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

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.)

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One Response to “Letterpress List No. 63: No, No, No … Yes!”

  1. Buffy Says:

    Shop Boy,

    I really enjoyed this entry, even though I don’t always completely follow the print geek stuff. Are you sure they killed the prairie dogs? I am thinking about Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were Rabbit, when they suck up the bunnies and keep them caged in the basement. Maybe they caged up the prairie dogs and then released them once the Pope had gone.

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