Archive for February, 2008

Oh, Henry!

February 28, 2008

Here’s how Shop Boy thought the card would read:

“Emily and Josh Morrow request your presence at a celebration to mark the acceptance of their gifted son, Henry Sumner Morrow, to the University of Tennessee on full academic and football scholarships for the Autumn 2025 semester.”

Here’s how it actually ended up reading:

“Happy Valentine’s Day from the newest little heartbreaker in the family tree. (Can you tell he’s been keeping us busy?)”


We got a baby announcement done before the kid reached puberty.

If you’ve ever done work for a friend — for pay — then you can understand why it’s taken Shop Boy so long to tell this story. I was basically terrified. See, Henry was born about a month before we even started talking about a birth announcement. Emily’s a graphic designer and illustrator and had been a favorite co-worker at the Baltimore Sun (she’s also a Tennessee kid who can reaaallly turn on the southern accent). Anyway, Shop Boy had talked and talked and talked about Typecast Press — does this surprise anyone? — and Emily wanted to give us some business.

First twinge.

See, it’s hard enough working for strangers whose weddings, party invitations and even business cards mean the world to them. We respect that. We want what we put in your hands to be … magic, you know?

Now, add in the fact that it’s an adored friend having her first baby, meaning this birth announcement becomes part of family history. Heck, if the kid becomes president, this card could be in the Smithsonian. You never know, right?

Second twinge.

Ah, but Shop Boy has an ace up his sleeve: Mary. See, as tends to happen, Emily got distracted with her baby, learning to be a mom, traveling to show him off and all that stuff. And time passed. The illustration she’d intended to do for the card? Wasn’t going to happen — though the rough draft was really neat.

So, Mary got creative. Henry’s first Christmas card? Too late for that. Happy New Year from Henry? Too tight a deadline. (It’s the holidays, man. Everybody wants something.) So, Valentine’s Day!

Do I go on too much about Mary? Tough. This was a great save. You should see it — and you will if I can figure out a link. We loved it, Emily loved it, and some day the Smithsonian will love it, or at least the University of Tennessee Football Hall of Fame will. Go get ’em, Henry.



Haven’t had enough of Shop Boy or his alter ego? Here’s some great news: Unattended Items is a freshly minted blog just across the hall from this one. It’s about the commuter culture. You know, the bad things we do to one another in the name of getting to work on time. (It’s so new I haven’t even come up with a nickname for myself. Transit Boy? Yuck.)

Anyway, if you commute, I’m guessing you’ll see yourself in some of these stories.

And perhaps you’ll promise never to do that … um, that … ooh, and especially not that ever again.

Even if you don’t commute, I’m hoping you might like the stories. Meanwhile, thanks for reading Impressions of a Shop Boy. And stay tuned: I’ve got so much more to tell you.

But enough about me … for now.

Letterpress List No. 24: Old Yeller

February 26, 2008

It is said that women’s eyes are more perceptive to color; men’s to light. Something about women having more “cone cells” in their eyes while men have more “rod cells.” Which makes a certain biological sense.

From the earliest days of humans, men have been able to find things to kill, even in the dark. And women have been able to look over the carcass in the light of day and decide by its color whether members of the tribe should be putting it in their mouths.

Both handy abilities.

Mary also uses this scientific knowledge on press checks, during which clients requesting an early look get to sign off on the quality of the work before Typecast Press begins the full printing run. Mary has also done plenty of press checks over the years on her design jobs that were printed offset. Anyway, if it’s a female customer, she and Mary tend to concur quickly on the color, then move on. Guy customer or offset printer? “Trust me, buddy,” Mary says, “I see it better than you do.” Mary then moves on.

Shop Boy’s learned the hard way to keep whatever few cones he does have to himself.

For instance, Sunday night we were having a discussion about a color. Brown shade: Pantone 4625 U, the “U” representing how the color appears on “uncoated” paper. (Yes, that’s key.) Mary’s got three Pantone books for different types of paper. These are like paint store “chips” gone crazy. The fan-like books spread out into long, thin fingers, panels that cover the color spectrum and give you the recipe for creating each shade from the basic ink colors. You know, CMYK stands for cyan, magenta (better known as blue and red), yellow and black. Don’t get Shop Boy started on something called “opaque white.”

