It’s safe to say that, if they X-rayed his lungs today, Shop Boy would receive a sparkling report.
And a dark diagnosis: Freezer Burn.
I mean, the warning signs were there. That odd glistening from certain angles. The telltale gleaming smears on the dinner napkin. Shiny dandruff. Disco-ball reflections off the fingertips.
Shop Boy: “How long do I have?”
Dr. Mashburn: “Ninety-one.”
Shop Boy: “Days? Just three months!?!?”
Dr. Mashburn: “No, 91 more cards. And you’ve got about three hours.”
Shop Boy “NOOOO-ooooooooo!”
True story: Shop Boy’s always kidded Mary about her love of handmade paper. I didn’t get it, and sometimes still don’t, to be honest. The edges were all rough and ragged. The thickness was all messed up and irregular. And it was expensive as heck. One Christmas when we were dating (yes, her obsession goes back that far, way before letterpress took over our lives), Shop Boy went to the drug store, bought a ream of garishly colored construction paper, crumpled it a bit and tore it into rough, kinda-square chunks.
“To Mary: Since I know you love wrecked paper.”
Oh, we laughed about it back then. But at 3 a.m. on a Thursday night/Friday morning, it was all Shop Boy could do to keep from crying.
See, the thing about handmade paper and letterpress printing is that inconsistent thickness of sheets of paper means the impression is all messed up, some sheets printing beautifully, some barely touching the form enough to pick up ink. The best you can do is segregate like thicknesses into separate piles and change packing depth as you go to match. Annoying? Oh, you betcha. Add sprinkles, which of course Mary had, and … oh, man.
The job was a card for wedding guests letting them know that a donation to a charity had been made in their honor in celebration of the bride and groom’s big day. Nice gesture. The design included a side-by-side silhouette of the happy couple, with it and the words of the invitation to be printed in gold ink on, yes, Freezer Burn, a white, sparkly, handmade paper from Porridge in Nebraska.
Mary loves her some Porridge Papers. We’ve done magical cards for a fantastically, um, creative friend on orange paper with orange sprinkles — Shop Boy forgets what that paper shade was called. (Mary informs me over my shoulder that it was called Fuzzy Navel. Awesome!) We did a baby announcement on a bluish paper that Porridge had added a scent to, so that when recipients opened the announcement of the little darling’s arrival … they smelled a hint of baby powder. Cool, no?
“What’s with Baltimore and all this sparkle paper?” Christopher James, the proprietor of Porridge Papers, was asking Mary, having received several similar orders recently from her.
You have to remember, Baltimore is the city whose favorite nutty mayor decided that an answer to the recycling problem was to take all the glass bottles piling up, crush them, add them to road-paving materials and … glasphalt. A number of the city’s streets shine like diamonds when your headlights hit them. Swear. That’s just how we roll. Besides, when clients get a look at some of the funky stuff we’ve printed on sparkle paper, sometimes nothing else will do.
Now, what can Shop Boy say about gold ink? It’s an odd deal. First off, that’s actual gold leaf in there. Meaning it’s a bit pricey. Second, on certain papers it prints more brown than golden. Baby announcements that smell like baby powder? OK. Baby announcements that look like baby poo? Not so much.
Gold ink is also picky about how you apply it. Spread it on the ink wheel of a C&P, get it to the right density for the run and you’re off. Awesome. But say, for the sake of argument, that sprinkles get shaken loose from the paper your printing with each and every impression, creating golden blemishes wherever they land, sometimes sticking to the plate and messing up five cards before you even notice. Then you take a speck of gold from the ink plate and dab it into the crummy-looking crevices. Two very different shades of gold. That’s OK. It’ll dry back and blend in. Same ink, right?
Which Shop Boy really didn’t get through his skull until 3 a.m. rolled around, he proudly picked up the pile of “finished” cards and he noticed that six hours of eye-straining, nerve-testing, absolute focus had produced … garbage. I mean, it was incredibly subtle work, using the steel tip of a long-expired pen to dip into a droplet of the gold ink and then, very carefully, tracing the contour of a nose or a chin on a cameo or adding a splash of color to a spot here and a spot there, and there and there and there and there and there and there and there.
Look at the dried card straight on? Nice. Let it catch the light? The effect? Bird doo on a statue, like from a golden eagle or something:
And the sparkles? In my nose. In my tear ducts. On my scalp. In my teeth. And, yes, in my lungs.
A big pile of wrecked paper. And a job that would have to start again, almost from scratch.
I see spots.