Archive for December, 2008

Letterpress List No. 67: Take Two

December 29, 2008

You know that you’ve been pretty successful as a start-up printing operation if a mere two years after you brought all these presses back from grunge and grime to a state that could almost pass for pristine in some parts … you’ve got to do it all again.

And Shop Boy is having a hard time getting up for that. I mean, can’t anything just stay clean for once? I hear echoes of my dad in my own moaning, remembering how he’d look around for his tools in the shed I’d messed up and grouse, “You people can’t keep anything nice!”

Part of the problem is, of course, the paper. It’s mainly the great cotton stuff we like to use to give the stationery a big impression. It sheds like a kitten, but that’s just part of the package.

Then there’s Mary’s obsession with keeping the presses well oiled. I get it: That’s a good notion to have. But when the guidebooks tell you that a press should be oiled daily, that’s a reference to presses that are manned around the clock to churn out product. Not those run two to three hours a day in a heavy week. (We also spread the jobs among the Vandercooks, C&Ps and the Heidelberg based on the size, the personality and the deadline of the job.)

Anyway, when a sheik calls and invites you to join OPEC, you are swimming in oil, my friend. And cotton dust turns the puddles to mud.

But Shop Boy shouldn’t whine. Each of those slimy machine parts represents a lesson learned as we continue down the sometimes bumpy road to a level of quality and production that we’re determined to achieve. Mary’s, ahem, fairly good already. I like to joke that I long ago wiped out on the learning curve and crashed into someone’s living room. But if you’d told me two years ago that Shop Boy would be pulling off some of these solo projects, I’d have graciously ushered you toward the exit, figuring you’d had enough already.

So here I go to the supply closet. Steel wool, motor oil, degreaser, rags, paper towels, razor blade, screwdriver, Q-tips. Yep, they’re all there.

Do it right, and maybe I can buy myself another two years.


Letterpress List No. 67

How about an hour’s worth of music to clear two years’ worth of cotton paper dust from a Heidelberg’s grippers and gears by? OK, Shop Boy’s whining again — it’ll take only about an hour and 50 minutes. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great videos are from YouTube.

Do It AgainQueens of the Stone Age (Could listen to it over and over.)
Echo Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Wait … Shop Boy’s been here before.)
Rags to Riches Kool & the Gang (Or, to put it another way …)
Heel Over Head Puddle of Mudd (The low spots: my “speci-ality.”)
Dead Man’s CurveJan and Dean (Can’t walk away.)
Beds Are BurningMidnight Oil (How would Shop Boy know if they were on fire? I had my first collapse onto the printshop cot late the other night. Jeez. Can’t say we didn’t see it coming, though.)
Dirty Deeds AC/DC (Shop Boy ain’t perfect, but he’s dirt cheap.)
Galvanize — the Chemical Brothers featuring Q-Tip (Yup, you’ve heard it before. Think beer commercial. Hey, a man’s gotta get paid, right?)
Same Old Song and DanceAerosmith (The Toxic Twins, who’ve had a fairly amazing post-rehab run.)
Down In It Nine Inch Nails (Guess the joke’s on me.)
Dust to Dust Misfits (This cotton paper thing’s pretty cool “green”-wise. Renewable resource. Kills no trees. Takes a great impression. All that makes the mess a bit easier to live with.)
I Made a Mess of This TownScott Miller (Accidental discovery. Nice.)
God Bless This MessSheryl Crow (Her heart’s usually in the right place … when it doesn’t come to men, that is.)
The Nobodies Marilyn Manson (Typecast Press: Remember that name, folks.)

Letterpress List No. 66: Room to Improve

December 24, 2008

In case you missed it, Typecast Press had a bit of a coming-out party this week, a holiday shindig featuring — ta-da! — the new “wing.”


Didn’t get Mary’s invite? Let us know and we’ll put you on the list for next year. Yeah, we know … a letterpress outfit sending e-mail invites is kind of, oh, well, um, we were busy printing others’ cards and, uh … but it’s cute, isn’t it? Devil-horn snowman hands were Shop Boy’s one contribution. Genius!

