Archive for October, 2008


October 30, 2008

When we were kids, we’d get all dressed up as vampires or clowns or hobos or ghosts, grab one of the spare pillowcases from the linen closet and head out to start ringing doorbells once dinner was finished. It’d be chilly. It might even be raining. But the thought of all that Halloween candy kept us warm and hopping from door to door and street to street.

Our stomping and Halloween grazing grounds were a four-block stretch bordered by Mapleton Street and Harper Avenue. My street was Forest, Shawn and Richard’s was Dale, Kenny and Raymond were on Boxwood and Peter was on Beech. Forget parental chaperones (things were considered safer back then — as long as you looked both ways before crossing the street). We just walked where we wanted. My buddies didn’t go in for tricks as much as treats in those days, so the whole night was about fun, and nary a temptingly placed jack-o’-lantern was harmed in the making of our little production. We were a mostly polite and appreciative bunch — people were throwing candy at us, after all. And man, we cleaned up.

Later that night we’d convene to compare the sweet hauls, maybe trade a few items and eat ourselves to a molar-busting sugar high no tranquilizer could tame. Mom would later take a cut of the candy from me and my sisters (for our own good) and stuff it into the freezer (she loved her some frozen Milky Ways), but we’d eventually pinch most of that stash, too. The rest we’d keep in the pillowcase, learning math by figuring out how many candy bars we could eat per day and still have a sugary Thanksgiving dessert.

These days, Mary and Shop Boy hope to give out more candy than we could ever eat but, because the inner city isn’t considered quite as conducive to trick-or-treating, the clumps of cute goblins are fewer and farther between. It’s a shame. We’re a great, friendly block. Now, Shop Boy doesn’t want to make light of parental concerns. But I just know that if the kids were aware of exactly how much candy we usually have, they’d talk their chaperones into making a right turn onto our street.

As it is, we have tons of leftovers. Did I mention that Mary comes from Southern stock? “Never run out of food” — or candy — is imprinted on her soul. We’ll likely just hand out a few sweets, wander up to see if any Maryland Institute art students are practicing up for Saturday night’s skimpiest-costume contest and then pack up the candy to take to the printshop for, you know, any emergencies that come up between now and, say, Thanksgiving.

Mary has this cool dragon mask that I might pull out for her. She looks really great in it. Me? Don’t need a costume. See, in the old days, printshop apprentices were called devils. (I learned that from a National Geographic Traveler article on the world’s most haunted places.) And Mary has referred to Shop Boy for some time now as Mr. Devil, based on my uncanny ability to materialize out of thin air with a tempting refill at the most inappropriate time. (Hence the gwbgt, or Guy Who Brings Gin and Tonics, in this blog’s Web address.) Satan’s presence is said to bring a sulphurous stench. Mine brings the tinkle-tinkle of ice cubes. He’s feared. I’m always welcomed in.

And Mary swears that, if you look close enough, you can just see the tips of my horns. But it’s rude to stare. And you don’t want to be bad children. Do you?



Oh, what the hell … how about a bonus hour of music to rattle your bones, carve pumpkins or simply count candy bars by? Ah, Halloween. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Cool and creepy videos are from YouTube.

Candy-Othe Cars (Help me in.)
I Want OutHelloween (Or not.)
Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath (With Ronnie James Dio. Sweet!)
HalloweenStephen Lynch (Sick, sick, sick.)
GhostbustersRay Parker Jr. (Later on, we weren’t such nice, polite kids. Not that Raymond ever really was. Mary wants Shop Boy to write a children’s book called Bad Raymond. His mother used to ask me why in the world I hung around with her son, if that gives you any idea.)
Mother Danzig (“Tell your children not to walk my way.”)
I Put a Spell on YouScreamin’ Jay Hawkins (My, oh my.)
Satan Is My MotorCake (That’s not me … it’s bad gasoline.)
Season of the WitchDonovan (Cool cover by Courtney and Hole.)
ThrillerMichael Jackson (He was also pretty cool once.)
Monster Mashthe Misfits (And the original. And, um, this.)
DragulaRob Zombie (Look both ways before crossing.)
Theme From The MunstersLos Straitjackets (Always in costume.)
Evil WomanElectric Light Orchestra (A fool and his candy soon go separate ways.)
Bad ThingsJace Everett (“Mr. Everett? It’s Chris Isaak on Line 2. Something about wanting his sound back …” Judging by the audio problems with the first video, I’m guessing court proceedings have begun.)
Tonight, Tonight Smashing Pumpkins (Costume party? That’s a fact, Jack-‘O.)
Devil NightsElectric Six (So campy.)
AnimalsNickelback (Surrendering to the impulses of the devil on your shoulder.)

