to and from National Airport. Takeoffs and landings all day. And the president’s helicopter flies past a few times a week. You can see him in the window, the chopper’s so low. Sometimes I even wave. (Be quiet.) But mostly you’ll find Shop Boy staring at the water. Looking for fish, gazing at the boats, or just watching the water flow. It’s unbelievably fascinating. Shop Boy’s always been this way, as Mary will tell you.

True story: On a visit to the Virginia Aquarium a few years back, Mary and Shop Boy happened past an open tank that contained a couple of nurse sharks and a few harmless rays. The staff lady there said we could pet the animals. Well, sooner than you can say “splash,” Shop Boy was in up to his elbow, his full shirt sleeve soaked. Mary and the lady were laughing so hard I’m surprised they didn’t fall in. Hey, I get excited sometimes around water and aquatic animals.

Like when Mary and Shop Boy were visiting her old stomping grounds near San Francisco. We were picnicking at the beach — pretty sure it was Stinson — when, out of nowhere, a sea lion hopped onto a wave and surfed toward us. Jumping to his feet, Shop Boy sprinted toward the water’s edge, screaming to a woman walking along the shoreline: “Hey, lady! There’s a sea lion out there!”

She looked at me like, you poor, addled, little man, and answered, “Yes, we get a few of those around here.” She looked sympathetically toward Mary, who absolutely roared. It wasn’t until the next day, when we visited the wharf in San Francisco and got a whiff of what must have been 1,000 or so sunbathing sea lions — yikes! — that Shop Boy realized the full depth of his ridiculousness. The look on my face must have been priceless, because Mary was hysterical all over again.

Wait. Where was I? Water … water, oh right. Moisture. Washington, D.C.

Well, Mary doesn’t have much use for an old canal, some stinky mules or presidential flyovers. To her, Thomas Jefferson Street is the Yellow Brick Road (red brick, actually) that leads to Oz, otherwise known as M Street. Paper Source, ooh. Barney’s Co-Op, ahh. The Gap, whee. Sephora, ding-ding-ding. (Apparently we don’t get to the mall enough.)

She grabbed Shop Boy’s hand and skipped toward the crosswalk shouting, “C’mon! We’re going to Sephora!” And as soon as we got inside the store, she was gone, lost in a haze of perfume and powdered cosmetics, up to her elbows somewhere in creams, lipsticks and heaven knows what. (Hope she remembered to roll up her sleeves.) Shop Boy wished he could disappear, too, as the lab-coated — basic black, natch — headset-clad sales associates, all very well made up, descended. To the fifth one who approached, asking whether I needed some help today, I blurted out, “My wife’s in here somewhere. She made me come here. I’m not really a shopper. I mean, I’m a shopper but not that kind of shopper, you know? Not shopping for myself, OK? I’m just trying to find a place to hide. Am I in the way here? I’m a printer, fyi. Heh, heh. Yup, big machines. Not a job for cream puffs. You got a guy’s section or something? Look, I’m a dude. Yes, a Sephora Beauty Insider dude, but …”

She looked at me like, you poor, addled, little man, and whispered gently:

“Don’t worry. We get a few of those around here.”


Letterpress List No. 20

How about an hour of music to moisturize by? Look, it takes Shop Boy 57 minutes to psych himself up, all right? I got the, ahem, Murad Energizing Pomegranate Moisturizer SP 15 in my eyes the other day. You can bet they were moist after that. Mary had to flush them out. Geez. Yeah, this list is a day early (dentist appointment tomorrow — yay! — might leave Shop Boy a bit uninspired). Anyway, most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Random goofy or great video links are to YouTube.

Dude (Looks Like a Lady)Aerosmith (If he looked like this, we’d all bite.)
Somebody BeautifulGene Simmons (A man who knows his makeup.)
Lolathe Kinks (Girls will be boys and boys will be girls.)
FashionDavid Bowie (Beep-beep.)
The Beautiful PeopleMarilyn Manson (“Hey you, what do you see?”)
Liquored Up and Lacquered DownSouthern Culture on the Skids (Coulda been a beauty queen.)
Kiss From a RoseSeal (Ha! Just playing.)
Pretty in Pinkthe Psychedelic Furs (Wasn’t she?)
Gone Like the WaterFreedy Johnston (Goodbye, Mom and Dad. I, um, borrowed a few things.)
UnprettyTLC (So … not so.)
Beautiful Christina Aguilera (So.)
Barenaked Ladies (Spoofing consumerism.)
Celebrity SkinHole (Not selling cheap.)
SingaporeTom Waits (“Wipe him down with gasoline, till his arms are hard and mean.”)
Where the River FlowsCollective Soul (Is where you’ll find dogs like me, I guess.)
Proud MaryTina Turner (Um … wow.)
Splish SplashBobby Darin (Silly. You got a problem with that?)
Too Many Fish in the Seathe Marvelettes (A better one’s out there.)
Bring Me Some WaterMelissa Etheridge (This one singed her eyebrows. Better get the makeup.)

