Archive for February, 2009

Not My Birthday

February 26, 2009

Maybe it’s just me, but it has always been disconcerting, and sometimes even creepy, to hear the voice on the other end of the phone line close with: “Have a blessed day!” The insinuation seems to be: “Remember, God’s watching, sinner.”

It’s a big Baltimore thing, and I do tend to pick up local idiosyncracies by osmosis or something. Like pronouncing Saturday like “Sayerdee.” That’s a long way from “Sataday,” the way I pronounced it back home in Rhode Island. One of these days Shop Boy will live somewhere where the locals pronounce it right, and I’ll be cured.

Meanwhile, slap me if I ever end a conversation with “Have a blessed day!”

Shop Boy tells Mary often how blessed he already is. See, not everyone in this life gets to know exactly how and where he or she will die.

Me? Heart attack, on a platform, running for a train.

Mary always gets mad when I say it, seeing this as some sort of criticism of her desire to never get to the station too soon and have to wait around. Criticism? Where’d she get that silly idea?

On February 26 a few years back, Shop Boy and Mary were running frantically for the Amtrak train when Shop Boy stopped, dropped the bags, stomped his foot and said sharply to Mary:

This is NOT my birthday!

She nearly died of laughter right there.

“Poor little bear,” she said, softly touching my enflamed cheek. “We can give you a credit. Now, come on!”

Credit means that for every hour of my birthday ruined, one hour of birthday princehood is added on.

Well, start the meter.

We’ve got Mary crazy printing for her beloved Cousin Mollie’s Greek party this weekend in Florida (we’re carrying the printed materials with us), unprinted menus due at Woodberry Kitchen and Shop Boy staring down a murderous, multiple-magazine deadline, then the rush to do laundry and pack for Florida, where we’ll land, grab a cab to Mollie’s and start prepping food for the party.

Shop Boy will take his next breath sometime shortly after that party ends.

Happy Birthday to me!


True story: Each year around this time, Shop Boy would make the trudge home to Cranston, R.I., to let Mom make me a birthday cake.

She wouldn’t hear of me not coming, and got quite guilt-trippy if I didn’t make arrangements.

Shop Boy was the first of her seven kids to permanently abandon the old Rhode Island home. Every time I came home, Mom would make a huge deal out of it. I don’t know if my siblings resented the attention I got for messing up their weekend or not. Wait, of course they did. Even I resented me. Who did Shop Boy think he was?

Grow up!

That’s what Mom would say — to me and to them — as she pulled my favorite cake from the oven: an apple cake with cinnamon icing.

(Shop Boy does not like apple cake with cinnamon icing, but my mom believed with all her heart that it was my favorite. She wasn’t going to hear otherwise from me. I’d eat three slices and thank her for remembering.)

Devil’s food cake, white icing with coconut: This is what Mom made me every year I lived at home. You move away, memories change.

So, yeah, it’s my birthday. February — yuck. Sneak blizzards. Ice storms. 70 one day, 15 the next.  Rats in the alley.  Early tree buds frozen. The unique male pressures of Valentine’s Day … and March is the month that Mom died.

Shop Boy has also recently had ugly, hurtful arguments over politics with Dad and my big sister Margaret. If you’ve read this far, you know that shutting up is hard for Shop Boy sometimes.

I’m going to make up with both of them today. Life’s too short.

And Shop Boy has a train to catch.

Flipping Our Lids

February 23, 2009

It’s kind of tough to play the pay-as-you-go game in letterpress printing.

Take ink, for example.

More precisely, take 2.2 pounds of ink, or a kilogram, if you prefer or have no choice but to use the metric system. (How un-American!) Now, say you’ve got a job coming in — thousand of units — that calls for a very specific, true metallic color, like copper. Nice call. You order up a tub of copper ink, about $100 on the street, then figure out that it would actually be a bit cheaper to buy a couple of tubs at the two-kilogram discount.

Then the job is canceled. Maybe the client has checked with the board of directors, which insists on a different color. Or, as has been known to happen even at Typecast Press, you did the math wrong. You actually needed only a bit but have purchased a bunch.

Shop Boy’s guessing the first scenario (a frequent occurrence in the business) or the second (ask Mary about that one, then stand back) is what left Vince Pullara III with several storage closets full of untouched tubs of ink. He’s a pretty bright guy with one heck of a printing pedigree.

