Archive for July, 2010

Workin’ on the Railroad

July 28, 2010

When we look back some day at this whole letterpress thing, I think Mary and Shop Boy may very well remember the kindness and generosity of strangers most of all. Then there are the quirky, completely weird and totally amazing things we’ve stumbled upon in somebody’s basement as we’ve barged in at the worst possible time for a looksee at some heavy stuff they’re at long last ready to part with.

Sometimes it’s a sad duty. For us as well as them. The final remains of Pop’s old business stacked clumsily in the back of Shop Boy’s pickup truck. Or maybe you’re dealing with Pop himself, watching his life’s work, most of it too heavy to lift himself anymore, carted off by some guy — and a girl!

Other times … well, check this out:

Welcome to Jimmyville.

First, let Shop Boy apologize for the photography. The new iPhone’s camera is still a bit too smart for me. Anyway, this is one view of the layout of the astonishing trainscape of the latest printer whose house we invaded. It captures a Baltimore of the 1950s, all Natty Boh and Bromo Seltzer and Baltimore Colts. The detail is stunning, down to the stuff the vice squad of those times might have wanted to speak with Jim Ullrich about. Jim has got a naughty, naughty sense of humor. And endless patience, a handy defense mechanism when Curious Mary arrives on the scene. As does wife Doris, a collector of all things carousel, from paintings to actual merry-go-round horses to the ornate facing of an old amusement park ride. It’s funny how husbands and wives tend to collect very different things. It’s like Mary and Shop Boy. She collects presses. Shop Boy collects lost hours of sleep. Works out great. In Jim and Doris’s  case, she and her horses rule the upstairs; he and his trains have the run of the basement of their astonishingly tidy home.

We’d come after breakfast to look at some wood type, a lead cutter or two and whatever else was on hand letterpress-wise. Jim needed the space in his workshop to spread out a set of model fire engines he’s wiring to flash their emergency lights on cue and to cook up whatever other optical tricks pop into his mind.

You kinda had to be there to understand how cool the cemetery effect is — dancing ghouls, ghastly fog, the while nine yards (or is that six feet? hmm), but I promised more pictures for this blog and, by gum, pictures you’re gonna get.

Dude’s only been at this a a couple of years, doing most of the work on cold winter nights, and if Mary and Shop Boy would just agree to take the letterpress stuff off his hands, who knows how lavish it could become? Have I mentioned the amusement park section? With the dodge ’em cars, haunted house and spinning octopus ride?

Yeah, it’s incredibly cool.

So the upshot is that we didn’t get around to even talking letterpress for the better part of two hours. But when we did? Sheesh. A multigraph machine! (Below — precursor to the mimeograph machine that cranked out duplicates of handouts at your junior high school. If you’re under 35, you’ve never seen either.) With lots of type. Much heavier than it looks, by the way. A cabinet for metal furniture. Brass and wood trays. A long rack of cool old cuts. And those brass solvent cans — if you’re ever looking for a birthday present for Mary, there you go. Jim had two brass solvent cans and one brass oil can. Mary asked if we could just go ahead and take the whole collection. What could Shop Boy say?

I could have said, “Are you crazy?” But I didn’t. It was a great haul. And I think Jim was pleased to send it off with us. Below is one of the cuts, catalogued and printed by intern Allison.

See, it might be tough for these veteran printer types to understand what the heck we want with their old stuff. But they’re always glad we came. First, we give them a good price. Always. Second, who doesn’t want the chance to talk about the amazing heyday of letterpress? Finally, they’re happy, as we will be surely some day, to watch neat old stuff that has sat idle for far too long go to a good, working home.

Sure beats collecting dust.

Have You Seen Me?

July 27, 2010

OK, so I’m blocked.

See, Shop Boy once was a newspaper headline writer of some renown (Mary liked them, anyway) but used to worry that the well would run dry. That I’d lose my touch some day and never write another worthwhile headline again.

I worry just as much about this blog. Will it start to bore people? Has it already gone there? Or will it, gulp, just stop altogether, the well run dry? No more words. Shop Boy is sure that you also quake at the thought.

A New York Times headline the other day on the spread of dengue fever — yikes — in Key West led me to reflect on this:

Dengue Fever?
What About It,
Key West Says

I turned to Mary at the breakfast table and said cockily, “Hey, that’s my headline.” Meaning that’s the headline I would have written for the story. I mean, had I worked for the New York Times. It’s probably for the best. Very un-Times. Shop Boy did work at Newsday, where one day’s assignment was to sum up a second failure by JFK Jr. on his bar exam: “Belly-Up on the Bar Jr.” Ooh. We watched on the news that night as Gabe Pressman of Channel 4 in New York City railed in an editorial at whatever anonymous jerk had written that headline.

And that wasn’t even one of my good ones (though it was one of the least good-natured).

Anyway, the dengue fever headline reminded me of one I wrote as a young man just to make my Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record supervisor laugh. (OK, she was cute. Sue me.) See, there was this dude who won the lottery. Two million bucks. Well, by the time taxes and everything were taken out … he went into a screaming tirade.

$2M Lotto
Can You
Spare It?

She laughed. Hard. But local newspaper decorum demanded that I go back to the drawing board. Still, Shop Boy slowly began to bring the editors around to “my way” of headline writing.

A Flash in the Can

This was for a TH-R story about guys who (swear to god) put runners on the bottom of outhouses each year and push-race them across a frozen upstate New York lake — with a “driver” seated inside the thing.

8 Billion Times, No
S&L tycoon calls tax deal thrifty, not shifty

This was for a Newsday story about a guy who bilked $8 billion from his savings and loan (or thrift) and testified in court that he’d simply made a wise financial decision on his taxes that paid off handsomely. Asked over and over  and over again in court if he knew he was being a crook, he answered again and again and again, simply, “No. No. No. No. No. No…”

Quantum Physiques

This was atop a Baltimore Sun story about a beefcake calendar of handsome scientists. The headline was stolen the next day by the Washington Post for a movie review of Fair Game, a film starring Cindy Crawford, a tank top and … some dude. Point taken, but sheesh. Now, everybody steals headlines. There’s very little that hasn’t been written before. But the very next day?

Good Intentions Pave the Road From Hell

This one was dead on arrival for a Newsday story about constantly delayed repairs on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I mean, everybody knew the road was dangerously in need of repairs, and someone was always trying. But jurisdictions, politics, budgets and special interests always got in the way.

It was a play, naturally, on the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” meaning that it’s not enough to have good intentions. Do something good — don’t just intend to do something good — or you go to hell. The boss didn’t get it.

But where was I? Oh, writer’s block. Could have fooled you, eh?

Oh, heck. It’s probably just my brain scrambling as it tries to re-create the work that went down with my old iPhone.

I (don’t deserve but) have gotten my new iPhone, which came with the promise that Shop Boy will blog more often, post regular updates on Twitter, organize and post Typecast Press photos on Flickr, launch and maintain a Friends of Typecast Facebook page and just generally wave the flag of social media for a very worthy organization. Us, naturally.

So perhaps this has just been a bit of stage fright.

We’ll know in a few days, I expect.