Archive for July, 2009

Letterpress List No. 80: The Man in the Mirror

July 30, 2009

Now that much of the hoopla has subsided, Shop Boy felt it was time to weigh in on the whole Michael Jackson deal. (I know you all were holding your breath.)

Specifically, there was one thing that really bugged me, from a blogger I read often. His thesis — and he wasn’t alone — was that death was Jackson’s best career move ever. It reawakened an appreciation and an appetite for his music.

You know, like the early departures of Elvis, Jim Morrison

And Kurt Cobain.

No he didn’t.

First off, Cobain was a megastar at his peak when he dispatched himself. He didn’t need any comeback.

Secondly, death was very bad for Cobain’s legacy. I mean, he selfishly ended his own misery by making a widow and an orphan out of his wife and child. What a jerk, right?

And thirdly, without Nirvana around, we could really see how immensely talented his drummer — the drummer! — Dave Grohl, is. Today, the Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana was. Tell Shop Boy that Grohl wasn’t a huge part of Nirvana’s flannel-melting creativity, for which Cobain got sole genius credit.

On that note, how much of an influence was Courtney Love on Cobain and Nirvana?

Of course, if you’re married to a crazy woman … ahem … you become incredibly creative as a matter of self-defense. See? Mary inspired this blog. Shop Boy really can take no credit — or blame.

And believe me, becoming Shop Boy was no great career move. Besides, Shop Boy is more Fat Elvis than Dead Elvis.

Though who knows? Like the original caveman paintings, perhaps some person of the future will stumble across the scribblings on my iPhone — where I do most of my writing — stare in awe and wonder …

What Neanderthal wrote that?

But he’ll also know by then, as history books will be written about the topic, that Kurt Cobain’s death was very poor career planning on his part. Oh, what might have come next …

And speaking of the Fat Elvis, there’s a wacky little store by that name in the neighborhood surrounding the Typecast Press letterpress world headquarters. It’s filled with all kinds of oddities and a whole bunch of nostalgia.

Awwww ...

Awwww ...

But you don’t have to go to the Fat Elvis to get your nostalgia fix today. Yeah, that’s Shop Boy’s kindergarten photo.

See, Mary has long argued that if this blog had photos, it would also have readers.


She recently went so far as to barter a deal where she’d print a guy’s wedding invitation and take part of the payment in training for Shop Boy on adding images here.

To which I say: What could be more colorful — or more of a draw — than Shop Boy’s use of the English language?

Am I right?

Just call me old school.

Which is kind of funny, since Shop Boy has a class reunion coming up … a bunch of kids who went to Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School in Cranston, R.I., from kindergarten through sixth grade.


And since Liz (Sidel) Friedman, the brains behind the reunion, decided that recent pictures of ourselves for the Then and Now book must be fairly recent — geez … picky, picky — here’s the man who will represent that cute little boy (my mom told me so) from so long ago:

The fat man prepares to go down the chimney (reindeer not pictured)

The fat man prepares to go down the chimney (reindeer not pictured)

Baltimore looks great, huh? Shop Boy? Um …

Not so much.

You know how most people diet and work out to get all fit for the folks who haven’t seen you in years and years? Well, Shop Boy’s taken the opposite approach. Hey, you commute two hours each way to work every day, then do a late shift at the printshop, rinse and repeat for weeks on end and see if pretty soon even your mama doesn’t start calling you ugly.

That chimney, by the way, is atop our rowhouse. As you can see there next to the big fellow, it collapsed one day, sending bricks tumbling across the rooftop and scaring the residents inside — me and Mary — half to death.

Anyway, you want images? You get images.

The writer as a young sportsman. (Dad always cleaned the fish. Hmmm ...)

The writer as a young sportsman.

Hey, this is sort of fun — well, if you forget the embarrassment and depression that come from pictures not telling lies and all that stuff.

I mean, for a rounded sort of fellow, Shop Boy isn’t all that shy …

Grrrrr ... or something

Grrrrr ... or something

This is the face that engaged the former mayor of Colorado Springs, Colo., in a lively conversation on water rights in the West and in the world. Then it took about 15 gallons of wasted water to get all that paint off.

Don’t get me wrong: When Shop Boy is, um, fully loaded for bear, there are days when I feel strong enough to pick up and carry a Vandercook printing press, which is handy. Besides, many of the kids from Waterman remember me as a bit of a fatso in fifth and sixth grade. So maybe they’ll be all like … “You haven’t changed a bit.”