Letterpress List No. 58: What Are the Odds?

October 27, 2008

His name was Gray Wolf, and Shop Boy was smitten. What a great-looking horse. Lead-gray hide with black spots, a thick black mane. One of those magical, merry-go-round ponies, you know? Looked fast as lightning just standing still.

Easiest money Churchill Downs ever made.

A few years back, Mary and Shop Boy were in Louisville for a wedding just after the Kentucky Derby was run. Our bed-and-breakfast was just down the street from Churchill Downs, the famed racetrack, and we decided we had, had, had to go. Now, let me tell you, the place might look all spiffed-up on Kentucky Derby weekend, but man, it’s a depressing-looking place come Tuesday afternoon when all the Jim Dandies have left town for Baltimore’s Pimlico racetrack and the Preakness Stakes.

Still, Mary and Shop Boy got in line with the other non-dandies at the gates, paid the fare, and prepared to play the ponies … by ordering up a mint julep. (When in Rome …)

In a souvenir glass. (When in Rome as a tourist …)

Cocktails in hand, we decided to take a walk around the joint. Ramshackle old place, with a grass racetrack inside the big, oval dirt track. There’s the bar and a really grungy “parlor” area where the TVs showed racing events from the other big tracks around the country. It was cool and dark, and it smelled like wet wool and lousy cigars. So we had a quick look-see, then stepped outside into the warm sunlight of the paddock area, where they parade the ponies before each race begins so that you can see whether the one you’re about to bet on has a bad leg or just has a bad attitude.

Not that Shop Boy even knew what to look for. I’ve never been much of a gambler. In college, Shop Boy and his pals would go watch jai alai games in Newport, R.I., every so often when we noticed a trend in the newspaper that we could exploit. Like the numbers 2 and 4 not showing up for a few days in the winners column. See, in my home state, you can pretty much count on shenanigans. (You should have seen some of the bad acting by the players favored to win when they somehow missed an easy catch.) So we didn’t even pay attention to who was inside the jersey. We’d just play 2 and 4 to win. Our “system” would pay for our gas, the bridge toll and the beer, and we’d get to heckle the cheaters. The American way.

Now, don’t even ask Shop Boy about the two hands of blackjack he played in Las Vegas. OK, I’ll tell you: $10 gone in five seconds … and I sprained my ankle getting off the stool. Honest.

My dad used to play the greyhounds at Lincoln Park, a grungy establishment since turned into a posh betting palace with dog races, slots and countless other ways to leave your cash behind at the door. Dad’s slick. And he ain’t greedy. He’d usually win a little. And on those days he’d lose his limit in the first few races? See ya.

So Shop Boy comes by his “don’t get greedy” mindset naturally. The slickness? That didn’t come with the DNA. I much prefer the lucky hunch anyway.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were guests about a couple of weekends ago at the International Gold Cup, a steeplechase and “flat” racing event in the lush, hilly horse country of Virginia. It’s an event of “friendly bets” and drinking stuff like Virgina Gentleman bourbon while flitting tailgate party to tailgate party in oversized hats. Mary’s fabulous cousin Mollie Ottina had gotten us into the, ahem, VIP section. Sweeping view of the bucolic racecourse. Sweet deal.

OK, so first race, Shop Boy looks out at the field as the horses warm up. My heart skips a beat. There is Cuse, a speckled gray horse with a raven mane.

“Oh, that must be your horse,” Mary giggled.

“Man,” quoth Shop Boy, “he looks fast.”

Then as Cuse jogged casually — but beautifully, it must be said — from the start, our whole party began laughing. Can Shop Boy pick ’em, or what? On and on he jogged in last place. I can’t remember the other horses’ names, but every time the announcer would give an update, it’d sound a bit like this: At the first turn, Flash by a length, with Bail Bonds, Felonious Intent, Ripsnort, Baby Boy, Goombah and No Love shoulder to shoulder … and Cuse, um, out there somewhere …

The horse must have heard the dismissiveness in his voice. Because … wow.

Cuse smoked the entire field in a furious final sprint, winning by a stride as we whooped and hollered like nuts. “Oh, that rider was brilliant,” Shop Boy pontificated. “And what an amazing animal.” To which the local Episcopalian bishop, a cheery fellow (reminded at the bar by Mary that she grew up calling folks from his denomination “Whiskey-palians”), added that the Big Jockey in the Sky was having a great day when he built the running horse.


Anyway, with his gray-horse karma reversed, Shop Boy began thinking this pony thing was no sweat. Yes, Shop Boy was slick. Five events later, I practically pranced to the paddock to make our pick for a final race before we needed to head out. We stood at the rail as the horses were paraded in. And there he was. Not a horse but a jockey. Cheeks red with rage, spitting, swearing, smoking and stomping toward the stable. I think I heard somebody say something about a weigh-in. He’d have to carry more weight — a larger “handicap” — or something. Whatever. Dude was ready to kill. We were going to watch which pony he hopped aboard.

