Archive for January, 2010

Cleaning House

January 22, 2010

“Is the shop always this clean?” asked Jim Sherraden, the man responsible for — gulp — raising the famed Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tenn., from the ashes.

Shop Boy was so flattered. A big-time letterpress celebrity, unprodded, voicing his approval of how we’ve put the shop together. I mean, Shop Boy tries to keep the place neat for those visitors who happen by Typecast Press and so that Mary will enjoy being there. Of course, on many late nights, Shop Boy wonders if he hasn’t done too good a job of that second part. But … wow.

Sherraden was at Typecast Press for a tour — seriously — during a Baltimore letterpress looksee that Mary had helped line up as part of The Man’s visit for a speech and demo at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And he was really cool about everything,  stuff like telling Mary which sets of wood type she’d collected were the real deal, adding with a twang and a wink that, naturally, the other sets weren’t exactly worthless in the right hands. What a down-to-earth, articulate, well-mannered fellow. (Shop Boy tried to watch his own manners and, um, articulation while Jim was there, with mixed success.)

Before leaving, he agreed to sign a copy of his book for Mary, and proceeded, with a ballpoint pen, to produce a full-page work of art reminiscent of the posters Hatch Show Print is famed for. You’d probably recognize his shop’s style. If not, you should check it out.

Anyway, Shop Boy tries to keep Jim’s visit in mind while surveying the wreck that is Typecast Press these days. Between moving all of the Vandercooks to the new space and cleaning out the old space by a January 1 deadline, stuff is everywhere, entire systems torn asunder. We’ve been in many printshops where stuff’s piled on top of stuff on top of stuff, and printers limbo over and around heaps of lead and paper as they move from press to press — and great work is produced nonetheless. But that ain’t us. We’re lucky we haven’t injured ourselves tripping over things in unaccustomed places.

Mary’s bummed. She’s eager to get things back to normal. Unfortunately, things are back to normal — goodbye, holidays — for the five-days-a-week commuter half of Shop Boy. That means it might be a couple of more weeks before all this stuff has got a permanent home and we can begin to memorize where it all is again.

Worth it? Oh, my, you betcha. Mary’s dad spent his holidays in the new space, painting sections of a room that through the years has acquired a funky color palette. You know, purple paint covering the acoustic tiles that begin about 16 feet above the black-tiled floor and extending across the ceiling 20 or so feet over our heads. Mocha-colored walls in the main area. An aggressively teal, L-shaped divider at the big room’s center. A lime green office off the main area. All cool colors on their own, no doubt. But we’d have had to leave the space every time we needed to do an ink color check — despite the bank of bright spotlights we inherited. So we figured we’d tone it down just a bit.

The teal divider became white with a red trim to match curtains we’d brought along. The mocha walls got the “Wayne Mashburn special”: three separate servings of joint compound to cover up any blemishes — in a few cases, pothole-sized — and subtle paint touch-ups to the point where you’d think the whole place had gotten a fresh coat. (This was despite the comedy routine of Wayne trying to pry the plastic lid off that drum of old paint the former tenant left in a closet. Shop Boy half expected the bucket to end up on his head.) And the lime green office has been similarly patched up and is now “Vail blue” or something. Subtle and lovely.

Then Wayne set to work building us the heavy-duty paper storage shelves of our dreams. Guy’s incredible.

As for “Shop Boy’s office” — aka the lunch area — Wayne ran out of time, leaving me to my own devices. When it comes to picking paint colors, Mary will tell you that this is rarely a good development, often ending in, um, unappetizing shades of whatever. Good thing I’ve been too busy to mess with it. The super-teal accent wall stays for now.

Meanwhile, Tom Beal, Mary’s machine whisperer brother-in-law, rewired the No.4 and SP-15 Vandercooks, discovering dangerous electrical wear-and-tear in one of them. Then he singlehandedly moved each 1,200-pound-plus press into final position (yikes!) and leveled each one.

Oh, and he hung the curtains.

What? You think that’s a bit sissy after throwing around thousands of pounds of metal? You weren’t watching Tom.

There he was, atop a 10-foot ladder, leaning toward the big, old industrial window glass and, power drill in left hand and monkey wrench in the right (for leverage to help push the drill since he was in such an awkward position), coaxing mounting screws slowly into the brick on the left side of the 10-foot by 10-foot bank of windows.

That manly enough for you?

