Rolling Back the Clock

It’s human nature, I suppose, when things aren’t going so well, to question exactly what you were thinking when you decided to become a letterpress printer. And Shop Boy, it should be clear to all by now, is unfailingly human.

So, when I had finally, officially, miserably failed in my exhaustive effort to make a worn and curled-up polymer plate print just one more time — please! — Shop Boy angrily cleaned the wasted ink off the big C&P, whipped the inky rag into the safety can, slamming the lid, pulled off the rubber gloves and kicked them into their bucket, slammed the factory door and stomped to his truck and …

Calmly drove home.

No, I did not lay rubber, sling gravel or any other signs of frustration. Driving is driving. It is not talking on the telephone. It is not a car-racing video game. It is not “taking it out” on anyone or anything. It is a privilege and a tremendous responsibility. Shop Boy is not a perfect driver, and neither are you. Knowing this should keep us honest. Be careful out there. Amen.

Where was I? Oh, fuming. Ready to kill letterpress and its whole family on the very night Shop Boy was to once again meet the woman who got Mary so fired up about this in the first place:

Carol Sturm.

She was an instructor at New York City’s Center for the Book Arts when Mary decided it’d be a kick for us to go and be printers for a weekend. Carol, a smart, wiry, sarcastic and no-nonsense dynamo, won us over immediately. Soon, she and Mary were riding herd, Carol expertly showing us how this Vandercook stuff worked and Mary choosing ink colors, paper and such and convincing our indecisive classmates that they’d come up with the ideas.

Mary always brags on Shop Boy for being chosen by Carol to proofread the poster we were creating — a word guy amid “artists.” Like a lot of printers, and fewer graphic designers, Carol was dead serious about grammar, spelling and punctuation. (In fact, these days she’s an English teacher in upstate New York.)

Anyway, through the years, her Nadja Press has produced limited-edition books of poetry and the like — absolute masterpieces of printing — so when Mary was thinking of a boffo guest speaker for the final class of the semester at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she kept coming back to Carol.

But it had been, like, a decade. She wouldn’t remember us from any of the million others who come through the Center for the Book Arts before and after us.

No matter. Again, Mary is, um, fairly persuasive.

And thus, steaming mad as Shop Boy was, he was also eager to greet (confront?) the reason for his current anguish. Mary called to say that the class was running late — they were having too much fun, harrumph! — and that I should meet them outside Dolphin Press, MICA’s printshop, at 10:30 or so. At least that gave me time to cool off.

Carol’s friendly hello and first sarcastic comment did the rest.

She’s a “pip,” as Shop Boy’s mom used to say.

Back at the house, I whipped up cocktails. (If you’re new to this blog, the url is short for Guy Who Brings Gin & Tonics. Man, Shop Boy is dangerous with a bottle of gin. You’ve been forewarned.)

Soon we were laughing about teaching, about that old class we took (Carol kept unconsciously referring to one young, tomboyish woman, Marie-Claude or something, as “Jean-Claude” — we were dying, even as the poor apopleptic student appeared closer and closer to going all Van Damme on the teacher), about drinking, about how cool it was to be back together.

Just like old friends.

Isn’t letterpress great?

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