Archive for April, 2008

Letterpress List No. 33: Lounge Lizards

April 29, 2008

Never shoot pool with a guy who has lightning in his fingers.

Unless, of course, you’ve “grounded” him with four days of shelf building, wall scraping, spackling, painting, hammering, standing on ladders, hauling, pushing, stooping, standing, kneeling, crawling, sweating, bleeding and, of course, burning (we’ll get to that last one later).

Yep, Mary’s mom and dad had once again wandered too close to the letterpress vortex. (They’d been warned.) And so while the original Mary Mashburn kept us going with cakes, sandwiches and lemonade and just generally tried to inject some reason into the proceedings (and stay out of harm’s way), Wayne Mashburn, Mary Jr. and Shop Boy tore three rooms to pieces in the name of organization.

By the way, “organization” wasn’t the name that our neighbors or our roommate were referring to us by at one point or another during the weekend.

Sorry? Forget sorry. Think process, as in … it’s all part of the process. C’mon, repeat it with me: It’s all part of the process. Hydraulic paper cutter in, shift all the other pieces. Heidelberg Windmill in, shift the entire contents of a doomed closet to, let’s see, a pile here and pile there, pile it on top of that other pile. Type cabinet in … um …

OK, we sort of had a plan. Typecast Press and Chris Hartlove, our studio mate, were about to become closer than ever. Having moved much of his stuff to a home studio and having switched to mostly digital photography, Chris had decided he needed less of the space on his side of the suite. The idea was to rearrange things on his side to accommodate a little of the Typecast Press overflow while also creating a shared lounge area. We’d bought a really cool old red/orange loveseat and two shiny steel, hipster ashtrays to use as cocktail tables. A rug, a chair, a barstool and the fridge and we’d be chilling.

Mary also figured a paint job might be nice, from gray/lavender to — oh my gosh — lemon/lime. (From Chris, used to keeping his space dimly lit: “I won’t need lights at all now.”) And while we’re down there adding a fresh white coat of paint to the trim, how about “tightening up” the baseboard — read: mouse-proofing — with an extra piece of quarter-round and some steel wool? How hard could that be? Hee-hee. Well, we kind of had to do it first, working around all the obstacles. So it went a little something like Twister. (Right foot blue, left thumb red.) And the hammering. Dang, it was loud. The trim nails went through the quarter-round and the wood floor, then often as not hit concrete and bent. Curse, pull, repeat.

Anyway, none of the fun stuff was going to happen without storage space materializing somewhere, and renting another room wasn’t really an option. The closet demolition had left an L shape around the right side and back of the windmill press, about three feet of clearance on the right and two on the back. Room for shelves, if we kept them skinny enough. To build them — and an additional stack in the little utility closet behind our main work area — we’d just have to pile everything into the hallway between our studio spaces and avoid the glares of the woman who gives massages a few doors down, the large martial arts guy who leads classes on the weekend and their customers, who were paying to step over boxes, bits of machinery and filing cabinet drawers.

Then, once Chris’ space was painted, we could try all the pieces in all the different spots. Mary knows perfection when she sees it, and won’t accept any whining about the quest. (It’s all part of the process.)

Now we just needed some free labor. Where were we going to find that?


Now Wayne could not have anticipated this mess when he booked the flight from Colorado Springs to North Carolina, where he and Mama would visit relatives; to Baltimore and Typecast Press labor camp; and to Massachusetts, where sister Melissa and her hubby Tom promised the upheaval of clearing space for new flooring in the main living area. Could he have?

At one point, Shop Boy asked Mama why she and Wayne would subject themselves to such a schedule.

“It just makes us that much more eager to leave you all and happy to get home,” she chirped.



Letterpress List No. 33

Now about that burning. A lounge needs a fridge, no? Well, one version of the floor plan included moving it to the opposite side of the room, using an electrical outlet that Shop Boy had not been aware of. The two-prong outlet looked fine from a distance, but up close you could see it had been painted over some years ago — almost sealed, in fact. We’d popped off the old plate during the paint job. Well, Wayne figured he’d see whether it worked. He took a three-prong adapter with a ground (it fits around the screw), a new metal plate and a screwdriver and set about plugging the thing in. Trouble was, he apparently found a frayed wire before he could ground the adapter. Zap! The adapter, screwdriver and plate went flying as Wayne’s hand recoiled and a roman candle came shooting out of the socket before the circuit breaker tripped.

