Archive for June, 2009

Philly Fanatic

June 30, 2009

You know, it’d probably be easier and a whole lot cheaper at this point if we just moved Typecast Press to Philadelphia.

I mean, what in the name of Benjamin Franklin (yes, that’s him as a young printer) were we doing bouncing down Broad Street toward Philadelphia’s University of the Arts yesterday?


Of course I know that we were there to pick up a Vandercook SP-15 we had purchased. What I mean is:

What in the name of the Liberty Bell were we doing buying another Vandercook from Philadelphia?

Baltimore was for years a hotbed of letterpress printing. Mary can’t find any printing presses here? (Oh, yeah … that’s right, five and counting.) But this one, she insisted, was so sweet and well maintained, it could be brought online immediately … assuming, naturally, that we could rent a 16-foot truck, drive the two hours to Philly, load the press aboard, drive it back home to Baltimore and somehow boost the 700-pound press onto a loading dock too high for standard delivery trucks to reach. Then, we’d need to get the Vandercook No. 4 (bought and transported from Virginia … geez … up on dollies and wheeled very carefully through the studio and across the hall to a storage space. Once that was settled into position, the SP-15 could take its rightful spot.

Wait … did she just say it could be brought online immediately? Only 700 pounds? Heck, most of our presses, the No. 4 included, are twice that.


A great addition to Typecast Press. Or so I kept telling myself as we sat and steamed, quite literally, at the weigh station. Not even out of Maryland yet, and Shop Boy was doubling up on the expletives.

Now, Shop Boy’s fear of scales is well documented, but this was a topper. Two long lanes of 18-wheelers, and us, crawling toward the main inspection building. Neither of us had ever been through a weigh station before — have you ever even seen one open? What did this mean? Did they think we were drug smugglers, or hauling human cargo? Hazmats?!?! We’re going to jail!

Mary, not wanting her parents subjected to the dulcet tones of my ranting, told them she’d call them back and got to the job of calming me down by questioning why in the world I had pulled off in the first place.

Shop Boy: “Because when the state cop tells you to get over there in line, and when you motion ‘Me? What for?’ and he points at your grill and exaggeratedly waves you — yes, you! — into the weigh station lane, you do it.”

Mary: “Oh, god. You’re so law-abiding. If you hadn’t been so worried about being in the right lane for the toll, he wouldn’t have even seen us. Besides, he couldn’t have meant you. He didn’t wave any other small trucks … oh wait, there’s a van. Whatever. I told you to stop worrying about special lanes at the toll booth. See? They charged us the car rate there, Mr. Big Rig.”

She was right. And wrong. The next bridge toll was triple for us, as a truck. And I made a huge point of smugly making Mary take more money out of my wallet for the lady. That’ll show her to be all smartypants.

Back at the weigh station, it was finally our turn. Our weight was fine. (We’d skipped breakfast.) And soon we were free, bouncing back down I-95.

Literally bouncing. This truck was a menace. It was hopping so much atop the span across the Susquehanna River that  Shop Boy thought we were going into the drink. Forget texting while driving. I was ready to distract myself from all that troublesome staying-in-your-lane  and maintaining-your-speed business by praying with the rosary beads … a text message to god, as it were.

Mary got word by this point from Perry Tymeson that he’d fulfilled his end of the bargain in Philly. The press was on the sidewalk waiting. And so it still was an hour later as we blew past Perry and Laurel Schwass-Drew, the printer/instructor in charge of getting the university’s press placed in a good home. The school has its eye on a more expensive machine, and Typecast Press was providing the down payment.

It turns out Laurel is, ahem, a fairly regular reader of this blog, which Mary found out to her dismay when they met on Mary and Perry’s advance scouting trip to check out the press. Dismay is too strong a word, but Mary can get a littled bugged when she does all the work and Shop Boy gets the glory. I just blush — then in a fake deep voice announce: “Yes, I’m worldwide … heh-heh.”

Anyhow, Laurel, Perry and Shop Boy boosted the press onto the lift gate and Mary carefully guided us aloft and into the truck the Vandercook rolled. That was a snap. Perry strapped the press to the side rails, we ran to grab a quick bite, got a promise from Laurel that she’d stop in for a visit if she’s ever in Baltimore, and soon we were bouncing back toward the freeway. (It didn’t help that Shop Boy cheated on a couple — or three — turns on the way out of the city and hopped the curb.)

