Archive for March, 2010

Cross Words

March 29, 2010

We had a fight the other night. Now, in 20 years of marriage, I’ll bet Mary and Shop Boy have had an average of one to two quarrels a year. It’s always over something stupid.

This time took the cake:


And suddenly, Shop Boy needed a seven-letter word for “sorry but there’s a lot on my mind — my mom died five years ago this week and we just watched a play, Our Town, where our neighbors were the stars and the people of the cemetery are dealing with their lot and I’m wishing Mom wasn’t in the ground still and we worked a triple shift and the house is a wreck and I’ve no idea where the bills stand and we’re behind on menus and we’ve had a cocktail — did I mention I’m fat? — and it’s 1 a.m. and now you want to play Scrabble? I never liked Scrabble …”

Like I said, stupid.  Cue the Golf Channel’s British analyst:

“Badly done, Shop Boy. Badly done …”

Now Mary was mad — all she’d wanted was to physically play Scrabble, touching the wooden tiles for real after playing so much of the video version on her iPhone. She’s a killer, FYI, having scored seven “bingos” — clearing all your letter tiles for the win on the first play — in, like, 65 games against the computer. I always warn people against playing Mary in Scrabble for this reason. She goes all Rain Man on you, then does an end zone dance on your fallen figure. At least, that’s what she usually does.

But she could clearly tell Shop Boy was upset about something — OK, everything — and tried to help me, poor suffering word fool that I am, keep the game going while the X’s, Z’s, Q’s, P’s and frustration piled up on my tray.

“This game is stupid,” said I, “and I’ve always hated it because it’s stupid.”


An old golfing buddy of my dad’s, upon hearing that Shop Boy was getting hitched, offered a piece of advice for married couples that I’ve never forgotten. I’ll clean up the language a bit, but it’s essentially this: Never go to sleep back to back. You know, don’t let the anger linger into the next day. Kiss and make up before bedtime. It also helps if you have a tiny, tiny bed, as Mary and Shop Boy did in their apartment-dwelling days — it leaves no room for anger or bad feelings.

There’s no room for bad feelings in the printshop either, a notion that Shop Boy was testing pretty severely at the moment. See, Mary’s funny. She gets upset, lets it all out, and moves on. See it? Say it.

Shop Boy? You might not know it from reading this blog, but the “big lug” — Mom’s pet phrase — has trouble expressing his opinions and feelings sometimes. It usually goes like this: Something’s bugging me, so I think about it, and think about it, and the more I think about it, the more I think I shouldn’t think about that right now. So I try to bury it, and it tries to claw its way out. Mary doesn’t understand, naturally, and wants to help me reach inside and put a balm on whatever’s hurting in there. This has led to some fairly funny — in retrospect — standoffs.

Shop Boy: “I’m going to have to opt out of this conversation.”

Mary: “OK, then … tell me what’s wrong and the conversation’s over. Talk.”

Anyway, Mary and Shop Boy make a good team. Working silently on separate projects? Not so effective. So we made up, Shop Boy clumsily trying to explain why he was a jerk, and we moved on.

Besides, life’s way, way too short for pigheadedness. Ask my mom and her cronies at the cemetery. She’s been with them five years now. I sure hope they’re better company than the stiffs in Our Town.

Letterpress List No. 82: Rollin’ Again

March 23, 2010

So my little brush with crime and the loss of a beloved collection
of CDs got me to thinking, after a long hiatus, about music again.

Namely …

If you’d told Shop Boy 25 years ago that he’d have a favorite Pandora station built on ditties from country singers and jokey folkies — Kinky Friedman, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Willie Nelson(!) — I’d have told you to take a couple of aspirin and lie down, because you’re feverish, son.

Well, dropkick me through the goalposts of life, Jesus.

Maybe it’s a family thing. My sister Ellen, who converted to Judaism
and raised three kids — OK, and a husband — in the Jewish faith,
rides around Rhode Island in a minivan pumping country songs. Which is “wicked” weird only because of the location — ain’t no cowboys where Shop Boy comes from — and because every so often something country Christian comes on. And they’re grooving to it.

I mean, “Drugs or Jesus” by Tim McGraw? Mary about fell out of the vehicle. It sure did lighten the mood on our way to my mom’s funeral, though.

Now, Shop Boy’s not one to goof on anyone’s religion. Mom raised seven kids — OK, and a husband — in the Catholic Church and went to her grave in the comfort of knowing she was loved and saved. Us kids went our own ways, some finding comfort in various denominations and others not so much. We’re told we’re nice people.

And my brother-in-law Barry’s outlaw CD copy of McGraw’s album Live Like You Were Dying — with “Drugs or Jesus” on it — actually sat in Shop Boy’s truck a while.

It’s just funny sometimes how music often unconsciously becomes part of our fabric.