We were freaked. Wayne? He just mumbled something like, “Well, that wasn’t too smart,” glanced at his blackened finger and went to find the fuse box. And here’s where Shop Boy saw an opportunity. See, Wayne’s beaten me bloody enough times at the pool table that I’m not above a little “gamesmanship.” And perhaps I will pay dearly the next time we meet in a billiards hall. But didn’t the guy deserve a beer and a game or three? Beating him, sore hand and all, was the least I could do. Even let him pay the bill. Kind of brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

In that spirit, how about an hour’s worth of music to dress a wound or apply a malted balm by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Welcome to the JungleRichard Cheese (Ultimate tacky lounge. You’re gonna die … I swear.)
StrawberryEverclear (Crawling with my strawberry burns … minus the heroin addiction.)
Coming HomeScorpions (Day after day, year after year.)
Hammering in My HeadGarbage (Bang, bang.)
Celebration of the Lizardthe Doors (Dude was, well, on something. But you knew that.)
CrazyGnarls Barkley (Read into it whatever you like.)
(Do the) Instant MashJoe Jackson (Stacking the shelves.)
It’s Now or NeverElvis Presley (Rearranging gave us one shot at any hidden dust bunnies …)
One ShotHenry Rollins (And we’d better not miss.)
There’s a Story in Your VoiceElvis Costello with Lucinda Williams (I could say that I was sorry, but I wouldn’t mean it much.)
I Want It That WayBackstreet Boys (Then again, let’s try it over there. Ugh. And, yes, I should be embarrassed to include this one.)
Closer to FineIndigo Girls (There you go.)
Freeze Frame J. Geils Band (The video made me think of it.)
Today Smashing Pumpkins (Ditto.)
Lightning Crashes
Live (Thought we’d lost one.)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt CheapAC/DC (You’re hired.)
Monsta Mack Sir Mix-A-Lot (Pokin’ that 8 ball, cool.)
Upside Down Jack Johnson (Here … hold my feet while I lean down between the cabinet and the wall to pound in that final nail.)
Tooth and NailDokken (Hair band sighting.)
Voice of ChunkLounge Lizards (Why not?)
Better Place to Be — Harry Chapin (Mama’s song.)

Letterpress List No. 32: Brass Ones

April 22, 2008

One way or another, the stinking press was coming out.

So … what way hadn’t we tried yet? Did Shop Boy say “we.” I mean “they.” As in: When a guy in a forklift being lowered slowly by a winch from the tilted flatbed of a huge truck tells you it might be a good idea to stand back, “we” are gone.

And soon enough, the flatbed truck was loaded, the Vandercook No. 4 proof press having grudgingly surrendered its place in a dark, dirty corner of the doomed building to John, Frank and Don, the rigging crew from North American Millwright. (We’re getting to know these guys a little too well.)

When it was done, Mary and Shop Boy decided to look around the old shop once again. We’d taken the filthy No. 4, two lumbering turtles (mammoth metal tables on wheels), a totally old school tabletop Vandercook No. 01, assorted tools and measuring implements … and Shop Boy’d even found a stash of Challenge Hi Speed Quoins (cha-ching!) — the cleanest things in the shop. Even an old red tabletop vise would soon be cluttering up Typecast Press, waiting with countless job trays and letterpress ephemera for you-know-who and another dose of elbow grease.

Still, it wasn’t what we got but what we had to leave behind that was toughest on Shop Boy. The Intertype machines, the Ludlow, more tray cases, reams of newsprint too large or damaged to take, a big lead cutter, a smooth-operating C&P, an old Miehle, a pile of nasty, nasty rollers … oh, wait. You must be thinking, “Geez, you were just moaning about having to clean all this junk a week ago.” True.

But there’s something weird about going through a dead man’s printshop, especially finding printed evidence of his passion — a couple of salvageable issues of The Scandinavian Scribe, a little newspaper he put together — or even his life’s work (rotting in a filing cabinet were his notes and, chapter by chapter, the original copy of his book on Norwegian philatelic history or something).

It was sad. And it made Shop Boy wonder what Typecast Press will look like to the next printers who come along when we’re long dead. Will they appreciate our flair for arranging so many oddball machines into a cohesive — and usable — space? Will they thrill at finding a store of our printed materials, noting our creativity and Mary’s exacting standards for straightness and an even impression? Will they notice the care we took with the various papers, dies and press rollers? Will they smile at our decorating skills and giggle at the girlie calendar, with blue die-cut hearts stuck anywhere a model’s image seemed a bit too, well, blue?