And to tell the truth, Shop Boy was feeling a bit evil as we prepped the spot for prime time.

We’d been too occupied with printing projects for me to do much more than sneak away to vacuum the room, a 17-foot by 18-foot space with built-in shelves and a huge loft, since we’d taken occupancy more than a month ago. Shop Boy’d been dying to get in there.

Major storage, folks. It’s the stuff of daydreams for a guy who’s spent a couple of years stepping around and over things and tending to move heavy boxes and metal parts by dead-lifting them above my head and walking sideways through a narrow passageway.

If you follow this blog (and why wouldn’t you, hmm?), you know that each step of the way in our expansion from one Vandercook in a shared studio to multiple presses in several rooms, we’ve sweated to make our spaces as safe and attractive as some of these hunks of cast iron will allow. But you know how it is: For all the promise that came with each new press, an equal or greater amount of paraphernalia and supplies came along, too.

So the space around the Heidelberg Windmill was OK when it was idle. But watching Mary occasionally stumble too close to the chugging thing as she walked around tweaking this setting and that, Shop Boy began to worry. Hey, it’s what I do.

Anyway, the new room meant that one entire set of metal shelves, 4 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 8 feet high, could leave the Heidelberg’s side, and some much narrower wooden shelves could be shifted from directly behind the machine to replace them. The end result would be a path almost 3 feet wide around the windmill. Just like that. Cool.

Now all Shop Boy had to do was lug all of the big shelving unit’s contents — each of the five racks is designed to bear up to 600 pounds, if that gives you any idea — down the hall. Then we had to muscle the shelves themselves down there, too.

And we celebrated our newfound elbow room by producing two of the biggest jobs we’d ever handled. Whew!

Of course, now all the stuff that had been crowding us in the other space was set higgledy-piggledy, as Mary would say, in the new room. We’d just have to deal with that later.

Like … the day of the holiday party.

Shop Boy will spare you the gory details — save for Mary bleeding on the curtains we hung on the chicken wire that covers the two 10-foot by 10-foot windows. (A previous tenant had felt that the windows gave potential thieves too good a view inside the building.) Oh, and there was Shop Boy’s sulking over being informed that there were probably a few more important things to worry about at the moment than … any number of things I was worrying about at the moment.

Like that makes this different than any other day?!?!


But the party was swell, despite all of the carrying on. We had a good crowd. How many guests? Lots! What am I, the National Park Service? Let’s just say that Barack Obama will very likely have a few more for his big day. Figure on, oh, three or four times as many as the Park Service will report. Hope those folks get a new calculator as a holiday gift. ;-)

And man, if Obama has the kind of debut that Typecast Press’ new room did, well, stand back.


Letterpress List No. 66

How about an hour’s worth of music to … oh, heck, just listen to. Who, in this busiest season of the year, ever gets to just sit back, take a deep breath and listen to favorite tunes?

But first, the guy we inherited this new space from is Curt Iseli, aka the Sign King, a cool and creative dude who not only built neon and metal signs but collected old ones. He asked whether we’d like to keep one that he had no space elsewhere to store: the 15-foot-tall display from an amusement park strongman game. You know, hit the base with a sledgehammer and see how high the pellet will go, from taunting lower-end levels like “Sissy” to¬† ego-boosting “Popeye” or all the way to the bell.

Well, after watching an exasperated Mary drag some insanely heavy stuff around the new room, I’m thinking of painting her name at the tippety top … maybe in blood.

Shop Boy?

Let’s just say I’m keeping the sledgehammer hidden these days.