Flawed Gems

January 25, 2008

If our type could talk, it would probably sound something like this:

“Ouch! Easy on the impression there, Tarzan. Ever heard of a ‘kiss,’ kids?”

But even without the gift of speech — and attitude (you have to remember that this ancient stuff has hung around in some pretty rough places in its day) — old type tells its story loud and clear.

Lead F, 36-point Bodoni bold: “Remember the time when the kerning needed tightening and the brute used a file to shave away part of my, uh, lower half? Well, that ain’t gonna grow back, my friend.”

Wood G, 54-point Gothic: “Yeah, or the day that numbskull apprentice dropped the ink can. My scar still shows after all these years.”

Ah, what characters. You can call them damaged. At Typecast Press, we call them distinctive, one-of-a-kind. We encourage the flaws in the type — whether created by wear and tear, carelessness or necessity — to make their presence felt. Take the logo Mary did for Woodberry Kitchen that can now be seen on menus, business cards, in magazine ads and, ahem, on the signage made by immensely cool architectural designer and sculptor John Gutierrez.

Anyway, the way we physically created it is, Shop Boy thinks, about as cool as the logo itself. See, we used incredibly old technology, mixed in a little new tech and the big bang theory. (“Ouch! You animals!”) And it was a fun break from our ongoing pursuit of the “perfect” impression.

First, you take a set of wood type, say 48-point Whatsitsface. In a complete set you’ll probably have a few of each letter, more if they’re key characters like E, A or O. Arrange them on the bed of a Vandercook proof press; ours is a No. 3. Add the appropriate wooden spacers and furniture, then lock the whole form into place so it won’t shift during printing. Get your brayer (a roller with a handle) and begin spreading the ink across the glass plate to get it warmed up — today’s color is black and soy-based.

Next, brayer the ink evenly onto the letters. Already, you can see that the impression won’t be uniform. Some letters have blemishes, scrapes or other flaws. Excellent. So now Mary ups the ante, getting all Jackson Pollock with a bit of scrap paper, randomly chopping at and blotting the ink. Once another, thicker sheet (for a bigger “hit”) is locked into the guides, just crank away and presto: a happy accident. We generally do five or so this way, then pick the example with the best lived-in look and feel. Remember to check your spelling and punctuation, students.

Great. So you’ve got a sheet of paper with 48-point letters on it. Fit that on a business card.

OK, we will. After the ink dries a bit, we slide the chosen sheet onto the scanner, then import it into the computer as an image file that can be shrunken or enlarged at will. And here’s the neatest part: The flaws remain perfectly consistent at any size. One set of old wooden letters has become five or six.

Next, turn the logo, now a series of files sized for various uses, into polymer plates. Start printing.

I know. Those in the letterpress printing business at this point are thinking: “Duh. What am I even reading this for?” Our eureka moment was theirs so 10 years ago or whatever. That’s fine. Typecast Press didn’t invent this method, but maybe someone will stumble upon this blog who hadn’t thought of it. We sure hadn’t. We’re already thinking of other ways to mesh old and new that might not be unique to us either, so there. Besides, anything that keeps these old cases of type together and alive — word is that wood type is being bought up, jumbled together and poured willy-nilly into hollow glass forms to make decorative coffee tables, among other things — is positively revolutionary at this point.

If our letters could talk they’d probably say:


Letterpress List No. 19: Broad Strokes

January 22, 2008

They say certain colors can make a room’s occupants more serene (green) or alert and happy (yellow) or might — if not carefully balanced — really stir the blood (duh … red).

Well, Duke was provoked anyway.

He didn’t like the color. Nope. Uh-uh. No way. After eyeballing his handiwork, Duke Bozman, a local painter, just about begged Mary to let him fix it. He said — in a mesmerizing drawl that’s about equal parts Eastern Shore of Maryland, old Baltimore and Appalachia, making “Mary” sound like “Murrah” (all right, I’m told my people in Rhode Island have, ahem, accent issues as well) — that he’d paint over the awful mess for free. Mary calmly and happily declined. The paint maker calls it Beacon Hill Damask, a mix of green and yellow that Mary simply calls heaven.

