Archive for June, 2010

WK-RIP in Cincinnati

June 30, 2010

Whenever a little boy “forgets” to walk the dog, somewhere an iPhone dies.

Somewhere in this case was Shop Boy’s satchel. See, we’d ventured to Cincinnati for the celebration of the marriage of a confirmed bachelor and bachelorette. We had to see it to believe it, you know? And heck, we’d never been to Cincinnati …

So, we’d just stepped into the sun from Murray Brothers Old Time Store with a big bag full of Mary Janes, Smarties and a million other assorted candies hand-plucked from big barrels and displays filling the tidy place. Shop Boy pulled out a few sweets for the walk to nearby Fountain Square and then tucked the brown bag into the satchel, which felt a little too moist against my hip. It was warm. I figured I must have sweated it up, and didn’t think about it again. Later that night at the hotel, Mary would discover the truth. A water bottle’s cheapo lid had come loose. My pricey iPhone drowned. Just like that.

The instructions tell you right out never to get your iPhone wet. It shorts out … you’re done. They also apparently tell you, as Shop Boy learned much later, that you should never then plug a possibly moist iPhone in to charge (you know, just in case it’s not responding simply because it ran out of juice), for this cements things. Zap. Deader than dead. A tombstone, I believe Mary called it.

Here’s where the dog walking comes in. You know how when your kid wants a puppy, he or she will promise that they’ll walk the dog every time it needs to go out, then three weeks later they’re hiding in a tree fort while you are picking up dog poop with a plastic newspaper sleeve? It’s a little like promising yourself, or whoever (gulp) bought you the iPhone, that you’ll treat it with care and always remember to sync it with the main computer at home. It’s a sure bet at first, when the thing is new. Then you start going longer and longer between syncing.

Been a while, eh, Shop Boy?

Yes, yes. And I mean … I use this thing. “Impressions of a Shop Boy” exists largely because I write entries on the commuter train, on the iPhone, whether feverishly jotting down weird ideas for later posts or even writing in complete thoughts and sentences. Then I simply e-mail files to myself and bingo. Here we are.


Shop Boy had maybe six or seven blog entries nearly completed on the little iPhone notepad thingy. And they’re gone. That’s it. Forever. Time was when a young Shop Boy had a photographic memory … about 15 minutes’ worth of one, anyway. Back at the college newspaper, The Good 5 Cent Cigar, we used TRS-80 computers. Remember those old junkers. Each time you hit a period, the best next move was to hit “save.” Gosh, they were clumsy. “Trash 80s,” they were called. Shop Boy’d get careless every now and again and lose an entire story as I was finishing the last, ahem, brilliant sentence. The shock was so intense, you’d think a college kid would learn from it.

Instead, Shop Boy would swear. Like, lots. Then I’d open a new document file and immediately start typing, and word for word it would begin to come back to me. Every time. Can’t explain it. Nor can I do it anymore. Those brain cells must have gotten, um, wet.

And so now I’m back to begging Mary for a new iPhone. And promising to sync it regularly, and answer whenever she calls — man, can that woman dribble a redial button. I’ll look down and there are 15 missed calls from her, and Shop Boy’s in big trouble. And I promise that I’ll post photos, and I’ll post videos. And I’ll never, never, never let it touch liquids.

(For the record, Mary knows I didn’t do this on purpose just to get the newer model. Clearly, Shop Boy is not that clever. And I even offered to take her iPhone — same as my dead version — and let her get the newest one. So, there …)

Meanwhile, I’ve got only my work-issue BlackBerry, sort of like the TRS-80 of smartphones. (Sorry, Mac snob.)  And I’m writing blog entries on paper that I found high and dry in a secret pocket in the satchel (so that’s where my 2010 health forms went!). You should see the messy, train-jostled handwriting. Can’t decipher a third of what’s on there. Of course, maybe that’s for the best. And maybe the stuff I’d written on my iPhone wasn’t all that great either.

Guess we’ll never know.

The Compound

June 23, 2010

They say if you remember the commercial but not the product it pitches, that is not a successful commercial. Shop Boy will buy that, I guess.

See, my brain remembers only one tiny bit of a TV ad from a while back that features a young father with a tot — he’s trying to get the little one to eat something. Well, the kid decides to share, popping one of the … whatevers into the mouth of Dad, who offers a gentle “Thank you.” Shown such heartfelt appreciation, the kid begins madly stuffing Dad’s mouth.