SmoothCarlos Santana Featuring Rob Thomas (Shop Boy could be a bit more.)
Devil With a Blue Dress OnMitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (Good golly.)
Heretic AnthemSlipknot (Here’s how it looks live. I dragged Mary to a Baltimore metal show featuring Slipknot, System of a Down and Rammstein. At one point, one of the ushers, most of whom were African-American, looked out into the sea of head-bangers and muttered, “White people are crazy.” Yeah, it was loud, but we could read her lips. Shop Boy was so proud …)
In My Room the Beach Boys (A lot of Brian Wilson and Co. lately. Must be a winter blahs thing.)
Here to ThereSonya Kitchell (Clever video.)
Sledgehammer Peter Gabriel (Big Bang theory.)
Kryptonite 3 Doors Down (Will you still call me Superman?)
Ring My BellAnita Ward (Give it a swing.)
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) AC/DC (Every last drop.)
Party Out of Boundsthe B-52s (But the overflow area was just right.)
The Christmas Song Nat King Cole (It’s Christmas Eve. Enjoy. Just about everybody’s doing it.)
I Want a Hippopotamus for ChristmasGayla Peevey (Nothing else will do.)
Christmas Songthe Raveonettes (Baby, it’s cool outside.)
Baby It’s Cold OutsideTom Jones and Cerys Matthews (OK, enough with the holiday music. Sorry.)

Letterpress List No. 65: Old What’s His Name

December 16, 2008

By the third blank stare, Shop Boy finally figured out why his joke wasn’t working. Mary had never heard the legend of old John Henry, the steel-spike-driving fool who vowed to die hammering rather than be beaten down the railroad tracks by a machine … then did so, iron-forged pride intact.

Mary: “Of course I’ve never heard of him. How stupid! Who would do that? Must be some Yankee-Puritan work ethic thing they teach you up there.”

She said this, of course, as Shop Boy was about to keel over, exhausted, having just beaten the steam drill.

Blank stares out there? Jeez. Read the story, people. Better yet, maybe we should just ask Bruce Springsteen all about it.


We were doing a run of 1,000 holiday coaster/ornaments for Tilt Studios, a Baltimore design/branding outfit that’s trying to save the world one socially conscious corporate identity at a time. It was to be a solid, simple design with a web address at the bottom. One color (a sort of aquamarine, to Shop Boy’s eyes). Mary had sold Tilt on using Gane Coverboard, in gray, which we’d chop into squares and print, then drill a hole for ribbon and die-cut later.

The stuff’s thick and heavy. Great for a coaster. Not so great for a press gripper, apparently.

The Heidelberg, aka the steam drill, was the obvious choice for the job, as hand feeding the coasters on the big C&P would take hours rather than minutes and present inking and impression challenges that the Heidelberg laughs in the face of.

So, we inked it up, loaded up 10 squares of coverboard for a test run, threw the lever, pushed the air knob, pulled the red ball into impression mode and … Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!

That didn’t sound right. And the printed squares? Yeesh! The image was all over the place. So un-Heidelberg. We were printing “to guides,” so our first inclination was to blame the guide pin. When this method’s working right, the windmill arm swings into position to grab a sheet, slides it across the platen, drops it into the guide, then picks it up again after the impression is made and delivers it to the out basket. Well, maybe the board was simply too thick and was coming to rest atop the pin rather than between it and the platen. A bunch of fiddling and test runs were inconclusive.

We noodled and tested our way around the press for an hour or so, then decided we should just try it without guides, which involves shifting the feeding mechanism this way and that and adjusting the plate location. A pain, but not a deal-breaker.

Whack! Whack! Whack! … Same crazy, tilted impression.

That was a deal-breaker.

But not before Mary picked up a screwdriver and a wrench and began taking sections of the windmill apart. (I swear, I don’t even know this woman anymore.)

Shop Boy: “What are you, a mechanic now? You don’t even know what that is.”

Mary: “Well, we have to try something.”

Shop Boy: “How about we try you putting down the tools and taking one full step back from the Heidelberg? Hands above your head where I can see them.”

We looked at the clock. By now we’d lost half a day. No way could we make the deadline. We’d have to call the client with the bad news and call in a favor from the Heidelberg owners we know, which would set us and them back a day. And that’s the tough part of holiday printing jobs: Too late is “too bad.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Shop Boy’s old John Henry complex kicked in. I hugged Mary and told her in reassuringly heroic tones that we didn’t need the steam drill. And before I let that deadline beat me, I would die … impression lever in my hand.