Salmo. Got it.

And they were off. Four-mile race, with 22 jumps. Screaming around the course, the jockey’s silks flying and smoke still pouring out of his ears. Impossibly fast. Headed into the home stretch, pedal to the metal.

It might have been the extra weight, the strain of setting the pace, the fact that racehorses do not have rearview mirrors or merely that the horse just wasn’t quite as honked off as the rider was. But Bubble Economy (hah!) made his move at the final jump, snuck up from behind and edged Salmo at the finish.

It reminded me of printing presses.


Um, gimme a minute. I swear, I was going somewhere with this.

Don’t bet on horses. (No, no, you knew that already.)

Oh, I remember. Every day at Typecast Press, we need to make similar bets. Like, which press is going to get us to the finish line quickest and best? Some presses are fast — like the Heidelberg Windmill — but don’t match up well with the length of the run or the make-ready issues you know you’ll face. You spend so much time on make-ready, for instance, that by the time you’re ready to run 150 cards, you might as well have hand-fed them on the slow but rock-solid Vandercook proof press.

Shop Boy’s always leaning toward the sure bet — hey, pretty much all the machines are gray/black with (ink/grease) spots on their hides — whereas Mary like to push the envelope, betting that time spent now running even small jobs on the faster machines will make us quicker machine operators down the road. You know … “The Big Printer in the Sky was having a great day when he built the Heidelberg” and all that.

True. But while she races out front to meet and tame whatever challenges await, Shop Boy’s tempted to lay back a bit. Pace myself. That way, once she’s mastered — and shared — the ins and outs, I’ll be ready to swoop in and take the glory. Showing off for visitors, that kind of thing. “Yeah, this baby gave me a few problems at first, heh-heh. Bucked a bit, threw me once or twice. But you’ve got to get right back on that horse, am I right? Heh-heh.”

Ooh. I can just see the steam coming out of her ears now.


Letterpress List No. 58

How about an hour’s worth of music to peruse the Daily Racing Form or simply sit back, with a mint julep (made with Virginia Gentleman, natch) and count your winnings by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great videos are from YouTube.

Jockey Full of BourbonTom Waits (A snort or two too many.)
Clap for the Wolfmanthe Guess Who (Why not?)
A Touch of Greythe Grateful Dead (Kinda suits me.)
Dirt Track DateSouthern Culture on the Skids (Getting dizzy.)
Hot Rod LincolnCommander Cody (“Slow down … I see spots.”)
DownsHamell on Trial (High on depressives. He’d love Churchill Downs or Lincoln Park.)
Horse with No NameAmerica (How ’bout we name him “Fee Waybill,” as in …)
Talk to Ya Later the Tubes (See ya! FYI: That’s Waybill singing.)
Jim DandyBlack Oak Arkansas (Go!)
I’m All Fired Up Junior Brown (“Feelin’ my wild oats.”)
Ride Like the WindCristopher Cross (Such a long way to go, especially if you’re dragging Michael McDonald along. Sheesh.)
Jump Kriss Kross ( ;-) )
PonyKasey Chambers (Cute.)
You Better You Betthe Who (Not going to win this one.)
Run to the Hills Iron Maiden (Good idea, paleface.)
Gangsta RideSnoop Dogg featuring Silk Da Shocker (No looking back.)
If Looks Could KillHeart (I’d hate to have crossed paths with Salmo’s rider after the race.)
Saddle Sore Ted Nugent (Chapped chaps.)
Lucky OnesLoverboy (A fortunate guess? Fine by me.)
Sold AmericanKinky Friedman (Check this out.)

The Princess and the Pea

October 23, 2008

It was the letterpress equivalent of a 15th-century Spanish galleon sailing victoriously toward the safe harbor of home only to hit a small rock hidden just beneath the waves and take cargo and crew to the bottom of the sea.

Overly dramatic? You’d think so, because you weren’t there.

Mary and Shop Boy are still a bit iffy on the Jet polymer platemaker. We don’t fully trust ourselves yet, so we’ve been having some plates done off site. It’s a bit pricey and takes a few days, but learning multiple machines simultaneously on one job tends to leave your brain sore and the final results in doubt.

We were printing a CD cover for Design & Integration, an audio/visual company here in Baltimore. The stock was a thick, khaki-colored, handmade batch from Porridge Papers in Nebraska, a company we love using and recommend highly. The plan was to press the logo — a red “di” inside a golden circle — onto the cover, with contact info on the back and a little more verbiage inside. Then we’d double score the paper so it folded into a CD case and affix a plastic form to hold the actual disk.

