Archive for May, 2009

Letterpress List No. 78: Bucket Brigade

May 23, 2009

It all comes down to a difference in plumbing.

Which is how Shop Boy once again found himself in the ladies’ room with a 10-gallon bucket.

Oh, it’s not what you think … whatever it is you might be thinking. Mary had recently gotten a hands-on tutorial in the use of our Jet platemaker from her partner in crime at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Kyle Van Horn. And suddenly we were ready to burn our own polymer plates. Our roommate’s departure had left a perfect little office of its own for the Jet. Whew. Polymer plates can be kinda stinky to create. And with Mary’s super-sensitive nose, it just wasn’t working out to make plates in the main space. Now, if the plates stink, just close the door and turn on the exhaust fan.

Anyway, bringing this machine online is something that’s been way overdue, so that’s exciting. A visit from the plumber to our studio is way overdue as well, however.

So Shop Boy frequents the ladies’ room. Oh, it’s not a bad place to hang out.

Most ladies’ rooms tend to be better equipped than the guys’. And for a factory restroom, this one’s pretty fancy-schmancy. Flowery couches, cool old free-standing pink sinks, curtains, clean stalls …

And the utility sink?

Yep. Guess they figured if they put it in the men’s room, guys would just pee in it or something. The sad part is they’re probably right. Geez. The men’s room across the hall has a couple of urinals, two truly scary stalls and a cheap-o formica countertop with two little sinks protected by — oh, let’s just say that most guys couldn’t reach to pee in them. And they’re tough to get water out of, too. That’s why Shop Boy needs the utility sink. Did I mention the men’s room trash can with the sign over it that reads: “No Trash: For Recyclables Only”?

Excuse me? Recycling in the restroom? Takes all kinds, I guess.

The ladies’ room utility sink has hot and cold water, meaning you can blend them to create the right temperature, like high 70s F or something. Then, off you go down the hall to where the Jet awaits, dump in the first gallons, then back to the ladies’ room. It takes about 15 gallons between the Jet and the rinse basin, by Shop Boy’s estimate.

But Shop Boy won’t complain much more than I already have, for even I can see how lucky we are.

Mary, Shop Boy and Typecast Press inhabit the space where Noxema was invented. For real. In fact, many of the locals still refer to Fox Industries as “the Noxema Building.” Cool by us, since our main suite consists of the Noxema president’s office and that of his executive secretary. Honest, we’ve got pictures. Not sure they’d have liked how we’ve painted the place. White to lime green can be an adjustment. They’d have liked the cocktail lounge, though.

There’s an old poster above a door that says helpfully: “Your whiskers are ‘dead.’ It’s your skin that hurts.” In that spirit, the company would give tons of the goop to workers with their paychecks. Judging by the looks of some of the older folks in our Hampden neighborhood, most of the boys sold the Noxema for smokes. OK, that’s mean. But there’s a local watering hole called Zissimo’s in which the real, vanishing, um, characters of Hampden pass the time. So, the city passes a no-smoking-in-restaurants law. Yay! Now all the folks from Zissimo’s begin venturing out to the sidewalk — and into the sunlight — for a puff … and immediately there’s talk of granting the bar a waiver from the law.

Swear to god.

But back to Noxema headquarters. Because he was the big boss, the president’s office — and now our printshop — includes a personal restroom with its own presidential “throne.” As for the secretary, she had her own washroom too, less exalted but pretty handy. And this is the space that our photographer roommate had long used as his darkroom. It wasn’t until he moved out that we could really see that the toilet and sink were still there.

For better and worse.

The worse is that it’s kind of gross right now.

The better is what the plumber’s going to deliver: a hose for filling the Jet, and a drain for emptying it afterward. Yes, those buckets of wastewater have to be lugged back to the utility sink. (Basically, it works like this: Lay the negative against the orange piece of plastic, turn on some high-test, ultraviolet lights to expose it — avert your eyes, kids, or you’ll go blind — and then what’s exposed hardens. The scrubbers remove the rest, which becomes part of the wastewater. And off Shop Boy goes.)

Oh, yes, and there are a number of ladies working in the building. So Shop Boy knocks. Even if it’s 2 in the morning. And sometimes I make Mary go in first.

I mean … they might be recycling in there or something.