Long story short: We made it back to Baltimore at 4:05 p.m. Fox Industries, which owns our building, locks up the forklift at 4.

Well, poo!

There were now two possible outcomes: We could rig up a ramp and somehow shove the press up about a two-foot incline onto the loading dock. Or, we could wait until the forklift was available the next morning, paying a second full day’s rental for a truck that had nearly shaken loose all our teeth.

No …

Stinking …


So with Option 2 off the table, Shop Boy decided to simply play the two aces in his hand in Perry and Kyle Van Horn of the Maryland Institute College of Art, who’d arrived just in time. (We’re sheltering his dream Vandercook as it awaits a ton or two of TLC.)

Shop Boy might not have put money on us either, but quicker than Mary could say “I can’t watch,” Perry had turned a pallet, a couple of two-by-fours and a few thin metal plates into a ramp. (Guy’s good.) And with Perry steering and tugging from the loading dock while Kyle and Shop Boy shoved from below … bingo. Two seconds flat. Where do you want it, lady?

It was almost a letdown. I mean, after all that? What could Shop Boy whine about now?

How about Perry going on about the new press the University of the Arts was purchasing? Seems there was a guy near Philly who had a jones for printing and the wherewithal to assemble a printshop from nothing but the best. Now his stuff, in pristine condition, had begun to come onto the market.

Shop Boy could hear the gears turning in Mary’s head.

Now what in the name of cheesesteaks did he have to tell her that for?

Embarrassaurus rex

June 20, 2009

Used to be that the family trees of any number of animals were on the tip of my tongue. You know, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, species. In the Latin, the last category is lower case.

We, for instance, are Animalia Chordata Mammalia Primates Homonidae Homo sapiens. Then there’s my personal favorite in college, the chimpanzee: Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto Pan troglodytes. Not that we’re related to or descended from monkeys or anything. And not that we’d call them troglodytes to their faces.

Little boogers can be a tad, um, violent in their natural habitat. OK, really violent. Another Family resemblance.

Anyhow, Shop Boy’s been thinking a lot about science like this since a very significant discovery was made about me. See, Mary works in a crazy old turn-of-the-last-century printshop. Still, as it turns out …

Shop Boy is the dinosaur.

My professional industry, journalism, is just waiting for the final meteor to hit. And I worry, a lot, about what’s next for a democracy whose subjects seek out only news sources — and, ahem, blogs — that exclusively feed their preconceived notions about politics, religion, etc.

See, there’s where I’m standing and there’s where your standing. The truth is somewhere in the middle. But when someone plops down the truth, to me it looks like they’re putting it too close to you. Your vision is just the opposite. The truth doesn’t change, but soon we’re so busy calling “no fair!” that the truth becomes immaterial. And this great, dirty, difficult, complicated, ugly and — yes — beautiful experiment in freedom stalls. It’s troubling no matter what your political stripe. And we should all worry about that.

More importantly, though, we should worry about what happens to Shop Boy.

Um, right?

No matter. I worry enough for myself and several other people. Just ask Mary. Or, better yet, ask to borrow one of her enneagram books. You know, The Enneagram, The Enneagram in Love and Work, The Enneagram in the Printshop. (OK, I just made that last one up.)

Basically, the enneagram is this system that assesses your defining characteristics, assigns you a number (1 to 9) and places you on a satanic-looking chart. From there, your compatibility with others and future prospects at just about anything can be assessed.

Mary has informed Shop Boy that he is a Six: The Loyalist.

Which is sort of cool because I grew up a loyal Boston Red Sox fan and Rico Petrocelli, No. 6, was my favorite player on that team.

Not so cool: A Six is apparently, uh, kind of nuts. Passive-aggressive, embarrassed-arrogant, manic-depressive, bipolar kind of deal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And not that Shop Boy believes Word One of this tea leave-reading, crystal-gazing mumbo-jumbo.

I mean, check this out from the Enneagram Institute (where you can seek your own number if you dare).

Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. Excellent “troubleshooters,” they foresee problems and foster cooperation, but can also become defensive, evasive, and anxious—running on stress while complaining about it. They can be cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant and rebellious. They typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion.