First blank stare.

We shifted the works over to the big C&P. We’d need to back the perfectly adjusted platen way off (just stomp on my heart, why don’t you …) to make room for the thick coverboard. Oh, and a double hit would be required to maintain the color we needed to match. A few hours in, Shop Boy was wishing he’d never heard of John Henry — or Bruce Springsteen, who taunted us this rainy December evening with songs of summer love when what we needed was a dirge.

Hours and hours later, we began punching the ribbon holes. We could only do 10 coasters at a time because the thick paper “holes” clogged the drill press’ bit. Ugh. Stop, remove bit, insert poker to clear debris, reinsert bit, repeat.

Now for the hours and hours of hand-fed die-cutting.

Lord, lord.

“You OK?” Mary asked at one point.

“I thinking I’m going all old John Henry on you,” Shop Boy responded.

Second blank stare.

Early the next morning, we stood among the stacks of maybe 1,300 coasters waiting to be punched — again, by hand — out of the squares. (If your die does too complete a job, the coasters can fall into the guts of the machine or onto the floor and be ruined.)

Well, as sometimes happens with people who know Mary, Kate Cogswell, a graphic designer who teaches the trade at Stevenson University, had made a vague promise to come lend a hand at the printshop sometime. Shop Boy calls this “wandering too close to the letterpress vortex.”

Today was Kate’s lucky day to play Shop Girl.

Shop Boy: “Thanks for coming, Kate. Old John Henry could use a breather.”

Third blank stare.

True story: Mary and Shop Boy were off with one of her childhood chums when we started talking about a celebrity pregnancy and a dispute over who the lucky fellow had been. Apparently, there were more than a few, um, candidates.

Well, Shop Boy had recently been exposed to London tabloid journalism, where “bonking” is headline shorthand for “doing the nasty.”

Shop Boy: “Maybe they should jut put them all in a room, blindfold her, spin her around and let her play Pin the Tail on the Bonkee.

Get it? Shop Boy was purple with laughter. Mary and friend? Staring at me, baffled.

So, through tears, I kept repeating the punchline: “Bonk-EE! Wocka-wocka! Bonk-EEEE!”


Back at the printshop, I finally asked Kate and Mary, “You guys know who John Henry is, right?” They shrugged. Then I sang them the song, for crying out loud. That just left Kate and Mary laughing for all the wrong reasons.


Shop Boy’s talents are wasted on these people …


Letterpress List No. 65

How about just under an hour’s worth of music to maybe jog the old memory a little bit. New or old, most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

The JokerSteve Miller Band (Ho-ho, ha-ha.)
Girls in Their Summer ClothesBruce Springsteen (A 15-yard penalty for taunting.)
Gonna Make You Happy
Tripod (What’s with these Australian comedy crooners?)
C’mon N Ride It (the Train)Quad City DJ’s (Choo-choo.)
The Living YearsMike and the Mechanics (Schmaltzy, I know …)
Air Force Ones Nelly (Sounds nice, make hit it twice.)
MystifiedDamn Yankees (Ted Nugent and the Ted-ettes.)
Hey NineteenSteely Dan (So young she doesn’t know who the Queen of Soul is. Beyonce’s been there.)
What’s Her NameGreen Day (No clue.)
Don’t Stand So Close to Methe Police (Or the machine. Wrench down, hands up.)
U Can’t Touch ThisMC Hammer (Bangin’ … in its day.)
Time Bomb Old 97s (Must have been a blast.)

Letterpress List No. 64: The Grass Is Greener

December 9, 2008

“Look what I got!” Mary beamed as she bounced in from the farmer’s market. “Snake plants! Where should we put them?”

“How about here?” Shop Boy deadpanned, holding out a trash bag. “It’ll save us some time.”

