Archive for July, 2008

Don’t Count on It

July 31, 2008

After almost 30 years, you learn that one of your most trusted friends has been misleading you.

That stings.

We were making the final cut on business cards that we’d printed, and Shop Boy could see that Mary was getting really upset about something. “Why are you doing this to me?” she cried. “It doesn’t make sense!”

She held a card to the light, the nook of her favorite pica pole — a metal ruler or, as many call it, a pica stick (inches on one side, picas and points on the other) — to the top of the card and her eyes not believing what she was seeing at the card’s bottom.

“Why is this not two inches? The paper cutter setting says two inches, but no matter how many test cuts I do, it doesn’t measure two inches when I take it out.”

She stared at the card, stared at the pica pole and let out an exasperated “This is ridiculous!” Then she went back to the cutter for another test.

Now, to a printer — and to former newspaper folks of a certain age, like Mary and Shop Boy — the pica pole might as well be a totem pole: a worshiped symbol of work done to exacting standards by our revered predecessors; a reminder of a craftsmanship that we vow never to let be forgotten.

Newspaper columns are still set to pica widths, and until about 1990, we’d use the pica pole and a percentage wheel to increase or decrease the size of pictures to fit the layout. The camera room — how quaint — would blow up or shrink the art based on our calculations. Mess up the measurement and there’d be screaming and yelling. Set your type column widths wrong and, yes, there’d be screaming and yelling. It’s a wonder we’re not deaf.

I’m not kidding. Printers in the backshop of the Baltimore Sun, in fact, used to bid farewell to retiring comrades by ceremonially “banging them out” — drumming their pica poles in salute against any metal surface they could find as the printer walked proudly toward the door. Very moving, but what a racket!

Anyway, as Mary and Shop Boy have moved around, the trusty sticks have come with us.

But now the old pica pole was at the other end of the Typecast Press studio, so Mary picked up a new, longer metal ruler she’d purchased just for the Chandler & Price cutter and used that to measure a freshly cut card. Two inches, on the button.

“What? No way,” Mary said as she stomped across the studio. She picked up the old pica pole, laid it against the new one and gasped. “Oh, my god. It’s wrong!

Shop Boy: “Which one? Was the new one made in China or something?”

Mary: “No! The old one! I don’t believe it! I’ve used it for everything! For years! And it’s all been wrong!

Shop Boy: “Well, consistency is good, right?”

Mary about rapped my knuckles as she slammed the pica pole onto the counter. She laid yet another rule against it and, yep, it was still inaccurate. “Ugh! Mark this stupid pica pole so we know that it’s only to be used for a straight edge from now on,” she hissed.

Shop Boy gave the offending pica pole a disapproving look and pulled out the white tape. I measured out two inches, stuck it at about the two-inch marking on the ruler and made a little note with black marker:

“I LIE!”

That should teach it.

Letterpress List No. 45: A Clipped Answer

July 29, 2008

“Nice job on the menus, Shop Boy,” Mary said cheerfully. “What a huge pile you printed.”

Then she looked around.

“Um, Shop Boy … where’s the rest of the paper for … oh, no. That wasn’t for the menus!

Oh, boy.

True story: We lived in a small, brick-front bungalow on South Pearl Street in Denver. Great house. Along one side of the bungalow was a concrete path to the back yard. Along the other side was a path back to a locked gate to that same yard. In front of the gate was a bush — just a huge thing at the height of the season. Well, at one point Shop Boy became convinced that the dense greenery could potentially hide burglars or manglers or whatever — maybe even a jaguar. It was that lush.

I decided to trim it back just a bit.

You know how this goes, right? A little off here, a little off the other side to match it. A little off the top … wait, it’s uneven. A little more off this side, a little more off that side, a little more off the top. Geez. That doesn’t look right at all.

Our neighbor Elizabeth walked up just as Shop Boy had finally achieved perfect evenness.

“Hey, Cousin Bobby!” she chirped.

“Excuse me?” asked Shop Boy.

She explained that her aunt had one day asked a son, who was a bit “slow,” as they used to say, to trim the hedges. An hour later, she looked out the window and shrieked as she saw his handiwork: perfectly even stumps.

Mary arrived just as Elizabeth was finishing the story, took one look at what was left of the bush, looked at Shop Boy and began howling. Man, I thought I was going to have to dial 911. “It’s the plant that needs an ambulance, Cousin Bobby!” she squealed.

