Letterpress List No. 47: New Tricks

One person’s trash is another’s make-ready.

This became readily apparent to Shop Boy when, seeking a little sliver of something … anything … to bring up the impression on one side of a coaster, he resorted to dumpster diving.

OK, it was the trash can. But you get the idea.

Anyway, you know Shop Boy ain’t — no chance, no how — venturing into the large dumpster behind the Fox Industries Building that houses our studio. First off, it’s for heavy industrial waste — might come out of there glowing green or something. (Other tenants use it for whatever garbage we create, food waste and stuff. I have no doubt that some of that is more toxic than Fox Industries’ powders and polymers.) Plus, there are potentially rabid creatures of the night sometimes milling about back there. Rats. Cats. Bats. Rabbits. Raccoons. Coyotes. And yes, sometimes even hookers. Do I look like Marlon Perkins … or, ahem, Hugh Grant … to you?

True story: Shop Boy was new to Baltimore, but not exactly wet behind the ears, when — after a particularly rough go in the newsroom — I happened upon a smiling young person on my way out of the building. “It looks like you had a real bad day,” she said. Shop Boy just kind of sighed, responded “Hi, uh, you don’t know the half of it” or something and walked toward my car. “You want to talk about it, honey?” She was apparently headed the same direction.

Now in those days, the Baltimore Sun had a bunch of pressman who — you boys! — apparently had a thing for the “ladies.” Shop Boy simply (duh!) hadn’t noticed the daily parade. Mostly transvestites, it was said.

Now, I’m not sure if my new friend was male or female. All I knew was here was a nice person walking along chattily on the sidewalk. About 25 feet from my car, the topic changed. Can’t remember the exact words, but they were unsubtle enough that even Shop Boy got the picture. Oh, boy …

“Nice talking with you, miss. Sorry. Um, have a nice day.”

“You sure, baby?”

Oh, 100 percent. You should have heard Mary laugh (with Shop Boy, not at Shop Boy — we do not laugh at the ones we love) when I got home and told her about my, um, slowness on the uptake.

All right. So there I was at Typecast Press, desperate for something that would “goose” the final three words of a line of type that sat beneath a larger solid area on the plate. Now, Mary’s really good at this stuff. She’s got a special cigar box to hold bits of this and that just for the purpose and a full drawer in the flat files exclusively for red boards, acetates and soft paper sheets for general impression adjustment. And speaking of tricks, Mary’s got a neat one in which she puts make-ready off to the side of an underperforming bit of the design — rather than underneath it — to change the way the whole plate makes contact with the tympan/platen. I don’t know exactly why it works, but it does.

Shop Boy’s much less experienced. (Hush!) I didn’t want to bother Mary, who was running a tighter-deadline job in the other part of the studio. So Shop Boy was going to need to make the subtle adjustment himself. (Could something thinner than acetate be unsubtle? You’d be surprised.) I needed a small piece of tissue paper roughly the shape of the state of Maine, which I’d seen somewhere just a few minutes before. Not in the cigar box, which needed some serious restocking. Oh, of course …

Shop Boy had thrown a dirty rag on top of it in the trash can. Geez.

So I reached in, dug it out and, yes, there was grease on it. Seems Shop Boy was going to have to live with the state of Pennsylvania. Well, to make a long story just a little shorter, in a few hours, Shop Boy had banged out enough coasters on the old C&P to stretch end to end from Baltimore to Harrisburg. It wasn’t easy, and it was hot, but with a few make-ready tweaks along the way the coasters ended up looking consistently good.

Mary walked in toward the end of the run. She was headed home to take care of some financial stuff and asked if I’d be up for cleaning both presses when I was done. Hey, if she pays the bills, I’ll do whatever she wants. Call that what you will.

“You sure, baby?”

One hundred percent.

And the little scrap of tissue paper? You kidding? I put it in the make-ready box. It’s Connecticut by now, but I might need it again sometime. This old dog has learned his lesson.


Letterpress List No. 47

How about an hour’s worth of music to help you, um, let off a little steam after a difficult day of work? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Ready or Notthe Fugees (Found.)
AliceMott the Hoople (Too many johns.)
Industrial DiseaseDire Straits (Bette Davis knees?)
TrashJimmie’s Chicken Shack (A hatchet to the family tree.)
Fried Chicken and GasolineSouthern Culture on the Skids (Dumpster chow.)
Hard Day’s Nightthe Beatles (But feeling all right.)
AnimalsNickelback (Illicit automobile activity.)
Little CreaturesTalking Heads (They can follow such activity.)
Roxannethe Police (Just say no.)
Walk on the Wild SideLou Reed (Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo …)
Desperadothe Eagles (He/she can help you out with that.)
Street Life the Crusaders (Excuse me? What was that again?)
Suddenly I SeeKT Tunstall (Left hanging on a word.)
Paper Dollthe Mills Brothers (Great old stuff.)
Throw It AwayJoe Jackson (Never again.)
Lola the Kinks (Walked like a woman, talked like a man.)
Tricky Run-D.M.C. (No doubt.)
Ziggy StardustDavid Bowie (Androgyny.)
What Do You Do For Money Honey?AC/DC (Shop Boy can be bought.)

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