Well, responding to the light in the room, Mary’s cone cells were reading “too much yellow.” Responding to the clock, which was ticking toward midnight, Shop Boy’s cone cells were reading the color as “spot on.” Knowing his visual handicap, however, Shop Boy shrugged and said nothing. (OK, his complete lack of experience with inks and his desire not to make Mary angry might have had something to do with that, too. Whatever.)

Mary reasoned out loud that adding black would simply darken the color, not subdue the yellow. Maybe some cyan, she decided. A little magenta, too.

Shop Boy wonders sometimes if Mary doesn’t simply like playing with ink. She arranges ink knives all around the glass mixing plate, adds dabs of different colors — like a painter’s palette — then builds a mound of goo at the center that keeps growing and spreading as she adds pigment, tests, adds, tests, adds and tests.

“Yo, c’mon, it’s midnight. Stop fooling around, let’s roll! This is ridiculous! Jeez!” Shop Boy yelled (silently … to himself).

Mary blithely noodled on, the Benihana of ink mixing. (Might add here that Shop Boy does the cleanup on all of this.) Finally, she held aloft a test strip for approval.

“See? I knew it just needed a little bit of something.”

“Oh, yeah. Um. Uh-huh,” Shop Boy nodded, glancing at his wristwatch instead. “I see now.”

Clear as daybreak.


Letterpress List No. 24

So why is Shop Boy humming?

Hey … it’s my birthday!

And even if I’m stuck at work — I wrote this ahead of time, boss … honest — nobody can take away the fact that Shop Boy has cheated the devil for another 365 big ones. Old Beelzebub’s just chillin’, I’m sure, knowing that Typecast Press will be bringing two automated presses and a hydraulic paper cutter online this year. Gulp.

To celebrate, let’s throw on about an hour’s worth of music to plan a party by. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Videos are from YouTube.

Now pass the devil’s food cake.

Birthdaythe Beatles (A lot of the Fab Four lately. Is it getting old?)
BeelzStephen Lynch (Laugh now, pay later.)
All I Wanna DoSheryl Crow (The a.m. beer buzz. Ah, college.)
Let’s Get It StartedBlack Eyed Peas (Get Stupid.)
Bad to the BoneGeorge Thorogood (They could tell right away.)
VacationGo-Gos (Speaking of bad … these girls!)
Sixteen TonsTennessee Ernie Ford (Another day older and deeper in debt.)
Good Old World WaltzTom Waits (For the melancholy that comes with some birthdays.)
Gin and Juice Snoop Dogg (One way to beat the melancholy.)
I Gotta Be MeIggy Pop (Better him than me.)
Rock and Roll Part 2Gary Glitter (A guy who might spend a birthday or two in custody.)
Rock and Roll All Night
Kiss (Wild and crazy.)
Never ThereCake (With vanilla frosting.)
Shout at the Devil — Motley Crue (Hair of the dog … and apparently a few other household pets.)
If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake
Eileen Barton (Hah!)
Happy Birthday
— Marilyn Monroe (So hot you could have baked a cake on her forehead.)
HappySister Hazel (The ride’s been pretty cool.)

Boxed In

February 22, 2008

Shop Boy’s previous experience with origami had consisted chiefly of folding those little triangle footballs that you “kick” with a flick of the finger through goalposts — an opponent throwing down something like “loser” hand signals facing one another.

In fact, at Wilkes Deli in Glen Rock, N.J., I believe Shop Boy and a co-worker named Robert set new standards of excellence for the game. (I don’t remember Robert’s last name — he was a dental student and a whiz at cutting roast beef, which was extremely hard to do if it was a rare hunk of meat. The customer would always want it “sliced thin,” which meant “shards o’ beef” in Shop Boy’s shaky hands. I figured I’d make it up to the customer by giving them two pounds when they asked for one pound, then charging them for a half-pound. Seemed fair. Heck, they came back, right? Robert also handled making most of the scrambled egg sandwiches for the Jets and Giants fans on their way to games at the Meadowlands. I could never get the knack of cooking eggs in a microwave.)

Anyway, this was soon after gymnast Mary Lou Retton had become America’s sweetheart in the Olympics. So there she was across the store, flashing that winning smile, arms upraised, on the Wheaties cereal box. Forget the finger goalposts. To score a point, Robert and I needed to clear a deli counter and an aisle of produce, reach the back wall and guide the football between Mary Lou’s arms.