We’d finally gotten the Heidelberg Windmill huffing and puffing in the right sequences to pick up and feed the heavy paper and were just tweaking the straightness when Mary, on quality-control duty as usual, noticed a red speck on piece of paper being dropped into the machine’s “out” basket. The next one had it, too.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she called to Shop Boy.

It took Shop Boy a second or two to turn off the machine, which destroyed another couple of samples — the paper costs more than the plates, folks — but at least we had further evidence of what was wrong. Out of nowhere, the plate had developed a nick. But how? We’d been sailing along fine.

And we hit a rock.

Yep, we sorted back through the printed pile until we saw a perfectly printed sample, then began examining the ones above it. Shoot. There it was, all right. A tiny grain of … something had gotten into that one sheet in a pile of paper and somehow ended up in the only place it could cause harm.

Now Mary has an uncanny — and, OK, annoying — knack for finding imperfections in things. It’s almost like they find her. The fraying or ill-placed tag on a T-shirt or bra drives her bonkers. The only itchy bit on a whole sweater will find her softest spot. And yes, if Shop Boy tried to hide money under the mattress, a tempting thought these days, Mary’d feel it. But there’s no way even she could have picked up on this little imperfection in the paper. It was little speck of nothing.

But it sure blasted a hole in the polymer plate.

Hey, it happens. And if we were more solid on the Jet, it’d be a mere imposition rather than a major issue. As it was, we’d need to clean the red ink off the press and sub another, very different, job onto the press, resetting the huff, the puff and all the other stuff. And Mary’d have to stay up late to send out for new plates. Heartbreaking.

Mary, who’d done all of the set-up before Shop Boy had, ahem, arrived to run the press, was absolutely ashen. Raised in the newspaper industry, we are not in the business of blowing deadlines. Oh, maybe 15 minutes or an hour, but days?!?! We were in shock.

DI was much cooler about the delay, thankfully. The folks there have traveled a few rough seas along the line, I’m sure.

Anyway, the new plates have finally arrived. (Mary had three — ! — copies made, just in case.) We’ll finish the substitute job and then we’ll crank out the DI project. We could probably do it today if we really pushed things. Get that pea out from under the mattress, you know?

On second thought, it’s probably best for Mary to sleep on it one more night … maybe reacquaint the princess and the Z.

Letterpress List No. 57: Short Work

October 21, 2008

Four minutes and nine seconds.

That, for the record, is how long it takes to saw a Jeep completely in half using a tungsten steel blade and a small power saw. Shop Boy has seen it with his own two eyes.

The demonstration was part of an open house to show off the new digs of Typecast Press buddy Bruce Baggan and his North American Millwright Services. Great big warehouse, nice offices, great old part of Baltimore (if you like, um, show bars and that kind of thing). Hey, ask Bruce about the “green space” — a swath of grass and trees — that he had to plant and must maintain so as not to offend the sensibilities of the girlie-bar patrons or the owners of all that scrap iron next door.

Then again, maybe it’s best just to continue on with a tour of the oasis.

Oh, the place looks bright and airy. Bruce’s old shop was pretty neat too, but let’s say N.A. Millwright suddenly got an order to move and store a corporate jet. Shop Boy’s guessing Bruce now has the room. I mean, maybe I was simply distracted by the tons of pork barbecue and all the fixins, iced tea, cookies, and a cake/pie that tasted for all the world like a glorious, cream-filled, powdered donut. (Shop Boy once worked just one overnight shift filling pastries … but that’s a story for another day.) But … wow.

So we looked around the new place, chatted up Bruce’s strapping sons Chris and Greg as well as Bruce’s lovely wife Delia and some of the guys we know from previous press moves.

And we stuffed our faces.

But then there arose a clatter just outside one of the big bay doors. We stepped out into the cool afternoon air to see a dark blue Jeep up on wooden blocks. And there stood a guy with a saw, explaining — like a magician about to saw a lady in half — that he was about to saw this baby in half. We’d gotten there too late to participate, but it turns out that the person who guessed closest to the exact amount of time it would take to accomplish this trick would win something neat. (It was noisy, so Shop Boy missed a few of the details. Besides, I was still chewing. And Bruce had stuck a sleeve of spiffy new golf balls in my hand, so I’d already won.)

Well, four minutes and nine seconds later, the front and back halves of the Jeep fell away from each other.

Like butter.

We had to head back to the printshop before they announced who won, but I’m guessing nobody was close. I mean, maybe the blade’s maker would brag that it’d be over that quickly, but sheesh. Shop Boy got a chill.