“THANK YOU!” the father laughs, gently fending off the deluge.

A sweet moment. What the heck were they selling? No clue. But Shop Boy mimics the father’s pseudo exasperation each time Mary, say, piles one extra box atop an already unwieldy or ridiculously heavy armful or decides to “help” me by restocking the pile of paper that I’m rapidly feeding into the C&P by slipping a new batch of paper from behind me via the air space under my armpit or, yes, feeding me a bagel when we’re driving without maintaining a safe chewing distance between bites.

So, a while back, Shop Boy whined in this space about Typecast Press, an outfit that creates stationery goods for a living, never having a stinking piece of paper that I could write a phone number or paper-cutting dimension or simple reminder on. Imagine my shock and delight, then, the day Shop Boy arrived at the studio to find the leftovers of a recent paper-cutting job — scraps that were, like, 2 inches by 6.5 inches — turned into a little stack of notepads, with cardboard backing.

It turns out Mary’s interns Ellen and Allison, students from the Maryland Institute College of Art, had heard tell of Shop Boy’s plight and, finding themselves between assignments from Mary, gathered up the scraps, cut correspondingly sized cardboard, clamped the piles down in the book press, applied “padding compound” and … zing went the strings of Shop Boy’s heart.

Mary: “They did that for you, you know.”

Me: “Oh my gosh. That was so nice.”

Mary (sarcastically): “Shop Boy, Shop Boy … It’s all about Shop Boy!”

Envy is such an ugly thing. ;-)

Anyway, I thanked Ellen and Allison profusely the next time I saw them, letting them know that I’d put at least one of the pads in every single location of the shop where previously I’d pitched a little fit about not having paper handy. And how I’d grabbed a few pads for my desk at work in D.C. and how I kept one in my travel satchel — OK, man purse … nyah, nyah, nyah! — for making notes and doodling on the train and how awesomely helpful the pads had already been.

Well. A couple of nights later I arrived at the shop to meet Allison, Ellen and the newest intern, Michelle (also from MICA), who had been immediately indoctrinated into the Way of the Padding Compound. Square pads! Horizontal pads! A deluge of pads!

Once the interns had gone, Shop Boy surveyed the haul, patting the piles gleefully.

Mary: “Did you see what else they left you?’

Me: “What? Something for me?”

Mary: “If someone was going to leave you something, where’s the first place you’d look for it?”

Me (looking around quizically): “Where?”

Mary: “Oh, come on. Over here.”

There on the shelf next to the big C&P, where I keep a pad to note starting points on a run (resetting the press’ counter gets your hands oily), was a square pad with an eyeletted cover sheet, a blue-green ribbon strung between the eyelets and tied in a bow and a note in the most lovely handwriting:

Dear Shop Boy,

Please enjoy this precious notepad. Eyeletted with care.

Most Sincerely,

The Typecast Fairies

I mean, what does one even say to that?

Mary (rolling her eyes): “It’s all about Shop Boy.”

Frankly, I don’t see a problem with that. Or with notepads stacked to the ceiling.


Three Times the Charm

June 18, 2010

You could almost see the gears spinning in the little fellow’s head.

It was birthday No. 3 for Evan, the adorable-beyond-mortal-words son of friends Curt and Amanda Iseli, and he was taking it all very seriously. He called Shop Boy over and, as he perched on his pint-sized chair, feet on the seat, bottom on the arm, looked me square in the eye.

He wanted to know what Shop Boy thought about cake. Not the band. Everyone knows my weakness there too well. Evan had reached some existential passage in his young life and was apparently seeking a spiritual guide to get him through the portal to a deeper understanding of the chocolaty deliciousness.

And then he tipped over.

That quickly, a lesson in gravity superseded the quest for baked-goods enlightenment as Curt picked Evan up and dusted him off — no tears, the little dude playing it off like a 10-year-old or something, a swig of lemonade taking his mind off the whole incident. Meanwhile,  Shop Boy used the opportunity to grab a honking turkey burger from Curt’s grill. Thank goodness for vegetarians with absolutely no clue about meat portions. Yum.