Or will they do something like carelessly pull out a tray full of flawlessly arranged typeface matrices (they tell hot-lead Intertype machines which letters and characters to create) and “pie” the contents into the dirt of the demolition site? Sigh. Think of the old cartoon gag where the little dog grabs the tiniest bone from a brontosaurus skeleton at the Natural History Museum and the whole irreplaceable thing falls to dust.

Shop Boy, mortified, began dejectedly gathering the scattered matrices from the dirt and dropping them into the wheelbarrow we were using for trash. (Anything we didn’t take was going to end up in the scrapyard or the dumpster.) Then I set about more carefully securing and setting aside trays of matrices for additional typefaces just in case a last-minute hero arrived looking to save such things.

This was when Shop Boy noticed the “You idiot!” look on the face of the wrecker, one of two dudes sent by the contractor to tear the long-stuck bay doors off the structure so the presses would come out. He was standing over the wheelbarrow, shaking his head. “That’s pure brass, man,” he said. “You’re throwing away pure brass. That’s not just metal, it’s pure brass. You can’t throw away pure brass.” He was right, but he didn’t have to keep saying it. I felt lousy enough … and he was drawing a crowd.

Soon, five people were standing over the wheelbarrow shaking their heads. What kind of dummy would throw away pure brass?

Great. Shop Boy wandered off to find a bucket. And the fact that I didn’t put it over my head and run away to cry somewhere showed, in my opinion, great restraint. It could also have been all the mouse poop I’d shaken out of the thing, but whatever.

As the dude filled the bucket with pure brass, Shop Boy went looking for Mary. She was lugging a rusty, cast iron trough used to mold molten lead into “pigs” — hardened chunks that refreshed the typecasting machine’s lead pot as lines of type were made. “We need this,” she said giddily, apparently oblivious to EPA standards. “Oh, and let’s go upstairs and grab the foil stamper.”

What the heck is a foil stamper? I still have no idea, but it’s a heavy little bugger with two power cords.

“And should we take these?” Mary asked, motioning toward a stack of what looked like wooden boxes that had been strapped together for all these years.

“Sure, why not?” answered Shop Boy. Mary had turned crazy boxes into all kinds of cool receptacles at the studio.

Well, we’d learn back in Baltimore that they were not boxes but drawers that held type matrices for the Ludlow, Mary thinks. There are seven rows in each drawer, tilted sort of like a Scrabble letter holder. And of course, the first word of this particular game would be M-I-L-D-E-W. Triple word score!* Oh, the smell.

Next would come the words trisodium, phosphate, bleach, water, sun, goggles, gloves, smock and mask. All in all, it took Shop Boy about four hours to “play.”

History, and perhaps some future Shop Boy picking through the rubble, will judge who won.

Letterpress List No. 32

How about an hour’s worth of music … that you can repeat three times while slogging through traffic from Arlington, Va., to Baltimore. Dang! The North American Millwright trucks went one way, we went another and everyone arrived at Typecast Press more than two and a half hours later.

(By the way, Shop Boy’s not sure how you folks do this D.C. nuttiness every day — I’ve made it a point never to learn the way to work by car. All I know is that it’s south. Don’t get me wrong: Shop Boy commuted by car for two years from Brooklyn to the middle of Long Island, 45 minutes on a good day and four hours or more on a bad one. I’d leave at 1 p.m. to get to work by 5 p.m. Honest. You had to. But at least you felt like most New York drivers had a clue. Here? People!)

Most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Work SongHerb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (The video clinches it.)
American PieDon McLean (What was the deal?)
Long Line of CarsCake (Keep repeating, D.C. drivers: It’s all because of me.)
RosesOutkast (Just playing.)
Rust in PeaceMegadeth (Power chords.)
Take on MeA-Ha (From Norway. ;-) )
WordsMissing Persons (What are shirts for?)
Left Behind Slipknot ( … and not happy about it.)
Brass in Pocketthe Pretenders (Made me notice.)
Feel the Pain Dinosaur Jr. (Is it up to me?)
Truckin’ the Grateful Dead (Together, more or less in line.)
Lead BalloonLiam Finn (I blame myself … and so do you.)
My Poor Brain Foo Fighters (Duh …)
Long Way HomeTom Waits (Norah Jones does it, too, but Mary can’t stand her. And she really hates this slightly different Supertramp song. Enjoy!)
My FaultEminem (Crazy.)
Get the Funk Out Ma Face Brothers Johnson (History finds it rather funky indeed.)
Die, Alrightthe Hives (But not right now.)