These were low-scoring games.

But they passed the time between the morning and afternoon rushes. And they kept Shop Boy’s mind off the bugs. Yes, those bugs. I don’t dare even speak their name. Ooh, yick.

See, we kept a really clean shop — Robert was a finicky dude (good for a dentist, I think) even when the owner wasn’t around. But you can’t run a deli in a building in the New York metropolitan area for 25 years or more without an occasional infestation. All your delivery boxes contain them. (Mary won’t even let Shop Boy bring a wine box from the liquor store into the house.) And once inside the building, they find “dates” and get busy making an army. So it was that one day, Mr. Wilkes stopped in with his wife to check on things — he had, like, four stores by then — and noticed a loose board in the door frame between the kitchen and the main deli. It was so loose, in fact, that when he poked at it, the board crashed to the floor.

And Shop Boy’s heart stopped. The entire door frame was alive. The bugs came screaming out of there, leaping, scattering, bouncing off appliances … and running through Mrs. Wilkes’ bouffant hairdo. Shop Boy’s fight-or-flight instinct kicked in and I was at the far end of the store before I realized my feet were moving. Mrs. Wilkes? Cool as a deli pickle, gently plucking bugs from her ‘do.

After a massive extermination project, they rebuilt the entire door frame. But I could never pass through it again without having my skin crawl.

So Shop Boy’s not good with bugs, either.

Just my luck. Here in Maryland and points farther south, there are waterbugs that live outside but tend to congregate on warm nights near lighted areas to copulate and such. The loading dock beyond our factory door is one such place. At this point, Mary’s so tired of hearing me gasp as I open the door that she’s taken to going out first and doing a Mexican hat dance to break up the sex party and clear Shop Boy’s path to the car. What a gal.

OK, Shop Boy’s going on and on …

But one more quick story: At the University of Rhode Island, Shop Boy did a work/study hitch as kitchen help. Well, after summer break, we prepared to open Hope Dining Hall to the semester’s first breakfast seekers. My supervisor called me aside and handed me a rag. The cooks were about to turn on the big ovens for dinner prep and there might be some bugs fleeing as the heat increased. This dude wanted me — me! — to subtly kill the “runners” so that the sight of them wouldn’t disturb the diners passing nearby in the food line.

Well, he underestimated how many bugs there’d be and how disturbing to diners the sight of a young man frantically swinging a rag — and jumping up and down to keep bugs off his feet — could be. Eventually, they pulled me out of there. But the psychic damage was done.

Look, can we talk about something else, please? Oh, that’s right … my blog.

Football … folding …. paper … oh, yeah …

So, anyway, now somehow I’m the origami box guy. Happened innocently enough. We were vacationing in Colorado Springs, having lunch at artist Mary Helsaple and filmmaker Neal Williams’ place in the foothills (heavenly view and a practically vertical driveway). Steve Martin, who’d run the Springs’ performing arts center before moving on to a great old theater — the Elsinore — in Salem, Ore., was there with wife Tina and daughter Allison. We’d heard Allison had done some origami and wondered if she knew how to make paper boxes. Mary’s always looking for cool ways to package the stuff we’ve printed for boffo delivery. Going the extra mile and all that.

Allison’s apparently a pretty good teacher — wonder how she’s going to feel about being included in a dispatch about bugs, though — because Shop Boy learned the first time. Those groovy boxes Typecast Press made for a spread in Baltimore Magazine‘s seasonal entertaining guide? Ahem.

Want the secret? I’d tell you but then Mary would have to kill me.

Let’s just say that squares of pretty paper within arm’s reach are in harm’s way. Give Shop Boy five minutes, you’ll get a nice square box. I’m just that good. Heh-heh. What? That stuff we printed isn’t square? You want a rectangular box? That’s less deep than half its width? I, um … Allison didn’t show us that. Uh, her cheat sheet must be around here somewhere. Allison!!!


Guess Shop Boy’s plan for world domination through origami still has a few bugs in it.

Letterpress List No. 23: No Clue

February 19, 2008

A trained monkey could do my job.