And I’ll run away and cry in a corner. Ah, just like old times!

But enough about Shop Boy, who’ll soon begin getting himself fit once more. (Mary promised me time off for good behavior.)

We’re here to look at pictures. And what increases Web traffic more than pictures of girls in bathing suits?


Are you still here? But that was the last photo for today.

OK, if you’re sure that’s cool … oh, heck, here’s one more anyway. As always …



Letterpress List No. 80

Hey, how about an hour’s worth of music to jog or do crunches (!) — or download images — by? This post, by the way, was done before Shop Boy had any training on photo manipulation for blogs. So either I’m a genius (if the pictures show up) or this isn’t as hard as Shop Boy had made it out to be. In that case, I hope you like photos. ;-)

Celebrity Skin Hole (Exhibit A.)
Monkey WrenchFoo Fighters (Exhibit B.)
Pennyroyal TeaNirvana (Pain in naked form.)
Teddy BearElvis Presley (Awwww.)
AlivePearl Jam (The Flannel Parade. Oh, yes, and weren’t we all a bit worried about Eddie Vedder “going Cobain” for a while there?)
FoundationsKate Nash (Shop Boy’s is in danger of cracking.)
Fight the Power Public Enemy (Fat or skinny Elvis? Please. “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” Although later, a few of those heroes proudly did get commemorative postage. )
Fire WomanThe Cult (One of the reasons the reunion date was chosen is Water Fire, a pagan sort of deal in which fires are lit all up the middle of the river. My mom loved it.)
My Old SchoolSteely Dan (OK, I’ll go back, but just this once.)
My Name Is …Eminem (There’ll be name tags, right? Hate to just walk around saying, “Hey, man, good to see you” all night. )
Who Can It Be Now?Men at Work (You’ve been there, right?)
EditRegina Spektor (At my mom’s funeral, a boyhood chum, Richard Martin, came over to say hello and do the whole “I’m sorry for your troubles” thing that always makes Mary giggle at Rhode Island funerals. I gave Richard my business card and said he should get in touch. “Editor?” he said. “Whoever thought you were smart enough to be editor?”)
Mr. Blue SkyELO (Love this song. Shop Boy was singing it — loudly — in the printshop the other day as Mary rolled her eyes. She wondered how someone who strays toward the, ahem, dark side could so adore such happy, peppy music. Then I started hitting the high notes and she was like, “I don’t even know you anymore.”)
Rainbow in the Dark Ronnie James Dio (Shop Boy can do this song, too, but the flab tends to spill over the black spandex these days. Sigh.)
Train in Vainthe Clash (Shop Boy’s chosen mode of transportation, to R.I. or anywhere else.)
Gonna Hitch a RideBoston (No reason — just a beautiful song.)
The Man in the MirrorMichael Jackson (Hey, “Michael Jackson” gets you Web hits, too.)

Clue-Like Symptoms

July 21, 2009

Samson pulled down the temple. The Titanic vanished beneath the waves.

Oh, and there were, like, thousands of boobs.

But that was nothing, um, relatively speaking, compared with the next night’s main attraction, Cirque du Soleil.

I mean, when you’re flying and flipping five stories above the floor, your first bad day is your last.

What reminded me of this trip to Las Vegas — and Mary’s insistence that we see the girlie show/spectacular at Bally’s — was her recent illness. Oh, she’s OK, but man, was she out of it for a few days. Swine flu? We wondered there for a bit. Actually Mary wondered there for a bit, as Shop Boy’s tremendous capacity for denial had left me almost as loopy, nursemaid-wise.

“Do I feel feverish to you?” she’d ask.

“Nope. You’re good.”

Anyway, here’s the thing. Mary always says that she never gets sick. Right. She gets sick as often as any normal human being — she’s married to a stinking mass-transit commuter, for heaven’s sake. But unlike the Titanic, Mary’s been fairly unsinkable.

This time … glub, glub, glub.

You could tell it from the polymer plates she made while ill. You didn’t think Shop Boy would let her just lounge around the house — I mean she didn’t even have a fever. (Kidding … I told Mary to stay away from the shop. She wouldn’t listen to reason or denial.)

The polymer plates were, um, how to say this nicely … psychotic.

Mary: “Oh good, I remembered to put crop marks on there. But for what?”

Indeed. The plates were largely shot, and here Mary was, a week lost, with three separate wedding invites due.