“But Mary,” Duke pleaded again. Finally he shrugged, turned up Rush Limbaugh on his boom box, harrumphed and started on the trim. (White Dove, FYI.)

Now, Shop Boy knows the picture that’s probably forming in your head. It certainly was the picture that Mary got when she “met” Duke by telephone. He came very highly recommended. So, one day, expecting a gnarled, crotchety old dude in paint-splattered overalls carrying a spit cup, she opened the door to …

Mick Jagger.

Swear to god.

A Rolling Stone was here to paint Mary’s home office.


On second look, Duke’s more Ron Wood than Mick Jagger. Let’s paint the picture: Dark hair past his shoulders. Handsome, weathered face. Sweatshirt with the sleeves torn off and the front ripped nearly to the navel. (Over a T-shirt in the same condition. What are the odds?) Indian chief in full headdress tattooed on his perpetually bared upper arm. Washington Redskins cap. Backwards, natch. Tight, tight jeans. Mary was impressed, anyway. Except for that one day when he showed up in the work boots and Daisy Dukes and … OK, paintbrushes down. This is a family blog.

And Rush aside, Duke’s a right thoughtful guy. His discussion with Shop Boy one day about the media, once we got past our initial positions — “Why’re y’all so liberal?” vs. Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot — was a lesson in detente.

He’s even survived Mary’s, um, disappointment when she returned one day to find Duke removing primer — he’d accidentally applied the wrong type — with gasoline! The whole house could have blown up. That is so old school rock-and-roll.

In fact, by now, Duke’s painted half our home and half our printshop.

Still, it wasn’t a big surprise that we decided not to hire Duke for our latest paint job. Mary had chosen to revisit Beacon Hill Damask for the part of Typecast Press’ studio with the big presses. We’ll need a little calm attentiveness in a room full of these monsters and a hydraulic — gulp — guillotine paper cutter. Our new favorite Rolling Stone still wouldn’t like the color.

Not a lick.


Letterpress List No. 19

Has it been a week already? Shop Boy’s getting lazy. Let’s get this blog back on the road already. You know how it goes. Here’s about an hour’s worth of music to paint by. Sleeves optional, but turn off that Limbaugh! Most songs should be available in the usual places.

Mellow Yellow Donovan (Quite rightly.)
LimelightRush (It’s hard on a rock star.)
Every Picture Tells a Storythe Faces (Ron Wood’s former group. The lead singer would also become kinda famous.)
Paint It Blackthe Rolling Stones (She’s gone. Him, too.)
Sir DukeStevie Wonder (“A language we all understand.” With Japanese subtitles. And in karaoke!)
Red Red RedFiona Apple (“I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. But I’ll try to understand.” Fair’s fair.)
White RoomCream (Left at the station.)
Cult of PersonalityLiving Colour (“The smiling face on your TV.” Hmm.)
Mr. Blue SkyELO (Fluff. But Shop Boy’s always liked fluff.)
Purple HazeJimi Hendrix (Non-fluff, for real. A question, though. Was Jimi’s drummer old enough to take LSD? Shoulda checked his ID.)
Sister Golden HairAmerica (Thinking of you, even though I don’t call or write.)
She’s a Rainbowthe Rolling Stones (No lady fairer.)
Theme from The Dukes of HazzardWaylon Jennings (Lightning in a bottle and a pair of short-shorts.)
Bound and GaggedTed Nugent (Gunboat diplomacy.)
American IdiotGreen Day (Dissenting viewpoint.)
Indian ReservationPaul Revere and the Raiders (Just goofing on the tat and the hat, sorry.)

Letterpress List No. 18: Duty Bound

January 15, 2008

Whew! Dodged a bullet.

Or considering that it was an attempted first-degree murder case, Shop Boy should simply say that he fulfilled his jury duty to the City of Baltimore yesterday without having to actually sit in judgment. By three numbers. This is no small thing.

See, Shop Boy dreads this stuff. Not the public service. He pays his taxes, obeys the law and, Lord knows, serves on juries. (Between you and me, would you pick me to decide your fate? These legal types can’t get enough of Shop Boy.) But the service always comes at the worst possible time, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’m still a little sore over one particular case a few years back in which a judge whose name ended in a vowel chose Shop Boy out of the crowd to be his jury foreman because of our shared cultural heritage. (They all have the names that match the juror numbers.) Yes, “Shop Boy” actually comes from the Italian phrase for “Pick Me.” It’s an Ellis Island translation. (Oh, wait a minute. My peoples didn’t exactly come through Ellis Island. Never mind.)