*NOTE: Never play Mary in Scrabble. Take Shop Boy’s word for it: You’ll hear the phrase “triple word score” more often than you can stand. (And the end zone dances … ugh!)

Loving It

April 17, 2008

When Shop Boy grows up, he wants to be Warren Werbitt.

Not because Werbitt’s the president of Pazazz Printing and thus, presumably, makes a good living.

Not because he works in Montreal, Quebec, an extremely cool place. (Maybe Shop Boy’s biased by nature.)

Not even because of his totally amazing, wascally name (was his dad Elmer “Fudd” Werbitt?). Though that’s a close call.

Nope. This is why.

Sigh. In another life, it could have been Shop Boy’s video debut. Just saying.

Well, Mary and Shop Boy are off on another adventure this week, taking in more cast-off cast iron, and we hope the spirit of Warren Werbitt will be with us. If this is what it takes to prove Shop Boy’s love for printing (despite his, um, occasional bellyaching), well, off we go.

Shop Boy’ll tell you all about how it turns out (but you knew that already) as soon as his head stops spinning and he gets some sleep. I’ll leave you with this profane rant from another Werbittian talent, Denis Leary, about, appropriately enough … coffee.

Want more? Here’s a great old clip of Leary addressing the issue of one, ahem, Cindy Crawford … and her classic, awesome response.

Letterpress List No. 31: Ink-Stained

April 15, 2008

“Quality Is Not an Option.”

This was the slogan, in large plastic letters, for a crummy little service station that Mary and Shop Boy often passed on the way to the printshop in Baltimore. Each time, we’d giggle. The station’s gone now — not a real big surprise there. But we still chortle over a statement that must have seemed so right at the time, but was so, so wrong. We’re word people by trade and love to have a laugh at the expense of others’ bloopers.

Helps draw attention away from our own mistakes, you know?

See, we met at a newspaper, where a grammatical goof like that would inspire a raft of good-natured — and not-so-good-natured — ribbing. The pace was pretty frenetic, and it happened. When Bob Rogers, our copy desk chief at the time, would spot an inadvertently tortured turn of phrase in our work, he’d guffaw, then bellow out: “St. Angelo! Let me explain something about the English language that you apparently missed.” Then Shop Boy-to-be would have to get up and glumly pass all of my snickering deskmates on the way to Bob’s desk, where he’d fill me in. I’d return the favor when it was their turn to walk the walk.

You learned to read and write carefully as a means of self-preservation.

But sometimes weird things got past even Bob, and that’s where the newspaper’s old printers — who were now simply cut-and-paste crews — chimed in. Ooh. You want to catch an earful? Want your cheeks to flush with embarrassment? Let your mistake be loudly caught by one of these guys. But they were sharp, it helped the newspaper and we understood that some of the testiness arose from their fall as tradesmen.

See, in the old days, printers were respected — and well-compensated — craftsmen who’d spent years honing their skills, for whom fixing a typo wasn’t a one-keystroke affair but a work of art. Now the rug had been pulled out from under them by these kids and their computers. They were on their way out the door, and they were determined not to go quietly but by proudly defending their craft — and punctuation, by god — until the end.

Now, Shop Boy’s no doubt made a few gaffes in this space that would make a gas station attendant blow soda out of his nose. But we won’t dwell on that.

We’re here to remember a group of guys — mostly — who invented and helped implement much of what is modern letterpress printing. Leading on a computer program? Once made of lead. Kerning? It sometimes involved reshaping lead letters by hand to make spacing between them more uniform. Shop Boy could feel that craftsmanship even in a Virginia printshop overrun by rodents and turned into a jumble by the passing years. But it was more than that.

These guys were, in a way, the keepers of the English language. In the end, that was all that many of them were allowed to offer. Lord knows, some of us kids needed the help.

Oh, some of them are still out there somewhere, printing away, which is why Shop Boy cringes whenever Mary tells people about my great skill at setting lead type. You know, pulling the old lead letters from the job case, arranging them with the proper spacing, etc., then tying off the form with string so that it can be carried around without spilling — or pie-ing.

Can I do it? Sure. But for Shop Boy, it’s still a tentative proposition. So I avoid using it for important jobs. This weekend, for instance, Mary had a brainstorm about how to use old, lead monogram initials for part of a design on a close friend’s personal notecard. I came up with 1,000 reasons why we shouldn’t do it the old way.

“Oh, come on, Shop Boy,” Mary insisted. “Do it.”