That’s just silly. I mean, you do like and believe in Shop Boy, don’t you? Really. I’m sure you do, right? Please tell me you do. Will it really kill you to say so? We had a deal! I don’t care anyway. You’re not the boss of me. In fact, you’re an idiot! Sorry, I didn’t mean that. Still friends? Thanks.

Key Motivations: Want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity.

Like I said, that ain’t Shop Boy.

Of all the personality types, Sixes are the most loyal to their friends and to their beliefs. They will “go down with the ship” and hang on to relationships of all kinds far longer than most other types.

The perfect guy to be left holding the bag. Great.

Sixes are also loyal to ideas, systems, and beliefs—even to the belief that all ideas or authorities should be questioned or defied. Indeed, not all Sixes go along with the “status quo”: their beliefs may be rebellious and anti-authoritarian, even revolutionary.

You mean, like the idea that we can leave the printshop before 1 a.m. sometimes? Anarchy! Call the authorities!

In any case, they will typically fight for their beliefs more fiercely than they will fight for themselves, and they will defend their community or family more tenaciously than they will defend themselves.

If anybody is going to say anything negative about Mary’s lack of respect for sleep, it’s going to be Shop Boy. Don’t even dare. I’m tired and dangerously cranky.

The reason Sixes are so loyal to others is that they do not want to be abandoned and left without support—their Basic Fear. Sixes come to believe that they do not possess the internal resources to handle life’s challenges and vagaries alone, and so increasingly rely on structures, allies, beliefs, and supports outside themselves for guidance to survive. If suitable structures do not exist, they will help create and maintain them.

Which explains Shop Boy’s imaginary friends.

They say hello, by the way. Hey, which one of you forgot to clean the ink plate again?

Sixes fear success almost as much as they fear failure. … The old Japanese adage that says, “The blade of grass that grows too high gets chopped off” relates to this idea.

True story: Shop Boy returned home from D.C., late one recent night to find Mary glumly slicing corners off this fancy blue paper with an X-acto and a pica pole. “Whatcha doing?” Shop Boy asked innocently.

Mary: “I didn’t want to tell you. We need to line some envelopes.”

Shop Boy: “Um, OK, how many?”

Mary: “Uh, 125 … but then we need some samples.”

Shop Boy: “Um, OK, how many have we done so far?”

Mary: “Uh, like, zero. But you’re so good at this type of thing, I know it won’t take you long.”

Shop Boy: “Um, OK, how long do we have?”

Mary: “Uh, I told the guy you’d drop them off on K Street in Washington at 9 a.m. But we only need the first 75 by then.”

Shop Boy: “Um, OK, what does it entail?”

Three different, yet-to-be-cut lengths of double-stick tape, one placed inside the envelope just beneath the fold and the other two on the inside of the flap. Pull the non-adhesive strip off the lower sticky part, shimmy the blue paper past the glue into the envelope, check the straightness of the piece against the flap and, with the thumbs, press the blue paper onto the sticky tape. Now, without bending or otherwise shifting the flimsy blue paper, remove the non-sticky strip from the other two lengths of tape, check the straightness one last time, smooth out paper first with thumbs, then with a full hand. Set aside a moment. Then, fold the envelope flap and press the hand solidly across the back of the envelope, creating the clean fold of the blue paper. Bingo. Shop Boy, the ultimate conveyor belt guy, had a system mastered within, oh, an hour or two. Then, it was an envelope per minute or so.

Mary: “I knew Shop Boy would do this better than I ever could. Remember that last project? You were awesome. Do you mind finishing?”

Sixes are like a ping-pong ball that is constantly shuttling back and forth between whatever influence is hitting the hardest in any given moment. Because of this reactivity, no matter what we say about Sixes, the opposite is often also as true. They are both strong and weak, fearful and courageous, trusting and distrusting, defenders and provokers, sweet and sour, aggressive and passive, bullies and weaklings, on the defensive and on the offensive, thinkers and doers, group people and soloists, believers and doubters, cooperative and obstructionistic, tender and mean, generous and petty—and on and on. It is the contradictory picture that is the characteristic “fingerprint” of Sixes, the fact that they are a bundle of opposites.

Sort of explains the love/hate relationship with those beautiful envelopes. (Yes, they did turn out great — cooked my own goose once again.)

Psst! Did Shop Boy mention that the bride is in the Obama administration? Which just means I’ve got at least three and a half years to forgive and forget. I will.

And, as usual. I’ll give Mary a pass.