Typecast had done the invite for the party for the third year in a row, with Amanda Iseli doing the extravagant design. She does great work for Baltimore magazine, but saves a little of the good stuff for Evan’s birthday parties. Boxes, seed packets, goodie bags, cards inside of cards. Wow. All we then have to do is figure out how to apply ink to all these weird things.

For No. 3, the main invite is cut from this crazy, thick cardboard stuff Mary bought in bulk — you think the turkey burgers were bigger than absolutely necessary? — the gargantuan, heavy pile of which we’ve been whittling away at. Anyway, a little blue ink on there with the right design and … it looks just like the printing on an egg carton. Fun!

Well, this year, Evan is apparently old enough that he got a vote on the card design. So the Iselis stopped by the Typecast Press studios, where, as Shop Boy fed menus to the big C&P, Evan became fixated on the machine’s old gears. And somehow, as the guy who made all those gears move at once, Shop Boy suddenly acquired rock star status. (It’s fleeting. They all grow up.)

I suppose it’d have been more stunning had the little boy not been mesmerized by the machine, as he’s third-generation gearhead. Hot rods, that is.

Mary: “What are those three big rusty motor things in the garage?”

Curt: “Oh! Those are [gearhead-speak] flathead motors that I picked up from a guy. I bought one, and ended up hauling all three back here. I hope to trade them for [gearhead-speak] and [gearhead-speak] with [gearhead-speak].”


Evan’s not quite there yet. His pick for the coolest car in the Typecast Press parking lot? Mary’s crummy, old, dented Volvo.

Shop Boy about fell over backwards.

Presidential Zeal

June 10, 2010

Mary has worked with “names” before. In fact, as part of her career as a graphic designer, she built a niche doing clever, off-beat or even wacky invites for congressional political fundraisers. The idea was that these invitations would not be lost in the pile of formal or prissy requests that came through a potential donor’s mail slot. They were fun to do — from a gaudy coffee mug and invite for John Glenn’s presidential debt retirement party to an awesome keyboard poster (still one of Shop Boy’s favorites) and invite for Al Gore’s event with musician Herbie Hancock. Heck, President Clinton once gave a big speech in front of a gargantuan logo that Mary designed.

But, please … this is Michelle Obama we’re talking about. The Big

Put the first lady’s name on anything Typecast Press is printing and Mary’s going to freak out.

It goes deeper than politics. Is Mary excited that the Obamas are in the White House? Yes, of course. I mean, it’s undeniably cool that today in these United States, we all can officially believe that any son or daughter of America can be anything he or she pleases.

Even a letterpress printer.

So, a potential client calls Mary, saying she has designed an invitation for an arts event at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., that the Obamas are hosting. Would Mary care to bid on the project?

Are you kidding?

Foldover card with a mod, interwoven pattern — red, pink, white — full program in three colors on the inside. Really cool, but brutal registration. Red envelopes with a detail of the interwoven pattern across the bottom and a Kennedy Center address line on the flap, both to be printed in one pass with intense black ink.

My part of these more complex projects is always easy, comparatively. All Shop Boy has to do is perfect the hand-feed on a thousand or so black-on-red envelopes for the event, then make sure all of our regular — but no less important, mind you — printing assignments are finished and packaged so Mary can focus on really nailing the guts of the job. It’s what I do. Shop Boy’s the donkey; Mary’s the thoroughbred. And I am not ashamed of this in the least. The  donkey is always funnier (and can sing 100 times better, by  the way)  than the thoroughbred. Did I mention “less high-strung”?

I could, but I won’t.

Because then Mary would just bring up the “more stubborn” thing.


Anyway, this is how Mary spent the days — and nights — of her birthday week. We both sacrificed our birthdays to the gods of letterpress this year. We’ll celebrate twice next time. And I was really excited about the project, which Mary was hustling to deliver on the client’s timetable.

Shop Boy’s timetable?

Shop Boy was cleaning ink off the big C&P after running a few hundred Woodberry Kitchen menus and, in a moment of wishful thinking, assumed that the “woosh-woosh-woosh” sound from the Heidelberg Windmill meant that Mary — satisfied that she’d nailed the ink color and plate registration for the next day’s run — was cleaning it, too, so that we could head out.