No way Shop Boy’s doing that.

Besides, I was kissing the floor as “Low Boy” (in Wayne’s parlance). He’s about 6-foot-4 and Tom’s up there somewhere, too. I’m, uh, not. Meaning I’m the guy picked to worm my way behind the Vandercooks, shimmying along the tile to tape and then paint the floor-level trim.

To be fair, Tom’s at least as nimble as Shop Boy and has never been afraid of tight spaces or a physical challenge. But like I said, he was busy at the moment: one foot on the ladder, one knee atop a wall segment, bent at the waist, head cocked, wrench now in left hand, power drill in the right hand, coercing the right-side mount into position — it was like Cirque du Soleil or something. Swear to god.

Shop Boy might be a little nuts sometimes about keeping things tidy (at least at the printshop — ;-) ). But that’s clean crazy.

So Over It

January 13, 2010

It was always something with Raymond. Why the young Shop Boy ever believed a word that came out of that mouth remains beyond my comprehension. Yet time and again, there we’d be, Ray laughing his crazy head off as I tried to survive whatever ridiculous adventure or cruel embarrassment he’d led me into.

Take the time Ray convinced me that his parents had made extra room, and paid extra money, so that I could come along on a trip to New Hampshire. Never mind that I had a football game on the day his parents were “counting on me” to come along. Well, my coach was counting on me, too, and about threw me off the team — I’d been terrified to tell him, as he had until recently been an offensive lineman with the Green Bay Packers. Six-foot-four, maybe 280 pounds. Shop Boy never did make it out of his doghouse. Worse, he was on my newspaper route, so I’d have to see him every day. And hear him. Coach John had this dismissive, sneering, devastating toss-off line: “That’s all …”

Two little words that Shop Boy will never get out of his ears.

Nor will Shop Boy ever forget the look of surprise on the faces of Raymond’s parents as he showed up, packed for New Hampshire. Ray was an only child and wanted company for the trip. He just hadn’t told his parents that he’d made arrangements.

Mortifying, right?

Shop Boy turned to leave.

“No, no … please come with, Stee-vun,” said his mom, a large, lovely and charming Swedish woman who I ended up liking much more than I ever did Raymond. It became sort of mutual over time. She was fascinated by a little boy who was so achingly polite, so unlike her own, and would feed me crackers and lingonberry jam when Ray wasn’t watching. Her accent cracked me up. “Damn it, Raymond!” came out something like “Yemen, Ray-mown!”

If only I’d listened to her instead of Ray, a leap-before-you-look kind of kid. The opposite of little Shop Boy, which I guess makes sense. Shop Boy was the good kid, eager to please, who wished to be less afraid to try things.

It might also explain how I ended up in the cockpit of a Fokker triplane — the Red Baron’s ride — buzzing granite cliffs and doing stalls, dives, barrell rolls and loop-the-loops over Peterboro, N.H., if geographic memory serves. Ray had told the stunt pilot (!) on the sly that it was my first time flying, and the dude was thus out to make a memory for me. Mission accomplished. I was ill for a week.

And yet, Shop Boy relishes telling the tale.  Though I’d never want to go through it again, it’s sort of cool to have it in my past (so long as it stays there — ooh, shivers up my spine to this day).

I promised myself I would feel the same — in time — about the Squidfire Holiday Art Mart. This was to be the first official foray by Typecast Press into the land of the arts and crafts fair. And to say the prep was going poorly … well, let’s just say that at 3 a.m. on the morning of the big event, Shop Boy threatened to gnaw his own leg off to escape Mary’s clutches.

Hey, it broke the tension.

See, we still had packaging ideas to talk through as we gathered all the stuff that we’d need for the show. And Shop Boy’s brain was shutting down. Even Andy Snair, illustrator friend of Typecast Press and the genius behind the clever Type Faces series of letters we were to launch that day, had called it a night after a heroic two-day effort on the Vandercook SP-15. I’m telling you, without Andy … no Type Faces at the fair. Mary was at max capacity, and Shop Boy was toast.

That’s when I made my pledge to keep pushing, to be positive, to be strong, to be professional, to be friendly, even at 5 a.m., with load-in set for 8:30 at an arena across town …

And to be ready to make Mary pay, and pay, and pay like Raymond never did. How she talked me into this …

The fair? Oh, it went pretty great for first-timers. We sold a bunch of Andy’s letters, a few of Shop Boy’s signature coasters, some really cool letterpressed wine bags that we came up with, sachets by the score. We met a bunch of people, many of whom got to make their own coaster on the little Kelsey we’d — ugh! — brought along.