Loyal? Sure.

Somebody’s got to be, I guess.

Besides, it apparently runs in the Family. The enneagram family, anyway.

What Happens in Rhodamine Red, Stays …

June 11, 2009

There’s this giant Korean grocery store a few miles down the road that offers a shopping experience that’s truly from another world.

Between ordering your whole fish (seemingly every species, normal and freaky, is staring back at you) and shouting a number that corresponds to which filleting process you’d like followed to vast displays of frozen stuff you’d never imagined putting in your freezer — never mind your mouth — to a football field-sized table of fresh string beans to fruits grown to  the size of your head, the place is just a maze of enchantment and wonder. And then you get to the appliances and knickknacks.

You know, mostly, oh, Hello Kitty toasters, Hello Kitty alarm clocks, Hello Kitty salt and pepper shakers, Hello Kitty TV sets, Hello Kitty phones, Hello Kitty flashlights, Hello Kitty lamps, Hello Kitty mirrors, Hello Kitty lip gloss, Hello Kitty water bottles …

Mary’s eyes get huge at the explosion of pink. She loves Hello Kitty as much as she used to love Paul Frank’s stuff … before Frank’s business partners forced him out of his own business and tried to take his name away from him. Now, in his honor, she wears only monkey face T-shirts made while he owned the company. Hey, what’s right is right.

Last night, then, Mary was right in her element.

With her very own walking, talking Hello Kitty Shop Boy.

Then there were the Hello Kitty Heidelberg rollers, the Hello Kitty ink plate, the Hello Kitty rubber gloves, the Hello Kitty ink knives, the Hello Kitty apron … I mean, wow.

That Rhodamine Red ink sure does leave its mark.

Forget the name … the stuff is ppppiiiiiiiiinnnnnkkkkkkk! And it’s a bear — OK, a large pink bear — to get off a printing press. Believe me, Shop Boy tried everything short of plastic explosives. Still, the ink stained the pristine blue rubber rollers. And it got on absolutely everything.

You know how when you maybe miss a spot, like a mini dab of ink is left in the smallest crevice? A “holiday,” some room painters like to call it. No problem. You’ll get it next time.

Well, neon holidays are the order of the day until Mary’s done with this Rhodamine Red craze. And if Hello Picky can see it, you might, um, want to go over that spot just once more.

Geez. Did I mention that Mary borrowed her portion of Rhodamine Red ink — after trying in vain to reproduce the color normally — from one of our favorite local printers, Vince Pullara III? Shop Boy used to like that guy.

And did I call this a craze?

Mary just e-mailed to say excitedly that she’d purchased more gloves, more environmentally sensitive press wash, a die for cutting business cards … and her own tub of Rhodamine Red.


Looks like the Kitty’s out of the bag.

The pink horse has left the barn …

More Words to Letterpress By

June 4, 2009

As the school semester was about to end, Mary thought it might be kind of fun to give her Maryland Institute College of Art letterpress class a quiz. You know, just to see if they’d been listening, or if they were simply suffering Mary’s chatter until it was their turn on the press.

To her surprise, they’d absorbed a lot. Shop Boy wasn’t all that shocked — Mary always gets her message across loud and clear.

But they didn’t get everything.

True story: I’ve mentioned in the past that Shop Boy was a science major for two years in college. Well, one of the requirements was a class in botany. And the only professor teaching botany back then was a bored-rotten blowhard of a dude famous for failing, like, three quarters of his students. You know, the whole “I’m doing this for your own good — if you’re not smart enough for my botany class, you’re not smart enough for a career in science. Might as well learn that right now.”

You should have seen the final exam. Botany? Please. It was astrophysics. Appropriately, Shop Boy was “in the weeds,” as they say of lost souls, and this professor was driving the lawnmower.

Scored 27 out of 100, and the only reason I got past zero was the essay section. I had no idea what the enzymes of the carrot broke down into — must have been a paragraph I skipped in the 13th required book for the class. But I did know my Bugs Bunny. And in that 25-minute, frenzied term paper of an answer, Shop Boy somehow blathered, bleated, bloviated, blustered and bluffed his way to a passing grade. (Yes, graded on the curve, 27 was a D-plus. Looney Tunes, for sure.)

As he handed me back the exam, hand shaking and still about to wet his pants by the looks of things, a friend whispered to me: “He’s laughing at you. That’s BS!”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” Shop Boy responded.