You guys have been there right? I mean, Shop Boy gets sick? Well, I’m just dumb labor anyway. But when the brains of the operation get fuzzy? You’re in deep.

The ship was going down. You do not miss deadlines on wedding invites. Period. So as soon as she started feeling even a little better, Mary started bailing and didn’t stop.

And very slowly, the Titanic rose to the surface. The temple was restored. The lost week was just a bad memory that will fade. (Mary’s already telling folks, “It was so weird. I mean, I never get ill.”)

The thousands of boobs?

Mary will never be feverish enough to let that happen again.

Letterpress List No. 79: Hedge Your Bets

July 16, 2009

Don’t they know who I am?

Yes, apparently they do. At least, they know my truck.

Which means there’s no place to hide.

Look if I was truly putting somebody out, I’d address that. “Parking for PK” painted on the wall? I’d never park there. Paulina, a treasured lifetime employee of Fox Industries, gets a pass. Besides, she’s mostly nice.

In fact, Shop Boy so hates inconveniencing people that wherever the truck must travel, you should look for it in the space that’s least ideal and least convenient. Which is how I got crossways with the Hedgehog. This is what Mary started calling her because of her amazingly high, spiky hair. Mary and spiked hair … you should see the big dude at the hardware store. She has got to pat his head every time we go in there. It’s obscene. So “Hedgie” isn’t necessarily an insult. Unless you smoke messily on the loading dock, act surly … and jump on Shop Boy for accidentally parking in your spot.

I didn’t notice the “Parking for Hedgehog” sign. And why did she want to park there everyday? Major bird poop zone. But after I’d used the spot for a few days, word got around that whoever the hell owns that black truck better move it out of my spot.

Shop Boy can take a hint. But she could have been a bit nicer. Mary, of course, thinks she’s too cool for school. Harrumph.

One reason I leave my truck at the shop so often is that we’re there so late many nights that either I’m too tired to drive home or Mary’s too tired. So we take one car. And we take a really sketchy back way home from the Hampden neighborhood. Along the river. Right by the old mills. Murderville at that hour. I mean, we left the studio at 3:30 a.m. the other day and bicycling past us was a pretty young woman on a bicycle. “Oh, honey …,” Mary and Shop Boy said at the exact same time. Bet she never forgets to arrange a ride home from the bars again.

Anyway, my Ford Ranger has been a huge boon to Typecast Press, which wasn’t even a twinkle in Mary’s eye when Shop Boy talked her into letting me buy it brand new. But we just don’t drive very much, period. So it sits a bit, which hasn’t been much of an issue with most of the Fox Industries building’s occupants.

Yet the parking issue has come to a head again recently because our studio’s neighbors, the furniture people, have been importing tons of pieces — and some scary insects — from some factory or another in Indonesia or Malaysia.

OK, enough with the bugs, Shop Boy. But this one flying dragon Mary found dead by the studio door was unimaginably terrifying. I was worried for the local rat population. Between the creepy crawlies inside the factory and the ones waiting outside the door each night … ugh.  Shop Boy made Mary promise the other night that, no matter how much I beg, do not buy me a flamethrower. It won’t end well for the vermin, or most of the surrounding neighborhood.

With their apparent success, the furniture folks now take up way more room inside and outside the building than they had. Parking is thus at more of a premium. And last night, Mary started fretting that my little old pickup truck was beginning to get more notice. Sigh. Time to take it to our Bolton Hil neighborhood and park it on the street, where the residents are always complaining about … the parking shortage. (Maybe if they were a little better at it? Hmm?)

So the lone, proud sentinel of the wee hours at Fox Industries — Shop Boy’s cute little truck — has to call it a night.

And it’s too bad.

The vandals are really going to miss it.

Maybe Shop Boy will sneak a “Graffiti Artists Suck” or “Hampden is for Hillbillies” bumper sticker on Hedgie’s ride.


Letterpress List No. 79

Yes, I had to look up what number we’re on. It’s been a while. Just this once, Shop Boy will spare you the details. Anyhow, here’s about an hour’s of music to celebrate one of Mary’s favorite times of the year: Baltimore’s Artscape weekend, this time featuring one of Shop Boy’s favorite bands (in case you haven’t yet guessed): Cake. Oh, there’ll be tons of other bands of all shapes, sizes and styles on three stages — and all within footsteps of our front door. You think the Bolton Hill residents complain about parking in normal times? Invite a million or so guests over a three-day period. Whee!

