Sit. Stay.

Chairs are like the stray dogs of the Mashburns’ world, always following somebody home. A Mashburn can never resist letting them in the door. And once they’re in, they’re staying.

No matter how mangy. No matter how unsteady or lame. Sometimes they can even be a bit menacing.

True story: Once, when Mary’s parents were visiting our Baltimore home, we were discussing possible spots to hang a piece of art that had been “won” at an auction, “Heart Attack” — a chair whose seat is made of thumbtacks. (!) Its back is window screening patterned in the shape of a heart, including wire mesh “fringe.” Shop Boy thought about the available wall space a moment, and said, “Well, if this were my house …”

Then I caught myself, but not before Mary’s mom and dad started guffawing. Once they’d caught their breath, they suggested to an unamused Mary that maybe Shop Boy needed a spot in the house that was “all his.” This, by the way, was how we ended up with a third-floor office that drew this response from a friend’s 9-year-old: “Wow! How old is your little boy?”


See, a lack of “usability” is not a deal-breaker for Mary and her people. So, we got chairs.

Like the rickety folding wooden job that we use for prospective clients at the Typecast Press printshop. (We haven’t lost anybody that way … yet.)

So when Lou Marzullo — a longtime Baltimore-area printer and letterpress guy — showed up one day with what sort of resembled a chair in the back of his truck, Shop Boy just rolled his eyes.

To me, the thing looked like an old high school chair seat stuck atop erector set legs, with a steel back that was full of holes, as though some trick shooter had sprayed it in a show of skill. Oh, and one corner of the back had been bent forward a bit somehow, so it poked the sitter just below the shoulder blade. The end of the steel legs had been hammered under as “feet.” Ugly as sin. But at least it was apparently sturdy.

Shop Boy suggested that, once Lou left, we should take the chair outside and shoot it one last time.

“No, Shop Boy. This is a very famous and historic chair,” Mary explained, so excited about her new pet. “It’s a linotype chair! It’s the first ergonomic chair, designed so the user could tip the seat forward or backward for comfort and raise or lower it as well. And the legs were specially designed so the chair could push away from the machine if the hot lead spurted.”

“Specially designed … yeah, right,” Shop Boy said. “Some dude built it from scrap.”

“You’re wrong, Shop Boy. And I’ll prove it.” She walked over to the computer and called up a website that had an old catalog. There it was in all its, um, glory (bullet holes barely visible).

“Geez. People actually bought that? For, like, money?”

Anyway, I’m sure that on Tuesday night at the printshop — actually 1 a.m. Wednesday, ugh — the homely chair had to be getting the last laugh as Shop Boy, dog tired but with a press to clean, leaned back against the job-tray cabinet and nodded off … standing up.


Hey, speaking of dogs, something funny just struck me.

True story: When Shop Boy-to-be was 15, he was laid up by surgery for about three months. At about the same time, Mom adopted a puppy — a little beagle named … Kelsey. Guess I should have seen all this letterpress stuff coming. Or maybe I did, because I refused to call him anything but “Binky.”

“Don’t Call Me Binky”: My second Kelsey

Shop Boy won’t bore you with how the whole St. Angelo-pets thing worked out. We were no Mashburns. But know this: When you walked into our house and saw a chair, chances are good that you could actually sit in it.


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