True story: It was a long walk to the car from the floor of Baltimore’s Du Burns Arena. And even a little Kelsey 5X8 gets real heavy if you carry it far enough. So Shop Boy had a plan: Carry one of the display cabinets halfway there, then do the same with the Kelsey, setting it atop the cabinet as a resting point.

If only I had shared the plan with Andy.

Shop Boy boosted the Kelsey, hands wrapped carefully around the legs so as not to damage any of the more sensitive parts of the little jewel of a press, and made my way from the arena floor to the long set of stairs to the main concourse. So far, so good.

Of course, a little girl, maybe 3 years old — and unattended — made her way directly into my path at the stairs’ base and began her agonizing … one step, stop, look around … next step, stop, look around … way up the stairs. There was nowhere to set down the press, and no way Shop Boy was going to risk hurting this little girl, so I stayed back, praying that some adult would come whisk her away so I could dash the rest of the way to the rest stop.

Nope.

Finally she turned away at the top of the stairs and Shop Boy made a break for it, only to spot Andy — he truly was an amazing help, folks — carting away the cabinet where I was to set the Kelsey.

“Andy!” I called. “ANDY!”

Too far away.

Panicked, Shop Boy looked around. There was a flimsy plastic chair. There were a bunch of bags filled with paper goods. Walls of glassed-in shelves with all manner of indoor soccer trophies and such. And zero flat surfaces that would hold any weight.

Somewhere, Raymond had to be laughing.

Shop Boy might have been, too, if it were someone else’s knees buckling, someone else’s shoulders shaking. There was only one choice. Get the thing, somehow, through two sets of glass doors and outside, where Mary and Andy might spot me and run to help.

The cold air helped clear Shop Boy’s head a bit, and I spotted the section of wall with a flat top down two short flights of wide cement steps. Andy and Mary had their hands full and their backs turned, so …

I set the Kelsey down — gently — with the kind of “uuh-uhh-hhhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnn-UH!” that could be heard for blocks.

“Oh my god. Did you carry that all the way?” Mary asked.

“That wasn’t the plan,” I said, my fast breaths sending shots of steam into the chill.

When Shop Boy filled them in — “Andy! ANDY!” — Andy quickly apologized, then started laughing. Mary joined him. What could I do? No harm to small children or small presses. And Shop Boy was more or less intact.

I laughed till I cried.

Today, a month down the road, Shop Boy’s glad we took part in the Squidfire sale, hoping against hope, of course, that we’d do it a little differently next time.

It gave us Andy’s Type Faces, so long on the drawing board, convinced us we could, with proper planning, bring the Kelsey along on such outings so people can try their hand at letterpress, and provided the confidence for us to launch our own line of fun products with their own Andy-drawn logo and everything. More on that later.

And, yemen, it certainly gave us a funny story to take home, without the week of stomach distress.

36/24/36 … 24/7/365

January 6, 2010

It’s hard enough to remember what day it is sometimes. Now Shop Boy really has a challenge on his hands: How will I ever remember what month it is without the Fantasy Builders hotties reminding me from the wall calendar in the main room of Typecast Press?

See, for the past couple of years, Mary and Shop Boy have continued a joke started when a former roommate suggested that every printshop must have a girlie calendar. The local hardware store supplies the calendars for free, then Mary goes through month by month to helpfully explain to Shop Boy where nature has been altered by science or enhanced by computer, pasting a confetti of paper hearts and stars over the bits that go a bit too far over the line — the bra line, usually. Until this year.

There probably aren’t quite enough paper stars in the world to shield impressionable eyes from this year’s batch of “construction workers.” Yes, it’s tradition to have the calendar. And, yes, construction workers have traditionally shown a bit of “butt crack” every now and again. But, good golly.

Shop Boy knew the joke was over before we’d even got to springtime.

We’ve got young female interns this semester. And a few guests in the past year have looked at us kind of funny over the whole thing. Besides, Shop Boy likes being thought of in a certain way by women. Not that way.

It’s kind of too late to print our own shop calendar. So it’ll probably end up being kitties instead of “kittens” this time around.

Shop Boy will try to refrain from pointing out everywhere that the “perfect” little furballs have been Photoshopped.