Even for Shop Boy, this was hard news to hear. Some years later, time has provided a little perspective. Still …

I could tell by the vocal patterns that the caller to my newspaper at the time, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, was a senior citizen. Folks like her called all the time with questions about how to write to Ann Landers, how to get the paper delivered a little more gently or why we never wrote “good news.” It wasn’t my job to have the answers, but the calls came nonetheless.

See, for the uninitiated, a newsroom consists of clusters of reporters, editors, artists and interns, none of whom wishes to take your call. If you phone the newspaper, the switchboard operator won’t bother to look up the proper extension but will blindly redirect you. The person who picks up will either handle your question or huffily forward you right back to the switchboard operator, who’ll send it elsewhere. It’s kind of like playing Battleship. When the operator finds an extension that doesn’t bounce right back — a hit — he or she keeps firing calls in that direction.

Well, call me a sucker, because I hated turning these increasingly frustrated people away. Which is how Shop Boy became, among other things, the Crossword Puzzle Editor. If, for instance, someone just couldn’t get the one word that would solve the entire puzzle, I’d say, “Let’s work through it together.” Same with the Jumble or any other puzzle. If we couldn’t find the answer in short order, I’d promise to call back, then I’d go figure it out and, yes, call back. (I even explained the meaning of a comic strip or two.) Well, heck, word of someone giving personalized service gets around.

So when this sweet little old lady on the other end of the line asked for the Crossword Puzzle Editor, I sighed and grabbed that morning’s classifieds section and thumbed through for the right page. She didn’t want to work the puzzle, though. Today’s answers didn’t match yesterday’s puzzle, she said. And she wanted to yell about that. As I struggled to figure out the problem and get her the right answers to the right puzzle, she kept fuming, eventually questioning my right to keep my position as Crossword Puzzle Editor and doubting my abilities to figure anything out. Yes, she dropped the “trained monkey” on me.

Then I did figure it out.

C.P.E.: “Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but I believe you might be looking at the puzzle from the wrong day.”

Caller: “Oh, there’s no way I … um … oh …” Click. She hung up on me.

I redirected the next call back to the switchboard. (Only that one, though, I swear.)

Mary and Shop Boy have never stopped giggling over this, despite how horrible I felt at the time. We even wear a monkey emblem on our Typecast Press lab coats.

OK, that’s also partially in solidarity with Paul Frank, whose company was stolen from him by his non-artistic partners — we, ahem, creative types could stand to learn a thing or two about business, eh? The iron-on patch featuring P.F.’s trademark Julius the monkey is a counterfeit, meaning no money for the bad partners. Bonus points!

True story: We were walking through a shopping district with buddies Lisa Pollak and Chuck Salter during a visit to Chicago a couple of years back. As a pack of young and proud-to-be-buffed cyclists approached, arrogantly hogging the road, Shop Boy spotted a Paul Frank outlet over their tanned shoulders and mentioned it to Mary, who excitedly whirled and shouted “Monkey Face!” — pointing toward the store and, unwittingly, directly at the passing mug of the lead cyclist. He about fell off his bike. Mary had no idea how she’d messed up the poor dude’s self-esteem until Shop Boy could quit howling and explain.

Somewhere the biker is probably giggling too, reminded of the incident by his friends every time they go cycling. Time heals. Perhaps, like the little old lady in Denver, he was humbled just a bit. Maybe Chicago and its streets are better places for it. Imagine … Me Shop Boy, you Mary, we Typecast Press. Making it a little less of a jungle out there.

Now, let’s see a trained monkey do that.


Letterpress List No. 23

Here’s about an hour of tunes to enjoy while doing your job so poorly that a monkey could be trained to replace you. (Apparently, Mary and Shop Boy aren’t the only ones obsessed with chimps.) Most should be available in the usual places.