There I stood yesterday, Juror No. 672, as we were called one by one to stand before the court and be, uh, judged worthy or not of serving on this attempted murder case. There were about 60 of us in the mix, once all the folks who couldn’t possibly in any way, nope, no how serve today. People will say anything — public humiliation be darned — to squirrel out of their duty. Shop Boy won’t. So, as Juror No. 669 waited to learn her fate, il signore — Pick Me — was sweating. OK, bullets.

Well, standing and cheering is really bad form in such instances, so as she was chosen and we the unneeded and unworthy were led out while the jury was sworn in — and with the clock moving toward 4 p.m. — Shop Boy stayed with an internal end zone dance.

Case closed.

Until the next jury summons arrives, of course, at the worst possible time.


Letterpress List No. 18

This might have been called Music to Serve By, but you can’t listen to music in the jury waiting area of the courthouse. No cell phones either. It’s positively Neanderthal. (Or kinda like letterpress printing, I suppose.) So save these songs for those times when we are thankful not to be in the defendant’s chair staring at a bunch of folks who’d rather be anywhere else.

Like right now.

Most of these songs, about an hour’s worth, should be available in the usual places. Great or goofy video links are from YouTube.

Smooth CriminalMichael Jackson (Shop Boy prefers Alien Ant Farm’s cover — it’s faster and rougher — but Jackson was pretty amazing, lest we forget.)
Give the Kid a BreakAlice Cooper (Satan as judge, jury and executioner. Alice as ham.)
Take the Money and Runthe Eagles (And keep running.)
Chain GangSam Cooke (Hard time.)
I Fought the Law the Clash (Ditto.)
Tough LoveHamell on Trial (Somebody call the cops.)
Went Down SwingingTom Petty (Like Benny Goodman … or something.)
Murder Was the CaseSnoop Dogg (Going out like a thug. Sigh.)
Renegade Styx (The news is out.)
Missed Me
Dresden Dolls (“Serves you right for kissing little girls.”)
JailbaitTed Nugent (Ditto.)
My Wife Thinks You’re Dead Junior Brown (Um, great to see you, honey. Been too long. Now beat it.)
Another Body DropsCypress Hill (Killing to a heart-stopping beat.)
Bohemian RhapsodyQueen (Threw it all away.)
18 and LifeSkid Row (Ditto.)
Prison SongSystem of a Down (Grim statistics. Mary wishes Shop Boy had never heard this one, by one of her least favorite bands. I was smitten.)
Captive HonourMegadeth (“Where evil lives and evil rules.” Again, let’s be grateful for a moment.)
Folsom Prison BluesJohnny Cash (Justice served.)


January 11, 2008

There was a time when Shop Boy didn’t hesitate to drive home to Rhode Island from New Jersey for dinner on a whim, or two hours to meet Mary for morning coffee and a bagel in NYC. There was the circumnavigation of Colorado — and that is one big square — taking Mary to various conferences. Shop Boy once drove across the country for about 14 hours a day to stay ahead of a giant snowstorm and even commuted for a couple of years to the middle of Long Island from Brooklyn.

So what’s up with this?

Mary says we’re driving to Philadelphia to pick up a tray case and a 3-foot-tall, foot-pedal-powered, cast-iron stapler (if you know Shop Boy, you know you’ll be hearing more about that baby) and Shop Boy goes all Eeyore. It’s a long way. It’s sure to snow. The machines will be shaken to bits by the crappy highways. People are crazy out there. And, of course, there’s no room for more stuff in the shop.

Then there’s Shop Boy’s admittedly ignorant view of the Keystone State:

You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania … and you’d better find him quick.

True story: On one trip through western Pennsylvania, Mary and Shop Boy happened to stop in this quaint little town … oh, let’s call it Murderville. Charming on the outside. But where were the people? It literally was like the horror movies where the houses’ closed curtains move just a little bit as you pass. Like someone is watching you. We stopped at a diner for coffee, all the heads turned … and Shop Boy immediately went to the men’s room to take his earring out (FYI: he no longer wears one). Let’s just say the curtains were moving again as we beat a hasty retreat — from the wind we created as we broke the sound barrier.

Pure dread.