Mary: “How long do you think it would take to cut through one of our presses?”

Shop Boy, gulping: “Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.”


Letterpress List No. 57

Now, Bruce Baggan is a musician, but he keeps telling Shop Boy (so not a musician) how impressed he is with my, ahem, “encyclopedic knowledge” of melodies old, new and ridiculously obscure. I’m flattered, of course, but fear the pop quiz. You know, the point at which Bruce discovers that, rather than know a lot about music, Shop Boy is just weird. Yes, yes, the rest of you picked up on that a while back. Anyway, how about an hour’s worth of music to move massive machinery — or shimmy up, down and around a pole (no, not you, Bruce) — by. And heck, an hour’s enough time to saw 15 Jeeps in half! Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great links are (mostly) to YouTube.

the Beach Boys (Too fine to cut in half.)
BreedNirvana (“We could plant a house; we could build a tree.” Great stripper song, if a little too fast for safety, Mary said … She said … She said … She saaaaaaaaaaaaaa-id ...)
Welcome to My WorldThe Fabulous Kahuna Brothers (That’s Bruce Baggan on bass.)
Our HouseMadness (Nice place you got here.)
Joe’s GarageFrank Zappa (They knew one song, but knew it well.)
LapdanceN.E.R.D. (We’ll put a parental advisory sticker on this one, but it’s irresistibly dirty/funky.)
I Know But I Don’t KnowBlondie (Dumb luck?)
Hangar 18Megadeth (I know this much … these guys rock!)
Close But No Cigar — “Weird Al” Yankovic (4:09 … yikes.)
Big TimePeter Gabriel (N.A. Millwright’s got turbines stored in the joint the size of a two-car garage.)
PiecesSevendust (Just like that.)
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)Billy Joel (Cramped no more.)
Santa MonicaEverclear (“Gonna find myself a new place.”)
ShimmySystem of a Down (Girls, girls, girls.)
Hot in HerreNelly (He’s got a friend with a pole in his basement, FYI. This guy is all over Mary’s printshop iPod playlist and has apparently invaded Shop Boy’s skull.)
Straight Down the MiddleBing Crosby (An old golfer ditty.)
JeepsterT. Rex (Alas, Marc Bolan was in a car that was about cut in half when it hit a tree. Gone in his prime.)
Ooh La LaGoldfrapp (Channeling T. Rex.)
Feed the Tree Belly (Ah, green space. Sorry, Bruce.)

Letterpress List No. 56: Musical Chairs

October 15, 2008

After throwing up the white flag, putting some solvent on it and cleaning ink off the press, Mary and Shop Boy sat talking about the bigger picture.

Mary: “My legs are longer than yours.”

Shop Boy: “You’re just noticing now?”

Mary: “No, but it’s exaggerated in that funny little chair.”

Oh, no she didn’t!

She was dissing my chair!

All right, so it’s not exactly a chair. It’s a barstool. But not just any barstool. (I mean, you figure Shop Boy knows his way around a barstool, am I right?) It’s sturdy pine, with a hard, flat top. And as Mary’d quickly point out to anyone who’d listen, it’s proportioned so that even Shop Boy’s feet can reach the floor. Her metal shop stool allows for, ahem, longer leg descent. Of course, for the less leggy, that means her seat top hits in an awkward spot, leading to butt-cheek paralysis, a temporary yet nonetheless disconcerting affliction.

Besides, who needs long legs when you spend half your time crawling around the printshop floor or bending from the waist across a press to flick a wall switch? What you need is reach. And let me put it this way: If you’re the camper and Shop Boy’s the local bear, you best store your goodies pretty high in the air.

Anyway, Shop Boy’s going to need to scout around for another goofy little stool because, speaking of the bigger picture …

Typecast Press is about to add another room to our expanding “wing” at the Fox Industries building in Hampden. It’s just a few steps down the hall from our largest space. And Shop Boy couldn’t be more excited. Even with my short legs, I’ve been feeling a bit cramped as we limbo over and around heavy objects to get to others.

And it is a perfect space for us. Great light. There are built-in storage shelves and even a sturdy loft where Mary insists she’ll send Shop Boy for a nap the next time he gets cranky. Did I mention it’s affordable?

Now we can just slide a few things down there and bingo, elbow room. Of course, when you shift one item in a carefully organized space, you’ve got to shift just about everything. But since we’ve now tried everything everywhere, at least the decision process should be quick. Right, Mary?

Oh, we could have lived with the space we had, but if it falls into your lap, who can say no? Which is, as you must know by now, Shop Boy’s preferred method of moving through life.

Wayne Mashburn (Mary’s dad): “Well, I guess this means I’d better bring my paintbrush next time I come for a visit.”