Punish the MonkeyMark Knopfler (Let the organ grinder go.)
Bungle in the JungleJethro Tull (He who made kittens put snakes in the grass. Deep.)
Another PostcardBarenaked Ladies (Got some shaved chimps — that’s chimps devoid of any hair. Got some depraved chimps dressed up in the women’s underwear.)
I’m a Believerthe Monkees (Then we saw his face … hah! Talk about Smash Mouth.)
Shock the MonkeyPeter Gabriel (Strangely awesome.)
Wishing Well Terence Trent d’Arby (Hugging like a monkey see, monkey do. OK, it’s wimpy …)
Monkey Wrench — the Foo Fighters (There. Manly quotient restored.)
Banana PuddingSouthern Culture on the Skids (What else?)
Jungle BoogieKool and the Gang (Get down.)
Where’s Your Head At?Basement Jaxx (Mostly for the video, though the song’s great too.)
Head GamesForeigner (Just playing.)
Brass MonkeyBeastie Boys (17 Down [six letters, starts with M]: Funky ______.)
Bad TouchBloodhound Gang (Naughty mammals.)
Jungle LoveSteve Miller Band (You probably wouldn’t remember, I probably couldn’t forget … being called Monkey Face.)
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkeythe Beatles (Your outside is in and your inside is out.)
Happy PhantomTori Amos (Confucius does his crossword with a pen.)
Monkey to ManElvis Costello (Every time man struggles and fails, he makes up some kind of fairy tales.)
If I Had a Million DollarsBarenaked Ladies (Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?)

Stuck on You

February 14, 2008

It was looking like a Valentine’s Day massacre.

Mary had been under the weather and Typecast Press was in a bind. In one day, we needed to print two sets of two-color business cards and produce an emergency order for two-color restaurant menus and coasters. Oh, and Mary had designed two Valentines that needed to be finished … any second!

A crew less accustomed to, um, working on deadline (Mary, Mary, Mary …) might have come unglued. Instead, Shop Boy employed his own time-tested formula, which he discusses in his new book Duress Is Success Spelled Differently: When Now Means NOW! Look for it in better bookstores on … oh, heck. I haven’t written it yet. The deadline is so far off.

Here are the basics.

  • Step 1: Panic (gets it out of the way so you can focus on the task)
  • Step 2: Panic more (just to make sure it took)
  • Step 3: Doubt yourself
  • Step 4: Swear and/or cry; berate yourself for past mistakes in similar situations or for self-inflicted, um, physical imperfections
  • Step 5: Wallow in self-pity
  • Step 6: Issue the Universal Distress Signal
  • Step 7: Wait for someone (Mary!) to jump in and figure it all out
  • Step 8: Most importantly … be grateful and do whatever that someone says.

Piece of cake, right?

OK, so if Shop Boy takes a day off from his day job, and we get up early, and Mary’s feeling a lot better, and we skip meals, and we don’t talk too much, and we play peppy music, and everything breaks just right, and we don’t need to do much make-ready and the weather cooperates …

So we overslept, needed to stop for breakfast, Mary (still a bit fuzzy-headed) had an important lunch date, we always talk too much, there was too much Lucinda Williams on the iPod (love ya, kid, but lighten up!) and suddenly not a single polymer plate would stick to the Boxcar base for the big C&P. Each one had to be massaged endlessly. At one point, Shop Boy suggested we just add pressure to force the issue. (We smashed the plate and had to start over.)

Man, you think you know somebody — or something — and you’re thrown a new wrinkle. In the case of polymer plates, we’ve been the most faithful disciples, spreading the word about how perfect they are. Easier to use than magnesium- or copper-on-wood plates. Cheaper! Take zero space to store. Harder than metal.

Well, they also tend to bend up at the corners between uses, even if you store them carefully. And if those corners refuse to stick to the steel base — no matter how much you plead, press, tape and re-tape them — they keep poking up, touching the rollers, picking up ink and ruining whatever you’re printing. Metal-on-wood plates never do that. (They’re awesome!)

And just like that, something you know to be absolutely so … ain’t necessarily so.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were camping in New York State, our first such trip together. Mary had been well trained by her dad, Wayne, a seasoned camper and ex-military guy, to assume the role of princess in these situations. So, Shop Boy set about putting up the tent, digging the trench (in case of rain) and unloading the supplies. Mary sat, sipped wine and judged my progress as we went along.

Now it was time to build the fire, a personal specialty. See, where Shop Boy’s from, you build the bonfire, with rocks atop the flames, then use the hot stones to bake lobsters, clams, corn, bluefish, potatoes, etc. We had chicken, but same deal, right? So Shop Boy built a pyramid of wood and stone — you should have seen it — and struck a match. Sweet. Nothing like a fire to cut the cool of an autumn evening. Appropriately impressed, Mary kissed me. And the fireworks went off.