Letterpress List No. 78

Hey, any day now, the letterpress family will be welcoming a new little printer into the world. The other side of the world. Lou at Poppy Letterpress is about to, well, pop. Check out her blog entry announcing she’s shutting down operations in Canberra, Australia, until the baby’s born. Now, I only know Lou and her hubby in a virtual sense. But please send wishes for an easy delivery her way if you get a chance. As a longtime reader of this blog, she’s suffered enough.

(Of course, Shop Boy can say that about all of my regular readers, but we won’t go there, will we? Thank you.)

So, for Lou, how about an hour’s worth of music to chase away the labor pains? Video links are courtesy of YouTube.

Tom Traubert’s Blues Tom Waits (With a Waltzing Matilda chaser. Oddly lovely.)
Just a Girl
No Doubt (For the most beautiful parents on the planet. Sorry, Lou … I mean Gwen and Gavin. But it was close.)
— Gavin Rossdale (Here’s to exciting times for us all.)
Ladies RoomKiss (Knock, knock. Who’s there? SB. SB who? SB a pain in the butt, yo. When’s the plumber coming?)
Stephen Lynch (He’s such a bad little boy.)
Stay Up Late Talking Heads (Good luck with that.)
New SensationINXS (Indeed.)
Detroit Lullaby
Hamill on Trial (Enjoy your crib time, kid. It’s a tough world out there.)
Wild World
Cat Stevens (You betcha. It could make you a little crazy, even.)
London Still
the Waifs (Saw the Aussie band at Baltimore’s Artscape. Fell hard for the voices.)
Lightning Crashes
Live (OK, I’m a sap.)
I’m My Own Grandpaw
Willie Nelson (He was smoking something when he wrote this, god bless the old doper.)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Guns N’ Roses (Not a very good boy, either. Probably pees in the utility sink.)
52 Girls
the B-52s (For the ladies of Fox Industries. OK, there are more like nine. Whatever.)
Gone Like the WaterFreedy Johnston (7.5 gallons at a time.)
Girls Beastie Boys (Who could ask for more?)
Business TimeFlight of the Conchords (Recycling is not part of the foreplay, but it’s very important.)

Connecting the Dots

May 4, 2009

There are many things that Shop Boy did as a junior high school student.

He drank way too much beer for the first time and got early lessons in how to drive — not simultaneously. You think I’m crazy?

A buddy usually handled that part.

Annoyed by the repeated nuisance of standardized tests, Shop Boy would skip the questions and instead think of a visual pattern and carefully, with a perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencil, fill in the circles that would create it. Or, he’d think of a song and try to complete one line of the test per drum beat.

What? Tell me you never did that …

Shop Boy often turned a small pimple on the chin into a gaping wound visible for miles through an, um, overreaction to its presence. (“No, it isn’t a zit. I simply got grazed by a bullet last night in a very heroic situation.”)

Then there were the clumsy first steps toward what would become a post-college love affair that ended so clumsily … ugh. Let’s just say that Shop Boy can count on one or two fingers the women who truly dislike him — if they think of him at all. Shop Boy earned the hatred of both in the span of a week and has been trying to make it up to women, and himself, ever since.

Shop Boy also set lead type, carved linoleum blocks and ran a treadle-powered old C&P in printshop class.

Most of the silly things you do in junior high you outgrow.


“I’ve got a present for you,” Mary said. “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”

Now, Shop Boy once plopped a live rabbit into Mary’s hands after saying the same thing, so …

I looked the box over and suddenly remembered a discussion we’d had a week or two before. Being reminded of Shop Boy’s junior high industrial arts days, Mary had wondered aloud whether he should try his hand once again at the linoleum block thing. “I guess so … I guess.”

Now, Shop Boy isn’t usually superstitious or worried about “signs” from the gods or whatever, but:

Inside the box of five Flexcut linoleum carving tools of varying blade shapes and sizes was another smaller, brightly colored container.

For Band-Aids.

Did I mention that my “experience” with linoleum blocks was carving out a little, happy sun with bright, sharp sunbeams spreading out all around the sphere. Except for that one spot where the tool had slipped and created a flattop haircut.

Regular Picasso of the linoleum block, little Shop Boy was. Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I’d been channeling him all along.

Either way, this should be interesting. We bought a couple of cheapo blocks so that Shop Boy can work on reawakening any latent artistic spirit that might be lurking back there somewhere.

