So Over It

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.

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