No, really. The super-heated rocks, obviously not made of the same stuff as we had at the beach, began to explode, shelling us with hot chunks as we scrambled for cover, screaming and laughing as we tumbled toward the truck. We cowered behind it as the explosions continued for a good 15 minutes. It was 30 minutes before Shop Boy dared approach the fire pit to clear any unexploded ordnance.

Mary probably should have run in the other direction at this point. Instead, she hugged me and we laughed and laughed. That night, I realized it had to be love. Awwww.

Wait. Where were we? Oh, no love from the polymer plates. Well, all Shop Boy can say is it’s a darn good thing Mary has no respect for the clock. We were going to get this done. Ha! She laughs in the face of 1:30 a.m. Oh, and did I mention the freezing rain? We didn’t even start chiseling the car out of the ice block till then.

Shop Boy, who has a 6 a.m. wakeup call on non-printshop workdays, is a bit less relaxed about keeping late hours.

Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pounding.


You’ve got to love Valentine’s Day.

A guy sweats all year long to prove his devotion, then drops the ball for one day and it’s all for nothing. But there isn’t a woman Shop Boy would rather disappoint every year than Mary.

Be mine, kitten.

Of course, Mary and Shop Boy will be celebrating a day late — after making the deadline — to keep the disappointment among other valentines to a minimum.

Enjoy the fireworks!

Letterpress List No. 22: Math Is Hard

February 11, 2008

Next, at right Bunsen burner for yoooooo-uuuuur Cranston East Thunderbolts Chemistry Team: No. 51, Shop … BOY! (The crowd goes wild.) “Shop Boy, Shop Boy, rah-rah-ree! S-B is antimony!

Hey, don’t scoff. I could once diagram the chemical equation for why a guy has to pee so often after drinking beer. And why adding water — more liquid! — can slow the process. Of course, that was … ahem … a few beers ago.

Some of the science stuff from high school and college does comes back to me periodically. (Hee-hee! Periodic table, get it? Shop Boy = Sb, No. 51! Antimony! Key ingredient in lead type! Ha-ha-ha! Sorry, smart guy humor. You probably wouldn’t understand.)

Anyway, given that background, you’d think Shop Boy would be a whiz at brain teasers, oh, like mapping out how many business cards could be cut from a big sheet of paper.

Um, uh, not really so much.

I could blame the paper itself. Since it’s often cheaper — and sometimes only possible — to buy fancy paper in a large sheet, called a parent, that’s what we usually do at Typecast Press. These sheets are of course too large to be fed into our guillotine cutter whole. And if you just cut them in half without thinking about the geometry equation, you could really cost yourself some cash. Maybe if you cut a strip that’s one-third the width of the parent, then turn the big sheet and make a smaller trim, you can maximize the number of business cards — or whatevers — that you hope to print. This is essential if you’ve bought the minimum amount of paper to, you know, save some dough.

Then there’s this: You order six sheets at 25.5 inches by 38 inches. They unfailingly arrive as something like 25 7/8″ by 37 7/16″. What’s up with that? The paper company can’t do math, either. Sheesh. So if your business card is 1.5″ x 3.5″, and you’re going to print them two-up — meaning two impressions on one piece of paper, to be cut apart later — how many times and in which direction(s) should the paper be sliced? Oh, and the parent sheet has a deckle edge, like a fringe, which needs to be trimmed away or you’ll have some cards with a crazy edges and others without. And mind the grain!

Yeah, my eyes glaze over too, folks.

So, as usual, anything that requires half a brain falls to Mary, even if she happens to be sick as a dog, like last weekend. She had the flu, but we had a deadline. So she puzzled feverishly, measured, calculated, measured again, then adjusted the guillotine’s guides and a few chops later, that was that.

Shop Boy? Let’s just say Barbie would have been a bigger help on this one.