But what should be my first amazing bit of linoleum block art?

I did see this really neat pattern one time on this standardized test.

Rube … Goldberg, That Is

May 1, 2009

If John Ottina, the late, truly great husband of Mary’s Cousin Mollie, is peering down on us today, he’s got to be looking like he swallowed some bad pasta as he says to the angel next to him:

“Mollie gave all my favorite power tools to that guy?”

“Not to worry,” his fellow angel will reassure John. “It simply means he’ll be joining us shortly, and then the tools will pass into more deserving hands.”


Yes, Shop Boy is about to attempt a rare solo building project at the studio. And Satan’s probably licking his chops, too. See, there is this 10-foot stack of flat files in one of the rooms we occupy, six five-drawer cabinets altogether, and it’s long been Shop Boy’s dream to take four cabinets, place them side by side, and build a top and a base so that the whole unit would become not only a place to store paper but a clean workbench for packaging deliveries and trimming out the fancier papers for envelope linings or whatever.

I’m also a bit tired of the high-wire act it takes to fetch stuff from drawers at the top of the current stack.

Anyway, my usual ringers — Mary’s dad Wayne and brother-in-law Tom — are inconveniently, ahem, unavailable this weekend, when the deed needs to be done. So, here I go.

By any measure, the assignment should be a snap. Build a base with two-by-fours to raise the cabinets to a comfortable working height, then cut the top from thick plywood and add quarter-round as a finishing border and an edge to keep it from sliding off the top of the cabinets. Piece of cake.

For somebody else.

Heck, Shop Boy is not completely un-handy. And I’m quite clever in spots.

True story: About Mary and Shop Boy’s third week in Baltimore, we had just settled down to a nice dinner when a racket arose in the breezeway.¬† We pulled back the curtain of the large dining room window to be greeted by a large, squealing mama rat on its hind legs, its front paws stretched out across the glass before us as if to say, “Help me!”

Did I mention it was Shop Boy’s idea to move to Baltimore?

As we clearly were not about to gather it up in our arms, the rat at last turned and ran beneath an old rain guard that the previous owner had placed against the base of the house to ward off basement leakage. Obviously her babies were in there.


Mary: “Oh, my god … you’ve got to get that thing out of there.”

Shop Boy: “But it’s full of rats! I ain’t going near that thing.”

I convinced her that it was foolhardy to go confront the rodents at night and promised I’d clear the furry family the next morning. Shop Boy was pretty bummed when the next morning actually arrived — oh, just for a minute or two. But by then I’d thought about a way I could¬† lift the rain guard without being physically present when the rats bolted.

Do it from the air.

As Shop Boy cannot yet fly (I’m working on it … sheesh), I would need to rig something that could reach down into the breezeway from a second-story window and hold the rain guard aloft to send the message that perhaps the rats weren’t welcome.

Broom handle (check), bungee cord (check), screw-in ceiling hook (check), one-by-two edging board (check), chain (check), rope (check), duct tape (natch). So here I am, hanging out a second-story window, dangling this fishing pole contraption, Mary’s laughter echoing from the first floor.

Now we were making so much noise that Katharine, our beloved former neighbor, came to the breezeway to find out what these two nutburgers were up to now. From about a foot away from the rats’ hideout, she leaned in to witness the action. Heck, she’d once had a rat run up her bare arm from inside a trash can. This was nothing.

Soon, she was laughing at the sight of the Shop Boy Airborne Ultrasonic Load Lifter (Patent Pending) as loud as Mary was.


I’d show them. On the first try, Shop Boy hooked the rain guard and, yanking on this whatchamacallit thingy in my hands, gradually lifted the whole thing off the ground. Katharine didn’t even flinch. Man, she was ice.

No matter. The rats were long gone. Must have slipped away in the night. It was almost disappointing.

Still, victory was in the air. Mary laughed, but my trick worked. And now, whenever Shop Boy looks over a complex problem and says he has an idea for hooking up … something … to get the job done, Mary has to at least listen.

Which is why all of John Ottina’s fancy tools scare me a bit. As long as Shop Boy’s employing some crazy, jury-rigged, Rube Goldberg contraption, you can excuse the occasional crooked corner. Now, no more excuses.

Dang. How do I fake this?