(And did I mention it’s always the steamiest weekend of the Baltimore summer? Oh, yes, there will be sweat.)

Alpha Beta Parking Lot Cake (The lines are there for a reason, pal.)
Are You BadGlitter Mini 9 (Totally rocks. Mary’s over the moon about this song. I just hope Courtney Love doesn’t hear it and go beat up the whole band — and its management, and its fans …)
Dancing in the Street
Martha & the Vandellas (You betcha.)
Regina Spektor (OK, Shop Boy’s late to the party on this singer. The first time I heard her music, I wrote her off as a weirdo. Now, she has eaten my brain.)
Re: Your Brains
Jonathan Coulton ( ;-) )
Smoke Detector
Rilo Kiley (Tobacco kills, folks.)
The Blues Are Brewin’ Billie Holiday (Baltimore’s own. Artscape has a singing competition in her name each year.)
Never ThereCake (Shop Boy’s favorite from the band. Hey!)
Sunshine in the Shade the Fixx (Oh, boy. One of those MTV moments we’d all like to forget.)
Mr. Blue SkyELO (But don’t forget the sunscreen.)
Summertime Girls Y&T (Total cheese, street vendor style. Hot peppers with that? Why not? It’s Artscape.)
SmartbombBT (Make that gut bomb.)
Please Don’t Bury MeJohn Prine (“Give my stomach to Milwaukee if they run out of beer …”)
(Love Is Like a) HeatwaveMartha & the Vandellas (Again, why not? Check out the dogged reporting by the emcee. Dude, let it drop. I half expected him to scream: Tell me what “Vandellas” means or you’re not going on stage!)
Satan Is My MotorCake (For Chub — hope he makes it with his crazy car and heaven-and-hell art this year.)

A Bolt Out of the Blue

July 13, 2009

Turning tricks to keep the operation going…

This is not what Shop Boy had imagined when he got himself drafted into this letterpress mess.

Yet there he was, bent over the machine, grunting, sweating, using dirty words and … man.

That’s the last time I’ll do this kind of favor for anyone.

See, Shop Boy was alone in the studio, trying to meet the demands of feeding menus to a restaurant whose chef is so darned creative that he keeps changing things. Mary was pretty beat from meeting a bunch of her own consecutive deadlines, so Shop Boy had left her at home on the couch with her computer to catch up on some design work. We’d already decided we would switch out the blade on the big paper cutter later in the day, but the one in there was still sharp enough to chop menu paper, not especially fine work.

I’d gotten a pretty big head start the day before, so there wasn’t much paper left to cut and there were only a few hundred menus to print on the big C&P, so Shop Boy was done in no time.

Unfortunately, this left some spare time to think.

Shop Boy (on the phone): “I did something really bad, Mary …

Mary: “Oh, my god, are you OK? What happened?”

Shop Boy: “Well, I think my heart has stopped. But mostly I broke the paper cutter.”

Mary: “What were you doing?”

Shop Boy: “Putting in the new blade. I wanted to surprise you. Oh, I feel really awful. The machine is …”

Mary: “I don’t care about the cutter. You could have been hurt. Are you crazy? You’re there, alone, on a Sunday in an empty building. What part of this makes sense?”

Shop Boy hadn’t had time to think that deeply. I was just going to give Mary a break, and leave a fresh blade waiting for her on Monday morning. Now, she was mad.

And just that quickly, I shrank into a little boy … one who now had to go and get the belt from the closet so that Mom could use it on his rear end, except in this case I had to drive home to pick up the angry parent who was going to scold me some more for sure. Mary didn’t disappoint on that end. It’s nice to know she’s looking out for me, just like Mom was, but geez.

Here’s what Mary saw when she arrived: The bolt that adjusts the right side of the blade had snapped off, flush with steel cutter arm. Shop Boy wasn’t being macho or anything, despite all evidence to the contrary. I had merely been tightening the bolt to force the blade down a hair. But without witnesses, I might as well have been guilty of using a hammer to whack the end of the wrench that broke the bolt.

So now what?

The new blade is a bit shorter bite end to butt end than the one it replaced, so it slipped a bit each time I lowered it. Rather than shear through the paper, it receded just enough to leave a dent where a clean edge should be. To make it hold its line, we needed that broken bolt out of the stinking hole and a replacement bolt screwed — ahem, very gently — into its spot.

The replacement is the easy part. Clearing the bolt? Not such a snap.

