Letterpress List No. 39: All Clammy

My brother-in-law told me to stick it.

Oh, he had his reasons, I suppose. My oldest sister, Margaret, was visiting with husband Dante Laorenza II (ahem) and we needed to get the show on the road. A local restaurant had called. Our client had just noticed that it needed menus and coasters, like, now.

Is there an echo in here?

Great. So we piled Margaret and Dan into the car and dashed over to Typecast Press. There, they had to sit and watch while we sweated through a menu run. Letterpress as a spectator sport? Not so much.

Shop Boy wanted to give Dan a shot at running the hand-fed, 12X18 Chandler & Price — who doesn’t want to get their hands on/in these old machines, right? Instead, I just had to crash the menus out. Black first. Print and set aside. Clean press. Sweat buckets. Red next. Stack, print, stack, package, run to the restaurant. Dash back. Clean press. Sweat more.

Did Shop Boy mention that he was on vacation? Oh, don’t get me started.

We talked the restaurant into waiting a day for coasters, which was cool because then I could let Dan try out the press feeding … left-handed, of course.

But only if we could get the stinking adhesive backing of the polymer coaster plate to, um, adhere. This had been an issue during the winter, and we chalked it up then to the cold.

Guess not. Because it was at least 85 degrees in the shop as we waited for the A/C to cool things down. And the sucker was not sticking to the Boxcar base — the chunk of steel that makes polymer plates type high. Again we ended up simply taping the plate to the base as best we could. Shop Boy ran a few practice coasters, then called in the ringer. Dan’s a printer by trade — modern offset stuff. (Margaret’s a personal trainer.) He hadn’t run a C&P in about 30 years, but he was game.

True story: It was Dan who helped get me my favorite — if craziest — high school job at the chowder hall of the now defunct Rocky Point amusement park in Warwick, R.I. Dan supplied many of the old photos for and appears in a documentary they made about the place, You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park. I haven’t seen it yet, but can’t wait. At the Shore Dinner Hall, we washed tureens that had been filled with and mostly emptied of red clam chowder and plates that had held clamcakes (for any southerners out here, think hush puppies with tons of pepper and a few clam bits) and watermelon. We also unloaded produce trucks and did general food prep.

CHOWDAH DOWNSTAIRS, BOYS!

This was the cue for us to come to the kitchen, where we’d grab a huge, heavy, steaming metal pot of chowder and carry it down the steep, curving, concrete steps to the takeout window at street level. That was a challenge, man. And Mike and Shop Boy were always the first to come running. (The girls at the takeout window — wow.) Anyway, Mike was extremely tall and Shop Boy was and ever shall be less than vertically gifted. So imagine the two of us, like Laurel and Hardy, each hanging onto one handle, negotiating this staircase without tipping the pot and scalding ourselves. Hah. Just let it out — owwwwwwwwww! — and keep moving. Flirting with the girls was the perfect balm, and even (almost) worth this:

BATTAH DOWNSTAIRS, BOYS!

Clamcake batter (hey, it’s Rhode Island — aka Ro Dylin), heavy as lead. Same drill. At least it didn’t burn.

The boss, Conrad Sr., was a madman. His son, on the wrong day, was flat scary. Shop Boy kind of knew he was in trouble with old crankypants when one day we were peeling sack after sack of onions and I thought it would be funny to make up really sad stories. Well, soon were all crying our eyes out — oh, the onions! — wailing and laughing ourselves silly.

Conrad walked in just as we began hyperventilating and went all Vince Lombardi on us. He was a jerk, but he wasn’t stupid, and Conrad pretty quickly figured out who was behind the nonsense.

“You. I don’t think I like you very much,” he snapped at Shop Boy.

Oops.

Another ominous sign: Shop Boy biked a pretty long distance to work, but arrived early enough to change out of the sweaty clothes and into work gear. Conrad was waiting one morning. “What the hell you doing showing up at my place like this?” As I tried to explain my routine, he pulled me sweaty clothes and all into the kitchen, opened the door to the cooler and ordered me inside. I’d cut a shipment of watermelon the previous evening, neatly stacked the pieces six to a plate and set them in the cooler. (Dan’s dad, the original Dante and a really nice man, taught me to cut the melons rapid fire with a machete. And I worry about being maimed by presses. Hah.) Well, a third of the plates were now empty and watermelon rinds were all over the place. The wait staff, grazing as usual.