Anyway, I know Mary was thinking about that day in Denver as she looked at me and my menus that way in the printshop.

“You poor little man,” Mary whispered as she hugged Shop Boy. “It’s OK. Now we have a nice menu supply for the next emergency order. But it means we have to cut more paper.”

Talk about paying for your mistakes. The paper we use for the 12″ X 12″ Woodberry Kitchen menus is Neenah Environment. It’s a nice, sturdy, textured white paper that’s better for the planet than many papers and apparently repels simple spills, such as do happen in restaurants from time to time. It’s also a big pain to cut. And, dang, do they go through a lot of menus.

Each box of Environment contains 300 sheets — 26″ X 40″ — at oh, let’s say 500 pounds a box. OK, Shop Boy’s being dramatic. But it’s got to be 125 anyway. Carrying this stuff to the cutter, about 50 sheets at a time, is a big, clumsy assignment. So you should see the Fed Ex guy’s face when he shows up with two boxes of it, our usual order, having lugged it up the 15 stairs to the door of Typecast Press.

Bam! He tips the boxes off the dolly and they bang to the floor. “Sign it!” he barks, and then he stomps away.

Now the boxes are my problem. I look them over. No outward sign of distress. But with shipping paper, there’s always damage somewhere. Mary’s gotten so that she simply expects at least one bad corner.

“Just take a little off the top, Shop Boy … no, wait a minute.”


Letterpress List No. 45

How about an hour’s worth of music to seek balance — or just do a little yard work — by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Everything ZenBush (I don’t think so.)
Carry On Wayward SonKansas (Wait! Stop!)
I Don’t Feel Like DancingScissor Sisters (Not at all.)
Hip to Be SquareHuey Lewis and the News (It is, ahem, a rather cool menu.)
Hide and SeekImogen Heap (Of course, Shop Boy only meant well.)
CriminalFiona Apple (She could hide behind a fencepost.)
Stairway to HeavenLed Zeppelin (Um, ma’am? There’s apparently a bustle in your hedgerow.)
Jeepster T.Rex (“I’d call you jaguar if I may be so bold.”)
George of the Junglethe Presidents of the United States of America. (Watch out for that … um, it was just here a minute ago. Bobby!)
American Idiot Green Day (Only because it’s a great song, mind you.)
Eat to the BeatBlondie (I recommend the rockfish.)
Loser Beck (A termite choking on a splinter.)
Bad, Bad Leroy BrownJim Croce (A treetop lover.)
Girl U WantDevo (Hanging with Leroy.)
My City Was Gone the Pretenders (Where there was greenery, now only pavement.)
Lookin’ Out My Back DoorCreedence Clearwater Revival (Doo-doo-doo, d’oh!)
King of the Mountain Southern Culture on the Skids (“If your cousin comes ’round, be sure to give a holler.”)

Summer Games 2008: Clean, Jerk

July 24, 2008

All the hype leading up to next month’s Olympic Games in Beijing got Shop Boy thinking.

No, not about the 10-kilometer open-water swimming event. I try not to think about human beings splashing around in Chinese lakes or bays. Know what I mean? Ewww! (Remember, this is the nation that, lacking park land, spray-painted large swaths of concrete green to look like grassy meadows to the Olympic inspectors flying overhead. Maybe they’ll just dump blue ink into the polluted water.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the Olympian effort it takes to set up and run a letterpress printshop: from buying, begging, borrowing and stealing the tools of the trade to getting everything in top shape — and keeping it there. Heavy lifting, for sure.

See, Shop Boy has this hang-up — surprise! — about a clean shop. I feel like we’ve worked too hard to give Mary a nice, neat, even pretty place to work not to get a little twitchy looking around at the current state of affairs. Dirty galley trays we’ve acquired sitting in crooked stacks behind the Miehle Vertical. A Vandercook No. 4 still awaiting its top-to-bottom, inside-and-out restoration job. A rusted rattletrap of a turtle (a rolling steel table). Not to mention the dust bunnies and spiderwebs. And piles of paper … who knows what is in there?

I know what you’re saying: It’s a stinking printshop, for crying out loud!

Understood. But it’s my stinking printshop — OK, Mary’s — and so Shop Boy feels crummy anytime I let the little messes become bigger ones.

Which brings us to the Shop Boy 2008 Summer Games in Baltimore.