Take what was swiped from Shop Boy’s truck. (Or, in this case, give it back, whoever you are. Geez.) It reveals me as what I am: white middle-aged (I hope) New England-bred dude fiercely loyal to the music of his teens, twenties and thirties. So what in the world is Kanye West doing on my iPhone playlist. And why am I suddenly more fond of the “Urban Assault” version of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” — with Redman, Method Man and that barking looney DMX — than the original. Young Jeezy? And perhaps even more unexpectedly, U2. I mean, all that chingalingy guitar drives me bonkers. But I love “Vertigo.”

The Doors? As music critic J.D. Considine once wrote of Courtney Love, “I don’t worship at that particular church.” But someday maybe Shop Boy will have recovered from his college roommate’s infatuation with all things Jim Morrison.

It’s why I try not to say things like, “Oh, I hate that band,” or “Oh, I hate that type of music.” And sure, maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome — you know, falling in love with the one who kidnapped you like Patty Hearst did. Mary does play this kind of stuff very loud all the time at the printshop. Maybe Shop Boy’s simply gone off his rocker.

It would kind of explain the letterpress thing.

See, at first Shop Boy indulged Mary while secretly considering every new printing press or furniture cabinet one more stupid thing to clean and every late night as one more cross to bear.

And now? Well, I still kick a bit over the late nights. But mostly I wish Shop Boy could spend more time with Mary in the printshop.

Yep, that clinches it: Stockholm syndrome.

Letterpress List No. 82

Rollin’Limp Bizkit (The old Shop Boy rolled more like this.)
No More Mr. Nice GuyAlice Cooper (So easy a caveman can sing it. What was Geico thinking?)
VertigoU2 (All right, all right …)
Break on Throughthe Doors (Nope. Still ain’t working for me.)
Gold DiggerKanye West (Just sayin’.)
Drugs or JesusTim McGraw ( ;-) )
TemptationDiana Krall (A more sultry version of …)
TemptationTom Waits (Wait, I like this guy’s music? When did that happen? See what I mean?)
1996Marilyn Manson (He’s heading toward middle-aged-ish white guy now as well. Bet he’s screaming mad about that, too. “Anti-aging, anti-fat, get me Grecian formula stat! Anti-statins … now you’ve gone too far.”)
Que Onda GueroBeck (Apparently L.A. barrio slang for “What’s up, white boy?” — and you can absolutely feel the street corner here. Great song. “See the vegetable man, in the vegetable van, with a horn that’s honking like a mariachi band …”)
Ain’t That a ShameCheap Trick (Yes it is — the theft, I mean.)
Ain’t That a ShameFats Domino (You decide. OK, no contest, but the Cheap Trick version went over very well at Budokan. The next three went over even better in my truck.)
Chop Suey!System of a Down (“Why’d you leave the CDs in the truck cab/you wanted to …” Wake up, Shop Boy.)
Toxicity System of a Down (Every SOD song has at least one “what the?” moment.)
DdevilSystem of a Down (This one’s got, like, six … including lead singer Serj Tankian unable to stifle a laugh at it all. Magic.)
SheGreen Day (Turned out whoever broke in got the Green Day CD case, but not the CD, which was in the player. Shop Boy cheered!)
Song for the DeadQueens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl on drums! Shop Boy gets chills every time.)
AM RadioEverclear (Had never heard of John Prine till Art Alexakis mentioned him in a song. Then came Google and … bam.)
Flag DecalJohn Prine (Patriot.)
My PresidentYoung Jeezy (Just … wow.)

System Outage

March 18, 2010

So, OK — Shop Boy was asking for it. They’d put graffiti on it, dumped trash in its bed, and still I’d leave the truck overnight at the factory building that houses Typecast Press. We leave the printshop so late many nights that taking two cars home seems dumb. Where are you going to park two cars at 2 in the morning in our driveway-less Baltimore neighborhood?


They got my System of a Down CDs. All of them.

(That sound you hear is Mary cheering.)

Again, asking for it …

But I’d sort of gotten overly familiar with the selections in my visor CD sleeve, and had loaded in a new bunch of CDs — in their covers — behind the seat for the great switcheroo. Then I didn’t quite get around to it.

And last night, a thief or thieves smashed the driver’s side window, rifled through the cab and found the stash — both in the visor and behind the seat. And there went Beck, Dire Straits (the Brothers in Arms album that Mary and Shop Boy fell in love to — I’ve got a second copy), Kiss Double Platinum, Cheap Trick at Budokan, Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Petty, Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Foo Fighters, a two-CD set called Mullet Rock, Marilyn Manson, Green Day …

And all that wailing, banging and gnashing of teeth — Mary’s — that is System of a Down.

Thank goodness I’ve still got all those System albums on my iPod.

What Goes Around

March 9, 2010

After a good vacuuming and a bit of ancient nail and screw repair, Shop Boy eased the last heavy wooden tray drawer into the top rack of the mighty oak cabinet. Just like that, one more piece of old-time printing had officially come full circle.