“Oh, don’t listen to him,” Mary reassured the plants. But I believe that the plants knew, even as she set them in the pretty stand, that their days were numbered. Snake plants don’t need much of anything to survive. But neither does a cactus. And Shop Boy’s lobbed a few floppy, mushy, dead cacti into the trash in our time together.

So, when Mary showed me the gift a client had brought, a perky little evergreen with tiny holiday decorations, Shop Boy was blunt.

“Ain’t gonna see Christmas.”

“You’re wrong this time, Shop Boy,” an offended Mary responded. Then she put her finger into the potting soil (now dust). “Oops. Better water this.”

Mary loves plants and flowers — loves having green stuff around her living and working spaces. So the best news we’ve had recently was the pronouncement of our new fellow tenants at the Fox Industries building, Deb and Gab of Peyton Home, that they’d like to “green up” the lobby, and perhaps even add landscaping to the building’s fairly grim exterior and loading dock.

Of course, Shop Boy had grown kind of partial to the plastic centerpiece set upon the dusty wicker furniture in the lobby. But I can adjust. Especially with Deb and Gab, who sell home furnishings, booting the wicker in favor of a living room look. Visitors will get to relax a bit. And Peyton is going to sell stuff from its studio, which means more foot traffic, which means, potentially, more jobs for Typecast Press.

As you might expect, though, the merging of grease/metal and lavendar/lace is going to produce its share of uncomfortable moments.

Take this weekend’s party and holiday sale. To get to Peyton Home, visitors must enter by the loading dock, then walk down a hallway past Typecast Press’ studio spaces. So, your high-end holiday sale customers might be greeted, let’s say, by a grunting, sweaty, stinky fellow in a black smock with a monkey patch dragging a dirty printing press across that hallway. By himself.

Shop Boy tried to be discreet. Believe me. Until the press got stuck halfway. Then I merely ran for my truck, grabbed a section of rope — neon purple, natch — dashed back inside, lassooed the press in the sturdiest spots, hoisted it onto carpets remnants and tugged with everything I had. Despite backing into the door jam and expelling an involuntary “Uuungh!,” Shop Boy was fairly successful in removing the press from the hall without destruction of property or disruption of party.

There were two witness by my count, but they’re not talking. (Speechless, I’m sure.)

Now, a bigger threat to the party/holiday sale arrived soon after Mary did. (Shop Boy had come early to do some cleaning … and to move the press by myself before Mary could tell me not to do it by myself.) We needed to finish one job on the Heidelberg Windmill and begin another. Let me tell you, when that three-phase electricity adapter gets its metallic singing voice warmed up and the Windmill starts huffing and puffing, it’s a bit tough to hear inside the Land of the Giants, which is what I like to think of the studio that holds our biggest presses as.

The Peyton Home Showroom, fancily decorated for the occasion, is separated by locked, thin double doors with glass windows covered only by cheap paper shades on our side.

“You ready to disturb some peace?” Shop Boy asked Mary.

Dang, we were loud. Not running-the-paper-cutter loud, mind you, but yikes. Shop Boy kept waiting for that knock on the door.

And then there it was.

“Oh, no,” I called to Mary as she went to answer the knock. When our roommate Chris Hartlove popped his head in, I expected him to say, “Do you guys know how loud this is next door?” Instead, he said he’d come for the party and to shop a bit and didn’t hear us working until he walked past the studio door.

Turns out the noise we make travels the other way!

Shop Boy thought about firing up the paper cutter to celebrate. You know, like how some folks express glee by shooting machine guns and stuff into the air.

But why push our luck?

Instead, we shed our smocks and strolled next door for our own peek at the furniture and decorator goods. Pretty cool things. But we couldn’t linger. We couldn’t hear our Heidelberg calling, and that worried us. It was too quiet …

So we said our hellos, made polite chatter and then walked back to our studio thinking that maybe this cohabitation can work. We’re all for a prettier hallway/lobby with better furniture and houseplants. And landscaping sounds grand. A fancy sign? Cool. Maybe we’ll get one, too.