We did what we usually do in these situations, calling Mary’s brother-in-law, Tom Beal. He thought about it, and offered a couple of alternatives: Hire a machinist to come drill out the bolt, and make another hole in our wallets, or somehow get it out ourselves. That much we’d sort of figured out. Of course, Tom, having snapped a few bolts in his career as an engineer, machinist and just very bright and handy guy, surely had a clever suggestion to offer.

So Shop Boy smartly shut up and listened.

Sure enough, it turned out there was this trick where, if I took a metal punch — anything sturdy and pointed, really — and created a depression between the center of the bolt and the threaded outer ring, I could maybe stick a screwdriver in there, tap it with a hammer and, ever so slowly, coax the bolt counterclockwise until enough of it was exposed that I could grab it with pliers and turn it the rest of the way out.

Sounded easy enough.

Of course, it always does.

True story: Shop Boy’s dad was forever searching for his tools. One of his seven kids, very often me, would borrow a tool from his shed, play with it a bit — you know, killing ants with a hammer, throwing screwdrivers at a target (“Duck, GI Joe!”) to see if we could make it stab the thing like in war movies, or whatever — then simply walk away from it when one of the neighborhood kids yelled for us from down the block. Dad would find it later … often when the lawn mower hit it.

Brats! You can never keep anything nice around here,” he’d hiss.

Shop Boy can still hear that grumbling in his head every time a tool goes AWOL in the letterpress shop. Meaning that I think of my dad quite often.

Like, where is the stinking nail punch? I just used the stupid thing to tap in some finishing nails on the new workbench. Or, because the angle at which the bolt was set required a longer screwdriver with a smaller head, where the heck is the stinking long screwdriver with the smaller head? You get the picture.

So now Mary was frustrated with me for taking so long finding tools, and I was angry and blaming my brothers and sisters for somehow raiding my toolbox from hundreds of miles away (Brats!), and the long night I had hoped to prevent with my good intentions was turning into a long night because of my good intentions.

Let’s just say I wasn’t very confident as I finally approached the bolt with my makeshift arsenal of almost-the-right-tools. To make the depression that would become the foothold for a screwdriver I had selected a small, thin whatchamacallit with a pointed end … that snapped in two on the second tap. Shop Boy’s next two weapons were more sturdy, but chiseled rather than poked, shearing away a little more of the bolt. Heck, I even tried tapping a screw into the surface. The screw slipped, naturally, slicing the equivalent of a triple paper cut into my finger.

But finally, using the longer screwdriver and a tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap with the hammer, Shop Boy raised a tiny ridge atop the bolt’s stump. And for the next hour, I switched out tool after tool, seeking one that could move the ridge rather than shear it off.

It was maddening, to say the least. Nothing seemed to work.

Shop Boy stomped out of the room. I needed a sip of beer from the fridge in the main studio space, figuring that might work a whole lot better than any tool so far. Well, I stood there for a few minutes with the bottle cap in my hand, holding it between my index and middle fingers and my thumb and then crushing it between them until it bent in half with a point at both ends.

Hey, maybe …

Yeah, Shop Boy was a bit punchy. But who’s to say it wasn’t genius? The world will never know. For as Shop Boy, with the bottle cap in my pocket just in case, approached the bolt one final time with the screwdriver … it moved. On its own. (And yes, I’d had only one swig of beer.)

With the tip of the screwdriver now magnetic, Shop Boy was able to hold the tool over the bolt and move it counterclockwise. Not far. Just enough for me to get my fingertips on a ridge of one of the bolt’s damaged grooves. I coaxed it a little further, my hands slippery with sweat. “Please, please,” I whispered. “Just a little more.”

And up it came, spinning freely out of what was to be its tomb.

“Boy, that’s a bit of an anti-climax,” Mary chortled.

Unbelievable. Apparently several thousand taps were enough to sort of shake loose the old dirt and debris that held the bolt firm.

Shop Boy held it aloft like Excalibur and mimicked the angel voices through the clouds with a falsetto La-laaaahhhhhhhhhhh!

Now, who knows what other parts of the machine Shop Boy shook loose with all that banging? We’ll learn in time. But for now, I was redeemed.

In no time flat we’d very … carefully removed the bolt on the other side of the cutter arm and used it to balance the blade. We tightened all the bolts, set down some paper, threw the safety, dropped the blade and bingo.

Shop Boy was back in Mary’s good graces.

Quite a nice trick, if I do say so myself.