Events you’re likely to find me competing in come August:

  • Tray-athlon: The world record for de-rusting and then cleaning a tray is five minutes. My personal best is 15 minutes. There are 70 trays. Do the math.
  • Equestrian: In which an irritated, sweaty, tired Shop Boy — on tray No. 52, say — gets a little horsey.
  • Clean and Jerk: Since the Vandercook’s placed too close to the wall, contestants in this event must lean across the No. 4’s bed, one foot on the ground and arms dangling, to clean the back side. Then, a team of six must yank and push the 1,600-pound press into its permanent position.
  • Synchronized Swearing: Involves stringing together four-letter words in rapid succession. Shop Boy was a silver medalist in 2004. (Mary beat me by this &%$#-ing much.)
  • Hammer Throw: Duck.
  • Decaf-lon: Ordered by Mary, Shop Boy makes an all-out effort to chill.
  • Beer Run: Up the street and back. Ah, runner’s high.
  • Uneven Parallel Universe: Shop Boy realizes he’s being a nut … and goes home to take a nap.

Letterpress List No. 44: Follow Directions

July 22, 2008

So I’m directionally impaired … there was no need for Mary to start cursing.

“You don’t know where the (bad word) you are, do you?”

We were brand new to Baltimore, meaning we’d moved there five or six years before. Hey, in Baltimore, that is brand new. And it takes Shop Boy a little time to get used to his surroundings.

Like when we lived in Denver, Mary would get frustrated with me when I’d get turned around. (This was basically whenever I got behind the wheel.) “The mountains are west, Shop Boy. Just look at the mountains!

This helped a bunch amid the glass towers of downtown.

Somehow I just don’t learn directions as well by driving — something about watching the road or whatever. Walking? Now there you go. I could tell Mary more about Denver’s 16th Street pedestrian mall than she could stand to hear: “Oh, that restaurant? It’s at 16th and Arapahoe. When you see a red awning, you’re close. Look for the bent street sign, an odd metal sculpture — the sidewalk bricks get a little slippery if they’ve just hosed them down — and probably a bunch of skateboarders hanging out near where the shuttle bus goes by, and you’ve found it.”


But put Shop Boy in a car, and sometimes I forget my place.

True story: Our friends Jen Delaney and Martin Fogarty were in Baltimore for the day and Martin allowed as how he’d been watching Barry Levinson movies recently — you know, Tin Men, Diner, Avalon, Liberty Heights — and would love to see the Baltimore spots featured in the local boy’s movies.

So with Mary at the wheel and Shop Boy in the navigator’s seat, we headed out. “Can you point out where we are on the map?” Martin asked from the back seat. Shop Boy pointed toward the general area at the northwestern section of the map. A few moments later, Martin asked again, and Shop Boy gave a general indication that we were somewhere on the right-hand page. A few moments later, an agitated Martin asked again for Shop Boy to pinpoint on the map exactly where we were.

A few moments later, Shop Boy was in the back seat and Martin was our navigator.


Why didn’t Martin just say at the outset that he’s a map freak. That, as a brainy kid on a farm in Ireland, he’d send away to travel and cruise companies for info on exotic vacations, just so they’d send him maps. In seconds flat, he was all over Levinson’s favorite spots. Apparently, you could drop this dude in Outer Mongolia, hand him a compass and a pencil — OK, and a Guinness — and he could map the way home quicker than Shop Boy could say, “Where am I?” Yes, you could call that amazing.

Shop Boy calls it a parlor trick. Hmmph!

All right, I guess it’s pretty neat …

But where was I?

Lost … movies … movies are made out West … the mountains are west … Colorado … near Nebraska … Porridge Paper’s in Nebraska. Paper! We’re cutting paper!

What? Did Shop Boy lose you? Follow along, folks.

Of course we’re talking about cutting paper.

See, when you’re figuring out the bid for any printing project, a key element is how much paper you’ll need. Few of us small letterpress shops have the storage space to warehouse all the paper we use, so we buy it in batches to fit the job. It’s often so expensive that you want to know exactly how many sheets of paper you’ll need. Well, to find that number, you need to figure out — for instance — how many 4.5″ X 6″ pieces can be cut from a single 22″ X 34″ parent sheet.