And while we’re at it, Shop Boy’s thinking about Deb and Gab’s need for a little more space to store their wares when they’re not on display. Mainly I’m thinking, if they know how to keep plants alive, maybe they should have a little space at Mary and Shop Boy’s house.

Just an idea.


Letterpress List No. 64

How about an hour’s worth of music to landscape, drag a press, dispose of a dead houseplant or enjoy a holiday party by? Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

Dead Flowersthe Rolling Stones (As younger guns.)
Nearly Lost You Screaming Trees (Out on a limb.)
It’s Oh So Quiet Bjork (Odd duck. But she’s just so winning in the video, as if she’d just purchased snake plants at the farmer’s market or something.)
Come on OverShania Twain (Make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to the watering can.)
AlivePearl Jam (A temporary situation.)
I Love It LoudKiss (No compromise.)
RosesOutkast (So bad it’s irresistible.)
Who Can It Be Now?Men at Work (Whew!)
Fade to BlackMetallica (Shop Boy was not really a Metallica fan until this song. I thought, “Wow, it’s an orchestra piece, with movements rather then riffs. Kinda like Beethoven, or something.”)
Asking for Flowers Kathleen Edwards (I wonder if Deb and Gab know that Mary often sends Shop Boy into the ladies room — which has a deeper sink — to change the water in the flower vase …)
Ha Ha You’re DeadGreen Day (Houseplants, you have been warned.)
Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road Loudon Wainright (Letterpress roadkill in the middle of the hallway.)
Can You Hear MeEnrique Iglesias (Just for the title, folks. Swear.)
Hip-Hop Is Dead Nas (Not if they keep making songs this cool.)
Another Body DropsCypress Hill (Ditto.)
I Wanna Live the Ramones (Not going quietly.)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise PollutionAC/DC (Indeed.)
Get the Party Started Pink (She’s ready.)
Let It Snow!Dean Martin (Let’s get that party started, shall we?”

Men in Makeup

December 4, 2008

Hey, here’s something crazy courtesy of Mr. Peacock (link at right), who suggested this Mixwit site where you can compile playlists for any occasion — or for no reason at all.

Dude on the cassette cover? Who else?

Shop Boy!

As in … Who else would promise the friendly face painter at the party that if she ran out of kids to decorate, I’d help her kill some time?

My new, um, look earned mixed reactions from adult partygoers.

Anyway, I might post a few of these from time to time. This one is, naturally, songs by male musicians with a thing for facepaint. If you like, give them a listen. If not, they’ll be easy to skip. Enjoy.

Then go make your own mix! It’s free.

[mixwit_mixtape wid=”397dc0d57731418587d42b2ae062ae88″ pid=”5fd65859de4cf165ccf95b158d1ef6ee” un=”ShopBoy” width=”426″ height=”327″ center=”true”]

Letterpress List No. 63: No, No, No … Yes!

December 2, 2008

The shiny silver envelopes were lined up in long, tight rows, the aquamarine and orange lettering forming a repeating pattern that made them look a bit like 950 toy soldiers. Eight solid hours of work, and now my beautiful army was ready for inspection. As Shop Boy prepared to call Mary in for the final, late-night OK, one thing kept going through my head:

“Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.”

Now, believe me, Shop Boy doesn’t go running around quoting the little sayings on tea boxes all the time. Mary’s been trying to get me to drink the stuff for years. Oh, I’ll do it. But I’ve got to be miserably ill or really in an odd mood. And it’s got to be the fruit-flavored kind. And absolutely packed with sugar.

I’m talking hot Kool-Aid.

Anyway, the life-affirming quotation is from a box of Sleepy Time tea from Celestial Seasonings. The blend, though decidedly not fruity or delicious, will always have a warm spot in Shop Boy’s heart. It’s helped me get Mary through some brutal colds, exhaustion and even a bout of chickenpox. Besides, it comes from a really cool place.