Kind of like the feeling Mary gets when she’s about to walk into a Kinko’s. You’ve been there, right? All the heads in the place turn — in the other direction — when you walk in. Nobody knows how to work the machines or how to find someone who does. Too many times I’ve had to drag Mary out of there for the safety of the “help.”

She’s determined never to need Kinko’s again.

Shop Boy’s determined to keep her out of the slammer on an assault-and-battery rap, so … an industrial stapler’s price tag seems a small one to pay.

Anyway, there we were in my little pickup tooling up I-95 on a sunny Saturday morning, headed for Swarthmore, just outside of Philly. College town. A dry college town. Mercy, what a dude could probably get for a six-pack … but we won’t go there.

We were meeting the seller, Tricia Treacy, a fellow letterpress printer and teacher at the University of Delaware. Fashionably late, we still got a tour of the studio Tricia’s fixing up in her garage. I could hear Mary’s heart start pounding and hear her mind spinning when she saw the Vandercook Universal 1, the Holy Grail. Or maybe it was the cat named Miehle (just kidding … the purring was deafening). Tricia’s also got a C&P clamshell press in the corner that’s, uh, gonna take a little work. (What’s with these people?)

We chatted with Tricia as her husband and little boy played in the leaves of the front yard. Neighbors stopped by to chat. There was a yard sale going on across the street. (No, Mary, no.) Not a single closed curtain or turned head. Just a beautiful old neighborhood of stone houses with a cute as heck downtown and a totally cool train station. We were about ready to buy a house there.

As off we drove off, Shop Boy was thinking that maybe he ought to change his perception of Pennsylvania. And that maybe we did have room for this stuff after all.

And that maybe Mary shouldn’t be so negative about these road trips.


Letterpress List No. 17: Cargo Loading

January 8, 2008

About two weeks before summer vacation, the graph paper, the pencil and the ruler would appear on the kitchen table. An odd collection of boxes and suitcases would pile up next. Soon would come the familiar clatter of the old metal roof rack being, uh, coaxed from behind all the bicycles, sporting goods and who knows what that the seven kids had piled into the shed in the past 12 months. (“Brats!” Shop Boy’s dad used to hiss that whenever we’d gotten under his skin.)

We were going to New Hampshire for a week or two, which meant piling the kids into a big red station wagon for the three-hour drive from Cranston, R.I. The only real place to fit the clothes and supplies was the roof rack.

“And this time it’s going to fit, dammit.”

Wallace St. Angelo said that every summer. He’d measure and remeasure the roof rack, carefully size up suitcases and boxes, do the math, plot it out on the graph paper, explain to my mom exactly how much would fit … then on departure day stew and swear as he packed the car and the cargo didn’t come close to matching his painstakingly formulated chart.

“Oh, Wally,” my mom, Jane, would say blithely. “I only added one little thing.”

Shop Boy was feeling his pain this weekend as he stood in the freshly painted Typecast Press studio whose dimensions he’d so carefully studied, measured and remeasured and mapped on graph paper each time Mary acquired this or that machine. (As my mom used to say, the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree. Dad also used to write these goofy little stories to make his wife laugh. Hmm.) Anyway, Shop Boy’s focus is on giving Mary as cool and pretty a studio as possible while giving us enough clearance that we’re not constantly walking into the machinery. Funky but functional.

Well, this roof rack won’t hold anything else.

So how in the world are we going to “blend in” a Heidelberg Windmill with a ton-plus, 25-square-foot-plus “presence”?

“Why don’t we just tear down the closet?” Mary asked. “That’ll make it fit.”

Because Shop Boy doesn’t want to. It’s a great place to store clean paper as well as stuff we need but don’t want to see all the time. It’s got old wires in it, so we’ll need to hire an electrician. Besides, the demolition will make a mess, and we just painted it. I’ve barely finished whining over that deal.

Mary (blithely): “Oh, Shop Boy … it’s only one more press, and it’s the last one we’ll ever need. And we can build shelves to replace the storage space we lose. You’ll love it.”


Letterpress List No. 17

True story: My mom always wanted me to write a book. Any book. Something to prove my worth. As editor, I didn’t even get my name in the paper. So one time, Shop Boy — she called me Steven — decided on a whim to write two full chapters of a novel for a writer’s conference. Got mostly nice feedback and decided to show it to my mom. “Where’s the rest of it, Steven?” she demanded. Period.

I shiver to think what she’d have thought of this goofy blog.