Letterpress List No. 22

The latest slice: Can we count you in for about an hour’s worth of musical numbers suitable for “measuring twice and cutting once,” a la Wayne Mashburn, Mary’s dad? OK, then. Most of these should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Your Number Is OneHenry Rollins (For you there is but one direction.)
Add It Up Violent Femmes (Just about ready to cut it up.)
One — Three Dog Night (Flashback.)
The Black Parade — My Chemical Romance (Emo pets.)
LassooThe Duke Spirit (Nothing to do with the university. Just the Eleanor Lewis special of the day — thanks from Shop Boy, kiddo.)
10 X 10 Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Or is that 9 15/16 X 10 1/8?)
The Number of the BeastIron Maiden (Ooh, that Bruce Dickenson could howl.)
Bad Habit
Dresden Dolls (About cutting — yourself, not class.)
Gimme One ReasonTracy Chapman (Turn around, kid.)
VertigoU2 (“Uno, dos, tres … catorce.” Bono’s inside joke/shout-out.)
Murder By Numbersthe Police (Easy to learn as the ABCs.)
Wonderful WorldSam Cooke (“Don’t know much about a science book.”)
Be True to Your SchoolBeach Boys (The Chemistry Team didn’t have lettered sweaters or team jackets. In fact, Shop Boy kept his participation a secret for years. Blame me?)
99 Red BalloonsNena (Go ahead, sing in German. We’re not listening to the words.)
Killer QueenQueen (“Let them eat cake, she says, just like Marie Antoinette.” Cue the guillotine.)
Grip Like a ViceThe Go! Team (Rah-rah-rah.)
Get It Together Beastie Boys (Got the ill communication.)
She Blinded Me With Science — Thomas Dolby (Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto.)
Beer RunGarth Brooks/George Jones (Mary hates, hates, hates this song.)
If I Only Had a BrainThe Scarecrow/Judy Garland (So, one more time … where do I cut first?)

A Monkey Wrench

February 7, 2008

To paraphrase a famous proverb about fish or something:

Help a woman adjust a press impression and she’ll print today. Teach her how to use an adjustable wrench and … she’ll never stop messing with the damn platen.

OK, so maybe Shop Boy carries on a bit overly much about how hard and annoying it is to adjust the platen, the steel surface that pushes the paper you’re printing to the inked form on a C&P or other clamshell-type press. As we’ve discussed before, some printers never adjust it, preferring to use paper packing and make-ready — or anything else they can think of — to correct an imperfect impression. Big, burly dudes afraid to even mess with it.

Not Mary. And the only limit on her pursuit of perfect evenness has been Shop Boy’s patience level. You can tell by all the grease pencil lines, used to mark the starting point in case we need to undo our adjustment.

Well, it is hard, especially dealing with the lower platen bolts, accessible only from below. You’ve got to hold a wrench in each hand, weave one arm through the drive wheel (unplug the C&P first!) and one through the chassis, while on your knees, in dim light (flashlight in teeth, which does help keep down the swearing) and remember which way is clockwise … upside-down. Really.

So, we turn the inside nuts counterclockwise to loosen them, freeing the outside bolts, which do the actual adjusting of the platen. We use the points on these bolts to make sure we turn each one the same amount, figuring that we’re starting from something close to even, if not from perfect. Then we tighten them up, load in the chase and place polymer-plate corners at the edges of the steel Boxcar base. (Taking notes, tough guys?) Now we roll the press through impression by hand — just in case we’ve raised the platen too much, which could lock up and potentially damage the press as it comes together too tightly.

Yup, it’s stuck. Back up the drive wheel just enough to let you throw the machine into “trip” mode, which separates the plate from the packed tympan. Check the marks left by the polymer corners on the tympan paper. Uneven. Dang. Decide which edges of the platen need to be tweaked even while you’re backing the whole thing off. Loosen, turn and retighten the bolts. Roll it through again, check the corner marks. Still off, but at least the machine didn’t lock up. Curl yourself back under the press. Adjust. Test. Repeat. Test. Repeat. Test. Repeat … up, down, up, down, reach, turn, drop wrench, hit head …

Suddenly, the old grease pencil marks — blue, white, yellow, red — become a kaleidoscope, spinning faster and faster as I fall into despair, knees screaming, face planted against the dirty leather drive belt, favorite shirt ruined by grease from the C&P’s underbelly, mind feverish with things I’d rather be doing … just done with this, you know?

“Shop Boy,” Mary scolds, “forget it. Just chill out. Go get a beer and sit down.”

She grabs the wrenches and slightly tweaks the top of the platen, rolls the press through and deems the impression just right.