Shop Boy: “No, no, no … um, OK. If you insist.”

The wall color is a bit plain.


Letterpress List No. 56

A little late this week because of a working holiday (aren’t they all?), how about just under an hour’s worth of music to paint by — or just to grow on? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Video links are to YouTube.

Walking SpanishTom Waits (No stool pigeon, he’s headed down the hall to meet his fate. By the way, here’s a lame video with a … um … more palatable version of the song.)
Hey BartenderFloyd Dixon (And of course, the Blues Brothers.)
Little RoomWhite Stripes (We’ve got big ideas.)
You Got Good Tastethe Cramps (And Mary’s not afraid to use it.)
Big EyesCheap Trick (Cheap space: Shop Boy’s favorite.)
The Galaxy SongFrom Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (The Typecast Press universe keeps expanding and expanding.)
Room at the TopTom Petty (Ain’t coming down until I stop pouting.)
Deacon BluesSteely Dan (Crazy scheme? Not this time.)
Here We Go Again Ray Charles with Norah Jones (We’ve been down this hall before.)
Nellyville — Nelly (His empire? “40 acres and a pool.”)
Let My Love Open the DoorPete Townshend (The keys, if you please.)
Elbow RoomSchoolhouse Rock (The best or bust.)
You Ain’t Seen Nothing YetBachman Turner Overdrive (Indeed.)
Mr. ColumbusGrace Potter & the Nocturnals (For Shop Boy’s peoples.)

Talking Shop

October 9, 2008

Hey, a while back, Shop Boy presented a collection of letterpress terms that he’d become familiar with, promising more as he acquired more, ahem, learning.

Like learning, for instance, that if you mishandle a grease gun, you can shoot a hole in your skin where, because of the gunk you’ve just blasted into your body, gangrene can quickly set in.

Swear to god.

And you’re going to put one of these in Shop Boy’s hands?

Anyway, it seemed like a good time — can you tell I’m trying to stall rather than face said grease gun? — to continue our little sharing exercise. You’ll notice that many of these terms have been picked up during Shop Boy’s ongoing wrestling match with the lubricant-guzzling Heidelberg Windmill. (I’ve got a special term for it that I will not share here.)

Love ya, big guy.


Knurled Knob: Refers to a “grip” pattern in metal that, when stuck in place, like on the impression stick of a Heidelberg Windmill, removes outer skin to reveal several new layers … for a more youthful appearance. It also reminds you to keep those tetanus shots up to date!

Impression Collar: It tightens, leaving an angry, red indentation on your neck as the clock ticks and your project doesn’t.

Red Ball: This is the emergency status a project acquires when your windmill press refuses to pick up the thick paper you need it to pick up, like, right now, to meet a morning deadline. Usually followed by the frantic inking up of the big C&P.

Kerning: This is the space between letters, which affects the readability and the “fit” of a line of type. Now adjusted with the push of a button on your computer, it once was quite a physical challenge for typesetters. The term also refers to using your tongue to try hopelessly to free the stuck kernel of microwave popcorn from your teeth rather than use your lead-dusted fingers.

Ligature: This is automatic kerning done at the foundry between two or more letters that would otherwise, because of typeface issues, fit together awkwardly — ff, fl, or even ffi, for instance. These letters are molded to become one perfectly kerned piece of lead. It’s also the type of injury that can occur when you drop a tray of lead type on your foot.

Learning Curve: This refers to a spot at the back of the Heidelberg shaped so you can store an inky roller there while you clean the rest of the press. Through repetition, one hopes that Shop Boy might some day learn not to lean his good work pants against it.

Readers: Dollar-store spectacles for those who, upon reaching a certain age, find themselves ordering the huevos rancheros every single time at the Mexican place near Typecast Press because they know it’s available from previous experience and everything else on the menu is blurry. As Mary might say, these also are the poor folks subjected to Shop Boy’s carrying on about such petty things.

Huevos Rancheros: Cowboy breakfast of eggs, beans and green chiles, to you gringos. Caution: Shooting this stuff into your body may cause gangrene of the heart arteries.

Letterpress List No. 55: Dimmer Switch

October 7, 2008

All right, say it: Maybe Shop Boy’s not the brightest bulb in the pack.


But if you need all of those bulbs over there put into these packs over here in a neat and swift manner, Shop Boy’s about the brightest there is.

See, I’m not afraid of grunt work. Especially assembly line-type stuff. This doggedness has served me well in the news business — nothing if not an assembly line, especially today — and the printshop. Ask Mary. She’ll tell you who she’d prefer be at the controls near the end of a long, long press run with a difficult feed … when you’ve got to nail every single impression because you’ve got only enough paper to fill the order and maybe leave you with five samples.