Anyway, Shop Boy’s dad probably won’t be reading this, either, so we can say anything we want about the guy, right? Nah, he’s been a great father. Besides, what’s not to love about an old, straight, white dude who’s just this side of a Donna Summer groupie?

With him in mind, here’s about an hour’s worth of music to rearrange the furniture by. Most songs should be available at the usual places. Disco ball optional. (Wally’s going for it.)

Hot StuffDonna Summer (Everybody sing along.)
Pretty Fly for a White Guy
the Offspring (‘Nuff said.)
GloriaLaura Brannigan (Another of Wally’s crushes. Yours, too, if you’re a guy 40 or older. Besides, it’s a great song. And yes, Mary will make fun of Shop Boy for saying so.)
A Touch Too MuchAC/DC (Always.)
FunkdafiedDa Brat (The funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk.)
TemptedSqueeze (When it comes to crazy old machinery, Mary’s got a wandering eye.)
Funky But ChicNew York Dolls (No buts about it.)
Another Brick in the WallPink Floyd (Mary just switched the station.)
Demolition ManGrace Jones (My prediction: Closet 1, Shop Boy 0.)
Closet Chronicles Kansas (Just for the title. But this band doesn’t get enough credit.)
It’s Coming DownCake (Ditto.)
Sweating BulletsMegadeth (The walls are closing in.)
Seek and DestroyMetallica (Air guitars locked and loaded …)
The Walls Came Down —
The Call (They’d all been warned.)
You May Be Right —
Billy Joel (She usually is.)
The Logical Song
Supertramp (One, two, three, five.)
The Ruler’s Back Jay-Z (Maybe he’s got the blueprint.)

In Over His Head

January 3, 2008

The big guy cleans the fish.

That’s Wayne Mashburn, Mary’s dad. Oh, he’s shown Shop Boy a million times how to do it. He even gave me a really cool knife, one of those military issue, G.I. Joe deals with the ridge in there so you can hold it in your teeth while crossing a swollen, snake-infested river to neutralize a drug lord’s lookout or field dress a wild boar that made the bad decision to attack. At least that’s what it could do if it ever left the leather holster.

Shop Boy’s just not feeling it.

Instead, each time we catch fish — trout, usually, at North Catamount Reservoir near the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado (real pretty place) — Shop Boy requests one final demonstration. It’s become a joke: I catch all the fish, he cleans them.

OK, or he catches all the fish, he cleans them. Seems fair, right?

Wayne doesn’t mind. He’s a great cook and probably figures Shop Boy’d just mess up his fillets. And besides, he knows payback is coming. See, he and I have done a bunch of household remodeling projects together through the years. He’s another real good guy to have around. (Typecast Press is collecting them — if you’re handy, you might want to steer real clear of us.) Wayne doesn’t talk much, but he’s smart, creative and experienced at building stuff and very, very tall. He painted the ceilings of the Denver house Mary and Shop Boy bought some years back … and didn’t need a ladder. One problem: He doesn’t do low anymore.

So, whenever a project involves getting up close and personal with the floor, he asks for a demonstration of how a less-vertically-enhanced dude — say, Shop Boy — would contort himself to handle the task. Even though he’s seen it, like, a million times. Geez.

There we were just after Christmas, in fact, going over who would handle which part of getting the new wing of the Typecast Press studio painted. Negotiations went something like this: He takes the high stuff; Shop Boy kisses the tile.

Man, Shop Boy had no idea how much wood trim it took to finish out this place, which we lucked into when a local illustrator, Andy Snair, decided to be brilliant elsewhere. Shop Boy also had no idea how many sharp metal shavings or how much dust and oil — from moving in the presses and other stuff — had accumulated along the baseboard down there.

By the time we were through, my hands were filthy and sliced up, my shoulders, hips and knees ached, my hair was a dust mop.

But the sucker was painted.

Wayne didn’t dare suggest a second coat on the baseboard trim. Shop Boy would probably have bitten him on the ankle. Again, smart guy.

Still, Wayne did make one big mistake on this trip to Baltimore: letting Shop Boy pick the pool hall, one with several tables almost as short as the skirts of its waitresses. See, I have almost no shot on a long table, but shrink the field of play and … well, let’s just say Shop Boy left the joint feeling about 10 feet tall.

As with the home/shop jobs, though, these things have a way of evening themselves out. Mary’s folks are taking the long way home to Colorado as we speak, which means that Wayne’s about a week from beginning his next “project”: finding the longest stinking pool table in Colorado Springs … and the bait that’ll get Shop Boy there.