“There,” Mary says. “Was that so hard? Why do you get so bent out of shape? Anyway, I think I’ve got the hang of this wrench thing now.”

Guess she already knew how to turn the screw, eh?

Letterpress List No. 21: Seeing Red

February 6, 2008

“It was quite … Soviet.”

With those words, Professor David Snodgrass sent Shop Boy’s chances at a broadcast journalism career crashing down harder than the Berlin Wall.

There Shop Boy had been, prepping for a mock newscast, explaining for shy University of Rhode Island classmates in his best fake French accent that you had to “make love to the camera, and the camera will love you back.”

Then the red light went on.

And there was no love.

Only some stiff talking head droning on about what was clearly the most dire news, like the university had just gotten millions for beer research and needed male volunteers (ha-ha!). Or we’d all been awarded straight A’s and were told to take the rest of the semester off (hee-hee!). Oooooh. Just mortifying. Thus, the Snodgrass Assessment of my on-air presence. The camera and Shop Boy have engaged in a cold war ever since.

Imagine, then, how Shop Boy took the news that a film crew was interested in capturing the goings-on at Typecast Press, part of a series on locals doing interesting — or, OK, weird — things.

They say any exposure is good exposure for your business and Shop Boy tends to agree: Any camera time for Mary is great news for us. Shop Boy on air? Not so much.

So I warned the crew not to expect much from my end. Certainly none of us could have expected what came next.

A light went on.

Now, we’re told that the video won’t be finished for about a month. (Shop Boy’ll let you know.) But if what Mary says is true, Shop Boy might be up for Ham of the Year. Actually, if what she says is true, Shop Boy might have to change his name or leave town.

After about four hours of filming, it’s hard to remember everything we discussed. We talked about us, about the shop, the machines and what’s special about the letterpress process. Shop Boy even spoke — all right, I blabbed semi-coherently — about this blog. It just went on and on and on.

Well, I guess we could say, in a grand understatement, that Shop Boy has done his part to foster detente with the camera. Now it’s the cold-eyed monster’s turn.

Potential highlight: Mary giving the audience a charm-school version of the spit-and-tissue-paper make-ready trick. Fantastic. She’s so cool.

Potential blooper (among many): Shop Boy explains the intricate workings of a Vandercook proof press.

Shop Boy: “You roll the cylinder back, put the paper against the guide to keep it straight. Then these thingies pop up to grab the paper.”

Mary: “Those are called grippers, Shop Boy.”

Gulp. Stayed tuned, folks.

Shop Boy did not sing on camera, at least not that I recall. (Oh, god!) But here’s about an hour’s worth of tunes that might have been appropriate had Shop Boy felt a song coming on. (Pray with me, people.) Most of these should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube. By the way, this is Shop Boy’s 50th posting. Missed any? Didn’t think so. Thanks for reading.

Skateaway Dire Straits (Making movies on location. Don’t know what it means.)
A Little Less Conversation — Elvis Presley (Ahem.)
Bark at the MoonOzzy Osbourne (John Michael Osbourne, you come in this house right now!)
Every Day I Write the Book – Elvis Costello (Shop Boy does the, heh-heh, dramatic reading.)
Red Light SpecialTLC (Loved by the camera.)
Girls on Film Duran Duran (For the sane half of Typecast Press.)
Cake (Naughtily paraphrasing Archie Bunker’s “Stifle yourself.”)
3 Small WordsJosie and the Pussycats (Three more small words from Archie Bunker: “Shut Up, You!”)
More Than WordsExtreme (Talking pretty.)
CelebrityBarenaked Ladies (A hero … like Phil Esposito or the Kennedys.)
All the Young DudesMott the Hoople (“Television man is crazy.” Says Shop Boy’s “a natural.”)
Lost in Hollywood System of a Down (Fame’s sharper edge. System of a Down’s softer side.)
Desperate But Not SeriousAdam Ant (The media: friend or foe?)
Talk of the Town the Pretenders (Maybe tomorrow. Maybe … in about a month.)
Voices Carry
Til Tuesday (Oops, my microphone isn’t still on, is it?)
Back in the USSRthe Beatles (This one’s for you, Dave Snodgrass, wherever your snarkiness has taken you.)