The first thing you notice as you drive up to the entrance of the Celestial Seasonings plant near Boulder, Colo., is the prairie dogs. I mean, the cute little boogers are everywhere. On the day we visited — OK, it’s been a few years now — the grounds surrounding the plant looked like the surface of the moon. Just full of holes. By now you know that Shop Boy is a nature nut, and I’d never seen a prairie dog in person. Here, I was a little concerned we’d be trampled. But mostly I was enchanted.

“C’mon, little boy,” Mary said as she took my hand and led me up the walk to where the tour groups were gathering.

This wasn’t too long after Pope John Paul II and about 100,000 hormonal teens descended upon Denver for World Youth Day, which — if what Mary and Shop Boy witnessed was correct — is a day when young people from the world over travel to a central city to celebrate mass with the pope … and make out.

The mass part was scheduled for a big, open part of the prairie outside Denver. Now, for those unfamiliar with its geography, Denver is not in the mountains. Oh, they make a lovely backdrop, all right. But they’re an hour or two away by car. Nope, they don’t call Denver the Queen City of the Plains for nothing. And where you’ve got prairie, you tend to get prairie dogs.

And when you get prairie dogs, you sometimes, possibly, unfortunately, get bubonic plague. Yes, prairie dogs are potential carriers.

Well, the potential of having 100,000 bubonic-plague-exposed teens returning to their many countries apparently spooked the local authorities, who devised an evil plot to rid that portion of the plains of the prairie dogs. They just took this big vacuum thingy, put it over every hole they could find, and sucked out the varmints lock, stock and bucked tooth.

So instead of the plague, hundreds of teens attending the mass were felled by the sun, which you’re an awful lot closer to up there a mile high. They’d eliminated all the prairie dogs but hadn’t thought to set up enough water stations. Geez.

The pope? He came and went with much fanfare. And souvenirs. A foam mitre (a pope hat). A coffee mug that featured the mountains behind Denver and, when you added hot water, the pope bending down to bless the city. Or destroy it like Godzilla. Wow. (The mitre got moldy and nasty, but I’ve still got the mug.)

Pope John Paul II clearly did not visit the Celestial Seasonings plant.

Prairie dogs for days. Who knows? Maybe those critters have been sucked up since. But Shop Boy will always remember the sights (to an East Coast kid, prairie dogs are a miracle) and smells (breathe too deeply in the peppermint room and … yikes, that’s gonna leave a mark on the old lungs) of our visit. And I’ll always remember the Sleepy Time bear and the “toast and tea” epigram.

Especially when I get lucky. Oh, not like the World Youth Day kids. But, say, when a holiday card project designed to be printed on one type of paper simply won’t work on that one. So you scramble. And you forget one little thing, like how a thin orange ink will not overprint an aquamarine symbol on a “petallic” envelope without revealing the ghost of the blue lines beneath, which turn into black striping. In a perfect world, the pattern beneath the orange spot would be “knocked out,” leaving a hole in the aquamarine plate so that the orange would stick directly to the paper.

Shop Boy noticed this as soon as the run began, and panicked. It looked awful to me … and I had no fool idea of how to fix it. Man, this was supposed to be the easy part of the project. Shop Boy was doing this to take a bit of the load off Mary’s shoulders. I’d failed. I wanted to die.

OK, I’m being overly dramatic. Instead, I did what any guy would do in my shoes.

I ran to get Mary’s help, even though she was already busy.

“It’s not your fault,” she said. “The original design calls for it to be done this way. It’s right there on the plate. The designer’s cool with a little color bleed. Besides, it’s really well registered. Good job.”

“It’s going to look bleeding awful, all right,” I protested.

“Oh, don’t be so negative.”

Great. Now Shop Boy was being the perfectionist. The envelopes were due the next morning, so back I went to the C&P. This thing can really move, so you figure 950 impressions would be no big deal. A couple of hours, tops. But fresh ink on this petallic stuff can smear easily, so stacking it neatly is essential. And to top it all off, the orange wasn’t quite strong enough that one pass would achieve the proper shade. I could “double hit” the envelopes, but that created a color that was too dark. Besides, the envelope could shift almost imperceptibly between hits and thus mess up the registration.