But there it was, all that ink needing a new home as Vince tries to streamline his printshop a bit. By the dust on a few of the cans — and the dates (1989!) — much of the ink may very well have been ordered by Vince’s dad when he ran Baltimore’s Inter-City Press.

Wow! Stacks and stacks were already waiting for us, then Vince pointed to the supply cabinets, chatting and making suggestions on using the stuff — while never stopping a long run of envelopes he’d been in the middle of.

Shop Boy only hopes that we’re this giving of our free time and free … stuff when we decide to upgrade. Vince has been so great to Typecast Press that we were feeling a bit gluttonous packing up all that ink.

Vince’s response to our tentativeness?

He cleared a huge rolling cart and handed us more boxes. And off we went, Mary’s car sagging from the weight. Yeah, yeah, it’d have been smart to bring the truck, but we had no idea what kind of volume Vince was looking to move. You know? Don’t show up with an empty rail-freight car, a forklift and a crane when a printshop owner says he might have a little  something you can use. That’s rude.

Anyway, we hauled all the ink back to the Fox Industries building, lugged it up the stairs and piled it into the new, unfinished space. Mary, who just loves cute forms, ran to the computer to design an ink inventory list, replete with Typecast Press logo, rounded borders and, ahem, an aquamarine banner.

Then we grabbed a couple of rags, dusted the cans, separated the tubs by ink color, logged in the Pantone numbers and brand names (for quick visual ID) and finally made two large piles. One for us, one for the printshop at the Maryland Institute College of Art, including a tub of copper.

See? We can be generous.

We’re learning from a pro.

Company’s Coming

February 20, 2009

In a bunch of years in the newspaper business, Shop Boy got an awful lot of phone calls from an awful lot of drunken people at loud bars wanting me — or the sports department if I was lucky — to help settle a wager. Nowadays, a simple Google search removes the middle man.

For instance, Shop Boy was himself at a bar the other day, the Mount Royal Tavern, with Mary and friends Jen and Martin, when the bartender approached.

Another? Sure … oh, that’s not what he came for.

“You know that narrator from The Big Lebowski, what’s his name? Used to do westerns. Guys down there are having an argument.”

I’d dealt with the film critics at the Baltimore Sun for a number of years, and I loved that crazy movie, but dang it if the name wasn’t gone from my pretty little head. (OK, my head is huge, but apparently I.T. was doing a reboot up there or something.)

We looked blankly at each other … then it came to me. Not the name, but the fact that I had an iPhone in my pocket. Google! Fifteen seconds later, we had our man. Bet settled: Sam Elliott, dude, who else?

No wonder Americans’ attention spans are shot.

Shop Boy’s as much as anybody’s.

See, 16 college art students are getting a pretty big dose of Mary these days. She’s teaching a class in letterpress at MICA. Six hours a session, one day a week, for 15 weeks. Sorry, folks, it’s sold out.

And I think she and Kyle Van Horn, who’s teaching with her, have gotten the young people’s attention. (If not, that pop quiz — shhhhhh! — should do the trick.)

Now, you should know that Mary was once told by a career counselor that she should stay away from teaching — unless it was to work with enormously gifted students. She can have patience issues with folks who are stubborn learners who need to be hit over the head with a concept to get it — like, oh … Shop Boy for instance (what was Mary thinking?).

Well, she’s working the kids — gifted art students as a rule — pretty hard.

Hence there was Shop Boy, arriving in Baltimore from D.C. one cold Wednesday night and walking from the train station and past the school print building only to see the lights burning and Mary’s class still going strong … after 10 p.m.

Standing in the snow like an idiot — shhhhhh! — I sort of felt like throwing stones at the second-story window, like, “Hey, what about Shop Boy?”

Instead, I wandered home. All of about 100 yards from the MICA printshop building. Yeah, Shop Boy’s commuting two hours each way and Mary’s commuting 100 yards and I’m home first. Hmph!

You want impatient?

So the students at MICA tend to be pretty quick studies at the Vandercook deal. The school has a fleet of them, and Kyle keeps the presses shipshape. (He’s also a whiz at color registration on the stinking things — but he’s kind of our competitor, so again … shhhhhh!)

What MICA doesn’t really have is the platen presses — the Pilots, Kelseys, Heidelbergs and C&Ps — that Typecast Press has tended to accumulate.


It’s not that the Vandercooks can’t do all the same stuff. But to concentrate on only Vandercooks is to miss out on a huge chunk of the rich history of letterpress printing. And that is what Mary is all about.