Au contraire. She was cleaning it, all right. But just so that she could erase an unacceptable shade of pink to make room for a fresh try on the press. She’d need to mix the new color from scratch, as the other pink wasn’t close enough to goose toward the right shade. For  the uninitiated, this meant 90 more minutes at the shop, minimum. It was already very late. My heart sank.

She was on a roll, she said, and wanted to keep going, though whiffing on a color she’d usually nail with ease was, to Shop Boy’s way of thinking, a very bad sign that she, too, needed some sleep.

So I questioned the wisdom of such a decision.

Now, who knows if Barack Obama has ever tried to use the presidential veto with Michelle, but I’m thinking it would work about as well as Shop Boy’s did that night.

Two Double Goose Eggs

June 3, 2010

Turnstiles at department stores are incredibly stupid and annoying. But they must serve some purpose, right? So each and every time I have to walk through one — they’re becoming more rare, thank heavens — I’ll stop suddenly on the other side and excitedly look toward the ceiling for what will surely be a shower of colorful balloons and confetti as the winner of the “1 Millionth Customer Award.”

The balloons have never come. Just a shower of eye-rolling from Mary.

What, you’ve never done this? How are you supposed to ever become the Millionth Customer without showing that you’re willing to act like a fool if it ever happens. It’s like the lottery. Nothing angers the Lottery Gods more than someone who would act in a reasonably sane manner if they won. It’s like Mary’s mom, also Mary Mashburn, or the “real” Mary Mashburn if you prefer. She buys her tickets semi-regularly for “the big one,” and always talks about how she’d set aside a portion of her winnings “for the children,” meaning the needy and worthy kids of Colorado Springs, Colo., and elsewhere. She’d even give us some.

Nope. You lose.

Instead, Mary II suggests, as you purchase your ticket, you should let it be known that, with your winnings, you’d quit your job, buy a Winnebago, drive to Disney World and blow the whole enchilada in seven months of drinking, debauchery, and dumb investments in your quack cousin’s miracle exercise machine.

That’s who wins, right?

Anyway, a couple of things brought this to mind. First, we were asked to bid on a business’ promo card. Really cool-looking thing with, like, 10 or 15 tiny squares to be die cut out of it.

Yup, little square confetti. Absolutely everywhere. Heck, it might even be falling from the printshop’s ceiling for a while afterward. Guess who wins the right to clean up the mess for, like, the millionth time. Shop Boy!

Still, I really hope we get the job.

Second, and of course far, far more importantly, we’ve reached another milestone here in Shop Boy’s navel: Post No. 200. Release the balloons!

Um, hell-oooo!

Hmmph. Shop Boy’s gotta get himself that company Winnebago.

Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this milestone for months. Shop Boy’s kinda proud to have kept up what I hope has been a usually fun if rarely actually useful blog. So it took almost four years, gulp, to get here. Mom would have been appalled at that. See, she was not a voracious reader. She was insane.

And she wanted me to be a writer, figuring she’d raised a kid who should be able to write at least as quickly as she read. Those moms …

True story: Shop Boy once entered a novel-writing contest for a seminar put together by Mary’s mom, who for years was (and ever shall be to many) the face of an awesome Colorado Springs arts endeavor, the Imagination Celebration. The contest deal was to write three chapters, then have sort of an outline for how the story would go from there.

So, townspeople driven zombie, bat-guano mad one morning when the coffeeshop doesn’t open. Owner’s been murdered near the hydroelectric plant. This leads to violence in the streets. What’s wrong with them? Nutty twist; can’t tell you about that. (But a New York Times article six months later kinda backed the science of my loopy supposition. ;-) ) Oh, and there’s a dopey sidekick — surprise! — who ends up stumbling upon the answer. How? Darned if I know. That part’s not written yet.

What did the three judges think? Two liked it (one of them a lot). The third?

“This makes no sense. Who drinks a cappuccino in the morning?”

Um, dude? Go to Starbucks much? But fine, not everybody’s going to be a fan of the linguistic stylings of Shop Boy.

What did Mom think? “But where’s the rest?”

That’s it. Ouch.

This blog is the product of years of writer’s therapy.

Kidding. Still, I always tell Mary, “Please, when you’re bored or whatever with this whole Impressions of a Shop Boy thing, let me know.” Because if she’s bored, the townsfolk of Shop Boy Land are close to taking up torches and pitchforks.

I’d like to think I still might have a surprise or two for you up the sleeve of my black lab coat with the monkey emblem. But who knows?

