Archive for October, 2009

Letterpress List No. 81: Jacked Up

October 30, 2009

One of the cool things about the Typecast Press printshop is the high ceilings. See, when you’re moving heavy stuff around a crowded storage area, it helps to have access to the airspace above things. All you have to do is — oof! — lift it — grunt! — high enough off the ground — ugh! — and you’re home.

Keeping an item aloft is not as hard as getting it there, in Shop Boy’s opinion. (Of course, be sure to save enough energy to lower it — oof! — back to — oh, man! — the ground afterward. Whew!)

It’s like at our house, which has 10-foot ceilings but one very skinny hallway between the kitchen and dining room, with a favorite old (frail) cabinet taking up half the width. This was a tea cabinet from Mary’s grandmother’s home that was in terrible shape when it arrived. (“You’re kidding, right?” Shop Boy said to Mary at the time. She doesn’t kid when it involves Grandmama’s memory. And Shop Boy should tread lightly here as well, seeing as how I was the first Yankee allowed into the family, thanks to Grandmama’s nod of approval.) Mary’s dad helped fix the old piece, while Mary and sister Melissa repainted flourishes on the face of the thing.

Perhaps most importantly, Mary’s mom made molasses bars with baking ingredients like those that would soon be housed in the “new” cabinet.

Which is now nice. But no less in the way.

So Shop Boy is constantly boosting chairs, baskets, boxes, upright fans and the like to the free airspace above it, walking carefully past and lowering the item to the floor.  (“Going the other way around” means either a.) walking out the front door, down the sidewalk, out to the alley behind the rowhouses and in through the back gate or b.) past the wacky dining room chandelier, two steps down to the front hall, up a curving flight of stairs past Mary’s favorite artworks, down a looong hallway and finally down a really tight, turning set of back steps to the kitchen.

The truth is, it gives me a little thrill to boost stuff above my head. And some day, if Shop Boy’s lucky, I’ll be a little old man unable to do stupid things like this anymore. That will make me cranky. (Just warning you ahead of time.)

Anyway, as we’ve discussed, I like moving impossible-to-move things. Always been like that. Shop Boy isn’t Superman or anything — more like The Blob. But I’m just strong enough, and clever enough, that if you don’t watch me, I’ll have that heavy thing over there over here before you can say, “Go get some help with that thing. Are you crazy?” It, ahem, helps to wait till Mary’s left the room.

So we know my fetish. Sue me. Shop Boy’s comfortable with who he is.

Here’s what scares me: Lately, I’ve heard Mary talking about getting a pallet jack. How we need some come-alongs and maybe a johnson bar.

Excuse me?

It wasn’t so long ago that Shop Boy had to teach her how to pry open an ink can without jabbing a screwdriver into her opposite wrist, and now she’s talking about doing some light rigging?

(Bruce Baggan, if you are reading this, please: Save me!)

Oh, nothing too heavy, she assured me. Just some paper that got delivered the other day. (Whew — false alarm, Bruce. We can leave the machine moving to you and yours.)

Shop Boy: “How much paper?”

Mary: “Oh, it’s just the poster board that I ordered. But you should have seen the trouble the guy had getting it onto the loading dock.”

Shop Boy: “How much paper?”

Mary: “Well, there was a minimum order …”

Shop Boy: “How much paper?”

Quick math quiz, folks: 550 kilograms equals X number of pounds?

(Yeah, Shop Boy cheated too. Aren’t iPhones great?)


The sheets are about the usual 22 inches by 36 or so inches, I’m guessing. And they’re stacked 5 feet high. Sitting on a pallet with reinforced feet! Minimum order? Yikes.

That’s a lot of printing.

But we’re assembling designs for a couple of late-fall, um, selling events, and I guess Mary just wanted to be sure not to run out of paper.

Shop Boy’s thinking that she can relax.


Letterpress List No. 81

I’ve almost forgotten how to do this list thing. If you’ve missed Shop Boy’s little exercise in mix-and-match musicality, sorry to have gotten out of the habit. If you hate it, sorry, but I’ve missed it myself. How about an hour’s worth of music to, uh, size up and ponder what to do with a 1,200-pound stack of paper by? At least until the pallet jack gets here.