She decided a tour — a walk through history, as it were — was in order, so Wednesday, the students, Kyle and Mary saddled up and rode over to the Typecast Press studios. Shop Boy showed up toward the end at Mary’s request, just so, you know, the students wouldn’t be frightened when a weird stranger showed up to help with … the actual class Mary will be teaching at our shop in a couple of weeks.

Excuse me? A couple of weeks?

I might have failed to mention that the depth we have in platen presses involves mostly the layers of dirt and grime. Shop Boy hasn’t stopped sweating since Mary mentioned the MICA coaster-printing session.

Yes, I know. Shop Boy should have gotten ahead of the game, cleaning and tuning up the presses as soon as they found their way to the shop. I mean, you know something’s going to come up and you’ll have to scramble to get presses and rollers prepped. Why not do it now, do it right, and then relax when your partner nonchalantly informs you that 16 people — platen rookies — will need all machines on deck for a coaster project?

A stubborn learner.

Or maybe you missed that part.

A Quick Pick-Me-Up

February 14, 2009

For a kid who was raised as a skier, Mary certainly doesn’t fall very well.

I can remember the time in Brooklyn that I sent Mary off for the subway to Manhattan only to have a weeping, bleeding mess show up at the door a moment later. In her haste, she had fallen in the street and skinned everything but her nose.

True story: The day before our wedding, Mary and Shop Boy were walking along a sidewalk in Colorado Springs, Colo., excitedly discussing our honeymoon plans.


Mary was airborne, arse over elbows, as a Bostoner might say, the pavement that had tripped her just itching to tear her up once again.

Then something truly amazing happened: In a split second, Shop Boy caught her … an inch before her pretty face — and everything else — hit the concrete. To this day, I do not understand how I reacted that quickly. But I saved our wedding. Unbelievable.

“You’re OK,” I whispered in her ear. “I’ve got you.”

She went limp, I lifted her to her feet, unharmed, and we stood there hugging, both of us dumbfounded by what had just happened.

Like she’s not going to marry Shop Boy after that?

The odd thing is that Shop Boy has had a few moments like that in his lifetime. Bill Lee, a goofball pitcher for Shop Boy’s boyhood team, the Red Sox, was asked once why he had been such a great fielder of baseballs smashed back at him. He said the drugs helped him see the play before it happened, or something like that.

Shop Boy doesn’t know about drugs and seeing the future. Booze just makes me forget the future, the present and the past. I think maybe it’s just that, having made just about every dumb mistake a person could make, I tend to see bonehead moves coming.

Mary and Shop Boy were at old Candestick Park in San Francisco, watching Shop Boy’s adulthood team, the Rockies, play the Giants, when I spotted a couple of young boys running down a row of empty seats — jumping from one to the next. Keep your feet on the armrests and it’s loads of boyish fun, believe me. Slip, and one leg goes behind the seat bottom as the other lands on the seat, opening the chair and essentially putting all of your weight on that slab of wood that is about to snap your leg in two. Panic sets in, and the more you struggle, the more a fracture becomes likely. The pain is indescribable.

That was me, Fenway Park, 1968.

Shop Boy should add at this point that one of the Candlestick thrill seekers had a little brother. And he was headed down the row a little behind them. As the little boy, about 5, went past, Shop Boy pulled a Bill Lee.

“Oh, no,” I said to Mary.

Half a row later, it happened. His big brother long gone, the little boy slipped.

Shop Boy ran.

He was near shock by the time I got there, panicked, unable to make a sound but about to snap his little leg when Shop Boy, a big bear in a brown fleece pullover, grabbed him. “You’re OK,” I whispered. “Just relax and I’ll get you out.”

He went totally limp, and I reached down with my free arm, pulled the seat bottom vertical to release the pressure on his leg and lifted him out of there.

Mary swears it was one of the most funny-scary and heartwarming scenes she’s ever seen — certainly at a baseball game.

Not the boy’s dad. I carried the sobbing little fellow, who was still unable to speak, up the stadium stairs to his father, who gave me a “What are you, a pervert?” look and grabbed his son away from me.

A couple of innings later, when the tyke could finally tell his father what had happened, the guy came over, thanked me and shook my hand. Shop Boy would bet that he’d been there before, too. Either that, or it had flashed through his mind that his wife would have killed him for getting her little boy’s leg broken at a stupid baseball game.

Anyway, we’ve been without a light on the loading dock for some time. Those motion-sensing lights are apparently just like the miracle, water-saving, motion-sensing, auto-flush toilets. After a while, you’re doing jumping jacks trying to get their attention.