Which way does the grain go? Also key, as this can influence impression and, especially, scoring if you’ve got a fold. Which is the “factory” edge, a side that you can use as your “straight” measure? Since Porridge is handmade paper, you might need to create your own “straight” edge somehow. And how many sheets can/should you cut at once? If the paper’s soft, you might need to use extra chip board to prevent crush marks from the cutter’s clamp. And which cut should be first? Don’t forget to figure in a few extra pieces for make-ready if the registration’s tricky.

OK, then. The grain’s running east-west on a 22″ X 34″ rough-edged parent sheet. How can you carve out the most 4.5″ X 6″ cards with the least waste? Which cut is first? And how many parent sheets will you need to print 175 cards, with 25 left over as samples?

Don’t ask Shop Boy. He’s still trying to make heads or tails of Mary’s, um, road map. Check this out:

Let’s see Martin find his way using that.


Letterpress List No. 44

Hey, before we get to the list, a quick update on Artscape weekend 2008. First off, it was full, screaming hot and humid. (Told you.) Low point: Chub didn’t show with the Heaven and Hell art car. (Maybe it melted on the way.) Musical high point: Joan Jett. (The theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Wow!) Most important point: Mary had a good time. OK, Shop Boy, too.

Now, how about an hour of music to get lost in or to simply help you regain your cool? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great video links are to YouTube.

StandR.E.M. (Now face west … which is, um, that way, I think.)
Turn This Car Around Tom Petty (I’m going back.)
Terminus EldoradoTed Nugent (No control of the sitchy-ation.)
Drive AwayHalfcocked (The fuzzy dice sway to the time you’re making.)
SummerlandEverclear (Just a name on the map …)
Heading Out to the HighwayJudas Priest (Nothing to lose … except your way.)
Must of Got LostJ. Geils Band (Maybe once or twice.)
The Devil’s in My Carthe B-52s (And she’s dropping F-bombs.)
BaltimoreNina Simone (It’s hard. Couldn’t find a link to her version. Here’s the author’s.)
The Mountains Win AgainBlues Traveler (They never move, Shop Boy.)
King of the RoadRoger Miller (When I’m walking.)
Walk This WayAerosmith (And look for the stop sign with the bullet hole in the lower left corner.)
Which Way Is Up Stargard (That I’ve got.)
VertigoU2 (Most of the time, that is.)
Long Walk Back to San AntoneJunior Brown (Don’t accept rides from strangers.)
Ridin’ With James DeanJoan Jett (One wrong turn.)
Do You Know the Way to San Jose?Dionne Warwick (Hang a left at Baltimore. You can’t miss it.)

The Fine Art of Panic

July 17, 2008

Want to plan ahead to miss the hottest weather of the year in Baltimore? Look on the city’s cultural calendar for which July weekend will feature the annual Artscape festival of music, food and … duh! … art, then call your travel agent to book you a flight to somewhere … anywhere … that isn’t Baltimore.

I mean hot! Never fails.

It’s also Mary’s favorite weekend of the year to be a Baltimorean. About 1 million people (really … I counted) of all cultural backgrounds and ages show up at the bottom of our little street over a three-day period to wander, sweat, eat, sweat, listen to music, sweat, try to find parking, sweat, buy stuff and sweat in a spirit of peace, love and sunshine. Oh, and they sweat, too.

Shop Boy? Married to the biggest fan of Artscape there is. He wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world.


Oh, heck. Mary and Shop Boy end up having a good time each year. I mean, once we get through my initial complaining about the heat and my insane fear of being in peoples’ way — Mary insists that Shop Boy must begin owning his personal space but, yikes, there really are about 1 million folks to potentially inconvenience! And Artscape is cool. We usually find a piece by a deserving artist that we just can’t live without. Festival food rules! (Mary recommends going Caribbean. Oh, and don’t miss the mango lassi, a non-alcoholic tropical drink.) And it couldn’t be a shorter walk to and from the thing. We live practically next door to the Maryland Institute College of Art, whose “campus” serves as the festival’s main site. So I can always run away home!

Still, Shop Boy’s a bit twitchy over Mary’s plan for an Artscape of the future: the one that features a Typecast Press booth. Gulp. That’s us! Is she crazy?

First of all is the deadline pressure. I just know we’ll be producing stuff and setting up the booth until the very … last … second. See, we’re both products of the news business, but we handle the time pressure, um, differently. Shop Boy works frantically to beat the deadline and thus keep the heat to a minimum. Mary, as you might have guessed already, embraces the pressure. She’s brilliant with the clock ticking. She thinks Shop Boy’s way cheats one of the full experience, to which Shop Boy answers: Amen.