And 30 minutes after my whining subsided, the hand-set monogram was locked firmly into the chase and on the press. Now, believe me, Shop Boy’s efforts were nothing to write home about (real printers are scoffing at the notion that setting a simple monogram took a half-hour, and I got the initials reversed a few times). But, OK, it was a fun little reminder of why the old way was once so greatly valued.

The cards were beautiful, the cotton paper bearing witness to Mary’s wise choice in buying the old monogram set. The letters are in great shape.

She patted Shop Boy on the head, then immediately one-upped me by adding a couple of options — line rules to really make the card look finished. Took her three minutes. Quality stuff.


Letterpress List No. 31

How about an hour of music to diagram sentences or set type by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy video links are to YouTube.

Portrait (He Knew)Kansas (“More than me or you” … you or I?)
A Gallon of Gas the Kinks (Can’t be purchased anywhere for any amount of cash.)
American IdiotGreen Day (Quality either.)
Skills to Pay the Bills Beastie Boys (Money-making.)
Melt With You Modern English (Before fully digital newspapering.)
Sunday Papers Joe Jackson (Printers good; editors bad.)
Quality Control Jurassic 5 (Good job.)
The JokerSteve Miller Band (Ha-ha-ha.)
DumbNirvana (In the end, yes.)
SignsFive Man Electrical Band (Imagine that … me working for you.)
TributeTenacious D (They pied the type and lost the prize.)
RingoLorne Greene (“Under his heart was an ounce of lead.” Been there. Shop Boy remembers hearing this first on an old transistor radio and thinking … cool.)
Wrong WaySublime (Very wrong. But it feels right somehow.)
Tentative System of a Down (Channeling Shop Boy’s inner fears.)
Sink or Swimthe Waifs (Dive right in.)
Say What You Say
Eminem (A little trip down Memory Lane with Dr. Dre.)
ThinkAretha Franklin (And respect those who came before.)
Back in the DayBlues Traveler (There was a time …)

Go Ahead … Push

April 12, 2008

Most people hate football practice. It’s boring. It’s hard. It’s not as much fun as playing the game.

Shop Boy, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not most people. He loved football practice. Heck, it was his only chance to play against other guys as bad as he was — or even worse! Better than getting your head beaten in by a good team any day.

Yep, the CLCF (Cranston’s League for Cranston’s Future) Lightning Bolts were bad. And we didn’t like each other very much, either.

True story: At 15, Shop Boy was a much slighter fellow (weren’t we all?) at 5-foot-9 and just shy of 140 pounds. OK for a smallish running back or wide receiver, but those jobs were taken, so I volunteered to play on the — yikes — offensive line. Anyway, our quarterback, Shawn, thought he was a star, and cursed the linemen out before and after every play that failed. Most did. We eventually told him to knock it off, or else.

The “or else” was a play we of the offensive line secretly came up with. See, each time we got to the line of scrimmage, Shawn would call out “Down!” and “Set!” and the offensive line would shout out “Ready!” once we were in our three-point stances. Well, after one uncalled-for and extremely mean rant by Shawn against the guy next to me during a game, it was time. After “Down!” and “Set!” I called “Royal!” — the cue for the offensive linemen to lay down once the ball was snapped.

Oh, you should have been there. Six speeding defenders hitting our star QB at the same time. He was screaming, swearing at us and, yes, crying. A beautiful thing. The coach turned him into an extra wide receiver for his own safety.

The lesson, I guess, is that even Shop Boy can be pushed too far. So could the coach, who made me run about 2 million laps as punishment. Worth it.

What’s my point? Well, my mini-lecture last time on moving the Vandercook without damaging it got me to thinking that Shop Boy could have been a bit more, um, helpful than simply saying, “Don’t do it this way.” I thought about how we’d moved the Typecast Press Vandercooks — the No. 1 and the No. 3, at 400 and something like 1,200 pounds, respectively — around the shop by lifting the feet (with a johnson bar, sort of a long crowbar on wheels) and placing carpet remnants underneath, shag side down. Then you get a line of guys and you push, like a blocking sled in football practice. See?

What? Too big a leap? Too bad, Shawn … my blog. Cut me some slack, or else.

I was also thinking, how funny is it, with all of the amazing modern machinery around, that something as lowly as a carpet square could be the best way to move the seemingly immovable? That, yeah, brains beat brawn — you just know that the clever person who first utilized the carpet-square trick didn’t have a forklift handy. Even the pros, like the guys we use at North American Millwright, will tell you how often the most important tools are a johnson bar, wood blocks and a clear mind. (And believe me, if there is any doubt about whether you can safely move a machine yourself, why risk the heartache? Let the pros do it.)