There’s a set of cement stairs, 18 or so, that lead down next to the steel dock and its steel beam supports to the parking lot.

Shop Boy couldn’t catch Mary’s dad at Christmas when he missed the last step in the dark and tried to rearrange his already sore knees. (For the record, I would not have whispered into his ear. But I probably should not have yelled, “Wayne, you big dummy, what are you trying to prove?”

But it seemed appropriate. Besides, he was more angry with himself than hurt. (And he’d have said the same thing to me.)

Well, my Bill Lee-dar should have told me that Mary wouldn’t be far behind, even though she’d promised not to leave work after dark. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as my mom liked to say. Good, active brains on these people … but, lord, stop thinking and watch where you’re putting your feet!

Mary called me at work from the parking lot, shaken, to tell me she’d fallen, tearing up both knees — and her favorite jeans!

Jeez, this kid.

The building manager has since installed a light with a timer that goes on reliably at dusk.

Still, I guess I’m just going to have to hang around Mary every minute.

Neither of us would mind that, Shop Boy’s thinking.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mary!

I’m glad I caught you.

Letterpress List No. 72: Clips Don’t Lie

February 11, 2009

So, you want to know about  Immortal Cupboard, the film Shop Boy was going on about last time. Now, now, of course you do.

Mary and Shop Boy went to a screening over the weekend. It’s a very arty film about a poet’s life and work. Lots of water, birds, leaves and flowers, sun, fog, snow and ice, rain and flood, the pretty pictures interspersed with the poet’s words. Lovely and well done.

And Shop Boy’s got to tell you, our presses looked like a million bucks on the big screen.

Yup, there they were, the Vandercook No. 3 and C&P 8×12, smoothly — and, OK, slowly (for effect) — producing bits of Lorine Niedecker’s poetry as it would have been done way back then.

And there were Shop Boy’s hands, making magic happen, an angry red indent on my left ring finger showing that, like any wise printer, I’d removed my wedding band while operating the presses. Hard to believe Shop Boy used to worry about the ring falling off in the shower. Now it takes a crowbar to get it off some days. Mary says she likes it that way, so …

It was just a minute or so, a montage of Shop Boy printing, tying up lead type and such. Great editing job by Cathy Cook, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County filmmaker who’d stumbled upon Typecast Press by accident while walking her dog or something and immediately recognized Shop Boy as a talent. All right, the first part’s true. Anyway, the montage was pretty exciting, and we get a big credit at the end of the film. We were totally geeked, giggling and poking each other.

As the lights came up, Mary said that Shop Boy had done great and that the presses looked awesome. Just one little criticism:

Mary: “Yikes! Could you have cut your fingernails?”

Oh, they weren’t dirty or anything. Shop Boy’s pretty good about keeping ink where it should be — in the jar, on the ink plate, on the press, on the paper, period (Mary? Not so much) — and fairly religious about hand washing. I might leave behind a sickly sweet lavender smell when I shake your hand, but chances are I’m not passing much else to you. Probably should introduce a lot of guys I know to the concept. Ahem.

But Mary was right. Shop Boy’s fingernails were absolutely chewing the scenery. I generally don’t even think about the silly things until I tear half of one off at the printshop or cut myself … flossing. But when somebody asks you to be a hand model for a movie, you might want to prep the digits, right? Not smart.

Oh, well. Next time somebody making a film about a little-known, dead Wisconsin poet whose work was printed on old letterpress machines  stumbles upon Typecast Press and decides she needs a pair of male hands to demonstrate printing techniques, I’ll be ready.


Letterpress List No. 72

You might have noticed that the posts here have come in fits and starts. Shop Boy’s new job requires about all the brain power I’ve got — what little is left, I give to you, dear readers. You’ll probably be able to tell when things have stabilized. Or maybe not — Shop Boy’s writing can be a bit addled normally, you say? Hmm.

Bah. How about an hour’s worth of music — OK, a half-hour at first — to appreciate birds, water, snow, ice, poetry or the first hints of spring that are popping up by? Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great video links are to YouTube.