So there was the stack of Mary’s completed quizzes. Pretty good stuff. No botany majors, mind you, but well done.

And then I saw it. Next to a section on letterpress terms was an adorable little drawing, really a masterpiece of simplicity (hey — it’s a college of art), of a fox-like animal with a caption that read: “The Common Reglet.”

“Kid gets an A,” I said.

After all, what does the word “reglet” mean to anyone who’s never assembled type in a chase for printing? Not a whole bunch. These kids were all about polymer. And that, my friends, is what we call a “teachable moment.”

And so is this. For those who might have stumbled upon this blog while looking for something, um, very different — I can see the keywords that got you here, you bad boys and girls, but I won’t tell Mom — a reglet is a strip of wood used as spacing material between lines of type or to help lock your form in the chase, or metal frame, for moving to the printing press.

Now, Shop Boy’s not as cantankerous a cuss as that old botany dude, but while I’ve got you here, what do you say we make sure we’re all a little more up-to-date on our letterpress words? Then next time somebody asks you, the answers will be on the tip of your tongue. Oh, don’t thank Shop Boy. Consider it a public service. Let’s begin …

Common printshop expressions and their meanings:

Taping the rails: Amtrak’s track-maintenance program. (Sorry, a little commuter humor there. )

Leveling compound: generally, gin, tonic and a wedge of lime. But there are many brand names and variations.

Used to loosen Shop Boy up before delivering the news about the latest press purchase. Also useful outside the shop. For instance, when Mary needed to persuade Shop Boy that a three-story Baltimore rowhouse wasn’t too much space for two people, that Shop Boy wouldn’t be a slave to the dust bunnies, that the fact it smelled like her Grandmama’s house was a good thing … she really poured on the leveling compound. Suddenly it was very clear: I had no vote.

By the way, Grandmama’s house in Raleigh, N.C., was a donut’s throw from an original Krispy Kreme stand. Oh, my. The stampede down the front steps when the neon “Hot Now” sign lit up. Back then, you could buy two dozen and get one dozen free. I mean, what would you do?

Dust bunnies: After a certain point, Shop Boy just likes to think of them as thick, gray, shag carpeting.

Pulling a negative: This is when, usually late, late at night after a long, frustrating day (or a whole weekend) — when your feet hurt, your head pounds and you realize that bedtime’s just a dream — you become something like the opposite of your true nature. Some, including Mary, have labeled this phenomenon “being a jerk.” While this seems a bit simplistic to Shop Boy, she’s got a raised pica pole and a whole bunch of “uh-uh, not tonight, pal” on her side.

Depression: This is when, usually late, late at night after a long, frustrating day (or a whole weekend) — when your feet hurt, your head pounds and you realize that bedtime’s just a dream — the impression you have is still something like the opposite of the one you are seeking.

Bible bump: This is praying for that little extra push to get you through the night — without pulling a negative — and mercy and deliverance from this deadline.

Actually, this is a fun expression, taught to Mary and Shop Boy by a compositor at the newspaper where we met. The woman was clearly having tremendous pain in her hand at the spot of this big lump. We asked if she was OK. “Oh, that’s just a little Bible bump,” she said, explaining the cure she’d undergone for previous bouts: You put your hand on the counter, somebody grabs the Bible, raises it above their head … and smashes it down on your hand to break the cyst. Relief is yours. Um, after a while.


Talk about putting the fear of God into someone. Which brings us to …

Digitalis: From the Greek for “injury to fingers or toes, which turn red, swollen and angry after being smashed between two heavy objects.” Mary about gave Shop Boy a heart attack the other day when she forgot to let go of the tail end of a card and slammed her fingers in the Vandercook.

A for effort. D for dumb … we’ve all been there before, haven’t we?

An Insider’s Look

June 2, 2009

Hey, for those of you who haven’t seen this item at Design*Sponge, have a look. (Our friends have been very nice about sharing it around. And it’s fun to get the attention.)

If you haven’t seen the Typecast Press studio, the pictures will give you a little taste of what the place is like. Oh, and you get to see the flat files/work table you read about a while back — the one Shop Boy built with his own unsteady hands.

Hope you’ll take a peek and read Mary’s descriptions of why we do what we do.

And do drop in sometime.

Now where was I? Oh, writing the next blog entry.

More soon …