Drum roll, please.

No drums around? That’s OK. It’s just Shop Boy.

Which is why Shop Boy was at the big C&P again late one night — we’re talking 2:30 a.m., folks — feeding a tricky little wedding invite (with a “bleed,” so no getting lazy and dragging the paper along the inky tympan). Who designs these things, anyway?

Oh. Never mind.

True story: In high school, Shop Boy and his buddy Dan O’Hara got jobs at Matthews Inc. Every day after school, we’d trot the mile or so across town for work at the “chalk shop,” where we, yes, produced and packaged chalk — for textile companies. Talk about an outmoded industry. We’d mix a bunch of almost certainly carcinogenic powders together with some other unbreathable compounds to form a paste that we then sent in four tubes, Playdoh Pumper No. 9 style, down a conveyor belt, where it was cut into 4-inch logs atop wax paper. These we’d pull by the paper onto 5-foot trays that fit into slots of an oven. About 250 trays per batch.

The stuff would bake overnight. The next day, we’d pull the red-hot trays out of the oven and pile them on dollies for transporting to our workbenches. There, we stacked the trays 15 or so high and seven rows deep. We then made square boxes and set to work packaging the chalk. The pattern went like this: protective layer of sawdust; layer of chalk (4 sticks, 4 sticks, 2 sticks horizontally on the right and left sides, 2 sticks and 2 sticks vertically up the middle. Sawdust, repeat. Five layers per box. Seal and label the box with an initial representing the chalk color. Now do 200 more boxes.

Boring? Perhaps for mere mortals … or people who think too deeply. Shop Boy simply kept chugging, not thinking about not having a girlfriend or messing up his math assignment or having zits. Chalk-chalk-chalk-chalk, sawdust. Batch after batch, day after day. We would race to see who could do the most in an afternoon. Freaky concept nowadays, I know.

Bonus points: If the chemical formula were off a molecule or two, the chalk would stain whatever textiles were being marked for cutting and we’d be sued. And if the chalk showed up broken at the textile firm’s loading dock, it’d be sent back and the proceeds would, it was hinted, be removed from our paychecks.

And Mary wonders why Shop Boy can keep his focus for hours on end.

We’d focus on the music, too, of course. I mean, for two lady-less, Cranston, R.I., grandsons of immigrants (a lot of redundancy there), Danny and Shop Boy could bust a move. Before Typecast Press, that was the singin’-est, dancin’-est shop on the East Coast. Believe that. The big boss sure did after he walked in one day to find Shop Boy atop a stack of boxes, belting out “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer, full-on falsetto. Man, I could bring the noise. (Dan was more an alt-country/Southern rock guy. Charlie Daniels, Dixie Dregs, Allman Brothers, that type of stuff.)

Mr. Matthews: “Uh, um, how’s it going, um, men?”

Shop Boy (in an exaggeratedly deep voice): “Just celebrating a job finished ahead of time, sir.”

Mr. Matthews: “Um, uh, OK, then. Um, just don’t break the chalk.”

And he was OUT the door.

Danny about needed the Heimlich maneuver. Really, Shop Boy thought the dude was a goner.

So I hopped down off the boxes and, gently, helped him stop laughing at me. Heck, I probably deserved it, especially after the time he told me about his Uncle Leo, who’d been stabbed in a bar fight or something. All I could see was McGarrett from Hawaii Five-0 taking off his sport jacket, wrapping it around his arm for protection — !?!?! — and dancing around like West Side Story as he fearlessly took down a “punk” wielding a long knife. Or, you know, one of those crazy kung fu films.

“Uncle Li-Ho!” I yelled, breaking into the ridiculous McGarrett knife dance.

Hey, Shop Boy came to some things late … like, um, empathy, tact, class and stuff. If it was good for a laugh, it was good enough for me. Well, and in my defense, were were drinking about three pots of coffee per shift.

But where were we?

Hmmm. Oh, yeah, dim bulbs.

See, the bank of lights that runs up the center of our secondary studio — that’s where the big machines live — has gone all Uncle Leo on us lately. Throw the light switch and some will answer the call. Others might or might not. As the autumn days get shorter, it’s becoming a real issue. Not for Shop Boy so much. But often, while I’m cranking out the quantity, Mary’s watching the quality.

OK, so how many Shop Boys does it take to change a lightbulb?

One, unless he’s in denial. See, the lights are attached to a steel beam about 20 feet above the printshop floor. I said I’m not afraid of hard work. Hard landings? Do I really need to be messing with that? Couldn’t Mary just, like, get better glasses or something? Maybe if Shop Boy keeps dancing around the issue, Mary will simply hire an electrician to deal with it. (Not to put any ideas into her head or anything.) She has talked of replacing those old lights and filling the high ceiling with larger banks of more efficient ones. Fine by Shop Boy.