Montage — from Team America: World Police (Heartbroken I can’t find a good link yet … love this stupid song.)
The Hand That FeedsNine Inch Nails (Hee-hee.)
Hips Don’t LieShakira (OK, it’s a reach, but anything to get a little Shakira in here.)
Lost in HollywoodSystem of a Down (Ditto, anything to get a little System in here. This is a slow one — Mary would tell you that makes it even more insufferable.)
Shake Hands With BeefPrimus (And don’t even get her started on this stuff.)
It’s Raining Men the Weather Girls (Now try to stop Mary from dancing. Sigh.)
Mr. Me TooClipse (Good to meet ya.)
Have You Ever Seen The Rain?Creedence Clearwater Revival (Nice.)
FloeticFloetry (Why not?)
She Blinded Me With ScienceThomas Dolby (Poetry in motion.)
Harder, Better, Faster, StrongerDaft Punk (Think Steve Austin, maybe.)
Riders on the Stormthe Doors (Daft poetry? Guy was nuts.)

Thrills and Chills

February 4, 2009

In other news tonight, a sit-in of sorts in Patterson Park. Rhonda Aramecious is on the scene … Rhonda?

Thanks, Jake. We’re here outside the Patterson, a famed old Baltimore moviehouse, where a couple of people have been camped out, for several days, awaiting the local premiere of Immortal Cupboard, a film about the life and work of poet Lorine Niedecker. Sounds interesting. But what has possibly drawn them out in this bitter cold so long before the movie starts?

Rhonda: Hi, folks. You mind if we ask what you’re doing here, in sleeping bags?

Sleeping Bag No. 1: Well, we don’t want to miss the movie. Cathy Cook of UMBC is the director. She’s really cool.

Sleeping Bag No. 2: Yeah, and it’s got one of our all-time favorite actors — Shop Boy. Or … his hands are in it, anyway.

Sleeping Bag No. 1: And it has a couple of flashes of letterpress printer-type stuff in there. They did the poetry book that way back then. We’re both letterpress printers.

Rhonda: But it’s not showing until Sunday at 3 p.m. It’s Wednesday evening.

Sleeping Bag No. 1: The poet was from Wisconsin. It’s cold up there, and they don’t wear shirts at football games. This is kinda toasty compared to that.

Sleeping Bag No. 2: And like we said, Rhonda, we’re printers — been exposed to a lot of lead in our time.

Rhonda: That explains it then, Jake. Fairly foggy fans figuring freezing’s fine. Back to you in the warm NewsCenter studio.

Jake: Ha-ha. Thanks, Rhonda. I guess it takes all kinds. And for you folks watching at home, here’s how you can see Cathy Cook’s film on Sunday without the frostbite. Meanwhile, this is Jake Nutella saying goodnight … and pass the popcorn.

Keep Your Shirt On

February 2, 2009

In the wrong hands, the simplest and most useful of tools can create very complex issues in the printshop.

Take the level. Fascinating bit of ingenuity. Comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Shop Boy’s is a gift from Mary’s dad, Wayne Mashburn, who had purchased it for one of the countless work projects we drag him to Baltimore to help with. He then left it behind for Shop Boy — because what kind of idiot doesn’t have a level in his printshop?


Use the level (ours is red, about a foot long, with three Martian-green bubble gauges) to make certain that your printing press is perfectly square with the floor, lest unwanted wear and tear and frustrating make-ready efforts ensue.

Level your drafting table or imposing stone and compose type or place dingbats and plates with the confidence that, when locked into the printing press, they’ll stay flat and true, because that’s how you built them.

Now, put that level in the hands of Miss February of the Fantasy Builders wall calendar (Go ahead … take a peek. I’ll wait here.) and it becomes fairly obvious right quickly that … well, um … it’s not a tool best used for leveling your shirt.

You know our joke here at Typecast Press: that every letterpress printshop must have a girlie calendar for authenticity’s sake.

So, Shop Boy turned the page from January to February — and turned three shades of red. On the job site, Miss February’s work shirt had somehow both plunged at the cleavage and rolled halfway up her … oh, you get the idea. Shop Boy didn’t know quite what to say.

Mary? First, she addressed the authenticity problem by leveling with Shop Boy. (“Not real.”)

Then, she prepared to address that little make-ready problem that this young woman’s level misuse had wrought. (“You want stars or hearts?”)

We did a job a while back that included die-cutting orange stars and blue hearts from a foldover card. The little punch-outs were so neat that we gathered them up and keep them around for just such emergencies as tend to arrive with each new month of the Fantasy Builders calendar. A little glue stick and a star strategically placed here and — oh my! — there for sure.

Give it a day or two, and Miss February’s going to look like Miss Fourth of July, what with the fistful of stars at Mary’s disposal.

She’ll set the matter straight. And our little printshop joke might just be in its final months … or days.