The Princess and the Pea

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.

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