As long as she leaves room to add a disco ball.


Letterpress List No. 55

How about an hour’s worth of music to climb a ladder or simply stand and contemplate the “mood lighting” by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Fell on Black DaysSoundgarden (Hmm.)
What a Fool Believesthe Doobie Brothers (Shoulda heard me hit the high notes on this one … it’s no wonder I had no girlfriends.)
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing — Leo Sayer (“Just hold me tight and leave on the li-ight …”)
Hawaii Five-0 the Ventures (Da-da-da-da, daaah-daaah!)
Cuts Like a KnifeBryan Adams (Danny and Shop Boy lost touch over the years. Was it something I said?)
I’m No AngelGregg Allman (No stranger to the dark.)
Assembly LineDixie Dregs (Kinda jazzy here.)
Top of the Pops — the Smithereens (We knew all the tunes.)
Bad MedicineBon Jovi (“One more time, with feeeeeling!” Shop Boy had a little too much Sam Kinison in him back then.)
CoolLeonard Bernstein, from West Side Story (I don’t care how many knives you gave them. These “gangbangers” would have been laughed at till they cried and ran home in Shop Boy and Danny’s neighborhood.)
The Fight SongMarilyn Manson (He doesn’t really fight fair. But he, um, wears the pants in the band.)
Shout It Out Loud Kiss (Don’t have to tell Shop Boy twice. Then again …)
Stacked ActorsFoo Fighters (Stacked to the rafters.)
Nice Guys Finish LastGreen Day (“Your sympathy will get you left behind.”)
Too Much Time on My HandsStyx (We were fast, which left us a lot of time to get in trouble.)
Excuse Me Mr.No Doubt (Sorry, boss.)
(Do the) Instant MashJoe Jackson (“Grab can, lift arm, stack can, turn around.”)
We Are Santa’s Elves — from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Our work is play. And it’s almost that season again!)
Fired (anonymous, wordless cover) — Ben Folds (We were saved by our productivity.)
Time Is on My Sidethe Rolling Stones (Shop Boy can stack excuses even faster than he can pack chalk.)

Golden Advice

October 1, 2008

Go ahead. Ask Mary what day today is.

She’ll very likely answer, “Why, it’s October 1.”

Yes it is.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were chatting as we strolled in the general direction of a Virginia Beach bakery, drawn by the smell of bread and butter.

Shop Boy: “Do you know what today’s date is?”

Mary: “October 1, right?”

Shop Boy: “Yeah. But something feels different about today.”

Mary: “What do you mean?”

Shop Boy: “Oh, I don’t know … isn’t it, like, our wedding anniversary or something?”

Mary had no idea. Shop Boy? Near hyperventilation. Wow, I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time.

She had forgotten our anniversary!

Now, guys, let me tell you something. When you’ve got one of these in the bag, you’ve got maybe a freebie down the road somewhere. Am I right?

No, I am wrong … or have you not been paying attention?

Mary: “I must just be so happy and comfortable with you that I haven’t been counting the years.”

Ooh. That’s slick.

Ask Shop Boy about Valentine’s Day 2002 sometime. On second thought, let’s not go there.

My point is that in 19 years (yup), Shop Boy has never removed his wedding ring. Oh, I used to worry that it’d fall off in the shower. But marriage changes a man.

As in … these days, Shop Boy has trouble sliding the gold band half an inch either way on his chubby finger.

Shop Boy: “I must just be so happy and comfortable with you that I haven’t been counting the calories.”


This makes our latest printshop edict a particular challenge. See, when you’re working with fast-moving machinery and gears that’ll grind your bones to make their bread, you want to keep the “you” parts from the “them” parts. Anything that could catch should remain at a clear distance.

So we mind our apron strings, roll up our sleeves, Shop Boy removes his wristwatch, Mary slides off her necklace, and we don’t wear earphones or anything loose while the presses are in motion.

Who’d have thought we’d get called out for our wedding bands? Turns out these symbols of everlasting love, we’ve been sternly informed, also can represent the ghosts of fingers and hands past. Even a ring sunken so far into Shop Boy’s flesh?

Only, apparently, if I want to keep that flesh attached to the rest of me.

You should see us now as we prepare to print a job. It looks like airport security. Street shoes off, shop shoes on. Watch off. Keys and cellphones out of pockets. Rings off and safely stowed for the duration of the “flight.”

Yes, it’s a pain. And sure, it’d be tempting to “forget.”

Not Shop Boy.

A vow is a vow. And true love — of printing, or of a maddening, inspiring, pretty and funny woman — is worth a little pain.