Or, I could do it the hard way.

If you’ve worked a C&P press before, you very likely know that you can achieve a one-and-a-half ink density by making an impression, throwing the lever into “trip” mode, pulling the printed envelope or card, cycling the machine through so the plate is inked but the tympan is not, placing the new blank envelope in the guides and then pulling the lever back into print mode. Bang. Then you throw the lever into trip and repeat. It takes twice as long and requires complete concentration, even at medium press speed.

Do this on a higher-speed setting and you can end up looking like Lucy and Ethel working on the conveyor belt.

Shop Boy had one such moment when, thinking too hard about the deeper meaning behind a Marilyn Manson lyric or something, I stuck an envelope in upside-down. In the ensuing scramble, I dropped that one into the press’ greasy guts and knocked several perfectly printed envelopes onto the floor, but managed to throw the machine off impression before making a mess of the tympan. Damage toll: seven envelopes.

I slowed the press down a bit, stopped worrying about what Marilyn Manson means when he screams about having an F, a C and a K and just missing you, and cranked them out. For hours.

At about No. 825, a funny thing struck me. The logo overprint, rather than look like a mistake, began resembling not an orange blob with an aquamarine background and black lines but, from a certain angle, sort of like a Christmas tree ornament. Yes, running the press this way can prompt hallucinations. But, swear to god (sorry, Marilyn), they looked like little teardrop ornaments. On a holiday card envelope.

NOT the designer’s intention. Certainly not mine. But as Shop Boy inspected the troops one last time, it was impossible not to smile.

Fear and frustration can so easily be pluck and persistence.


Letterpress List No. 63

How about an hour’s worth of music to vacuum prairie dogs — or just make out — by. (By the way, Shop Boy realizes that he could have cut the photopolymer plate apart, leaving just the symbol, cleaned the orange ink off the press, re-inked with white and spent several hours laying down a landing strip for the orange symbol, then cleaned the press again, re-inked with orange, reassembled the plate, mess with the currently perfect registration and be finished by about sunrise. Next time.) Most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

No More Drama Mary J. Blige (Yes, Mary.)
AqualungJethro Tull (Speaking of drama … “Salvation a la mode, and a cup of tea.”)
Pour Some Sugar on MeDef Leppard (Or, right into the cup.)
Lumpthe Presidents of the United States of America (Two for me, please. )
1996Marilyn Manson (Definitely anti-pope.)
I Miss YouIncubus (These guys don’t miss F, C and K quite as much.)
Pennyroyal TeaNirvana (This beautiful song hurts in so many ways, knowing as we now do about the physical — stomach — and emotional pain the deeply troubled Kurt Cobain suffered. His drug addiction and eventual suicide, if not understandable, at least seem to fit the picture a bit better. A longtime rock critic for the Baltimore Sun told me once about meeting Cobain. “Hello. How are you?” the critic said. “I hate myself and want to die,” Cobain responded nonchalantly. Ouch.)
I Hate Myself and Want to DieNirvana (In case anyone missed his point.)
Lucy in the Sky With Diamondsthe Beatles (Get it? LSD. It’s OK … they were always in trip mode.)
Drop It Like It’s HotSnoop Dog (Snoop, too.)
Statistician’s BluesTodd Snider (Too much to think about.)
My Favorite MistakeSheryl Crow (After No. 825, that is.)
Failure By DesignBrand New (Song’s a bit paint-by-numbers, but that’s what sells these days, eh?)
Mama Said Knock You Out LL Cool J (We didn’t listen.)
You Got LuckyTom Petty and the Heartbreakers (No shame in that.)
Like Toy SoldiersEminem (Only happier, and with less blood.)
Happy AccidentJimi Hendrix (Stumbled over this jam. Works for me.)
(s)AINTMarilyn Manson (Here’s the, um, alphabet song. Warning: It’s just as profane as the Manson song above. Not sure what this says about old Shop Boy.)