Anyway, Shop Boy realized that he might have come across as some kind of know-it-all, a fairly laughable concept. Can you move a Vandercook with a forklift? Of course. But do you know how? Is there a better, safer way? Have you looked under your feet? Chances are that your rigger has. If he hasn’t, give him a nudge. We have a big move coming up in the next week or so, and you can bet Shop Boy will be taking notes.

Because these are all great old machines, well worth the 2 million laps or whatever it takes to safely move them.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about my lousy baseball career, like that one day … oh, OK, maybe next time.

Letterpress List No. 30: In Waves

April 9, 2008

Only Mary can take a mini-vacation to the beach and come home with a printing press … or three.

What’d the stuff do, wash ashore? Did her magnetic personality pull it away from some mermaid printing company? Is it pirate booty exposed by a storm? Did she find a bottle on the beach, set the genie free and get a wish granted? And if so, didn’t she ever hear of wishing to get money instead of wishing to, ahem, shell it out?


OK, settle down, Shop Boy. Breathe.

Dang! This was the bullet I thought we’d dodged a week ago when a letterpress dealer outbid us for the contents of a crazy old letterpress studio in a Washington, D.C., suburb, a building that needed to be demolished, pronto.

We’d been to see it. No one else had in about 15 years, since the previous owner died. His neighbors apparently hated him for building the two-story, cement-block structure (you could sort of see why) and the new owner is taking it down. The electricity has been shut off for some time, meaning it’s pitch black inside even during the day. Well, we grabbed as many flashlights as we could find — including Shop Boy’s geeky helmet light (no cameras, folks) — and went to look around.

There was a Miehle vertical older than the one we already have. No! There were two old hot-lead Intertypes. No and No! There were trays of really big, really heavy type. No! Old dies featuring designs from a book on Norwegian postal history or something. No!

Shop Boy was putting his foot down so much it was like an Irish jig.

Then there was the No. 4 in the corner, covered in mouse poop, its lowered rollers (ugh) having melted onto the steel cylinder that spreads the ink; the form in its bed glued in place by … I don’t even want to think about it; its hinges corroded; and its metal cabinet doors bent when it was apparently moved carelessly with a forklift.*

HOLY CRAP GRAIL: Typecast’s “new” Vandercook No. 4

For Mary, needless to say, it was love at first sight. And so she was very disappointed to learn on the ride home to Baltimore about missing out.

Not Shop Boy, who was relieved not to have to deal with salvaging the machines we thought worth taking: a Vandercook No. 01 tabletop press; the Vandercook No. 4 (with automatic inking — Shop Boy’s always whining about hand-cranking the ink roller on our No. 3); a rolling metal tray case; two turtles (cleverly retrofitted to hold shelves and spare rollers in the space beneath the steel top); and a bunch of old newsprint. Oh, we also liked the two C&Ps and the Ludlow (mostly used to print larger type like headlines), but had talked sense into ourselves.

Well, a few days had passed when Shop Boy’s phone rang at work. Mary was calling from the beach across the dunes from sister Melissa’s Massachusetts home. “We got the stuff. The dealer backed out!” Shop Boy was silent, stunned. “Hey, can you hear the sea?”

To Shop Boy, it sounded like a lucky break going down the drain.

*(If you are reading this and have bought or are planning to relocate a Vandercook press, DO NOT simply stick a forklift or a pallet jack under the metal cabinet and lift the machine. The base is made of a thinner steel than the top and will buckle if you don’t distribute the weight correctly. Trust Shop Boy on this one.)


Letterpress List No. 30

Here’s about an hour’s worth of music to disinfect by, or to simply let wash over you. Most tunes should be available in the usual places. Video links are to YouTube.