At one newspaper, the Middletown Times Herald-Record in New York state, she occasionally pushed just a little bit past the stated deadline to the “drop-dead” deadline — the point at which the production crew would start screaming — so that she could know next time exactly how much time she really had versus what she’d been told. Now that she’s the production crew, Mary knows that modus operandi won’t fly. (But she’s still got it in her, I know.)

Secondly, Shop Boy dreads being one of those, um, lonely booths. We’ve all seen them. Populated by folks who’d had such high hopes for visitors and sales only to spend most of the weekend smiling desperately at passing strangers.

Shop Boy once held a party and nobody came. So what if was 30 years ago? That feeling doesn’t leave you.

Mary, of course, says not to worry. She’ll just stand me, looking completely miserable, out in front of the booth. The crowds will come. I’ve mentioned this before: Shop Boy’s discomfort apparently makes others think I must be hiding something amazing. Rutabagas. Cottage cheese. Head cheese. Whatever. Shop Boy’s a walking blue-light special, for crying out loud.

True story: Last weekend, Shop Boy accompanied Mary and her parents, Wayne and Mary Mashburn, to the local Baltimore farmers’ market. It’s incredibly popular. Way too popular if you ask me. After a while, Shop Boy simply begins looking for places to hide.

So there I was, minding my own business, standing away from the crowd at the very end of a picked-over produce table, in front of something called Methley plums. That’s when I heard, from behind me, “Hey, what’s up with them little plums?” Then, “Hey, Mom, there are some plums.” “Can we get a sample of those plums? Yum, they’re sweeter than they look. Where’s Methley?” In a flash, Shop Boy was surrounded, people reaching past me to get to these stinking plums. Mary had to drag me out of there.

“Oh, my god, Shop Boy. You just did it again. Look behind you.”

Shop Boy (traumatized): “I don’t need to.”

OK, so Mary figures she’s got the attendance thing covered. And we’ve been dying to print some of the ideas we’ve dreamed up for card lines and such. We’re close to entering a less breakneck period, I think. And we’re apparently also close to possessing a really cool tabletop press that would allow us to do demonstrations at the festival. (I won’t jinx it by giving details.) But you just know that the second we sign up for a booth, life’s going to throw a Methley plum at us.

Life can be pushy like that, you know?


Oh, by the way, if you do attend Artscape this weekend, look for the Heaven and Hell Car and its artist/owner Chub — aka Chris Hubbard — a really neat guy from down south who pops in for the Art Car Parade each year and then sets up shop. Easy to talk to. Mary’s ready to adopt the dude. And his, um, eccentric style makes for some really cool art.

Shop Boy?

Oh, I’ll be the sweaty, uncomfortable guy next to the woman/little girl who can’t stop smiling — and surrounded by the 1 million people trying to get at whatever it is that Shop Boy’s trying to hide.

Letterpress List No. 43: All Systems Gone

July 14, 2008

At newspapers, we called it The Morgue. It was the place where published articles, photos and the like were stored for all eternity, or at least until we needed another look at them. Somehow it became a verb: to “morgue” something meant to file a copy of it away.

At the printshop, we simply call it a galley cabinet, the place where trays holding previously used plates, dies and type reside. The trays are numbered so that you can keep track of what’s stored where.

Pretty simple, eh?

It was, when Typecast Press was just starting out. Shop Boy had cleaned the trays and the dusty insides of the first galley cabinet we’d claimed from an old printshop that was dumping its letterpress stuff. We inserted the trays in order, No. 1 to No. 100, drew up a sheet of paper with Nos. 1 to 50 on it, hung it on a clipboard beside the cabinet and waited hopefully for jobs to roll in.

You know the feeling, right? Will this letterpress thing work? Will we ever get to Job No. 10? (Never mind No. 100.)

Well, we did pretty quickly. Soon, we needed another galley cabinet. Cool, right?

So why was Mary cursing, pulling out tray after tray, then slamming each one back into the cabinet? Because she couldn’t find the polymer plate for a restaurant gift card that had been reordered. The first run was about a year ago.

Oh, and about five systems ago, too.

