The Fine Art of Panic

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.

Sigh.

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.

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