“You clean this up,” Conrad spat at me, sticking his finger in my face, “and you stand in here and you tell anybody who comes in here to eat my watermelon don’t come in here and eat my watermelon.”

Then there was the day I called in sick — not, amazingly, from standing in the cooler.

“What kinda sick you got?” Conrad demanded. (Shop Boy clearly was not convincing enough.) “You call me tomorrow and I tell you if I need you anymore.”

He didn’t.

Shop Boy felt crummy — not so much about being fired because I was leaving for college soon anyway, but for letting down Dan and his dad, Dante Laorenza I.

D.L. II has never give me a hard time about it. And he’s been great about sharing cross-platform printing tips.

“Did you ever try a different kind of backing for these plates? Like Sticky Back?” he asked as Shop Boy desperately held the plate against the metal base, arms stuck in the mouth of the C&P, while Mary grabbed the tape. Turns out the adhesive backing we’ve been using is not the only type available. It came with our first plates and we just kept on with it. Having worked a long time in the business, Dan is sure he can find something that will do the trick. Just in case, he took a couple of our old plates to do some experimenting with.

Filled with gratitude, Shop Boy did what anyone would do in the situation. I put Dan to work.

Well, offset schmoffset. Once he stopped his right hand from involuntarily feeding the coasters on the wrong side of the guides — Mary! — the 30 years melted away. In no time flat, Shop Boy was dropping off the finished coasters and breathing a sigh of relief.

And Dan was getting a taste of our local bit of seafood weirdness, the crabcake.

His take?

Sticking with clamcakes.

***

Letterpress List No. 39

How about an hour’s worth of music to take your mind off a bad boss or, heck, just to eat watermelon by. Pass the machete. Most of these tunes should be available at the usual places. Great and goofy video links are to YouTube.

Echo — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (There may have been a girl … at the takeout window … but there never was a kiss.)
Vacationthe Go-Gos (All I ever wanted.)
Bicycle RaceQueen (Saving on a change of clothes.)
Sweating BulletsMegadeth (A misfit’s way of life.)
ClocksColdplay (I was in the cooler for about two hours. Number of waiters/waitresses stopped from eating watermelon: 0)
Too Cool to Be ForgottenLucinda Williams (Hey-hey.)
I’m Chillin’Kurtis Blow (Old school.)
Stone Cold Rainbow (Seemed cool at the time.)
Girls in Their Summer ClothesBruce Springsteen (The Boss.)
Summertime GirlsY&T (Can’t help yourself when you’re 18.)
Peelin’ TatersJunior Brown (Doing dumb things to cool music.)
Fired Ben Folds (Never get sick of it.)
Can I Get Get Get Junior Senior — (All shapes and sizes.)
Walk This Way — Aerosmith (A wonder they could walk at all.)
Rhode Island Is Famous for You — Erin McKeown (The old Blossom Dearie tune.)
Wait and Bleed Slipknot (Oddly decipherable for these guys.)
The Hand That FeedsNine Inch Nails (Welcome back, Dan. Letterpress has missed you.)
BreatheNickelback (When these guys rock, they rock. Other times? Ewww.)

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One Response to “Letterpress List No. 39: All Clammy”

  1. Dan P. Says:

    I found your blog googling “Shore Dinner Hall.” I worked there in the mid-70’s; mainly as a busboy, but I also spent some time in the kitchen.

    Danny Laorenza (I) was a great guy, and was always nice to me, even though I was a nobody. I can still see him in my mind’s eye — wearing a fishing hat and an apron — chopping through 10,000 watermelons with that machete.

    Your description of Conrad Sr. is pretty dead-on. I could appreciate his point of view, though. He was paying us to work, and you had better be working when you crossed his field of vision. Remember that huge collection of keys he wore on his belt? Those keys would jingle so loudly when he walked, you could hear him coming from a mile away. I always kept a rag in my pocket so I would be ready to polish something (anything!) at a moment’s notice.

    He never got pissed at me, although on one occasion I thought he was going to brain me. He was trying to tell me to use a long wooden oar to turn on a fan that was mounted high in the wall of the kitchen in the Palladium. With his Sicilian accent, I couldn’t decipher what he was telling me. He started getting really agitated. So agitated, he was literally vibrating. So his accent just got thicker, and more indecipherable. I was afraid he thought I was mocking him. When he picked up the oar, I figured I was a goner. When he used the oar to turn on the fan, I finally figured out what he had been saying. An old buddy of mine still mocks me for my reaction — “Oh … the fan!”

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