One of my favorite expressions comes from snarky old TV tongue wagger Keith Olbermann’s SportsCenter years. Forced to read a line reporting that injured player X was listed as “day to day,” K.O. ad-libbed, “We’re all day to day.”

So on we go, eh? It’s funny. In the same four years it’s taken me to get to this point as Shop Boy, Mary’s turned herself into a darned good printer. I hope writing this blog has helped her there somehow, if only to lighten the mood in tough times. If so, I’m doubly proud.

And one day, perhaps I’ll read all 200-whatever posts that end up here myself and think …

“This makes no sense.”

But I hope not.

Crying Over Spilled …

June 2, 2010

We try. At Typecast Press, Mary and Shop Boy use as responsible and earth-friendly a solvent as we can find to clean the press rollers and the ink plates. If the color is caked on after a long run, we use corn oil to loosen the ink first, then wipe on just a little solvent to finish.

As I mentioned last time, we use paper that’s at least partially recycled when we can. That’s when we don’t use cotton paper, perhaps the least planet-wrecking stuff on the globe. Every so often, we haul the cotton paper scraps over to the Maryland Institute College of Art’s paper makers.

Are we perfect? Heck, no. But we feel like, if everybody does their little part, even picking up one wrapper from the street, say, and dropping it into a trash can, we can keep the world a bit cleaner. They taught little Shop Boy that at Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School. And that offending wrapper? Probably blown out of somebody’s hands, racing away in the wind, no way to catch up to it. Happens to us all.

Oh, to still be young and naive.

Want to know what bugs the bejeepers out of Shop Boy? People in Baltimore who stop on a tree-lined neighborhood street, open a car door, set a McDonald’s bag full of trash down or dump out an ashtray full of cigarette butts, then motor onward. I could scream, “Hey, get back here!” But I don’t.

Mostly, I’m just shocked into silent resignation. And I go pick up the mess. Mary does the same thing, only she then proceeds to spend the next 45 minutes doing a trash sweep of the whole block.

So it’s hard for Shop Boy to put into words how numb and helpless it feels to read about and watch the news on this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, I’m always intrigued by the possibility for innovation that accompanies such previously unimaginable disasters. Closet science geek. But … dear god.

Many younger Americans have probably never heard of Joseph Hazelwood, the Exxon Valdez or Alaska’s Prince William Sound, still contaminated 20-plus years later from an oil spill much smaller than this one. That one happened in the middle of nowhere. This one is right at the nation’s doorstep. Could it take 30-plus years to clean up? Longer? Can we ever really convince ourselves that more offshore drilling is the answer? That drilling on Arctic wildlife refuges is OK?

No. We are wrecking our planet through our lust for oil.

Look, Shop Boy’s no tree-hugger. (Well, mostly not, anyway.) I drive a small pickup truck with a stick shift, gently enough that it gets about 30 mpg highway/25 mpg city. Mary? Her Volvo, driven — ahem — a bit less gently, is probably 20/18. Just two more American consumers of gasoline. And Shop Boy feels the oil on his hands, along with the blood of all those the dead and dying animals along the Gulf of Mexico.

Like the other day, when I noticed Mary’s tank was on “E” again, and drove over to the gas station nearest the printshop. Among its many flaws, Mary’s jalopy has a deal where, if you fill the tank beyond, say, 12 gallons, the smell of gasoline fills the trunk and begins to seep into the main cabin. Hence, “E” — again. But she loves the stupid car.

So, Shop Boy watched intently as the spinning gallon counter neared the magic cutoff, reholstered the pump handle, grabbed my receipt and … saw the logo on the gas pump.

BP. I had never noticed it before. It was just the gas station.

Suddenly it felt as though I might as well have been pouring the gasoline directly onto the ground.

I mean, why do we even try when the richest companies in the world can distance themselves from their catastrophic messes? Why pick up after slobs so callous that they can’t be bothered to simply hold the Dunkin’ Donuts refuse in the car until they come to a trash can?  (What are the public schools teaching these days?) Why go through the annoyance of properly discarding that old microwave oven rather than, say, throwing it over the fence that backs onto the railroad tracks?

Because it’s right. And because if there is a God, He’s gonna want to chat about that Big Gulp you left in the middle of His street.

Just saying.