Seven Nation ArmyThe White Stripes/Jack White (I could use the extra hands.)
Do It Again Steely Dan (Go back, Jack. We’ve just found a new home for the stack.)
She’s Got the JackAC/DC (OK, enough. Besides, this is one song that even AC/DC fans would agree is just a touch too much.)
Touch Too MuchAC/DC (That’s more like it.)
DreamsVan Halen (Higher and higher. Not David Lee Roth-era VH, but not bad.)
Yankee RoseDavid Lee Roth (Ah, I feel better now. “A bottle of anything and a glazed donut … to go” always hit the spot. Did Shop Boy mention that Grandmama lived 22 steps from a Krispy Kreme? Ooh.)
Reach for the SkySocial Distortion (A Yankee? Really…)
Runs in the Family Amanda Palmer (Of Dresden Dolls fame. Mary calls it polka music. She’s no fan. More for us!)
Elevate MyselfGrandaddy (Bouncy b.s. Dude protests a bit too much about staying musically pure. Fun, though.)
ShoopSalt N Pepa (“Straight up, wait up, hold up, Mr. Lover.”)
Straight UpPaula Abdul (Again, sue me.)
Save YourselfStabbing Westward (From Mary’s former jar-opening technique.)
Real Live Bleeding Fingers Lucinda Williams (Saw her recently here in Baltimore. She can still bring it.)
Scar Tissue Red Hot Chili Peppers (OK, we get it, Shop Boy. Great song, though.)
Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix (Excuse me while I kiss the sky.)
Pump It Up Elvis Costello and the Attractions (Ooof!)
Bombshell Powerman 5000 (Don’t drop it.)
Dude (I Totally Miss You) Tenacious D/Jack Black (Genius or garbage? Either way, it’s cool with Shop Boy.)

Lousy Reception

October 23, 2009

“You’re evil and you want to rule the world!”

That’s the second thing Shop Boy said to Mary as she attempted to rouse him, face down, from the cot at 3:15 a.m.

It’s a line from a crazy Japanese cartoon I saw once long ago that was dubbed into English — a Speed Racer-type deal. Anyway, the line is spoken so rapid-fire in the dubbing, with the cartoon characters lips all out of sync … call me goofy, but I laugh demonically every time I think about it.

(By the way, the first thing Shop Boy said to Mary upon regaining consciousness, one eye open and the cot’s fabric pattern imprinted on his forehead: “Who are you, and why have you brought me here?” I’m surprised she didn’t just throw a sheet of paper over me and leave me there until morning. Oh, wait. It was morning. But you know what I mean.)

See, Shop Boy doesn’t watch a whole lot of TV. But the stuff I tend to watch tends to stick. Bulls “getting all up in the business” of the cowboys trying to ride them. Nature shows like the one where the rogue male lion, having chased off her mate, brings the female into heat by devouring her cubs. (Swear to god.) Then he mounts her (cue the British accent), “with the scent of her babies still on his lips.”

Then there’s baseball, of course. The NFL …

And Beavis and Butt-head.

Mary tries to give me a hard time about my shows. But she should talk: The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Orange County, NYC or Wherever … Project Runway. Top Chef. Yeesh! Point the camera and watch people be idiots toward one another to earn themselves more camera time. Why not The Real Housewives of Hampden? (That’s our shop’s neighborhood — and we’ve got some real beauts. For instance, the two ladies who scream the same obscene insults at each other over and over for a half-hour — rhymes with “itch” and “ore” — then just walk away, are perfect.) House. Burn Notice. The Closer, and Every Other Stinking Police Procedural Out There. She’s a total junkie.

Shop Boy likes to kid a real-life co-worker who doesn’t even own a TV — and hasn’t for years — about everything she’s missing.

You know, like the second half of every pharmaceutical ad that by law has to warn you of the potentially dangerous side effects: basically, that the company’s drug could do to you exactly what you’re trying to prevent or cure.

A sleep drug that causes edginess. A depression drug that can cause suicidal feelings. A heart medicine that may cause a dangerous elevation in blood pressure. The four-hour woody.

This is great stuff. And my co-worker had absolutely no idea.

Of course, she’s also been spared The Real Housewives, but still. No TV? That’s just nutty.

Which is what Shop Boy was trying to explain to Mary when we started talking about the new space.

Oh, haven’t I mentioned that? The furniture company ladies are moving out to, um, fancier digs. Shop Boy doesn’t know why. The space they’re leaving behind is awesome — and, come December, all ours at last.