Mermaid Avenue the Klezmatics (Sweet, quirky old Woody Guthrie tune.)
DigMudvayne (Bury me.)
Genie in a BottleChristina Aguilera (Many a young man’s first wish.)
Money Ain’t a ThangJay-Z and Jermaine Dupri (Spending hundreds since they had small faces.)
FlashlightParliament Funkadelic (A head lamp distorts things. It fools you into thinking, for instance, that your head is clear of that beam. Ouch.)
Rainbow in the DarkRonnie James Dio (If Shop Boy plays it loud enough, it might melt the gunk.)
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea George Harrison (Hmm.)
I Got My Mind Made UpInstant Funk (Say whaaaaat?)
Never Is EnoughBarenaked Ladies (Never want to do that stuff.)
AlbatrossCorrosion of Conformity (Shop Boy’s ‘tross to bear.)
We’ve Got EverythingModest Mouse (And it’s all in need of a good cleaning.)
I Think I Smell a Rat White Stripes (OK, mice and rats can’t coexist. You’re so literal. Geez.)
What You Need INXS (These, them and those.)
Going UnderEvanescence (Gurgle, gurgle …)
My Name Is MudPrimus (I’ll make ’em shine.)
Help! — the Beatles (I do appreciate you being ’round, but please, please.)
Breathe (2 AM) Anna Nalick (Out with the bad, in with the good.)
Walking on Sunshine
Katrina and the Waves (Ah, that’s better.)

Roomie With a View

April 4, 2008

Is that a Miehle vertical in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Now Shop Boy has known a few thieves in his life, but only one person who could probably hide a printing press in his jacket. That would be John, a bright, streetwise smart aleck and my college roommate during our freshman and sophomore years. Funny dude. But we couldn’t go anywhere without him, um, snatching a souvenir. Health club? “I’m gonna ice me a racquet, Jack!” When Shop Boy protested, John would flash the special hand signal: “Don’t be a big (wimp).”

One day, John strutted out of a sporting goods store in his baby blue velour track suit with the handle of a purloined racquetball racket sticking out of his pants — the tag dangling over his butt, swear to god — and nobody batted an eye. When it comes to stealing, some people just “have it.”

After two years, though, Shop Boy’d “had it.” Oh, I don’t know. The rubbing alcohol-fueled bonfire in our room one night might have been the clincher on that deal. But I switched majors … and dorms. With no one left to torment, John dropped out of college shortly afterward.

And Shop Boy went to the opposite extreme: Kevin, for whom Shop Boy would be a bit of a drain. He preferred jogging and studying to a cold beer before the first class of the morning. Pop-Tarts and a brewski? Not Kevin: Orange juice and an open book.

He thus graduated early, leaving my side of the suite open to the freshman little brother — they hated each other, but mom insisted — of the guy who played electric guitar so badly next door. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin. Six months of it. Oh man. Guy was no Jimmy Page. More Beavis and Butt-head:

Da … da … da … dadada … dadadadada … da … dadada …

See what Mary missed?

Mary didn’t have a roommate in college. Shop Boy was — gasp! — her first roommate other than her younger sister. But between four older sisters (five total) and the aforementioned roommates, I’d been house trained by then.

So Mary has barely an inkling of what a cool roommate Chris Hartlove is. Our photographer suitemate is the guy who opened his doors to our first little 1,200-pound bundle of joy. Who sacrificed half of his space so Typecast Press could be born. Who has let us monopolize his studio with our spillover during the many rehab projects. Who has now offered more of his space for stray letterpress stuff and to let our idea for a lounge(!) move forward. And who, fyi, would be all over the Pop-Tarts and brewski for breakfast idea.

But even snug in the cubbyhole that used to be his darkroom, with a dedicated work table his only demand for the rest of his studio, Chris has boundaries. On the day the Heidelberg windmill showed up, he looked at Shop Boy. “That’s your last press, right?” Chris asked, adding sternly: “I ain’t leaving.”

Point taken.

Mary: “I don’t know why Chris feels like we’re trying to crowd him out.”

I mean, she even bought him a Typecast Press lab coat so he’d feel like part of the team.

And she was really taken aback when, as we returned from a trip to Virginia to look over yet another press, Chris greeted us with: “OK, how big is this one?”

Shop Boy patted him on the shoulder and reassured him. “It’s OK, we got outbid.”

“I ain’t leaving,” he said.

Shop Boy got him a beer and decided he should tell Mary about a couple of guys he once knew …

And to lay in some Pop-Tarts.

Letterpress List No. 29: Enter the Jiggler

April 1, 2008

The first time we tangled, Shop Boy barely lived to tell about it. Apparently, I’d underestimated my smaller opponent. From my knees, bowed if unbroken, I made a silent vow that it would not happen again.

(And somewhere in the distance, a gong sounds.)

Yes, Shop Boy made a blood oath to never, ever again mess with the paper jogger, a crazy old electric contraption that hums and vibrates to, it is said, get many sheets of paper perfectly aligned so you cut them evenly. (I can’t even look at it without thinking of a 1940s image of housewives standing with big belts around their waists that were supposed to jiggle away the fat.

Shop Boy started calling it the Jiggler … and eventually Mary stopped sharply correcting me.)