True story: Mary was leaving a job in Denver, where she did design and PR for the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities. She was conscientiously cleaning up behind herself, trying to make sure that the person who replaced her would be able to navigate the nonprofit’s files.

It was late at night — isn’t it always? That part of Denver, LoDo, is now one of the glitziest parts of town. Back then, it wasn’t too cool a spot to be walking around alone late at night. So if Mary was working late, Shop Boy was going to be there. The hero type. That’s me.

So … sometime just before sunrise, Shop Boy was sprawled half-dozing atop a conference table. (There wasn’t a comfy chair in the place.) Mary had spread out on the floor before her an entire filing cabinet worth of photos. She was stumped. How in the world was she supposed to file all this: photos of events, places, people, you name it.

Desperate, she called her sister (a two-hour time difference meant Melissa was already awake for the day) and explained her plight.

Mary: “What should I do? I have no idea how to file all this crazy stuff!”

Melissa (deadpan): “How about alphabetically?

Shop Boy nearly rolled off the table. Soon we were all howling.

Now, Mary’s got a keen mind. She might not know exactly where something is right this second, but she sure can find it in a flash — as long as you don’t move her stacks. She’s just not real good with actual organization. (She learned this from her mom, also Mary Mashburn, the original queen of piles.) When in doubt, Mary invents a new system. After a while, it becomes sort of like spaghetti.

And now, the plate storage “system” was mocking her.

After a while, Shop Boy shooed Mary away from the trays, figuring they’d been slammed enough, and found the needle in the haystack by pure, dumb luck.

That’s my system, and I’m sticking to it.


“There’s got to be a better way to organize this, Shop Boy. What if we … ?”

Shop Boy heard her out, then offered as how perhaps we should morgue her latest system plan. Not for all eternity, perhaps. But at least until we sort out what killed the last one.


Letterpress List No. 43

How about an hour’s worth of music to, oh, I don’t know, alphabetize your files — or CD collection — by? Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

ABC the Jackson 5 (Time travel.)
Lose Yourself Eminem (Carpe diem, or something.)
PhotographDef Leppard (Mary’d file this one under “E” for “English guys in tight pants.”)
The Search Is OverSurvivor (Under “L” for lame.)
Where It’s At Beck (He can always find his “weird” button.)
Comfortably NumbPink Floyd (Nowadays, Shop Boy’s a little more prepared.)
Angry Chair Alice in Chains (Not very comfy either. ;-) )
You Get Me LostFreedy Johnston (Doesn’t take much.)
Lost in the Supermarketthe Clash (Shop Boy’s lament — the grocery list as a treasure map.)
Your Number Is OneRollins Band (Looking high, looking low.)
Mary, MaryRun-DMC (Why ya bugging?)
SlamOnyx (Trays feel no pain.)
Finders Keepers, Losers WeepersElvis Presley (So true.)
Gone Daddy GoneGnarls Barkley (Fun update on a Violent Femmes song.)
I’m a Mess — the Murmers (Been there.)
Somewhere Out ThereLinda Ronstadt and James Ingram (OK, Shop Boy’s lost it.)
*&%$ the SystemSystem of a Down (Mary hates the band, but can embrace the notion.)

About Time

July 10, 2008

Hey, I’m no fortune teller, but every once in a while, Shop Boy can see into the future.

Usually it happens at about 6 p.m., after Mary and Shop Boy have been at the Typecast Press printshop for eight hours or so. Quitting time, right? Uh-oh. We’re up against a deadline … say a wedding invitation that’s to be delivered by morning. Mary’s fighting with the ink, the puddle of muck growing on the ink plate as she mixes in a little of this (nope), that (nope), this (almost) and …

Shop Boy’s waiting to feed the Chandler & Price 12×18, anticipating slowing the press way down to deal with a wonky feed — warped paper has been jumping the gauge pins a lot more often these days, thanks to a bucket of Baltimore humidity.

A flash hits me. Actually, it’s more of a sinking feeling. But the future appears before my eyes:

I see a darkness … Two people, one with a limp … A lone car exiting an empty parking lot.

Yes. We are going to be here all night. Again.


Take the weekend I mentioned in my previous post, for instance. (Go ahead. I don’t want it anymore. Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk.) Friday: 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday: 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m.

Shop Boy had clown feet by the end of this. Seriously.