(Wait. Didn’t we just expand across the hall? Yes I know, Shop Boy is evil and he wants to rule the world. Ha-hahahahahahaahaha!)

The studio is actually three offices and a central space, once the headquarters of DI, a company that installs custom sound systems for college auditoriums and other big industrial projects. And Mary has promised the glassed-in sound booth as Shop Boy’s office … and command center. (Translation: That’s where I’ll take commands from her.)

All we need now’s a TV. Look, we’ve got beer in the fridge. How could we skip the second half of the guyness? Am I right?

We are at the shop working all the time. What’s so wrong about sneaking a peek at the baseball playoffs or the football game while Mary is doing her thing? I mean, Shop Boy just gets underfoot while all those thinky parts of printing are going on. You know, she grabs the calculator, Shop Boy grabs the remote. Two brains, each operating at full capacity.

All we have to do is expand the office’s cable Internet connection to include basic TV stuff. It’s not like I’m asking for more than a few channels: Versus (bullriding/bass fishing), Golf (um, golf, golf, golf and golf), ESPN2 (junk mostly … guys chasing balls of every sort every which a way), ESPN (ahhhh …) and Animal Planet (baby’s blood cologne).

Well, Mary’s internal cable service must be out. Because she ain’t hearing a word of it. She did humor Shop Boy slightly by checking on whether just a few channels can be installed before she summarily dismissed the notion.

Then she summarily dismissed the notion.

I think she’s hung up on the potentially dangerous side effects.

Our Friends Are Your Friends

October 21, 2009

Shop Boy’s been tied up on a terrible real-world deadline.

But if you need a fix, check out this story of one of Mary and Shop Boy’s capers (with a nod to Mary’s book club for the inspiration).

“The Taste of Oregon” is the blog of our dear friends Vic and Charles.

And just as Shop Boy hopes that people who stumble upon his blog expecting real information on printing presses and ink might stick around anyway, you don’t need to be an Oregoner to check out their foodie blog.

Who knows? You might even stay for a second helping.

But come back. I won’t be silent much longer.

Making a Long Story Long

October 9, 2009

Let Shop Boy tell you a story.

Actually, let me tell you two stories. Nah, nah … three.

The first is a tale of deadlines, of an amazingly beautiful idea that was late to the party and thus watched as the glass slipper was placed on its ugly stepsister’s foot. Sent back home to sweep up the ashes of what might have been.

What, you don’t like hyperbole? Next blog over, please.

Besides, it’s the 100th anniversary of the Vandercook printing press this year. It calls for over-the-top celebrations. Like the idea of soliciting 100 printers worldwide to create 100 posters to mark the occasion. Mary was proud to be part of the exercise. Shop Boy was geeked for her. And over the fact that, if you sent in 100 of your posters, you’d get one each of the other 99!

At least until he heard the deadline.

But Mary already had a perfect poster in hand, an off-the-hook cover she had done for her Maryland Institute College of Art class project on the same theme: “Love Letters to a Vandercook.”

Mary’s concept — with her students’ input — was a type drawer filled not with lead characters but with chocolates. The goodies  were stamped with X’s and O’s, as if letterpressed. Sweet! Shop Boy just loved every single spot of ink on that baby. We’d just have to reprint it.

Then Mary checked the website for the project, and saw that another Baltimore entry had a disappointingly similar motif. Oh, the images were worlds apart — but the words weren’t. And since about the worst thing in the world is to be a knock-off, Shop Boy petted Mary’s masterpiece one last time and we began to brainstorm.

“I know, you’ll write me a bedtime story,” Mary said.

“But …,” Shop Boy stuttered.

“Yeah, you’ll come up with a story, and we’ll design it around Andy Snair’s illustration of our press.”

“But …”

“Oh, come on, Shop Boy. You like writing stories. What, my thing isn’t important enough? I bet if it was for your blog, you’d do it.”

Ooh. Did she just go there? So typical: Hero to zero in, like, 30 seconds.

But you put a red cape in front of a bull … and bull happens. Mary couldn’t have been prepared for the load of words I threw at her before sundown. You want a  bedtime story? Here’s your bedtime story:


“Vandercook: A Bedtime Story”

Then, there was a monster.

More misunderstood behemoth than evil beast, truly.

Once beloved, it had helped tell the world of the good and the bad, the amazing and the sad. It could paint a pretty picture, or present the stark truth in black and white.