You’d probably underestimate this thing, too. It’s maybe 16 inches long and 12 inches wide, less than a foot high. It sits on steel springs and has a wooden top. Oh, and it has a million pounds or so of cast iron in its body.

Was cast iron, like, free or something back then? Geez.

You should have heard the excitement in Mary’s voice when she called one day to say she’d found the jogger in an old Baltimore printshop. Shop Boy thought she’d lost her marbles. (Of course, that’s the default setting by now.)

Shop Boy: “It does what, now?”

Mary: “Trust me, we neeeeed this.”

So we got it. Then it almost got me.

A simple act, Shop Boy thought. Pick up the jogger from the floor and set it upon a workbench by the guillotine paper cutter. Without too much thought (hush!), Shop Boy bent, grabbed and stood.

Now, if you’ve watched the Olympic weightlifting competitions, you know what these strongmen do when they realize they’ve bitten off way more than they can chew. They drop the bar and jump back, getting their limbs out of the crumple zone. Doing so here would very likely have destroyed the machine, breaking Mary’s heart. So that option was out for Shop Boy — no Olympic weightlifter but a guy with a Herculean fear of failure and/or humiliation that has driven him to a few spectacular, if occasionally dumb, displays of strength. (Look, I never said I was the brains of the operation.)

Instead, Shop Boy leaned forward, put his forehead against the wall as a brace of sorts and slowly, slowly, slowly sank to his knees — as his hairline receded — extending his arms until the springs mercifully touched the floor. Then Shop Boy stood up, made sure there were no witnesses, kicked himself and went to get a hand truck.

And when, with great effort, the jogger had finally been set in its place, Shop Boy was done with it.

It was where it would be. Eternally. Period. End of backache.

Well, you know how if you move one piece of furniture in your living room, suddenly everything has to be shuffled? Mary gets a new, bigger, better guillotine installed in the other half of the Typecast Press studio space and decides that it only makes sense that this is where the jogger should now reside.

Must … Remember … Oath.

Sigh. Shop Boy shuffled glumly off to get the hand truck and get it over with. Then it hit him: the “turtle.”

Now this object you’d never take lightly, believe me. It’s a steel, perfectly flat-topped table set on cast-iron (of course) legs and hard rubber wheels. It’s designed to help move heavy type forms from where they’re set up over to the press for the actual printing. Rolling thunder. I mean loud. But what was one more flurry of decibels in the racket of an old printshop?

We’d picked up the turtle a while back as a throw-in on the Miehle press. As in, it hadn’t been used in 30 years, weighed a ton and was in the way of progress. The negotiations went something like this: “That hunk of junk? It is all yours. Get it out of here.”

And thus the Jiggler was about to meet its match. By lowering a corner at a time, Shop Boy eased the jogger onto the turtle and we were off — loudly — down the hall. In a matter of minutes, if not without a little more effort, the jogger was where it would be.

Eternally. Period. End of …

Oh, forget it.


Letterpress List No. 29

How about an hour’s worth of music appropriate for when you’re applying ice to strained areas? Light favorites? Forget it. This is the Land of Letterpress, where we like it heavy and only the strong survive. Or something …

Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

StrongmanLuscious Jackson (Standing by a strong woman.)
Hurt — Nine Inch Nails (This still kills Shop Boy.)
I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) Meat Loaf (Go ahead, call Shop Boy a wimp. Besides, check this out and tell me if this isn’t what Glenn Danzig would look like if he stopped working out and hit Satan’s all-you-can-eat buffet.)
Comfortably NumbPink Floyd (Can you show me where it hurts?)
Nothing Else MattersMetallica (OK, but it’s a power ballad.)
MistachuckChuck D (Even his voice got muscles in it.)
Don’t Be Stupid Shania Twain (Absurd and ridiculous, maybe …)
How Bad Do You Want It?Don Henley (Badly enough, apparently.)
Move It On Over George Thorogood (Bad to the bones.)
Good Vibrations
the Beach Boys (Mary insists.)
Shake It Upthe Cars (Where has the time gone?)
Sabotagethe Beastie Boys (The only explanation.)
The Impression That I Getthe Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Knock on wood.)
Money for NothingDire Straits (Oh, that’s how you do it.)
I Like to Move It, Move ItReel 2 Real — and from “Madagascar” (Just this once … maybe twice.)
Happy Together the Turtles (Strength in numbers.)
Gonna Make You Sweat
C+C Music Factory (The fat lady sings … just not in the video.)