Doing Things by Feel

Essentially, my buddy Dave Schmickel was telling me somewhere between Baltimore and D.C., “That train long ago left the station.”

We were just sort of chatting on the commute, Shop Boy remarking on the exacting nature of yet another particular project testing the soul of Typecast Press when Dave wondered aloud — you know, for the sake of argument — whether we’d ever thought of acquiring a more modern printing press so we could turn around such jobs faster, more easily and, ahem, more cheaply.

Where, Shop Boy asked him, is the romance in that?

Point taken, though. I bet we all wonder from time to time what we’re killing ourselves for. Shop Boy talks to a lot of people about this letterpress stuff and how cool the process is and how amazing the old machinery is and how awesome it is to touch the items we print and …

“Oh, umm. Ah. Uh-huh. And how much does it cost? Really. But I can get it at Kinko’s a lot cheaper. I’d never hire you.”

And that’s my DAD!

Been there, am I right?

Don’t get Shop Boy wrong. Some of my best friends are modern offset printers … or people who frequent them, anyway. They don’t get it, they won’t get it, they don’t want to get it. As for us, while reserving the right to sometimes whine about same, we like doing really cool projects and we love really old things.

The crazy, bent thingy that somebody somewhere repurposed for prying up the tympan bales on the C&P. Still works! The pile of rusted, bent metal trays stacked so precariously as they await rehab that they occasionally crash onto the floor in a wonderful cacophony. That pokey little number that you use to shift the cylinder on the Miehle vertical. Oh, and that nutty Corner Making Contraption.

One particular exception to Shop Boy’s love of the tired and arcane: the ice pencil.

This is a rudimentary tool — just frozen water, really — my dentist uses to isolate the individual tooth from which the pain is emanating. He touches each one in the row until he’s certain he’s got the right chopper.

You know how it is. Your tongue can sort of “point” to the spot that is sore. Dentists apparently prefer a more reliable signal, rather than opening a tooth, pulling the roots, slapping a new cap on the thing and then having the patient say when he’s done, “Gee, it still hurts in that general area.”

So he goes for a subtle but more precise sign. Like Shop Boy about jumping out of the chair when this icicle finds the sweet spot.


Now, I’m not a violent man, but if he ever approaches my mouth with that Neanderthal tool again, Shop Boy’s liable to bop old Dr. Freeze with the nearest rock.

Yes, Shop By has another root canal brewing. Believe me, you know when it’s time. And I’m dreading having to tell my dentist tomorrow. (Have one or two and they don’t need to tell YOU.) I mean, they’re falling like dominoes, the teeth are. The roots, anyway.

My childhood dentist — um, how do I put this more gently than he ever would have? — was a thorough individual who believed with all his heart that if you drilled away most of the kid’s tooth, there’d be no further possibility of decay.

You know that sound of the fine drill bit, the little one whose high pitch lets you know that the dentist is just finishing up with the kid ahead of you? Well, in Dr. Monte’s office, the tipoffs to start sweating were the yells and crying when he had drilled past the point of Novocain with the most ornery drill bit in the shop. Not sure if that fine bit was ever used.

Mary hates Novocain and the way it makes her face feel a little puffy afterward. Ever since Dr. Monte, Shop Boy has overcompensated.

“Are you comfortable? Can you feel this little instrument tapping your tooth?” the dentist will ask.

“Feel?” Shop Boy responds. “I can still SEE you. When my whole face is so numb that my eyes swell shut and I am drooling all over your arm, you may quit injecting the Novocain.”

So what did he expect with the ice pencil trick? That Shop Boy would take it like a man? Thank him for narrowing the choices down to the exact tooth? I was furious. (Turns out he was touching the wrong tooth; the one that now needs the tree stump treatment. So there you go.)

Anyway, I guess my teeth are old things now. But I’m not loving them today. Sigh.

Look, Shop Boy’s been a lucky, lucky man healthwise. (Mary will now knock on wood. OK, OK … I just did too.) Especially for someone who ran headlong into so many immovable objects as a kid and so many happy hours as an adult. But there’s something sort of eerily … final about root canals. The tooth is dead. One more tombstone along the road to your eventual demise. That it’s natural doesn’t make it any more of a pleasant drive, you know?

As Woody Allen has said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

I feel you, Woody.

More Novocain!

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