And the world listened, amazed. For a time.

Until a newer, sleeker messenger called out. “Don’t listen to the old-timer. Too set in its ways. Look, can it do this?” Whereupon the newfangled offset press begin spinning and whirring, dazzling onlookers with a mad, saturated, dizzying kaleidoscope of color.

Well, it didn’t take long. Soon movers arrived, and the old Vandercook No. 3 could hear their excited chatter amid the grunts as they shoved it into a dark corner. “What do we need with this old thing? That one’s newer, it’s cheaper, it’s faster!”

The No. 3 sighed to itself. “But is it better?”

Soon, no one at all was there to listen. The No. 3 still had much to say, but its pearls of wisdom were like a whistle that only a dog can hear.

Then, late one night, from far, far away, two tumbling puppies did hear, having had a bit too much liquid from the bowl (if you know what I’m saying). “It’s perfect!” cried one. “But it’s huge!” yapped the next.

And soon it was theirs, the e-Bay gods smiling upon them.

And the moving men returned.

“What do they want with this old thing? There’s newer, there’s cheaper, there’s faster!”

All the way from Philly to Baltimore, strapped in the back of a truck, the No. 3 wondered: “Do they truly hear me? Will they listen for a while, then turn their backs?”

Its fears eased, just a little bit, but then only a little bit, amid the squeals of joy as the puppies tumbled over and around it.

Finally, it whispered, “What do you want with me? My kind … we’re … 100 years old.”

“Yes,” said one puppy. “And you will outlive us all.”

“You’ll see 200, easy,” yapped the other puppy.

And then they all went happily to work.


“Well, uh, that’s OK,” Mary said. “But the audience for these posters is going to be a bit more adult.”

Harrumph. So she wants more bull, does she?

And it struck me.

Vandercook. You roll the carriage. Rolled. The press had fallen on hard times. Booze. A redemption thanks to letterpress crazies. It was the story of Typecast Press and how we got started.

Turn me loose!


“Lockup: One Vandercook’s Road to Redemption”

When it came to in the back of a closed truck, far from home, the Vandercook No. 3 figured it had been rolled. Wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t be the last. Now here, shackled six ways to Sunday, it could only guess where it was headed. See, the No. 3 knew a thing or two about lockup. Hard work and hard time have run in the family for 100 years now. This was just more proof.

Granddad, the old Rocker, built to last. Revolutionary for his time. Time passes. No. 1 Pop? Greatest thing since sliced bread. For a while. The No. 3 was the great gray hope. Knew how to make a big impression. And could it ever kiss. Smooth. Like the best scotch. The No. 3 drank oil, mostly. Sometimes a bit too much, to be honest. OK, it had a problem. So the intervention should have come as little surprise.

One morning, the No. 3 found itself surrounded by those it considered its friends. They strapped it down and forced it into the program: eBay, it was called. They said it was a second chance. Maybe his last.

Still, the No. 3 couldn’t watch as the bidding increased for the opportunity to provide its rehab. Finally, from Baltimore’s Gin Belt, of all places, came the boozy bid that sealed its fate — from Typecast Press or something — and everything went black. And so here it was in the truck.

Hey, wait! This wasn’t a bad thing. This was it! The second chance! The press was so excited it nearly inked itself. (Then it remembered that it had no self-inking function.)

Mary and Shop Boy waited at the door. He seemed like a klutz. She was a bit intense. But in an instant, their excitement combined with the Vandercook’s, and 100 years of history came welling to the surface. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

All right, it was the beginning of a fairly clueless attempt at starting a letterpress shop.

But that was something. And at least the place was heated. The No. 3 surveyed its surroundings, feeling more alive than it had in 40 years.

“Happy birthday to me!”


“See? That wasn’t so hard,” Mary said, laughing at enough of the right moments that I decided to let her tone slide. Besides, zero to hero again was fine by Shop Boy.

Now, about that deadline …

We made the plates, mixed the ink, and Shop Boy started cranking. A few hundred rolls of the No. 3 later, its story was on paper. We dashed to Fed Ex. Whew. Mission accomplished.


If you go to the site, you’ll notice the end box with where to look for Shop Boy’s sequels, the stories of our other Vandercooks.

“You can just whip them up, too,” Mary chirped.

Is it just me, or does she not fully appreciate how much work it takes to be a genius?