Mary and Shop Boy? We’d already done that earlier in the day. Turnpike pikers, we’d naturally headed in the wrong direction on 695, Baltimore’s beltway. We’d been to the middle of nowhere out southwest of the city. Having picked up a heavy load, we planned to come back via the same fairly leisurely route of MD-97 to I-70 to I-695 to I-83 south. I-95 into the city is just so bouncy, crammed and rough, and a regular exit is now closed for … something or other. Who knows why? Everything’s old and wrecked in Baltimore.

About 45 minutes into the return trip, Shop Boy kind of sensed something was a bit off. I didn’t remember this part on the way out. But what do I know? I’m not the directions guy, and the truck was handling great, traffic wasn’t bad, my fellow drivers were being courteous enough, the load was solid, and …

“Where are we, Shop Boy?” Mary asked at last.

“Not sure … we passed Linthicum a little while back.”

Well, you should have seen the look she gave me.

Humph! Thankfully, in mentally backtracking, we quickly realized that the error — taking the long way around the beltway and adding miles and miles to the journey — had been a group effort. Each of us quickly apologized for not paying attention. Then we backtracked for real. We could still save a little time if we zigged, zagged and connected up with I-95. And what do you know — it wasn’t all that bad as I-95 goes.

Which, for us, was quite a switch. We don’t drive much on the highway. Hey, we were freeway commuters from Brooklyn to the Middle of Long Island for a couple of years. We’ve just sort of had enough of that, you know? And in Baltimore, we don’t need to, mostly. Hence Mary’s theory that the highway misses us and decides that when it does sees us, we ought to hang around a spell. I mean, does anybody else hit a traffic snarl at least one leg of every single road trip and commute?

Which is essentially why we stick with the train and tooling around broken but somehow lovable Baltimore. That is, unless Mary’s found another crazy press or old-and-wrecked must-have printshop thingy “conveniently located” in “nearby” Philly or whatever.

She had, and so we did … eventually get back to Baltimore with a huge cabinet in the back end of Shop Boy’s beloved little pickup.

The cabinet, which once would have supported an imposing stone or similar printshop work table, had ended up in a super scrounge-salvage place called Second Chance hard by Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. (Honest.) There, it was spotted by a carpenter who admired the old workmanship enough that he got the idea of turning it into a funky kitchen island in his new home. Well, that was cool before the kids came. Then, the romance of the lead residue, splinters and doors and drawers that could trap little people quickly faded. So the cabinet — and the spanking new top he’d built — were on craigslist for a song. Mary’s pal Stacey Mink saw it, and knowing Mary’s penchant for acquiring weird stuff — and Shop Boy’s penchant for reacting poorly to same — sent a link with the message, “I hesitate to send this to you …”

Third chance, anyone? Oh, boy.

Truth is, the cabinet looked pretty boffo in the craigslist ad for it.

And even Shop Boy can feel good doing stuff like this, taking repurposed printing equipment and returning it to the wild of letterpress. Or bringing an old press back into useful service. Or finding old bits of printshop ephemera like a funky die-cutting block or old advertisement for a once famous brand to decorate our place or get put to back work. There’s somebody’s soul in everything you touch.

See, just the day before, in some other far-flung part of Maryland, we’d stood respectfully in the side wing of an old, three-generation printshop, helping to preside over the end of an era. Grandson David had decided to jettison anything just taking up space in favor of adding actual revenue-producing stuff. The old cabinets, turtles, dies and rules served him no useful purpose anymore. But he didn’t want it all to end up in the trash.

When in doubt, call Typecast.

Actually, Kyle from MICA had tipped us off to the stuff, having taken his fill for the burgeoning Corcoran letterpress program and a bit for himself.

Well, we’re as excited as anyone to get cheap or free old stuff, but this kind of operation makes you stop and think. I mean, the guy’s standing there as you pick through his family’s stuff, finding some of it indeed worthless. Ouch.

Mary’s great about insisting that whatever assembled diggers and movers show respect for what has come before us. You’re talking, in this case, about a business that has fed three generations. So respect means chatting up the proprietor, letting him or her know what respect we have for the craft and that the stuff is going to a good home. And it means being fair on pricing, by the way. You going to cheat a guy struggling to keep a printshop alive?

Good. I didn’t think so.

Besides, respect always, always, always pays off in some way. You meet an interesting guy, say. You show appreciation for his life’s work. Later, this guy tells that guy what you’re up to, and pretty soon you’ve got a line on more awesome stuff.

Or even better, you get the most valuable thing in the whole printshop.

David, for instance, has two Heidelberg windmills. Typecast Press has one, a beauty, but it’s been giving Mary fits in a couple of very specific areas that the manual doesn’t address. Real thick coaster stock makes it lose its mind, for instance. Mary asked David what he thought the problem was.

“C’mon, I’ll show you,” David said.