Mary? Frustrated, but fresh as a daisy. And she did most of the work. But that’s part of the problem. See, while she focused, buckled down and untangled things, Shop Boy busied himself with carrying heavy stuff from room to room, cleaning the machines and … um … I don’t know, things like, um, going for food, practicing his golf/baseball/tennis swing, singing along to the radio, checking the baseball scores on the computer and, uh, kinda standing around, mostly.


Don’t get me wrong. Mary’s good at this stuff, and she keeps getting better with practice. It’s her shop. Shop Boy’s still sort of the weekend/vacation help. Willing and helpful help, but … I can imagine a guest observing certain parts of the process and asking Shop Boy: “What exactly do you do here, little man?”

Hey, I’ve got a full-time job in, ahem, Washington, D.C. And Mary’s too busy right now to teach some knucklehead the ropes.

Which is why Shop Boy, in an odd rush of initiative, decided to take matters into his own hands.

If you’ve visited this blog before, you know that Shop Boy has never claimed to be a master printer or anything. That’s Mary’s gig. But I’ve been doing a lot of watching. And with Mary slammed by design work, I needed to, in her words, “man up” (she’s way too fond of the movie Training Day) and take a project from start to finish. That Woodberry Kitchen needed a fresh supply of menus seemed the perfect excuse.

Oh, I’ve told you about this deal. Typecast Press prints the shell of the Woodberry Kitchen menu, two colors. We then hand these off to restaurant co-owner Amy Gjerde, who types the constantly evolving inspirations of hubby/co-owner/chef Spike onto a computerized form created by Mary. Amy then feeds the shells through a large copier and … let’s eat. Thank goodness the paper and ink are “green,” because Spike trips over a stalk of rhubarb and gets 25 new ideas — rhubarb in appetizers, main dishes, desserts and, yep, cocktails — and the old menu’s cooked. Dude’s a mad genius.

So Mary casually mentions one day that Shop Boy cooks his own peanuts. (Mary’s dad, Wayne Mashburn, has them shipped raw from Virginia as a gift every now and then.) Spike’s eyes light up, and we go running to the studio.

This day, though, Mary had to stay put at the home office.

Shop Boy was nervous. Mary had just finished a scoring job — creating a fold by pressing a crease into the paper — and had left the rollers off the big C&P. (The metal scoring rules can slice the rubber of the rollers. How does Shop Boy know this? Don’t ask.) Can’t blame Mary for not wanting to mess with the rollers. Because of previous damage and plain old age, the 12X18 is a cranky bugger. Never more so than when you touch its rollers. This is the machine that once threw its lower roller into Shop Boy’s gut as we were printing one of our first jobs together. Ornery.

But Shop Boy is, too, if you “slip” repeatedly and snap a few of his bare fingers between your metal pieces. Mary’s got no sympathy here: “Use your gloves! That’s what they’re for.” But I find protective gloves too clumsy for roller changes. The process went about as well as expected, though. One slightly purple fingernail but no blood.

The tympan also needed changing, again the result of scoring. Yes, you pros do this once a week or more. But Mary’s a bit, shall we say, persnickety about the tympan. If she’s printing on it, she’s setting it up. So this would be Shop Boy’s first “diaper change,” as I call it. So, I pulled a fresh sheet of tympan — the oily/waxy paper that holds your gauge pins and whatever packing and make-ready you’re using on the press bed — then replaced the scoring rules in the chase with a boxcar base.

Now, here’s a little trick that a few of you might not know about (OK, maybe Shop Boy was the last to know … but whatever):

It’s easy to damage a boxcar base, or whatever steel base you’re using to hold polymer plates. You can dent it with the grippers, you can scratch it up with the gauge pins, and the impression’s uneven for the rest of its days. So you need to know exactly where base and tympan come together.

OK, find an old polymer plate that features a box border. Snip the corners from the old plate so they look something like this: > Now stick them to the four corners of the base, load the chase into the press, put the press on impression and bring base and tympan together (ink optional). Afterward, the tympan should be marked where the polymer corners hit it. With a pencil and a ruler, draw the outline of the base.

This is also handy for adjusting the — gulp! — platen, since you can tell by the depth of the corner impressions whether the plate is hitting the tympan evenly.

(Geez, Shop Boy’s just brimming with helpful hints today!)

Anyway, I set the gauge pins, put the first menu plate on the base, inked the press and off we went. Then, with the help of a printed sheet, Shop Boy registered the second color, cleaned and re-inked the press and finished the job.

It felt amazing. My first solo!

I called Mary to tell her of my success, wondering aloud if we needed to change the name of this blog to reflect my, you know, new, important role at Typecast Press.

She laughed (a little too long and hard, if you ask me).

“Don’t quit your day job, Shop Boy.”

Letterpress List No. 42: Common Scents

July 3, 2008

Come July and August, Baltimore is a pretty grim place to be if you don’t like humidity.

Shop Boy doesn’t like humidity. (Nor, as we have discussed, does he care for some residents of Baltimore that do.)

“Is that you?” Mary asked, wrinkling up her nose.

“What?” Shop Boy asked defensively. “Look, it’s been a long day, if that’s what you mean.”

Mary should have been born a bloodhound. Dang. She gets a whiff of something out of the ordinary, she’s gonna find out what the heck it is. Shop Boy even uses, ahem, special French soap that Mary buys because she likes the smell. That doesn’t by itself make me a wimp, by the way.

True story: One newspaper that Shop Boy worked for had renovated its restrooms and installed those scent boxes that release a puff of perfume every couple of minutes. So it was that Shop Boy returned home one night and almost immediately was getting strange looks from Mary. Apparently, a molecule or two of the eau de brothel had stuck to my clothing. It wasn’t until I brought Mary to work and made her hang out in the women’s restroom that she fully bought Shop Boy’s innocence.


See, Mary will tell anyone who’ll listen her rules for dealing with a straying husband: He dies. The lover? “Hey, we all make mistakes, right? Get out, hon. You don’t want to see this.”

Shop Boy prefers being alive to the alternative, so … there you go.

Of course, Mary’s parents will also tell anyone who’ll listen that if Mary ever dumps Shop Boy, they’ll find me someone better. Kind of a mutually assured destruction type of deal. Besides, Mary and Shop Boy apparently like each other or something. Who knew?

Anyhow, I’m willing to accept that, as a male member of the species, Shop Boy can get a little funky. After this three-day printshop schedule — Friday: 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday: 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m. — you might be a touch … unfresh as well.

This time, though, it wasn’t me.

After sniffing every single item in the Typecast Press printshop (swear to god), Mary finally produced a humidity-warped sheet of the thick paper we were using to print a really cool wedding invitation and stuck it under Shop Boy’s nose.

“Smell this … it’s horrible.

“No, thank you,” Shop Boy answered. “I’ll take your word for it.”

Oh, once they dried, the invites were fresh as a daisy. But we were a bit traumatized.

The wedding’s in Oregon.

Did I happen to mention that it’s a little moist in Oregon most times of year?


Letterpress List No. 42 (a little early, to beat the holiday weekend)

How about an hour’s worth of music to fill your heart with love, tempt your nostrils with the scent of flowers and wipe any, um, stray thoughts from that simple mind of yours. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

That SmellLynyrd Skynyrd (You fool, you.)
You Oughta KnowAlanis Morissette (A subtle reminder.)
Guilty ConscienceEminem (Favorite part: “Mr. Dre … Mr. NWA … Mr. AK coming Straight Outta Compton, you’re gonna make way?”)
TemptedSqueeze (So not …)
I Think I Smell RatWhite Stripes (Mary once called Baltimore Gas & Electric to report the smell of a gas leak. There was a small leak, BGE said. On the other side of the city.)
Da FunkDaft Punk (Funky.)
Don’t Let’s StartThey Might Be Giants (“I don’t get around how you get around.”)
RosesOutkast (Just playin’.)
Rough JusticeRolling Stones (You’re gonna have to trust me.)
Nearly Lost You Screaming Trees (Not in a million years.)
Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Pat Travers Band (For more reasons than that.)
You Know I’m No GoodAmy Winehouse (She ain’t, apparently, but she sure can sing.)
Ball and ChainSocial Distortion (Ha!)
The OneFoo Fighters (She is.)
Scentless ApprenticeNirvana (Sorry. Been a long day.)
It Wasn’t MeShaggy (Deny everything.)
True BlueMadonna (Have to ask the New York Yankees’ third baseman about that one.)
Not That Kind Anastasia (Don’t get on the wrong side of that voice.)
ThinkAretha Franklin (This one either.)
Goodbye Earl the Dixie Chicks (The Mary Mashburn seal of approval.)